12 Best Caribbean Islands to Visit for the Perfect Vacation
Looking for warmer weather and white sand beaches? These are the best Caribbean islands to visit for some fun in the sun.
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The best islands to visit in the Caribbean
Sit back and daydream for a moment. Let’s pretend you have a weeklong vacation coming up, and you can go anywhere you’d like. Some people would choose to head straight to the mountains, while others might flock to busy cities filled with endless attractions. But if all-inclusive resorts and the best beaches in the world are calling your name, then your next step is to decide which of the best Caribbean islands to visit.
How we chose the best Caribbean islands to visit
I’ve been to nearly 20 Caribbean islands over the past few decades—including weekend getaways, luxurious couples escapes and affordable family vacations—and have stayed at some of the best Caribbean resorts. The one key takeaway from my adventures is that even though they all have palm trees and sandy beaches, each Caribbean island has a totally unique vibe, culture and scene. That’s why it’s so important to choose the island that best matches your vacation style, whether you are foodie-focused, looking for wildlife, yearning for adrenaline-pumping thrills or just want to kick back on a secluded beach. Read on for your guide to the best islands to visit in the Caribbean based on your interests.
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Turks and Caicos
Best for: Secluded white sand beaches
A British Overseas Territory, Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of 40 islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and it is famed for its stunning shores—but none more so than Grace Bay Beach. Located on the northeast coast of Providenciales and renowned for its pristine white sand and turquoise waters, it’s consistently ranked among the most beautiful beaches in the world (these are the top beach spots in the United States) and is the crown jewel of the island. Other notable spots to catch some rays and enjoy the sea are Bright Beach, Smith’s Reef and Turtle Cove.
What to do: Ever heard of Seven Mile Beach? It’s a reference to the uninterrupted stretch that runs from Leeward Beach (across from Grace Bay Beach, Bright Beach and Smith’s Reef) to Turtle Cove and the very reason so many people choose to vacation in Turks and Caicos. Those who love diving will be excited to learn that Turks and Caicos is home to one of the largest barrier reefs in the world (roughly 340 miles of barrier reef surround the islands).
Where to stay: Another major selling point of Turks and Caicos? The resorts. Wymara Resort & Villas sits on the pristine Grace Bay Beach and offers such family-friendly activities as snorkeling excursions, jet skiing and wind surfing, as well as kayaking through the mangrove channels. Indulge in spa treatments at the on-site spa or Caribbean cuisine prepared by award-winning Australian chef Andrew Mirosch. Aside from a luxurious bathrooms and 400 thread count sheets, each room comes with daily breakfast.
Best for: Rum enthusiasts
The Caribbean’s easternmost island, Barbados is blessed with beautiful beaches and coral reefs (make sure to pack your reef-safe sunscreen) that line the coast and attract visitors from around the globe with incredible snorkeling and scuba diving. Fun fact: Barbados is the only Caribbean island to have formed from the continental plates colliding rather than by volcano. But many visitors come here with one thing on their mind: Rum. And Barbados is where it all began, making this one of the best Caribbean islands to visit for a fantastic cocktail.
What to do: Mount Gay Rum Distillery became the birthplace of rum in 1703. Here you can tour the facility, try a premium flight of four signature rums or take a cocktail workshop with an award-winning mixologist. When you’re ready to take a dip in the sea, calm waters make Bath Beach one of the best for swimming, while Crane Beach is known as one of the most picturesque spots on the island. Adrenaline junkies from around the globe flock to Silver Sands, a gusty outpost on the southern coast, acclaimed for windsurfing. Those looking to escape the sun can venture down into the cave system of Harrison’s Cave to see ancient stalactites and stalagmites.
Where to stay: Families can find fun for all ages at Tamarind by Elegant Hotels, a Mediterranean-style all-inclusive resort on the West Coast of Barbados. The property offers an array of Bajan activities, from dialect lessons to beach cricket (Barbados’ sport of choice), kids and teens events, as well as unlimited non-motorized sports—snorkeling, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
Best for: Outdoor adventures
From mountains and rainforests to plantations and beaches, the eastern Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia has a setting for every type of vacationer. This member of the British Commonwealth offers visitors unspoiled and lush scenery, plenty of natural hot springs, waterfalls, diving, beautiful beaches and the iconic Pitons, a pair of pointy mountains on the west coast.
What to do: Adventurers can zipline, hike and explore Gros Piton, the second-highest peak on the island. For animal lovers, there’s horseback riding on the beach. History buffs can tour Fort Rodney, built upon a peak located within the Pigeon Island National Landmark, and will be treated to a 360-degree view of the island to boot. Those looking for some R&R can let their stress melt away at Soufriere, a scenic town on the island’s west coast that’s home to many hot springs and mineral baths.
Where to stay: Luxury-seekers can kick back at one of the island’s five-star resorts. Situated on 100 acres of lush rainforest on the site of an 18th-century sugar plantation, Sugar Beach impresses with its picture-perfect views of the majestic UNESCO World Heritage–listed Piton Mountains and the Caribbean Sea. Book a treatment in the Rainforest Spa—there’s even a couple’s treehouse treatment room built on stilts—or sip a rum cocktail in the poolside cabanas.
Best for: White sand beaches
Antigua, located in the Lesser Antilles, encompasses 108 square miles of soft sand and fertile plains. Ringed by coral reefs and cerulean waters, this sun-soaked island is renowned for its expansive coastline and multitude of beaches. There are more than 365, so you could visit a different one each day for an entire year! Coupled with the pleasant climate—cool breezes and low humidity—it’s easy to see why Antigua is such a popular tourist destination.
What to do: Looking for the most Instagram-worthy beach on the island? Head to Half Moon Bay on the eastern shore to get those shots. The waves are strong here, so it’s best for bodysurfing and boogie boarding and not swimming. Try snorkeling at Galleon Beach in English Harbour or take a long, sandy walk (about a mile) at Jolly Beach.
Where to stay: On the southern part of Antigua is Curtain Bluff, and let’s just say there’s a reason—well, a few—that it’s a mainstay on luxury travel lists. Among them: an unmatched seaside setting, gorgeous gardens and world-class accommodations, complete with marble bathrooms, coffered wood ceilings, oversize soaking tubs and verandas. Those looking to unplug will be pleased to hear rooms do not include TVs.
Best for: A quick getaway
Proximity to Miami—it’s just a 30-minute flight—makes the Bahamas a convenient escape. But once you arrive, you’ll feel as though you’re a world away. For starters, the Bahamas isn’t one singular island, but 700 isles in the Atlantic. Nassau Paradise Island is a top tourist destination and for good reason: It has 300 days of sunshine a year, water temperatures averaging 80 degrees and beautiful beaches, most notably Paradise Beach on the northern shore.
What to do: There’s plenty more to explore beyond Nassau. On the east side of Harbour Island is Pink Sands Beach, a 3-mile swath of soft-pink shoreline punctuated by a handful of private villas and low-rise hotels. The vibe is serene and relaxed and the scenery stunning. While you’re there, be sure to savor some local delicacies, like conch. Looking for a wildlife experience you can’t get anywhere else? Visit Pig Beach, located on Big Major Cay in Exuma, to swim with a colony of adorable feral pigs.
Where to stay: Those looking for a secluded getaway should consider The Cove Eleuthera, a high-end boutique resort nestled on 45 unspoiled acres. Accommodations include luxury guest rooms, suites, villas and cottages. There are also high-end dining options, a spa and a hilltop infinity pool.
Best for: Multicultural experiences
Saint Martin comprises two separate countries in the northeast Caribbean Sea and is divided between its northern French side (Saint-Martin) and it’s southern Dutch side (Sint Maarten). There’s a rumor that it’s sunny here 365 days a year. We couldn’t quite confirm that with the weather service, but we can say that every day certainly feels sunny when you’re relaxing on one of the 37 beaches on this delightful island or taking to the clear, warm ocean to swim, sail, water ski, snorkel or fish. The temperature on the small island averages 80 degrees and never dips much below 70 degrees, even in the middle of winter.
What to do: Orient Bay Beach is the first stop for many Saint Martin visitors thanks to its long coastline and inviting waters. But since it’s on the French side of the island, it’s worth noting that clothing is optional (the nudity is mostly relegated to the south section). A visit to Loterie Farm, a nature sanctuary on 135 acres, means an afternoon of hiking and zip-lining through the jungle canopy. Leave time for duty-free shopping on Front Street or plan a day out on a catamaran.
Where to stay: Check into the Orient Beach Hotel, the only lodging right on the sugar-white sand of Orient Bay Beach and the perfect location from which to explore the surrounding beaches, restaurants and shops. Along with your comfortable accommodations in one of 35 beachfront suites, beach chairs and umbrellas are complimentary and breakfast is included.
Best for: Shore diving and snorkeling
As the lesser-known Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela (its cousins are Aruba and Curacao), Bonaire is focused on preserving its natural resources—the land, sea and reef—for generations to come. The Bonaire National Marine Park, founded in 1979, consists of 2,700 hectares of coral reef, seagrass beds and mangroves and is one of the oldest marine reserves in the world. Thanks to this dedicated effort, tourists are treated to a spectacular array of marine life. (If you enjoy underwater adventures, don’t miss this list of beaches with the clearest water in the world.)
What to do: Grab a snorkel and some fins (which you can usually rent from a hotel or dive shop) and head straight into the water—this is the best Caribbean island to visit if you don’t want to take a boat to a dive site, as 54 of the 85 official dive sites are accessible from shore. Keep your eyes peeled for 57 species of coral and 350 species of fish, including colorful triggerfish, parrotfish, tangs and moray eel, in these clear and warm waters. On land, watch for more than 200 species of birds, explore more than 400 caves or 300 kilometers of biking trails, or try your hand at land sailing on a Blokart, also known as a land yacht. As you drive around the island, be mindful of wild donkeys that often stand in the middle of the road while snacking on vegetation.
Where to stay: There’s only one private beach on Bonaire and Harbour Village Beach Club is your key to accessing it. This lush property features enormous and comfortable suites, plenty of hammocks and lounge chairs on the palm-tree-lined beach (read: you won’t have to wake up early to save a spot), and breezy seaside dining at the ship-shaped La Balandra Restaurant & Bar, where the barracuda ceviche is a don’t-miss appetizer. The best part? The shallow reef butts up against the restaurant, so you can literally walk into the water from the beach and begin snorkeling among colorful fish.
Best for: Beach bums
Beaches, beaches, beaches—it’s what Aruba, a Dutch island just north of Venezuela, does best. We’re talking pure pristine white sand and turquoise ocean heaven, nearly everywhere you look, making it one of the best Caribbean islands to visit if sun and sand are at the top of your vacation wish list. Aruba is blessed with clear skies, bright sunshine and cooling trade winds practically every day of the year. It’s also one of 10 islands you can still visit during hurricane season.
What to do: Top picks for a beach day you’ll never forget include the award-wining Eagle Beach, which is the widest on the island and the perfect place to view the iconic Fofoti trees. The 2-mile-long Palm Beach is perfect for swimming and snorkeling, and Mangel Halto Beach is an ideal spot for snorkeling and shore diving due to the area’s influx of parrot fish and blue tangs. When you’ve had enough beach time, head to Arikok National Park to view cultural heritage sites, such as caves and original rock drawings, and check out Aruba’s natural pool (Conchi)—watch for the water spraying over the volcanic rock formation.
Where to stay: Situated on over a mile of white pristine beach, family-friendly Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive offers guests access to 11 dining options, eight bars and four freshwater pools. Plus, you’ll find fitness classes, a guided island e-bike tour, snorkeling, a rock-climbing wall and even a kids-only club.
Best for: Passport-less Caribbean cuisine
Dubbed the “Dining Capital of the Caribbean,” the U.S. territory Puerto Rico offers the perfect destination for those looking to explore the Caribbean culinary scene—and you won’t need a passport to taste this tasty cuisine. A fusion of Spanish, African, Taíno Indian and American influences, the island’s history and diverse culture shaped its food, resulting in a unique blend of flavors and dishes.
What to do: Puerto Rico has a vibrant street food scene, so be sure to explore food stalls and kiosks alongside finer dining establishments and award-winning restaurants. Consider timing your trip to the numerous food festivals and events being hosted throughout the year to further celebrate the local culinary scene. Once you’ve had your fill of food, you’ll be ready to explore the colorful architecture of Old San Juan, marvel at the Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay after dark and chill out at Flamenco Beach.
Where to stay: Further enhance your food-focused trip with a stay at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. It’s known for its exceptional culinary program, which includes three restaurants showcasing the flavors and techniques of Italy, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. As one of the 10 best resorts in Puerto Rico, this property sits on 50 acres of serene coastline and boasts a spa sanctuary with an infinity reflection pool overlooking a pineapple garden.
Best for: Hiking
In 2022, Saint Kitts was awarded the Best Caribbean Hiking Destination in Caribbean Journal’s Travelers Choice Awards—and you’ll need to plan a longer stay if you want to tackle all the amazing hikes on this West Indies island. Alongside neighboring Nevis, these two islands make up one country known as the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Divers will also be impressed with Saint Kitts, with such dive sites as the Wreck of River Taw, Devil’s Cavern and Friars Bay Reef.
What to do: Grab your hiking boots and get ready for plenty of action. Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcanic crater that stands nearly 3,800 feet high, is the highest point on Saint Kitts and Nevis and one of the tallest peaks in the Caribbean. On the way to the crest, hikers are treated to the 360-degree splendor that is Central Forest Reserve National Park. Other popular hikes include Bat Cave and Waterfall (yes, hundreds of small bats make their home here) and Radio Tower, which is a brisk hike that delivers panoramic views of the entire island. Ready for the toughest hike on the island? At Dos D’anse Pond, the trail climbs through green foliage and a 900-foot gutter before reaching the gorgeous freshwater pond that’s lined with tropical plants.
Where to stay: Families are sure to love St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino, a beachfront resort with such activities as outdoor movie night, ladder ball, cornhole, pickleball courts and a photo scavenger hunt. Guests can take a dip in one of the three on-site pools and participate in aqua aerobics classes. The Emerald Mist Spa offers massages that can be booked in the resort’s beachside cabanas for the ultimate relaxation.
Best for: All-inclusive resorts
As the second-largest Caribbean country, the Dominican Republic has everything you want in an island vacation: white sand beaches, delicious food, golf courses and plenty of beautiful and exhilarating attractions. And the best way to experience all of this is by staying at an all-inclusive resort, something the island specializes in—from budget-friendly options and family-friendly all-inclusive resorts to luxury and adults-only retreats, these properties make vacationing easy by including your taxes, gratuities, meals, drinks, entertainment and activities.
What to do: Even though everything is already included in your all-inclusive resort, you’ll still probably want to get off property and see more of the island and immerse yourself in the culture. Visit the jungle habitat Monkeyland to play with the friendly squirrel monkeys; tee off at the par-72 Jack Nicklaus signature course Punta Espada Golf Course; or enjoy a day trip to Saona Island for a little extra solitude among the beautiful beaches.
Where to stay: Home to the 16,000 square-foot Splash Island waterpark, Panchi Kids Club, Vibe Teen Club, on-site bowling alley, arcade, ice cream parlor, candy shop, escape room and more, the five-star all-inclusive Lopesan Costa Bávaro Resort, Spa & Casino is the ultimate Caribbean oasis for kids and parents alike. Come for the picturesque white sand beaches and stay for the seven freshwater pools, wide array of internationally inspired dining concepts and relaxing spa.
Best for: Foodies
Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory in the eastern Caribbean Sea near Saint Martin, is revered as one of the best culinary destinations in the Caribbean, making it one of the best Caribbean islands to visit. This is due to its blend of inspiration hailing from native Caribbean cooking, Spanish, French and English influences and a strong base of African traditions. As such, visitors will find restaurants offering truly authentic dishes, such as barbecue and jerk, callaloo and marinated seafood dishes. Of course, the 33 beautiful beaches aren’t too shabby either—Meads Bay Beach tops many best-beaches lists.
What to do: Eat! At only 26 miles in length and a few miles wide, Anguilla does an impressive job of packing a lot of flavor into its small island. The nation’s national dish is pigeon peas and rice, a one-pot dish of pigeon peas, rice, spices and herbs. Grilled spiny lobster is a delicious treat at Da’Vida Restaurant, where the views are equally fantastic. For a more laid-back dining experience, visit the Sunshine Shack on Rendezvous Bay for a seafood and barbecue lunch with the sand beneath your toes.
Where to stay: Speaking of the breathtaking Rendezvous Bay, it’s where you’ll find the 178 luxurious suites and villas of Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club. Aside from multiple golf courses, you’ll find a rejuvenating spa, cooking classes and wine tastings, a family-friendly pool complex with a splash pad and lazy river and an amphitheater for live performances.