When you think of the Caribbean, you probably just think of the basics such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, maybe even Turks and Caicos. Am I right? I recently finished a course of all the Caribbean islands and there's so much to the Caribbean Sea than your typical tourist destinations. I'm talking hiking, mountains, lush rainforests, waterfalls, rivers, jungles, and of course beautiful beaches. Here's a list of some gorgeous islands that I had never even heard of before, that have a ton to offer:
Sint Eustatius (Statia)
These islands are actually on the eastern side of the Caribbean. Anguilla and Statia make up part of the Leeward Islands, while Dominica and Martinique make up part of the Windward Islands. Curacao is part of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) to the south. Each of these islands are part of the Lesser Antilles, and they're each unique and beautiful in their own way.
Anguilla has 33 beaches. Yup. 33 beautiful, sandy beaches within just 35 square miles. To fly in, connections have to be made from San Juan, St. Martin, Antigua, or St. Thomas. Anguilla has a wide range of upscale resorts, hotels, guesthouses, villa rentals and inns. This island is super low key, and a lot of celebs come here to relax and get away from the crowd. There's one road that runs the entire length of the island and in the middle of the island is The Valley, which is the islands capital, home of the airport, and some shopping.
There's tons of coral reefs, five marine parks, and a few sunken ships that ended up creating an artificial reef system. Sounds like a pretty cool place to dive if you ask me. Snorkeling and windsurfing are pretty popular here too. Just be aware of the crazy waves and strong undertow of the Atlantic side. Sailboat racing season is from May to August, and the August Monday race kicks off their Carnival celebration. There's a major variety of food in Anguilla such as seafood, French, Italian, Greek, Indian and Chinese. If you're looking to get away to a secluded, beautiful island with amazing beaches, Anguilla is the spot for you.
Sint Eustatius (Statia)
Whether you're an eco-traveler, hiker, diver, beach-goer or history buff, Statia has something for everyone. There's so much to see and do within the 8.1 square miles of this island. You'll have to catch a ferry or flight from Sint Maarten to get here. Statia doesn't have any luxury resorts or high-rises, ( no high-rises is probably a refreshing site for those who frequent Florida). You can stay in the capital of Oranjestad or in the islands interior. The hotels here don't have any air conditioning though, but the wind usually keeps tourists and islanders cool enough. In Oranjestad, you can see building foundations underwater at the shoreline, and the capital is divided into Lower Town and Upper Town. In Lower Town there's dive shops, ruins, and the harbor. Upper Town has museums, and beautiful historic buildings. Fun facts: Benjamin Franklin had his mail routed through Statia and this small island was the first foreign power to salute a U.S. flag vessel after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
The most perfect volcano in the Caribbean lives in St. Eustatius. Mt. Mazinga, or The Quill, is a National Park on the southern end of the island. If you're a hiker, you can hike all 2,000 feet to descend into a lush tropical rainforest. How cool?! You can even hunt for land crabs at night in the crater of The Quill. There's three beaches in Statia, all with either black and tan sand. Again, be aware of the dangerous undertows on the Atlantic side. There's over 30 dive sites to explore coral reefs, canyons, and historical wrecks. If you're looking to explore colonial history, be active, and immerse yourself in nature, Statia is a great option.
Dominica has climbed it's way high up on my list of "I wanna go here." And no, Dominica is not associated in any way with the Dominican Republic. Dahm-uh-nee-kuh. Once again, you'll have to catch a flight or ferry from a surrounding island to get here. Dominica is great for tourists on a budget because of the amount of small inns, guesthouses and cottages. Roseau (the capital) and Portsmouth have museums, botanical gardens, cafes, craft shops, and interesting buildings. There are numerous nature points of interest. These are just a few:
Titou Gorge, a water-filled canyon by the base of a waterfall
Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a beautiful and lush rainforest
Morne Trois Pitons, the highest point in the National Park that also happens to be an active volcano
Boiling Lake, the world's second largest hot spring
Dominica is full of fishing villages, volcanic beaches, waterfalls, rivers, pools, hiking trails, coastal drives, and even a few beaches on the northern end of the island. This is a place you absolutely don't wanna miss out on. Swimming, kayaking, hiking, OH MY!
Even the food is delicious. Fish, stew, callaloo soup, all with a Creole twist. There's even a KFC and you can find other fast food options too.
Do you love French culture and the beach? If yes, the volcanic island of Martinique will probably be your new favorite. The countryside is where you'll find inns and small restaurants, to the west and the south is where you'll find the resorts that are similar to those of the French Riviera. In the capital of Fort-de-France, there's tons of historic and beautiful buildings. You can watch the cruise ships come in from La Savane, the waterfront park. On the southside with the beaches and resorts you'll also find fishing villages. Windsurfing is super popular along with all of the other watersports, and it's a sailors paradise. Hiking and mountain climbing at the Parc Naturel Regional de la Martinique would make a great day filled with adventure. Martinique is said to have the best food in the Caribbean. What could be better than French-Caribbean cuisine? If you're adventurous and a foodie, this island is like heaven for you.
Story time: In 1902, the volcano of Mt Pelee erupted and went down as one of the deadliest eruptions in history. It's said that there was just one survivor on the entire island, Ludger Sylbaris, only because he had been arrested for fighting and was put into a solitary confinement cell underground. Even now the volcano is still active and is under continuous watch. Craaaaazy.
Last but not least, the beautiful country of Curacao. Its capital, Willemstad, is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Dutch inspired colorful houses are amazing to see.
If you're into beaching, diving, watersports, gambling, shopping, nightlife and culture, then this is the place for you to be. In Willemstad, the sea channel divides the city in two: Punda and Otrobanda. The Queen Emma Bridge is a pedestrian walkway that crosses the channel. From the bridge, there's beautiful views of the city. There's plenty of city sights to see here, and a floating market from boats that arrive from Venezuela. Curacao has a Sea Aquarium (Dolphin Academy), Boca Grandi in the Christoffel National Park are Indian caves with paintings left by the Arawaks, hiking trails, and beautiful beaches. Local cuisine, kryioyo, is a mixture of European, West Indian, and Indonesian flavors. Fast food chains are there too. Curacao is great if you're looking to do a little bit of everything. From sight-seeing, lazy days on the beach, shopping from local vendors, spending some time in the water, and even doing a bit of gambling.