This is a guest post.
Hundreds of islands (some definitions count thousands) make up the magnificent geographical jewel collectively called the Caribbean. Its history is rife with tales of exploration, occupation, and slavery, a result of many years of having “visitors” take one look at the beauty and bounty of this tropical paradise and promptly claiming it as their (Queen or King’s) own.
With territorial disputes settled for the time being, if you’re looking to book a trip to the Caribbean, going on holiday there will allow you to reap the benefits of these various “cultural infusions”. Vestiges of European colonialism combined with African slave customs and the surviving indigenous Taino people’s traditions make for a wonderfully rich travel experience.
While only two per cent of the Caribbean’s islands are inhabited, that still leaves many, many gems – and that’s not including day trips to the exquisite un-peopled islands where you can pitch a tent and play castaway for a sun-soaked spell. With this much to choose from, where to book your trip? Imagine a glistening white-sand beach and warm, light-blue, crystal-clear water. Well pretty much all the islands have all that, so if beach-sitting’s your main travel goal this time, just find a good package deal and bliss out. But if you also like digging in and exploring local culture, you’ll want to hit a couple of hot-spots.
Believe it or not, Jamaica is only the ninth most visited Caribbean country, but global awareness of its culture has got to be number one (Thanks Bob.) Black (mostly rebel slave) daily rhythms grew to overshadow those of the original Tainos, Spanish and British conquerors (also of the Chinese and Indians who were sent here to work) – and the rest is colorful, jerk-spice, melodious history. Its idiom-rich language, flavorful food, spellbinding reggae music (and its lay-you-back counterpart ganja), colorful towns, and “memorable” rum punch will all fuel your enjoyment of this sun-splashed country. (There are warnings out there about safety, but just know and stay out of the dangerous-for-the-locals parts of towns, travel smart, and keep your wits and wallets about you in public places.)
The D.R. lays claim to a few distinctions in the region’s history: independence (the first time) gained a hundred years before the decolonization of other islands; its capital city Santo Domingo was the Spanish capital of the New World (aka the Gateway to the Caribbean) and built the New World’s first cathedral, hospital, and university; plus a secret society of intellectuals’ staged a successful coup there in 1838. This eighth-most-visited island is, like many others, known for its beautiful beaches, music (merengue), and rum they claim is the best in the world. Dominican cuisine is mighty meaty, not-on-the-lighter-side, and delicious. They also throw a great Carnival. Indigenous Taino, Spanish, African, and French traditions influence the culture, but the Dominicans consider themselves more Latin American than Caribbean, and they retain close ties with the United States.
When you’re trip-planning, also keep in mind lesser-known Caribbean islands like Anguilla, Bonaire, Dominica, Saba – they’re usually a short flight from a major city and you can escape the hustle, bustle, and heavy tourism found in more popular ports.
Wait, but then there’s Cuba! This fascinating, colorful country is a must-see on many travelers’ lists – but it’ll have to be for another story.
Jennifer Kennedy is a freelance travel writer who specialises in independent travel in the Americas. Image credits: Frank Roche and ronsaunders47 on Flickr used under creative commons licence.