12 Wildly Underrated Caribbean Destinations for a Warm Winter Escape
In search of some good vibrations this winter to escape the shorter days, colder nights, and drastically diminishing returns from cuffing season? If the conch-tastic idyll of the Caribbean is the first region that comes to mind, you’re not alone. We’ve all heard of Aruba and Jamaica, but why not take your besties to a lesser-known (and equally blissful) spot on the Caribbean Sea? We’re all about getting into that tropical spirit, from hiking the tropical mountains of Saba (an island without a single beach) to luxuriating at the first-ever five-star resort in Dominica. The best part of the entire adventure? Your vacation will be helping communities that, in the wake of last year's hurricanes, appreciate your support as a traveler more than ever. The Caribbean spirit perseveres, and many of these destinations have emerged stronger than before; there's never been a better time to discover that for yourself.
If you do have any anxiety about picking the best Caribbean destination for you in 2019, CheapCaribbean is launching Beach Boldly, which helps plan travel that is catered toward your New Year's resolutions. Whether you want to drink more cocktails or learn more about world history and culture or jump in more boiling lakes, the Caribbean has everything you want and need.
Belize: Recently it seems that everyone is looking to visit Belize: Honeymooners, friends, your work wife, your ex-work husband. Nevertheless, this Caribbean paradise along the eastern shores of Central America remains pristine and largely untraveled. In fact, Belize is full of hidden gems. Experience the fantastically named Monkey River Village in the Belizean jungle, snorkel in the multi-hued barrier reefs and, of course, take a journey over to Ambergris Caye. Though there are many other cayes in Belize, this particularly iconic destination is the inspiration for Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." From breathtaking rainforests to luxurious beachside villas, it's no wonder Madonna fell for the country's beauty in the '80s. Thankfully, it remains just as intoxicating today. Be sure to hit up the beach bars in San Pedro, and make room in your schedule for another national icon with a tour of the Great Blue Hole.
Willemstad, Curaçao: For our next choice, we're headed further south, just off the coast of Venezuela. Curaçao, the third alphabetic member in the "ABC Islands" (alongside Aruba and Bonaire), is an architecture-lover's dream (not to mention an Instagram-lover's fantasy). Though Curaçao is an autonomous country, it remains within the Royal Dutch Kingdom, and Holland's influence is evident in the Dutch colonial architecture of the capital city of Willemstad, where the inner city and harbor make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city's colors have to be seen to be believed, with vibrant pink and orange hues enlivening city blocks that would otherwise resemble Amsterdam, thanks to their historic buildings and waterways (and the people speaking Dutch). The colorful capital city is always lively year-round, and everything on the island is "dushi" — gorgeous, nice, good. The word is very popular in Papiamentu, the local, native language of the ABC Islands, and has become a catch-all description of Curaçao's beauty. You'll just have to visit to find out why.
St. John, US Virgin Islands: "Positive Is the Way I Live" can be found on many a bumper sticker (on the interior of a boat, or otherwise) on St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. Much of this lush oasis in the tropics is preserved by the Virgin Islands National Park, a tropical wilderness that extends across the hilly island, earning its nickname of "America's Paradise." The food scene is spectacular, as well, thanks to a culinary trend that's exploding throughout the Virgin Islands. And the warm culture and rich history makes St. John a can't-miss Caribbean journey. Trawl their social media on a winter's day to feel warm inside again.
South Caicos, Turks and Caicos: I know what you’re thinking: Turks and Caicos isn’t undiscovered. But there’s more to this luxurious archipelago than celebrities on vacation — and one of the best-kept secrets in Turks and Caicos is the island of South Caicos. While Providenciales, the most populated island, boasts the kind of (outrageously fun) nightlife and culture one would expect at an internationally renowned vacation destination, South Caicos offers travelers a more authentic, immersive cultural experience. The locals far outnumber the tourists, and the breathtaking arid forests have to be seen to be believed. The best place to see it (and believe it)? Frolicking with donkeys at Sailrock Resort, of course. The resort offers serenity and escapism from its idyllic perch overlooking the breathtakingly turquoise Atlantic Ocean. (Seriously, the water in Turks and Caicos is unlike anything you've ever seen before.) The luxurious villas and hotel serve up that A-list splendor, but it's still affordable if you book a villa with friends.
Saba Island, Dutch West Indies: For our next tropical adventure, we're moving from the brilliantly vivid seaside of Turks and Caicos to the cloud-forests of Saba Island in the Dutch West Indies. If these islands were elements in astrology, then Saba is definitely an air sign to the Turks and Caicos water-bearer. Those mountains! Those vertiginous views! If you've never heard of Saba Island, you're definitely not alone, but such ignorance will not persist for very long — especially when you consider the aptly named vista that is the peak of Mt. Scenery, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The five-square-mile island is one of the few in the Caribbean that don't have beaches, offering pristine stretches of mountainous greenery instead. But it's not all about going "into the wild": Dutch Museum Saba is a fascinating exploration of the island's history and the Dutch influence it shares with Curacao. (Photo via Saba Tourist Bureau)
Dominica, West Indies: You wouldn't be blamed for not having heard of our next choice, either, though your world (or at least your short-term vacation planning) is certainly about to be upturned. This gorgeous archipelago, aptly named "Nature Island," is home to Champagne Reef and the Boiling Lake — not to mention rainforests, waterfalls, and just about any other natural wonder you can imagine. It's hard to decide whether Dominica would be an earth or a fire sign, but we're leaning toward earth. This undiscovered oasis in the West Indies is undoubtedly a paradise on earth, after all, even if it also plays host to frequent rumblings from the underworld: The tiny island accounts for nine of the 16 volcanoes in the Caribbean. Similar to Saba, this archipelago is ideal for the adventure traveler, though Dominica matches its ruggedness with luxury as well. And there's never been a better time to visit: Dominica's first beachfront five-star resort, Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica, opens its doors in 2019. This seaside getaway is tucked away among gorgeous Cabrits National Park, offering both land and sea, modern elegance and the great outdoors. For those who like their outdoors to be filled with shops and restaurants, a visit to the port city of Rouseau is definitely recommended. But the ultimate must-visit during your stay is the Kalinago Barana Auté, the Carib Cultural Village by the Sea, which pays tribute to the history and traditions of the Kalinago people. Their fascinating and unique heritage is a wonderful way to learn more about Dominica. After all, they certainly are the gatekeepers: The Kalinago settled Dominica a millennium ago.
Anegada, British Virgin Islands: We're on to the British Virgin Islands for our next destination, bringing in fire as our final zodiac element. We can credit the upcoming Yacht Week with the BVIs being #lit, particularly from December 27 to January 10, when the festivities kick off — or, rather, set sail — before a second expedition later in March. It's no secret that the best way to experience these breathtakingly mountainous islands is by boat, but one island in particular gives us more than enough reason to come ashore and stay for a while (preferably forever): Anegada Island. One of our favorite spots in the British Virgin Islands, Anegada is the only coral island in the chain, and everything on the island is unbelievably devoted to its color scheme. Anegada boasts the ultimate display of millennial pink, thanks to the color of the sand on its beaches, the iconic (and begging to be Instagrammed) neon pink flamingos, and the abundance of conch shell mounds everywhere you turn. Anegeda is also home to Horseshoe Reef, the world's third-largest barrier reef. After surviving the devastation of Hurricane Irma last fall, Anegada is now welcoming visitors once again — so pack up your passport and hop on a plane, because now's your chance to visit when it means the most. (Photo via BVI Tourism)
Abaco Islands, Bahamas: Though we’re devastated to forfeit our astrology sequence (do notify us if there’s an element we’re unaware of), this destination makes perfect sense to follow the BVIs, since you probably think you’d heard everything there was to know about the Bahamas too. But forget Nassau — opt instead for Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands, where there's no shortage of undiscovered treasure. Treasure Cay is known as one of the best-kept secrets of the Bahamas, though the yachts that migrate there every year are certainly in on the information. You don't have to be a millionaire to arrive in style: Air Unlimited flies passengers to these islands daily from Sanford, Florida, for the non-Kardashian price of $677 round-trip. Plus, the plane seats up to nine people, so it's spacious enough for you to invite the friends you think would most appreciate swimming with pigs. That's right: You don't have to be in Exuma to experience swimming pigs in the Caribbean.
St. Peter, Barbados: We'd be remiss not to pay homage to the homeland of the magnificent Rihanna. This beautiful and vibrant easternmost island nation in the Caribbean is host to a multitude of festivals every year. Like Turks and Caicos, Barbados is surrounded by the Atlantic — spend your nights at the chic boutique hotel Cobblers Cove and your mornings attempting to hang ten (or at least five) on the best surf you'll find until you cross the Atlantic to reach the Canary Islands. Even if you don't hit the waves, you can always pretend you did later in the day at Surfer's Café. Travelers should try to plan their trip early for Barbados Sailing Week, which in 2019 is January 16-22, featuring lots of sailing (to Antigua), rum, and polo matches. So, basically, heaven.
Saint Barthélemy, French West Indies: We're moving from Rihanna to Beyonce for our next choice for the legendarily gorgeous and sophisticated island of St. Barths. We invoke the word "legend" here very seriously: If it's fabulous enough for Beyonce and Jay-Z, it's more than fabulous enough for the rest of us. But there's more to this island than the glitz. St. Barths harbors a strong heritage of hospitality and community. This feeling retreat, of vacation (all we ever wanted), is enhanced by the remoteness of the island. The nearest international airport is a shuttle plane away, in St. Martin. And there is no better place to experience the charms of St. Barths than at the iconic Le Barthélemy, preferably sitting on the crescent-shaped beach with a cocktail (and a book!) in hand. The St. Barths memoir Blue by longtime visitor (and artist and writer) David Coggins should be required reading for all travelers to the island, whether it's your first time or your 60th. (Photo via Le Barthélemy)
Nevis, Saint Kitts and Nevis: Next up, we have another mountainous Caribbean Island, similar to Saba, which is also more of an off-the-beaten path destination. Less well known than the neighboring Saint Kitts, the second half of the dual-island nation remains a treat for explorers. With its plethora of natural freshwater springs and volcanic hot springs, it's easy to see why the original inhabitants named it Oualie, or "Land of Beautiful Waters." If you're feeling up to taking in some history, you can visit the Museum of Nevis History, housed in Alexander Hamilton's childhood home, which was restored 35 years ago after an earthquake had previously destroyed it.
Isla Del Cocos, Costa Rica: From La Isla Bonita to the Isla Del Cocos, we're ending of our list in a place similar to where we started, in another Central American country, not too far away in Belize. Similar to St. John, the majority of this uniquely forested Costa Rican island remains largely untouched, preserved by Coco Island National Park. Similarly, while St. John is sheltered from the cruise ships that arrive in St. Thomas by sheer lack of proximity (it requires a boat), Isla Del Cocos is similarly removed — though even more so. The island in North Puntarenas available for visits during daytime hours only, which has allowed the island's diverse wildlife and ecosystem to flourish, exemplifying a move toward eco-oriented travel. Mixing conservation with vacation, if you will — and we will. (Photo via Costa Rica Tourism Bureau)
What’s your dream destination in the Caribbean? Let us know @BritandCo.
What’s your dream destination in the Caribbean? Let us know @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)