Getaway to these Paradise Islands of the Caribbean
Would you like to switch off from the 'hustle and bustle' of everyday life. We have put together six Caribbean islands where you can do just that. Whether you choose to visit one or all, they all offer their distinct take on life in the tropics. From sand, surf and snorkelling to eco-treks into the rainforest, island arts and hot nights on the beach dining on freshly cooked fish, every island has its unique charms, but also a shared appeal to anyone looking for effortless relaxation and more active pursuits when you are ready to get up from that lounger.
With secluded bays and hot springs, volcanoes and rainforest, Saint Lucia is an adventurer's Caribbean escape. Of course, you're welcome to simply kick back on its beautiful beaches and enjoy a spot of sun-kissed rest and relaxation, but could you really resist the allure of the volcanic slopes of Petit Piton and Gros Piton, covered in dense green rainforest?
Wherever you go, the island's lush landscapes and stunning coastlines promise excitement. Speed over the treetops on a zipwire at Babonneau Park or take an aerial tram ride for a bird's eye view of the wildlife. Get close to the steaming thermal springs and take a hike across the mountainous terrain. Turn your gaze to the coast and take a Sea Trek, a guided underwater walking tour where even non-swimmers of all ages can see the wonder below the waves without the need for scuba gear.
There's street culture too. The month of May is Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, one of the world's most prestigious gathering of its kind, but all year round, the local music scene in the north of the island offers a superb soundtrack to nights spent hanging out in the cafes and bars of Castries and Rodney Bay Village.
The Autumn's legendary Barbados Food and Rum Festival is undoubtedly one of the year's great get-togethers, but if your passion is to travel and sample the flavours of a country, you won't be disappointed whenever you choose to visit the beautiful island.
Far a start (and it's a pretty significant start), there's Barbados rum. There are several distilleries to visit, notably Mount Gay, which was established in 1703 and is considered to be the oldest rum in the world. Its lush setting makes the distillery tour even more inviting, with a chance to see how their liquid gold is crafted before sitting down to lunch feast.
Barbados is an island to explore from every angle, on a catamaran cruise around its 70 miles of stunning coast, with a trip into the magical 'cathedral' of crystallised limestone of Harrison's Caves, on a stroll through picturesque, historic Bridgetown and even under the water, o an Atlantis Submarines tour.
There are sports to watch and do throughout the year. The sporting calendar includes the Barbados Independence Surf Festival with pro and junior competitions every November at the Soup Bowl at Bathsheba, a world-renowned spot for competitors and experienced surfers. The Run Barbados series in December hosts events for all abilities, with 3K, 5K and 10K routes, in addition to a half and full marathon. Afterwards, runners dive into the Caribbean for a well-earned dip.
Of course, you can learn a lot from a new place by seeing how the locals like to relax. Oistins Fish Fry, therefore, is a must. It's a feast of foodie delights every Friday night, shrimp, swordfish and marlin to order while you wait. Everyone sits out to eat, play dominoes and browse the crafts at the market stalls, while the sounds of calypso and reggae fill the air.
There are festivals all through the year, too, including May's Gospelfest and December's Classical Pops, with the exuberant carnival highlight of the Crop Over Festival in July and August. The spirit of celebration always brings the islanders and visitors together, especially for Crop Over's finale, Kadooment Day. This magical spectacle is all about costumes, calypso bands and dancing, an unforgettable experience so typical of the island's extra-special festival atmosphere.
You can go at your own pace in Jamaica. Take a dip in the clear blue waters, walk along gorgeous white sandy beaches, watch the cricket or play dominoes, and sip a rum or two while the rest of the world does the work and you can get on with the job of relaxing.
See a side of Jamaica that is stunning and fresh. The new road from the capital, Kingston, to Ocho Rios opens up all kinds of easier options. A journey that used to take over two hours now takes 50 minutes and puts you in easy reach of the north coast resort's bustling markets and shopping streets and the natural wonder of Coyaba Botanical Gardens.
Ocho Rios, so named because of it eight rivers, has a wealth of nearby attractions to keep you busy. Why not go on a rainforest adventure on Mystic Mountain? Take the Sky Explorer chairlift up the mountain, enjoy the amazing views over Ocho Rios Bay, then, if you can hold your nerve, jump on the bobsled ride on a winding, snow-free course that speeds downhill through exotic flora and fauna. Perfect for taste of 'Cool Runnings' magic.
There are many other active pleasures, too. Go rafting on the Martha Brae river and climb through the cascades of the beautiful, world-famous Dunn's River Falls. Then, when it's time to wind down, take a drive through the peaceful hill country to the small village of Nine Mile, Bob Marley's childhood home, where you can visit the reggae legend's final resting place.
In and around the resort town of Punta Cana, on the Dominican Republic's eastern tip, it seems as if music is always in the air. By day you can take a catamaran cruise or snorkel, before simply relaxing on the sands to hear the rhythms of the waters. By night, teh beasts of local life change their tempo, merengue and bachata float out from the bars, bands play live and the offer of a dance is only an arm's length away.
And there's plenty more culture to check out. Santo Domingo is the island's capital and the oldest city in the Americas. Cosmopolitan and colourful, it's a wonderful place to wander, with grand old palaces now turned over to museums and restaurants. That's if you can tear yourself away from your spa hotel, of course. Or your time spent on one of the island's 30 golf courses. Away from the culture fix of the city, simply chill out with the kitesurfers at Cabarete or book yourself onto a whale watching expedition in Samana Bay.
When you experience the natural wonders of Tobago, the spectacle is so unspoilt you'd swear you're the first person in the world to have seen its extraordinary raw beauty. From the flat coral platform that makes up the southwest tip of the island to the coastal plains and the mountains in the north east, it's a landscape that has not surprisingly won numerous awards as the Best eco Destination in the World.
Unleash your inner explorer and see where a day out will take you. Seek out secluded waterfalls and hike around the main Ridges Rainforest Reserve, with its ancient verdant canopy and spectacularly diverse wildlife including over 200 species of birds. See if you can spot a red howler monkey or two, and stay in one of ecolodges. Or head for Bon Accord Lagoon, where the mangrove swamps are only accessible by boat or kayak.
Tobago is the ultimate outdoor holiday destination. You can go turtle watching at Buccoo Reef or book a trip on a glass-bottomed boat, then when you feel a beeline for nearby Nylon Pool. This shallow basin of while coral sand, improbably out at sea off Pigeon Point beach, is a idyllic spot for swimming and snorkelling.
If you are feeling energetic, go horse riding or ziplining, or choose your favourite water sport. Play golf or so as the locals do and go 'pulling seine' (catching fish). Tobago town life is a little different, too. There's gourmet dining, festivals and street parties, historic sites to visit, plus the unmissible, and hotly contested, goat and crab races at Buccoo Village. And if you come at the right time of year, you'll see the island's unique harvest celebrations, where everyone moves from house to house, enjoying food, drink and a warm welcome, Tobago-style.
Alternatively, simply stretch out and relax on one of the island's many idyllic beaches, watching the azure waters lapping the shoreline as you chill out, within easy reach of the chic resort hotels and fishing village guest houses, yet isolated enough to make you feel like you've really escaped.
The 'Spice Island' is a treat for all the senses. From the nutmeg processing station at Gouyave to Grand Etang National Park, from the beaches on the Caribbean side of the island to the crashing waves of the rugged Atlantic coast, sensual pleasures abound. Smell the nutmeg, taste the salty oil down (a much-loved local stew), feel the soft sand beneath your feet, hear the rush of cascading waterfalls and see art on a snorkelling trip to the world's first Underwater Sculpture Park.
From beach to rainforest, Grenada is many delights in one, and whether you're getting active or chilling out, you'll find a warm welcome and a plate of something good to eat when you're ready for the evening. Around Grand Anse beach, restaurants showcase the eclectic Grenadian style, reflecting West Indian tastes for African, French, Spanish and Indian cuisines, while the pretty captital, St George's, has amazing seafood joints like the celebrated BB's Crabback.