Holiday packages, North America, Tours, Travel features

The islands of the Caribbean, a real earthly paradise that was once the preserve of the rich and famous, are now as accessible as the Costa Brava and offer a wealth of great activities and interest at a very reasonable outlay. The Caribbean is famed the world over for its fantastic beauty and climate, and apart from the fabulous palm-fringed beaches and sumptuous resorts, the region is saturated in exotic colonial history and has an enviable reputation for responsible eco-tourism. There’s something for everyone here on a family vacation, whether you’re into sunbathing, scuba diving, wildlife, culture or simply want to be pampered for a couple of weeks. So here’s my guide to the best Caribbean destinations to suit your travel style.

For activity junkies

Anyone with a flair for offshore sports should head straight for Aruba, an island with a great track record in world-class diving and boating. Apart from the lively club scene and range of exciting activities on offer it’s also safe for families. The Spanish when they first colonised the Caribbean in the early 16th century called Aruba and the two neighbouring islands of Curacao and Bonaire the ‘Useless Islands’, but nowadays they’re anything but that. The craggy limestone uplands and dazzlingly white beaches lure droves of tourists looking for water sports, rock climbing, trekking and clubbing. Underwater, the visibility is unrivalled even for these crystal-clear regions, and the coral reefs and shipwrecks offer divers in particular a world of adventure.

For sun worshiper

Of course, the Caribbean is synonymous with miles of clean, white, palm-fringed beaches in most peoples’ minds, and for once the glossy travel brochures don’t exaggerate. On Punta Cana you’ll find them at their best, almost impossibly perfect and equally impossible to capture by camera. You have to experience the 25 miles of virginal white sand, gently swaying cocoanut trees and absolutely crystal-clear waters for yourself, or die trying. This idyllic little Dominican Republic getaway has long been a favourite with European sun worshippers, and now with the nearby Americans starting to wake up to its allures you need to get there while it’s still relatively untouched.

For culture vultures

The Caribbean region has had a turbulent and varied history, occupied by most of the Western powers at one time or another, fought over, exploited and generally taken for granted down the centuries. They have however come into their own in the modern age of enlightened tourism, and there are monuments to their exotic past scattered across all of them. On Barbados you’ll find Georgian and Jacobean mansions constructed from pink coral, along with pirate strongholds and thoroughly Gothic churches. The first cathedral in the Caribbean was built in the Dominican Republic, and the island’s rich history can be seen in the Cultural Plaza museums and the spectacular Castle of Columbus in Santa Domingo. Check out the many islands to find out more about just how culturally rich and exciting the whole of this remarkable region is.

For nature lovers

Sustainability is high on the agenda when it comes to tourism in the Caribbean. This is a wonderful, rich and varied natural habitat for a bewildering variety of plants and animals, and the aim of numerous environmental initiatives is to keep it that way. There are nature reserves scattered across all the islands. If you have a passion for wildlife and its protection, visit the fabulous Pacuare Nature Reserve, which covers a vast swathe of tropical rainforest and 6km of beach on the coast of Costa Rica. The Maria Islands Nature Reserve just off the coast of St Lucia covers two tiny islands and protects rare species of reptiles, and you can snorkel and swim on a small beach there.