ST. THOMAS – U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Most visitors arrive at the US Virgin Islands via St Thomas, and the place knows how to strike a first impression. Jungly cliffs poke high in the sky, red-hipped roofs blossom over the hills, and all around the turquoise, yacht-dotted sea laps. St Thomas is the most commercialized of the Virgins, with cruise-ship traffic and big resorts galore, but it’s also a fine island to sharpen your knife and fork, and kayak through mangrove lagoons.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Hmm, which of the US Virgin Islands (USVI) to choose for hammock-strewn beaches, conch fritters and preposterously blue water? Easy: any one, though each differs in personality. St Thomas has more resorts and water sports than you can shake a beach towel at. It’s the most developed island, with dizzying cruise-ship traffic. St John cloaks two-thirds of its area in parkland and sublime shores, ripe for hiking and snorkeling. It leads the way in environmental preservation. The largest Virgin, St Croix, pleases divers and drinkers with extraordinary scuba sites and rum factories. It’s the furthest island and offers the greatest immersion in local life. Wherever you go, get ready for reggae rhythms, curried meats and mango-sweetened microbrews. These are US territories, but they feel a world away, mon.
From high mountain peaks to shimmering reefs, spicy salsa rhythms to deep rolling reggae, pirate hideouts to sugar-sand beaches, the Caribbean is dizzyingly diverse.
You can find any kind of island adventure here. With so many islands, beaches, cultures, flavors and waves to choose from, how could this not be vacation paradise? You can do nothing on the sand, party at a resort, explore a new community, hop between islands, discover wonders under the water or catch a perfect wave above, revel in a centuries-old culture (and sway to some of the world’s greatest music while you’re at it), and then run off to find your inner pirate… Just about anything is possible in the Caribbean.
A Caribbean Mosaic
The Caribbean is a joyous mosaic of islands beckoning paradise-hunters, an explosion of color, fringed by beaches and soaked in rum. It’s a lively and intoxicating profusion of people and places spread over 7000 islands (fewer than 10% are inhabited). But, for all they share, there’s also much that makes them different. Can there be a greater contrast than between bustling Barbados and its neighbor, the seemingly unchanged-since-colonial-times St Vincent? Revolutionary Cuba and its next-door banking capital, the Caymans? Or between booming British-oriented St Kitts and its sleepy, Dutch-affiliated neighbor Sint Eustatius, just across a narrow channel?
Azure seas, white beaches, green forests so vivid they actually hurt the eyes – there is nothing subtle about the landscapes of the Caribbean. Swim below the waters for a color chart of darting fish and corals. Feel the sand between your toes at any one of a thousand picture-perfect beaches. Hike into emerald wilderness and spot the accents of red orchids and yellow parrots. Outdoor-adventure enthusiasts make a beeline for unspoilt islands such as nature-lovers’ Dominica and St Lucia’s iconic lush Piton mountains, which send out a siren call to climbers.
The tropical sunlight is infectious. Like birds shedding dull adolescent plumage, visitors leave their wardrobes of gray and black behind when they step off the plane and don the Caribbean palette. Even the food is colorful, with rainbows of produce brightening up the local markets. You’ll also see every hue at intense, costume-filled festivities like Carnival, celebrated throughout the region but particularly in Trinidad. Glorious crumbling Cuba, reggae-rolling Jamaica and Vodou-loving Haiti top the wish lists for travelers seeking unique cultural experiences and Unesco heritage havens.