A cruise destination that needs little introduction, the Caribbean has been welcoming cruise ships to its various islands since the late 19th century. It’s a region that lends itself perfectly to the nature of a cruise holiday offering year-round sunshine, glorious white-sand beaches and plenty of entertainment and activities for all ages.
However, for those looking to get a little bit more out of their time ashore in the region, we’ve highlighted 5 popular ports of call in the Caribbean that have so much more to offer than just sun, sea and brightly coloured-cocktails. Join us as we embark on a journey of colonial histories, pirate folklore, dense jungles and magnificent volcanic backdrops…
We start with one of the most popular Caribbean ports of call; Barbados. Situated east of the Caribbean Sea, Barbados is everything you would expect from a Caribbean island. The days are warm and sunny; the nights are as relaxed or as raucous as you make them and the people are friendly and welcoming. The Barbadian’s have a saying which goes “Long Live Life” and it’s this invigorating passion that underlines everything that’s great about the island.
Like many islands in the Caribbean, Barbados has a rich and compelling history that simply begs to be explored further. Throughout the island there are many museums and heritage centres geared up for providing visitors with a friendly overview of how the island has been transformed into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
For those interested in delving a little deeper into Barbados’s heritage, we’d recommend a tour of one of the island’s many plantation houses such as Sunbury House. Lovingly crafted and the survivor of many hurricane seasons, Sunbury House was built back in the mid 1600s and has been carefully restored so the islands visitors can browse it’s superb collection of agricultural antiques and farming equipment.
Barbados is also a fantastic island for those who like to take an active approach to their days ashore. From wildlife tours to hikes over the sugar cane hills, the island offers lots for those who seek more than just a relaxing day on the sand. For the more adventurous still, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy snorkelling excursions, jet-ski sessions and a multitude of other water-based activities.
However, if sampling a local tipple is more to your liking, then take a trip to the fantastic Four Square Distillery. A former sugar factory, the distillery occupies 8 acres of land dedicated to producing some of the world’s best rum and has been doing so since 1636! Its open 7 days a week and the tours are self-guided so you can amble along at your leisure.
As already touched on, you’ll find that many cruise lines offer cruises that depart from Barbados so it’s well worth arriving a few days before your ship is due to set sail so that you can fully immerse yourself in everything this wonderful island has to offer.
Cruise lines visiting Barbados in 2012:
Situated on the borders of Mexico and Guatemala, Belize has become an increasingly frequent addition to many Caribbean cruise itineraries. It’s a country that offers a wonderful combination of Central America’s lush, emerald green rainforests and the Caribbean’s crystal clear waters and inviting beaches.
Although small in size, Belize has over 174 miles of Caribbean coastline and boasts the longest reef in the southern hemisphere. The thick mangroves and shallow coral isles make Belize’s shoreline an ideal location for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts, with much of it previously unexplored but easily accessible by boat.
Venture further inland and you’ll soon come across Belize’s dense rainforest and its rich myriad of seldom-seen wildlife and exotic plants. Here you can enjoy scenic hiking trips or choose to journey further into the tropics and walk amongst the ruins that once were magnificent temples constructed by the Mayan civilisations during the region’s Mesoamerican period.
Many cruise lines up the ante where shore excursions in Belize are concerned, offering exhilarating day excursions including underground cave-tubing and zip-line cable rides through the jungle.
Cruise lines visiting Belize in 2012:
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Situated on the eastern border of the Caribbean Sea to the west of Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines comprises of 32 small exotic islands that enjoy a year-round tropical climate.
The largest of the islands, St Vincent, is typically Caribbean both in terms of culture and atmosphere. It is here you’ll find friendly local markets offering huge varieties of fresh fruit, fish and vegetables whilst the hill-top vantage points dotted around Port Charlotte offer fantastic coastal views for budding photographers.
St Vincent is also home to the magnificent La Soufriere Volcano. It’s an energetic hike to get to the summit and therefore is probably best recommended to those who don’t mind a bit of huff and puff, but those who do reach the top will be instantly rewarded with some of the Caribbean’s most breathtaking views.
Located below St Vincent are the other 31 islands that make up the Grenadines. These vary from the Mediterranean-esque ‘Spice Island’ of Grenada, to sparsely populated hideaways such as Tobago Cays and Union Island. These islands offer idyllic surroundings and are perfect for pitching up a hammock and enjoying a relaxing snooze in the cooling shade.
There are many cruise lines that visit St Vincent and the Grenadines on Caribbean itineraries, with most offering a range of superb shore excursions and activities. These can range from pirate-themed treasure hunts to short jaunts on authentic Caribbean schooners.
Cruise lines visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2012:
Turks and Caicos Islands
Still a relatively ‘new’ destination in many respects, the Turks and Caicos Islands offer an array of deserted beaches, secluded bays and secret coves. They truly are one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems and once you’ve visited them once, there’s a good chance you’ll soon start thinking about coming back to check out the places you’ve missed.
Only 8 of the 40 islands that make up the Turks and Caicos Islands are actually inhabited – though that’s not to say those arriving in the region won’t have enough to do. Visitors on cruise ships can partake in a nice variety of activities, from whale watching and kayaking to horse trekking and snorkelling.
If a relaxed stroll is more your thing, then make the most of your time ashore by having a wander around the island’s national museum – the Turks and Caicos Islands have a rich history, awash with tales of the pirates who were regular visitors to the islands throughout the 17th century in between adventures on the high seas.
Lovers of retail therapy will also be suitably impressed with what the Turks and Caicos Islands have to offer; there are many boutiques, bespoke art studios and impressive galleries that are ripe for exploration and trinket discovery.
Cruise lines visiting the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2012:
If visiting Puerto Rico for the first time, you might find it a challenge to pull yourself away from the lure of the many beautiful palm-tree lined beaches. However, if you are successful then you’ll find that this small tropical island offers much for cruise ship passengers and holiday-makers alike.
Puerto Rico is a vibrant island often compared to Cuba. Originally home to the Tainos, aboriginal peoples (who also inhabited the Bahamas) Puerto Rico was later claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain before being ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War. Each aspect of Puerto Rico’s colourful history is richly represented throughout the island and it’s an experience in itself just walk from street to street taking everything in.
For a slice of pure ‘Americana’, head down to the capital city of San Juan which offers kitsch casinos, funky bars and big American cars. It’s an assault on the senses in every sense of the word – there are neon lights, honky-tonk music and people dressed up for a night (or day!) on the town. It’s not something you’d expect to find in the Caribbean, but it offers a nice contrast nonetheless.
It is in San Juan that you’ll also find the high-walled Old Town, a sprawling town-within-a-city, with an index of cobbled streets, fine architecture and pastel coloured buildings serving as a reminder of Puerto Rico’s Spanish occupation which lasted for almost 400 years.
Puerto Rico also offers its fair share of natural beauty with The Caribbean’s ‘official national rainforest’, The El Yunque, highly recommend for hiking and horse-riding treks through the rugged mountainous ranges which are over-spilling with a colourful spectrum of flowers and fauna.
Depending on who you choose to cruise with, you’ll find that some cruise lines actually stay a bit later into the night when docking in Puerto Rico – which gives you the perfect opportunity to enjoy a bit of local cuisine in one of the many restaurants close to the port. Puerto Rican dishes are a tantalising fusion of Spanish, Mexican and Cuban flavours so it’s well worth skipping dinner on the ship and seeing what’s on offer.
Cruise lines visiting Puerto Rico in 2012:
Written by Clare Funnell. Copyright The Cruise Line Ltd.