Famous for its colourful rhythms and an atmosphere as sunny as it’s year-round climate, the Caribbean is an extremely popular beach break and honeymoon destination. A collection of more than 7000 islets, islands and cays, situated in the abundant Caribbean Sea, there are plenty of island hopping opportunities to suit all travellers who choose a Caribbean holiday.
The group of Caribbean Islands are composed of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the West Indies and the Lucayan Archipelago and it is a subregion of North America, located off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and east of Central America. The plethora of paradise beaches and numerous unspoilt islands make it one of the worlds most popular holiday destination.
Many travellers opt for the well-known islands of Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, although tiny islands such as Saint Barts and Saint Martin have grown in popularity with luxury travellers in recent years. Despite its dreamy appearance, the Caribbean has had a turbulent history. At one time or another, almost all islands in the Caribbean have been colonised by European powers, creating a fascinating mixture of cultures and languages.
Islands that are geographically close to one another are often worlds apart in terms of culture and atmosphere. From surfing in the Dominican Republic to relaxing to the laid-back rhythms of reggae in Jamaica or joining in the carnival celebrations in Trinidad, a tour of the Caribbean is a feast for the senses.
History of Caribbean
The islands of the Caribbean were first inhabited by Carib and Arawak peoples, but by the time of first European contact in 1492, the three major indigenous groups were the Taino of the Great Antilles, Bahamas and Leeward Islands, the Caribs of the Windward Islands and the Ciboney in Cuba. After the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the region was claimed by Spain and colonialists began to settle on a number of Caribbean islands. Enslavement of the native population followed as the colonists used their labour to extract the wealth of resources contained within the land, resulting in a high number of deaths. As the Spanish Empire began to decline, other European powers started to establish their own presence in the Caribbean, including the British, French, Dutch and even Danish empires.
The 17th and 18th centuries in the Caribbean were marked by tense rivalry between colonial powers and real-life pirates, such as Francis Drake and Calico Jack, who intercepted Spanish vessels, plundering the riches on board. The dark era of the slave trade saw African slaves transported across the Atlantic to British, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. On a holiday to the Caribbean, you can experience how African influences are at the heart of Caribbean culture. The first independent nation in the region was Haiti, which declared its independence from France in 1804, following years of uprisings and conflict.
British colonies slowly gained independence over the 20th century, although several islands still have governmental ties to a number of European powers. Due to its close ties with Europe, the Caribbean has been promoted as a tourist destination since the beginning of the 20th century. Although islands such as Haiti and Cuba have chosen not the pursue foreign tourists, holidays to the Caribbean have been popular ever since, bringing fast development to a number of islands and an economic boom. Caribbean cruises are another popular option to experience the wide array of attractions and natural beauty of the different islands.
Nature in the Caribbean
Unsurprisingly, with its thousands of islands and enviable year-round sunshine, the Caribbean has one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, ranging from cactus shrublands to cloud forests, rainforests and vibrant coral reefs, home to a dizzying array of wildlife such as sea turtles, dolphins, howler monkeys, three-toed sloths and flamingos. Less than 10% of the total number of islands in the Caribbean are inhabited, leaving plenty of space for mother nature to work her magic.
If there is one thing that springs to mind when envisaging a holiday to the Caribbean it is the plentiful stretches of picture-perfect beachline, sunkissed and surrounded by clear turquoise waters, perfect for snorkelling enthusiasts. The islands of the Caribbean are also characterised by their verdant interiors, awash with tropical rainforests that abound with colourful flowers such as orchids. Nature lovers are spoilt for choice on a tour of the Caribbean as there are plenty of outdoor activities to either get your heart-pumping or to help you unwind.
One of the regions famed natural attractions is the Piton Mountains of St. Lucia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with hiking paths, climbing opportunities and luscious hot springs, surrounding the towering Gros Piton Mountain. The island of Barbados boasts plenty of beautiful natural environments, from exotic flower forests to the subterranean world of Harrison's Cave. Jamaica is home to the pretty Dunn River Falls, whilst in the British Virgin Islands travellers on a trip to the Caribbean can enjoy snorkelling in the Baths National Park, a unique series of rock pools formed from molten granite boulders.
Culture in the Caribbean
Depending on which islands you visit, a tour of the Caribbean reveals a rich and varied regional culture, from the laid-back vibes of Jamaica to the ancient voodoo traditions of historic Haiti, there's a lot of unique and colourful elements to Caribbean culture. Due to the region’s history of colonisation, a variety of languages are spoken from one island to the next, including English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Haitian Creole and Papiamento.
Christianity is the predominant religion and there are strong African and Amerindian influences on the Caribbean’s traditions, arts and culture. A celebrated element of the islands is their multi-culturalism, with a very open society, known for their brilliant sense of humour and ‘Caribbean wit’, often opting to look on the bright side of life. Celebrations are a large part of the Caribbean culture, with the annual Carnival celebrated on most islands In the days leading up to the Christian festival of Lent.
If you travel to the Caribbean during this time you can expect to be met with extravagant costumes, energetic dancing and plenty of partying! The Caribbean has a long history of sports, with some of the world’s most well-renowned athletes, such as Usain Bolt, hailing from the region. The successful West Indies Cricket Team is another example of the Caribbean’s sporting pride.
A holiday to the Caribbean is a chance to kick back and while away the days soaking up a sunny atmosphere and idyllic landscapes. Island-hop to appreciate the diverse mix of cultures, head into the island interiors to admire the biodiversity or simply prop up a chair and relax in your own little slice of paradise.