The Caribbean calls to mind the infinite possibility of golden sands, crystal clear waters and Creole cuisine. But to only allow the imagination to take you that far is to deny the other pleasures the region has to offer in abundance. Sure, the beaches are secluded, but the ports and towns are buzzing with life and swagger. Yes, the waters are clear, but they’re also teeming with sea life rarely seen in such variety anywhere else on the planet. Of course, Creole cooking is great, but the culinary diversity of the area is greater. A luxury Caribbean cruise is perhaps the best way to take it all in. With that in mind, here are 10 IDEAL ports of call on your next Caribbean cruise.
Havana, ooh na na. Sorry, we couldn’t help it. The Caribbean’s most famous city is the perfect combination of beautiful beaches, cobbled streets and underrated food. With its 1950s American cars and peeling Spanish-style buildings, it’s like being in a particularly hazy, extremely trendy Instagram shoot for your entire stay. Old Havana is a UNESCO-protected site, with 500 year old plazas, churches and winding streets just waiting to be explored. A must on any intinerary.
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, ST. THOMAS
The capital of the U.S Virgin Isles, the first thing that strikes you about Charlotte Amalie is the architecture, which blends its Danish colonial past with palm trees and flourishes of sunkissed colour so beloved of the region.
It’s a great place for a party; the city was formerly called ‘Taphus’ meaning ‘beer hall’, and the harbour used to be a favourite of some of the most enthusiastic drinkers in history, Blackbeard and Bluebeard. Tours of the town replete with pirate folklore are available to visitors, along with a stop off at a few watering holes along the way!
KING’S WHARF, BERMUDA
King’s Wharf is a popular port of call as the Royal Naval Dockyard is an expansive, six acre site and is able to receive a huge volume of tourists disembarking from the boats. In the port you’ll find the National Museum of Bermuda, an intriguing exploration of the history of the island, as well as a ferry dock which connects you to the capital of Bermuda, Hamilton City, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, St. Georges. Plenty of options, then, for those wanting to get out there and explore.
Historic Falmouth is a key stop off on any Caribbean cruise tour, as it offers unique history, an interesting array of churches and Georgian architecture. The port area is recently renovated and a National Heritage site, and is one of the most pristine places to spend some time in the whole Caribbean. Falmouth is also the focal point of the country’s rum and sugar cane trade. While you’re here, it’d be rude not to take a rum distillery tour; the Hampden Estate is just half an hour from the port. And don’t leave without sampling the perfect amalgamation of the town’s most famous exports; the rum cake.
MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
Well, we couldn’t only go to just one place in Jamrock, now could we? Montego Bay is another major cruise ship port with loads to offer the intrepid (or even trepid) traveller. Referred to as the ‘Second City’, MoBay, as the locals call it, is crucial to the country’s economy, owing to the huge number of tourists it receives. As such, there’s some excellent duty free shopping options including City Centre shopping plaza and the Holiday Village Shopping centre.
The island of Cozumel is Mexico’s gem in the Caribbean Sea; a peaceful island with some of the best scuba diving on the planet and Mayan ruins, specifically the San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological Site, offering historical intrigue. Sure, it gets busy, receiving five million visitors a year, but that’s testament to the quality of the activities on offer on the island. Aside from the world class diving and heritage sites, the Punta Sur Ecological Park (which includes the island’s best beach) covers 2500 acres and contains a rich ecosystem, including crocodiles in the marshland, sea turtles close to the shore and exotic plants native to Cozumel. Don’t forget your camera!
BRIDGETOWN, THE BAHAMAS
Tucked away from the main hurricane belt in the southeastern most point of the lesser Antilles, Barbados is known across the globe for its pink-tinged beaches, luscious gardens and friendly locals.
Bridgetown, the capital, features a UNESCO World Heritage site, named Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison. Here you can learn the history of one of the Caribbean’s earliest established towns, and take in some of the fascinating colonial architecture. Close by is Harrison’s Cave, a natural limestone cavern which features streams, pools, stalagmites and stalactites – a wonderful way for adventure-seekers to spend a couple of hours before you get back on the boat.
BELIZE CITY, BELIZE
Though not a port as such (your cruise ship will drop anchor a couple of miles from shore and speedboats will ferry you into Belize City’s Tourism Village), the chance for scuba diving and snorkelling in Belize Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest coral reef, is just too good to miss. A water taxi from the city to the famous (and frightening) Shark Alley Reef should only take about an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s not only about swimming with sharks though, the Southern stingray is an even bigger draw to scuba and snorkelling enthusiasts.
BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS & NEVIS
The capital of St. Kitts and Nevis, Basseterre, is a port of call with a difference; it’s compact, pretty and seemingly not as dwarfed by the cruise ships as some others in the region are. There’s a ramshackle, uncommercial charm to the place. With a population of just 14000, it’s a city with carries cultural capital much belying its size. The Saint Kitts Music Festival has previously hosted huge global acts John Legend and Lionel Richie, amongst many others, and several 2007 World Cricket Cup matches, too.
VIRGIN GORDA, THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLES
If you’re a Virgin Gorda virgin, then fear not, you’re very much in company. However this pocket of paradise is predicted to be one of the hottest holiday destinations in the coming years, with china white sands and ecological intrigue for as far as the eye can see.
It’s home to some wonderful natural attractions, including The Baths, which is actually a boulder-strewn beach, undoubtedly the best-known landmark in Virgin Gorda, and arguably one of the most impressive land features in the entire Virgin archipelago. They’re situated on the north shore of the island and consist of enormous granite boulders (some nearly 50 feet) leaning precariously against each other.
This dramatic formation creates a seaside labyrinth, forming many sheltered sea pools along the beach that are ideal for swimming, snorkeling and exploring. Owing to its popularity with the cruise crowd, those keen for a quiter experience usually come early in the morning to avoid the crowds. If the hordes later on get too much for you, a quick walk down a well trodden path will take you to quieter beaches such as Spring Bay to offer some relief.