Sun-drenched beaches, cool ocean breezes and turquoise waters make the Caribbean vacation-worthy year-round. But savvy travelers know that summer is savings season, and at islands like Curaçao, St. Lucia, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Jamaica, crowds shrink to a fraction of their winter numbers. Read on for our guide to maximizing your fun in the tropics.
Thanks to the candy-colored Dutch houses that line the streets of the capital, Willemstad, and coral reefs teeming with sea turtles, Curaçao has a Europe-meets-the-tropics vibe. Just off the coast of Venezuela, it’s easier than ever to access: JetBlue recently launched nonstop flights from New York, and the Curaçao International Airport is undergoing an expansion.
You don’t even have to take a boat to reach one of the area’s well-known snorkeling spots, along the east side of Caracas Bay. Curious2Dive (Caracasbaaiweg; 011-5999-513-2265; curious2dive.com; snorkel, mask and fins, from $13.50* a day) rents snorkeling gear and can point you to the remains of a sunken tugboat practically vibrating with blue parrot fish just 15 minutes from shore. Nearby, Windsurfing Curaçao (Caracasbaaiweg; 011-5999-524-4974; windsurfingcuracao.com; lessons, from $60 a person) offers windsurfing lessons on the calm lagoon at Spanish Water during the summer.
To dive even deeper—450 feet or more below the surface, to be exact—consider boarding a submarine operated by Substation Curaçao (Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad; 011-5999-465-2051; substation-curacao.com; $425 a person). It’s a splurge but the least expensive of two places in the Caribbean where you can do this at such depths (the other is Honduras). You won’t have to get wet, and from your perch in the five-person vessel (four passengers and one pilot), you’ll be able to visit a shipwreck that’s otherwise lost to the eye.
Distinguished by the mighty twin Pitons jutting up from a sapphire sea, St. Lucia is a unique beauty off the Central American coast. Come summer the tourism board’s “St. Lucia Rocks This Summer” promotion offers discounts on tour operators and more (saintlucianow.com). One of the island’s most beautiful stretches, the white-sand Sugar Beach is reachable by water taxi from other parts of the island. Consider renting a thatched palapa and hitting the lively Bayside Bar (Val des Pitons, Soufrière; 011-1-758-456-8000; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com; cocktails for two, $24) for cocktails, such as the passion fruit mojito.
You can swim among parrot fish within the protected marine reserves in Soufrière and Anse Cochon through Scuba Steve’s Diving (Castries; 011-1-758-489-0411; scubastevesdiving.com; from $60 a person, $45 for kids under 12). The St. Lucia Forestry Department operates trail walks and bird-watching excursions within the waterfall-filled Edmund Forest Reserve (Soufrière; 011-1-758-468-5648; guided tours, $30), just east of Soufrière.
Enormous leatherback sea turtles come ashore on Grand Anse beach from March through August to lay their eggs. Moonless nights are your best chance for spotting a nesting turtle in action as part of a Grande Anse Turtle Watch Tour, an unforgettable overnight camping outing offered by the St. Lucia National Trust (011-1-758-458-1454; heritagetoursstlucia.org; $180 a person, including transportation, tent accommodations, dinner and breakfast).
Just 50 miles off the coast of Florida, the Bahamas is very accessible. There are often lots of direct flights to choose from. On the island of Grand Bahama, the city of Freeport is filled with shops, restaurants and nightlife. Skip the global couture outposts and head to Port Lucaya Marketplace (Seahorse Rd., Freeport), where locals operate a series of small stalls stocked with handwoven straw baskets and gauzy beach cover-ups.
Be sure to check out the popular Lucaya Beach and Fortuna Beach, then consider heading east of Freeport to Lucayan National Park (East End; 011-1-242-352-5438; bnt.bs). The 40-acre national park has one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems (accessed by special diving permits that can be arranged with about a week’s notice through the Underwater Explorers Society (unexso.com) as well as nature trails and boardwalks that wind through serene pine forest. Grand Bahama Nature Tours (68 Silver Palm, Freeport; 866-440-4542; grandbahamanaturetours.com; $96 a person) offers guided kayaking trips through mangrove canopies and tours of Lucayan caves.
Back in Freeport at Port Lucaya, hop the open-air ferry for the 10-minute ride to Taino Beach’s Tony Macaroni’s Conch Experience (Taino Beach, Freeport; 011-1-242-533-6766; lunch for two, $18), where you can sip fresh piña coladas from coconuts.
Turks and Caicos
Only eight of the 40 cays and islands of Turks and Caicos, a sand-spun archipelago southeast of the Bahamas, are inhabited. As tempting as it may be to spend most of your time on the famed Grace Bay Beach, in Providenciales, you’ll be rewarded for venturing farther afield.
Eight-hundred-acre Pine Cay Island, sandwiched between Providenciales and North Caicos, has shockingly bright blue water. The island is private, but you can explore its pristine reefs with Caicos Dream Tours (Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales; 011-1-649-231-7274; caicosdreamtours.com; Dream Day Getaway, $179 a person, $90 for children 10 and under). The Dream Day Getaway outing begins with snorkeling at a coral reef near Provo, followed by a barbecue lunch on the beach.
Back in Provo, stop by Da Conch Shack (Blue Hills Rd., Providenciales; 011-1- 649-946-8877; daconchshack.com; dinner for two, $25), on Blue Hills Beach, for a delicious meal. The hammering sound that fills the air is conch shells being split open so you can feast on island specialties like conch fritters and chowder.
Rushing rivers and a thriving reggae music scene: Few Caribbean islands offer Jamaica’s mash-up of nature and culture. Montego Bay is the island’s second-biggest city, but it is more a beach lover’s retreat than anything else. At Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club (Gloucester Ave.; 011-1-876-952-2566; doctorscavebathingclub.com; $5 a person), right on the “hip strip” shopping street, a few dollars gets you all-day access to a private beach lined with palms and lapped by water the color of an Easter egg.
For something more active, head west to Good Hope Great House, where an 18th-century sugar plantation has been turned into an adventure center in partnership with Chukka Caribbean Adventure Tours (chukkacaribbean.com; 877-424-8552; tours of Good Hope Great House, $25). On the 2,000-acre grounds you can soar on a zip line above bamboo forests. On the road back to Montego Bay, snag a table under an almond tree at the Far Out Fish Hut (border of Trelawny and St. James parishes; 011-1-876-954-7155; lunch for two, $24) and settle in for just-caught snapper grilled over an open fire.
And at the tiny marina at Glistening Waters (Falmouth; 011-1-876-954-3229; $25), just east of Montego Bay near Falmouth, a five-minute boat ride brings you into a shallow bay where bioluminescence causes the waters to glow bright green. Swimming in the water at night and watching the iridescence set your entire body aglow is easily one of the Caribbean’s most memorable, and affordable, thrills.
RCI® affiliated resorts in the caribbean include:
Member Review: “The on-site restaurant has excellent food.”
Member Review: “Close to markets and nearby shopping.”
Member Review: “Great beach, nice pool, fantastic buffet.”
Member Review: “Free shore dives once a day.”
Member Review: “The dinner shows are great.”
Member Review: “This place is like a slice of paradise.”
Member Review: “The hotel suite was very clean and modern.”
Member Reviews: Not yet rated
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RCI® TipNot sure which Caribbean island to explore next? Cruising is a great way to explore many islands all in one trip—unpack once and let the destinationscome to you. Visit CruiseRCI.com to find your ideal cruise itinerary!**
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
Coconut Bay Beach Resort & SpaThis 250-room all-inclusive is divided into adults-only and family-friendly sections and offers yoga, paddleboarding and snorkeling. Vieux Fort, St. Lucia; 877-352-8898; cbayresort.com; doubles from $416 a night (two-night minimum)
Hummingbird Beach ResortA beachfront property on St. Lucia’s western coast with just 10 rooms, most with private balconies and lovely views of the Pitons and bay. Anse Chastanet Rd., Soufrière, St. Lucia; 758-459-7232; istlucia.com; doubles from $120 a night
Caribbean Paradise InnGrace Bay Beach is a two-minute walk from this villa-style hotel. All 18 rooms have private balconies or patios. 15 Bonaventure Crescent Rd., Grace Bay, Providenciales; 011-1-649-946-5020; caribbeanparadiseinn.com; doubles from $165 a night
Ports of Call ResortThis 97-room hotel has an on-site pool and a designated beach (with lounge chairs) at nearby Grace Bay Beach, just a five-minute walk away. Grace Bay Rd., Providenciales; 888-678-3483; portsofcallresort.com; doubles from $268 a night
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- **RCI Cruise is administered by an independent third party under contract with RCI.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Summer 2016