When you think 'Caribbean,' you probably think 'beach.' This region of the world has been blessed with some of the most spectacular stretches of sun-kissed sand in the world. Trying to pick the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean is almost impossible as nearly every edge of the more than 7,000 islands, reefs and cays is idyllic. But with so much variety, it can be difficult to pick which sandy strips to visit first.
It’s hard to top Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach with chalky sand and warm waves and is nothing short of spectacular. There are other enviable beaches along the Cayman Islands but why bother going somewhere else when this stretch is perfect. Gorgeous barrier reefs call to divers as the rum punch calls to the beach bums. Honeymooners hike through the 200-year-old Mastic Trail as parents take their children for interactive swims at Stingray City. Whichever way you choose to mellow out, the Cayman Islands have something for you. The Caymans are an archipelago of three islands lying 90 miles south of Cuba. The largest, Grand Cayman, is full of all-inclusive resorts, perfect for those who prefer pre-planned itineraries and don’t mind the crowds. For easygoing vacationers, the less-traveled Cayman Brac and Little Cayman offer some of the best diving in the Caribbean.
There’s no doubt that the French Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy is in vogue with the moneyed set and oftentimes out-of-reach for the middle class but you can enjoy the beaches for free. There are 22 shorelines ranging from sublime Baie de St-Jean to remote Anse a Colombier to risqué Anse de Grande Saline. But it’s far from snooty and more accessible than you might think. Careful and early planning will ensure that your getaway here is priced on par with other Caribbean isles. Fortunately, St. Barts’ spine-tingling beaches are all free to languish upon. If you’re looking for an island with exciting nightlife and an abundance of away-from- the-shore activities, it’s not here so check out Barts’ cousins Martinique or St. Martin for more diversions. If you’re looking for a Euro-themed utopia with plenty of shoreline to fulfill a Robinson Crusoe fantasy this is it.
Anguilla’s silvery sands are legendary. Shoal Bay East is a traveler favorite, while Rendezvous Bay provides a sunbathing soundtrack featuring outstanding live reggae. Compared to some Caribbean islands masquerading as tourist traps, you’ll find something a little more authentic on Anguilla. There’s an embargo on cruise ships, casinos and high-rise hotels, but a surplus of clear, coral-filled waters, unmarked and unpaved roads, and low-key beachfront villas. Pampering is also at a premium, from the grandiose resorts to the sophisticated al fresco dining. Once the sun does go down, you’ll be treated to one of the best live music scenes in the Caribbean. Everyone from Quincy Jones to Jimmy Buffett have stopped by Anguilla’s shores to perform.
Turks & Caicos has the perfect antidote for your hectic lifestyle with nearly abandoned, brilliant white sandy beaches fringed by shimmering azure water, colorful coral reefs, crispy conch fritters and an easygoing atmosphere. Even as recent years have generated more tourist activity, more chain restaurants and more commercially driven experiences, Turks & Caicos still holds tight to its reputation as an exclusive and secluded getaway and regular vacationers will tell you that they wouldn’t have it any other way. This network of 40 islands and cays has three dominant personalities. There’s glamorous Providenciales, which acts as the main port for the cruise ship crowd and site of many luxurious hotels. Laid-back Grand Turk is the historic and cultural nucleus, best seen in the Turks & Caicos National Museum or along the shores of Cockburn Town, where Christopher Columbus first docked in the Western Hemisphere. Tiny, flat Salt Cay offers the best dives. From here, you can explore one of the largest reef systems in the world.
The British Virgin Islands, or BVI for short, are some of the most exclusive and least developed islands of the Caribbean which only adds to their appeal. The resorts, villas, restaurants and other tourist attractions on this tax haven are known to emphasize sparse luxury over sprawling expansion and they attract travelers with deep pockets and a love for sailing and seclusion. Many travelers who visit come by ferry boat from another Caribbean island. On Tortola you’ll find mountainous cliffs and bright white beaches, characterized by changing tides and calm easterly winds. On Virgin Gorda you’ll find The Baths, perhaps the most picturesque shore in the British Virgin Islands. It offers unique grottoes amidst gigantic granite boulders but be mindful of the day-tripping crowds. For supreme seclusion, try Anegada, its slow pace, flat terrain and sparkling sand lies almost overlooked in Caribbean Sea.
Lush and luxurious, unspoiled St. Lucia has a growing fan base. Enjoy postcard-worthy views of the Piton Mountains and the vast Caribbean Sea as you lounge along the island’s bright white shoreline. Some of its vacationers are music lovers coming for the springtime St. Lucia Jazz festival. Others are honeymooners, unwinding on one of the island’s chalky beaches or holing up in one of the isolated couples’ resorts. Other visitors may be adrenalin junkies, testing their limits climbing the Pitons or zip lining through the Chassin region’s rain forest. But if none of this is for you, don’t worry, St. Lucia refuses to be pigeonholed as any “type” of Caribbean vacation. You also don’t have to spend a lot of money as its reputation as a luxurious hideout is only somewhat warranted. Start your mornings basking in an orange-tinted Soufrière sunrise and round out your evenings at an evening “jump-up” or dance party along Gros Islet.
The sugary sand of a Punta Cana beach is so soft and perfectly golden, you might think it was synthetic. On the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana is known not only for its beautiful beaches but its affordability and abundance of all-inclusive resorts. Punta Cana is a manufactured Caribbean getaway, completely catering to the needs of sun-seeking vacationers who like all-inclusive resorts but care little about venturing away from their hotel. Punta Cana also beckons to jet-setters because it provides so many options including more than 24,000 hotel rooms at affordable rates. Many travelers are able to book a weeklong trip that includes airfare, lodging, meals and some resort activities, for much less than $1,000 per person in the off seasons. Overall, this reasonably priced, Caribbean hideout is made for travelers of all ages seeking a relaxing turn from the norm.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are “America’s Caribbean Paradise” The place to see moko jumbies dance at a Carnival parade, hear the lilting patois of a Creole dialect or smell the spices in a salt fish pate. You can visit St. Thomas, St. John or St. Croix, or better yet, spend a little time on all three islands. You’ll get plenty of pampering, undisturbed nature and colonial history jammed into one vacation and as a bonus, you can pay for everything with U.S. dollars. Each island offers something different. Called “Rock City” for its hilly, craggy horizon, St. Thomas is known for luxury from the mega-yachts moored in the harbor to the high-end storefronts along Main Street. Located a short ferry-ride east, St. John appeals to honeymooners and nature lovers, with more than 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland plus surrounding pristine beaches. Way down south in the Caribbean Sea, less-visited St. Croix has sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries that offer a glimpse into both the past and the present of the Virgin Islands.
If you associate the Caribbean with a laid-back atmosphere, a tranquil beach and a quiet sunset, then you haven’t been to St. Martin and St. Maarten. The best part of visiting this dual-governed island is you can get a taste of two distinct, lively cultures all for the price of one vacation. This 37-square-mile dot is increasingly popular with travelers who like to eat well, party hard and duty-free shop in between trips to the beach. The north side, St. Martin, is controlled by the French government. It’s the home of the island’s tastiest restaurants and party beaches. Cosmopolitan St. Maarten shelters the most animated casinos, bars and clubs. For all the excitement, St. Martin and St. Maarten still cultivate a stress-free vibe starting out with how easily you can pass between both sides of the island. Catch some morning sun on a quiet Dutch-side beach and later, take a leisurely afternoon stroll through a French-side mountain.
Thatched-roof cottages rise over turquoise waters while the sweet scent of tropical flowers and rum punch fills the air. Sun-worshippers sprawl along isolated white sands, hemmed by shimmering waves, coral reefs, and sleek yachts. St. Vincent & The Grenadines has plenty of shoreline and you’ve probably seen some of it already if you saw the film “Pirates of the Caribbean.” With 32 remote islands and cays boasting emerald hills, postcard-worthy harbors, and boutique hotels, this Caribbean destination makes a perfect escape. Devote a few days to exploring St. Vincent, the biggest island of the chain, before sailing to Mustique, Canouan, and Bequia, some of the Grenadine’s finest and exclusive hideaways. Exploring this quiet, less-traveled tropical paradise requires deep pockets and many hours in transit as there is no direct flight from the U.S.