The choice destination for daydreamers everywhere, the Caribbean easily surpasses even the most fantastic images that spring to mind. Grab a pina colada and get ready to leave the slush behind because it’s time to check out the top 10 most visited Caribbean islands. A few more sips, and yes, there’s the warm breeze and the azure waves lazily lapping at your feet while you feast on mango and fried yucca. And we’re off…
10. Turks and Caicos Islands with 354,000 visitors
Turks and Caicos is the ideal Caribbean destination, with around 230 miles of white sand beaches lining the 40-island archipelago. Avid divers and snorkelers can enjoy pristine reefs, thanks to the protected status and lack of industry. Additionally, visitors can fish, bird watch and explore caves and shipwrecks. Or just unwind and indulge at the upscale resorts that often play host to vacationing celebrities.
9. Sint Maarten with 424,000 visitors
Sint Maarten is a mix-and-match of various cultures, cuisines and things to do. The Dutch constituent country shares the tiny island with the French collectivity of Saint-Martin. Visitors can feast on cuisine that mixes Dutch, French and native elements, test their luck at the casinos, spend the winnings at the duty-free shops, party until dawn, and then finally, take in the natural beauty. Adrenaline junkies can parachute over the island, explore the central mountain range and partake in any number of water sports. Sint Maarten is also ground zero for yachting, echoing the over-the-top indulgence of the whole island.
8. U.S. Virgin Islands with 536,000 visitors
Water Island, St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas comprise the U.S. Virgin Islands, each with their own unique, must-see qualities. Over half of St. John’s 12,500 acres are national park, and each beach comes standard with clear waters, pristine sand and unspoiled views. For a historical take, walk the Heritage Trail on St. Croix and then visit the protected sea turtles at Sandy Point. Splash around in shallow Magens Bay and walk through the capital on St. Thomas. And if that isn’t enough, truly get away from it all on Water Island, where there’s no cars and nary a store, and barely 200 inhabitants.
7. Barbados with 568,000 visitors
As if the beaches and slow pace of life wasn’t enough, Barbados is also the birthplace of rum, and no visit is complete without a night of too many rum punches. Enjoy the signature drink while watching the horse races, at a fish fry, at the club or at any point of the the 70 miles of beaches. Honeymooners and travelers can snorkel or swim in the reefs on the south side of the island or surf on the choppy waves on the eastern edge, which is considered one of the best surfing spots in the world.
6. Aruba with 870,000 visitors
Just off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is outside the the main hurricane avenue and has a dry, sunny climate, making it the ideal for a Caribbean getaway. The island has it all, from Arikok National Park, which covers almost 20% of the island, to world-class wreck diving and surfing to an all-night nightlife. Whether chilling out on Eagle Beach or horseback riding through the countryside, Aruba’s motto of “One Happy Island” immediately rings true.
5. The Bahamas with 1,346,000 visitors
Consisting of 700 islands, of which just 23 are inhabited, it seems the possibilities are endless in The Bahamas. From Christopher Columbus to the pirate Blackbeard, the chain of islands has seen its fair share of history’s noted adventurers, but these days the visitors tend to be of a calmer ilk. Honeymooners, adventure seekers and families can soak up a wide range of activities, including the endless beaches and pampering in the many resorts. Get moving with all sorts of water sports or a dive for some sunken treasure. For even more traveling, check out the unique sights and history of the various islands.
4. Jamaica with 1,952,000 visitors
Jamaica’s probably the best known out of all the Caribbean offerings thanks to Bob Marley, reggae and Rastafarianism. Swirled together with jerk seasoning, Jamaica presents a rich mix of culture and history unlike the rest of the Caribbean. The island is also the poster child of elopers and newlyweds everywhere, with its romantic all-inclusive resorts and dreamy landscapes. Outside the resorts, visitors can find breathtaking waterfalls and trails as well as the Caribbean’s dependable crystalline waters and the chance to swim with dolphins.
3. Cuba with 2,688,000 visitors
Although restricted for U.S. citizens, Cuba sees a steady stream of worldwide visitors every year, including a growing number of American visitors arriving from Canada or Mexico. The Antilles’ biggest island lack of economic powerhouse pales in comparison to its incredible rich heritage, food, and history. The faded architecture looks more shabby chic than run-down, and the preservation of iconic sites and traditions presents visitors with a deep look into Cuban history and pride. And the country’s popular medical tourism proves that Cuba has plenty of modern offerings. Of course, it should go without saying that the lush countryside, bays and inlets are just as vivid as the houses, music and people in the cities.
2. Puerto Rico with 3,048,000 visitors
Although small, Puerto Rico requires at least a week’s stay to truly experience the wide range of activities and day trips available. The flawless island features world-class beaches, stick-to-your-ribs food and the El Yunque rainforest. Added to the charming colonial architecture and electric hum of life, Puerto Rico is one place that fits the bill for all types. The rum tastings certainly don’t hurt the island’s image, either.
1. Dominican Republic with 4,306,000 visitors
The beauty and the sense of being a part of a buzzing, pulsing atmosphere makes the Dominican Republic a fine choice for a holiday. The scenery just doesn’t stop, from beaches and waterfalls to deserts and mountains packed into its half of the island of Hispaniola. Santo Domingo, the Caribbean’s largest city, bounces along to a blasting merengue soundtrack, stealing the title of the city that never sleeps. And the near guarantee of new friends and a push to eat more all signify the makings of a perfect getaway that requires a sequel.