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Not in the mood for a White Christmas this year? How about a sandy one instead? You don’t have to completely forget about the holiday – while the cold and snow can be forgotten, there is plenty of holiday spirit to be found through the Caribbean, along with warmth, beautiful beaches, glistening water, exotic beverages, and more.
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Barbados welcomes visitors with endless warm turquoise waters, powdery white sands and holiday traditions. The island is stunningly decorated throughout for Christmas, including at its top all-inclusive hotels. You may even have the chance to meet up with Father Christmas, as he pays visits to many of the tourist areas. There are festivals, craft fairs and massive feasts with baked hams and Great cake, made up of a combination of dried fruits, spices and a fair amount of liquor. While the temperatures make it feel like it’s summer, providing an ideal setting for a dip in the sea, there are plenty of holiday tunes about sleigh rides and open fires on the radio too.
Puerto Rico is especially lively around the holidays, with festivities taking place during the entire month of December and into January. You can get up on your feet and dance to those fun salsa beats, and enjoy a magical time in the capital city of San Juan, with its 500 years of colonial beauty done up in dazzling lights and colorful whimsy. Soaking up the sunshine on the sand beneath a gently swaying palm or enjoying a peaceful walk through the lush, wildlife-filled rainforest is a fantastic trade-off for those snow-covered mountains.
The beautiful island of Anguilla is renowned for its multitude of gorgeous, white sandy beaches like Shoal Bay East with its powder sugar-like sands that stretch for two miles at the edge of crystal clear, turquoise waters. In addition to being home to some of the best beaches in the world, there are open-air eateries and bars for sipping tropical drinks as well as opportunities for outstanding snorkeling. While the holidays tend to be a busy time in the Caribbean, Anguilla tends to be one of the less crowded islands, as there are no mega-resorts. There is, however, in addition to the beaches, lots of history to explore, including the Wallblake House, the Pumphouse, and the Old Salt Factory, as well as Big Spring Cave, a must-visit site that features a host of petroglyphs dating back 1,000 years. After dark, you can dance the night away to the sounds of calypso, reggae and all types of other music.
Unlike most islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, one nation spread across two islands, holds its annual Carnival from late November through the first week of January, instead of the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. That means that by heading here, you can enjoy all types of celebrations, including Christmas parties, and Sugar Mas, which combines elements of Carnival with Boxing Day activities, parades and street parties. If you stick around, you can watch the Grand Parade on New Year’s Day. The National Carnival begins on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, and runs through January 1st. It features local folklore and traditions through song, dance, drama and poetry. While you’re here, you can even take part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience by meeting a Rastafari community, a group dedicated to “sharing Rastafari and natural farming to serve and nourish the physical and spiritual well-being of all people.” They welcome volunteers and visitors to their organic farm just outside of Basseterre, where you can share home-cooked organic meals with the farmers in an outdoor kitchen, debate life and philosophy, and even help shell peanuts for planting.
Turks and Caicos is known as a particularly upscale, luxurious destination – expensive, and even pricier during the holidays, but if you’re looking for the best of the best, this is probably where you want to go. You’ll find resorts decorated in traditional holiday style, but with understated elegance and twinkling lights along the Grace Bay strip. The 12-mile-long Grace Bay Beach has often been ranked as the most beautiful in the world, with its pearl-colored sands lined with luxury resorts and coconut palms at the edge of cerulean waters, fringed by a coral reef system that makes for some of the best diving and snorkeling on the planet.
Tobago is one of the Caribbean’s most diverse islands. The annual Parang Festival celebrates the holiday season through song, with concerts and parties across this two-island country, though the eastern Trinidad towns of Paramin and Arima, are particularly filled with music as costumed bands perform traditional folk songs in Spanish Creole, accompanied by instruments like the mandolin, cuatro, and box bass. Trinidad also offers a culinary adventure with foods and flavors that can’t be found anywhere else in the West Hemisphere, making it ideal for foodies. Roti, a flatbread that’s rolled up with local curried meats, seafood and vegetables topped with a variety of condiments and complements, strongly reflects the East Indian influence on Trinidad.
Caymanians make up for a lack of Christmas snow with a host of festive decorations, activities and events for the holidays as well as an especially warm spirit that pairs perfectly with the region’s idyllic climate. Cayman even has its own Caribbean Santa, albeit exchanging that big red suit for shorts and flip-flops. Your tropical holiday can also include enjoying a wealth of entertainment throughout the islands’ hotels and resorts. If that’s not enough, hop aboard the Christmas Bus Tour of Lights which includes visiting the most decorated homes and a historic Mission House as well as a feast with traditional holiday fare like roast beef and Cassava Cake.
While you won’t get to enjoy carolers singing outside your door, you can look forward to parranderos crooning parang while strumming a tune on their cuatro, soft drink bottle or anything else that can make music. There are plenty of tasty holiday drinks too, like a Christmas eggnog known as ponche-a-cream, and local restaurants often feature special menus that incorporate traditional Grenadian Christmas fare. One of the most beloved holiday traditions on the island is the Christmas masquerades, when attendees dress in brilliant costumes, perform colorful dances and host celebratory street parties. Masquerade bands save a special repertoire of interactive music and dance to perform during the yuletide season, named for the traditional masks they wear. Of course, like many other Caribbean islands, you can always spend your days soaking up the sun and the sand, and many of the hotels and resorts serve up delicious multi-course Christmas dinners too.
Mexico offers a number of idyllic destinations along its Caribbean coast for a sunny Christmas. Enjoy swimming in the warm waters of the sea, or take a dip in the soothing mineral-rich waters of the cave cenotes across the Yucatan Peninsula, filled with fresh water that’s been meticulously filtered by the earth, making them so clear and pure that you can see right through to the tiny fish frolicking in the plant life below. Along with the spectacular setting, you’ll also find numerous ways to celebrate the holiday, like candlelight processions that reenact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter, which can be witnessed in towns throughout the Riviera Maya, with each night’s event followed by a fiesta with singing carols, feasting and the breaking of a pinata.
Montserrat, known as the Caribbean’s Emerald Isle due to its Irish heritage and lush rainforests, may be ideal for those who want to enjoy the holidays in the Caribbean without the crowds. This lesser-known island has a culture with a mix of Irish and African traditions, and the latter takes precedence during the annual celebration known as Festival, which runs from the middle of December to early January. Highlights of the annual carnival celebration include a Soca Monarch competition, the “Night of Pan” party, the crowning of a pageant queen, calypso contest, and a street party and parade on New Year’s Day.
If you love Christmas but would simply prefer a warmer holiday, Belize may be your ideal spot because Belizeans love Christmas so much that they celebrate it throughout the entire month of December. That means that in addition to enjoying beautiful beaches, snorkeling and diving, jungles and wildlife, you can attend the Christmas Bram, with carolers roaming village streets playing Brukdong music or witness an authentic Maya deer dance, which takes place in the Santa Cruz area. There are Spanish holiday traditions done Belize-style as well, like Las Posadas, which typically begins December 16th and runs through Christmas Day.