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9 Most Authentic Caribbean Vacation Destinations

If spending your Caribbean vacation at a place filled with other tourists isn’t your idea of a good time, perhaps these more authentic island destinations will be right up your alley. These islands offer the opportunity to spend more time with the locals as well as enjoy breathtaking tropical scenery uninterrupted by high-rise resorts, casinos, and the like.

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands The Baths, Virgin Gorda
Credit: The Baths, Virgin Gorda by bigstock.com

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Virgin Gorda offers everything you could ever want in an unspoiled tropical escape and then some. While there are luxury resorts, the island has retained its authentic feel while offering an abundance of natural beauty around nearly every corner. Hike to its highest point, Gorda Peak, and you can take in a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding islands, or for the quintessential Caribbean getaway, enjoy a dip at one of the picture-perfect beaches in Spring Bay, Pond Bay, Devil’s Bay, or Savannah Bay. The Baths, a geological wonder on the north shore, is made up of giant granite boulders that form sheltered sea pools on the beach’s edge that make it a must to swim.

Bocas del Toro, Panama Starfish beach, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Credit: Starfish beach, Bocas del Toro, Panama by Bigstock.com

Bocas del Toro, Panama

This group of islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama is just as spectacular as most other major Central American destinations, but it’s far less touristy. It offers everything Panama does in one archipelago: cloud forests, mountains, secluded white sandy beaches, mangrove-fringed coasts, uninhabited islands and more. It’s also more affordable than its neighbor, Costa Rica, with its main island, Isla Colon, featuring oceanfront B&Bs where you can fall asleep to the sounds of the waves for under $100 a night. Home to the nation’s first national marine park it’s also becoming an increasingly popular eco-tourism spot referred to as the “Galapagos of the Caribbean,” so plan your trip now, before it’s too late. As one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, coral reefs teem with sea creatures – visitors can even swim with manatees, and on land, there is a wealth of exotic wildlife, including sloths and monkeys.

Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Bequia
Credit: Bequia by Bigstock.com

Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Thanks to Bequia’s small harbor, big cruise ships can’t dock here, so there are no worries about hordes of tourists filing in. In fact, you’re much more likely to run into smiling locals rather than large groups of American visitors. One of the world’s most stunning remote islands, the lush, hilly seven-square-mile island in the Grenadines is a hidden treasure that’s been called the “most perfect” of all Caribbean isles. There is no glitz, glamour or high rises, just gorgeous emerald hills and stunning cerulean waters that are ideal for snorkeling, along with an abundance of rum punch and fresh, tasty seafood. At the edge of the bay along the sand, Port Elizabeth is lined with colorful wooden buildings and a scenic waterside path to stroll, where you can pop into one of the beach bars or eateries for a refreshing drink and authentic Caribbean fare.

Les Saintes, Guadaloupe Les Saintes
Credit: Les Saintes by Bigstock.com

Les Saintes, Guadaloupe

This string of small islands southwest of Guadeloupe is often referred to simply as “Les Saintes.” They’re made up of Terre de Haut, the largest island, where the main town, main port, a tiny airport, and most hotels, are located, along with Terre de Bas, which is inhabited and hosts a few simple guesthouses, along with six uninhabited isles. While they aren’t any more difficult to reach than popular destinations like Nevis, most people have never even heard of them. Terre-de-Haut offers a number of fabulous beaches, outstanding snorkeling, a ruined fort with a museum and an abundance of quaint cafes and little bars. The French have been keeping these islands all to themselves, with little signs of U.S. commercialism at all. Of course, it’s the type of place you probably wouldn’t want to share with the world either.

Carriacou, Grenadines Petit St. Vincent, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Credit: Petit St. Vincent, St. Vincent & the Grenadines by wikimedia.org

Carriacou, Grenadines

The largest island in the Grenadines and officially part of Grenada, Carriacou is just a short boat ride away from the island of Grenada and is known as the “Land of the Reefs with its shallow, clear waters offering incomparable snorkeling. The island’s forest-covered hills stretch down to meet unspoiled beaches, while sugar mill ruins are dotted across the landscape. At High North Nature Reserve, Carriacou’s highest peak, you’ll find gorgeous views of Grenada to the south and the other Grenadines to the north. Hiking the trails offers the chance to view tortoises, iguanas, soldier crabs and a wide variety of bird species, including colorful macaws. While there aren’t any huge resorts, there are plenty of charming guesthouses, restaurants, and bars.

Dominica Batibou Beach, Dominica
Credit: Batibou Beach, Dominica by mripp via Flickr

Dominica

Known as “The Nature Island of the Caribbean,” Dominica is a mostly undeveloped island that’s ideal for escaping the crowds. One of the most notable things about the island is the locals’ passion for preserving its natural assets – it’s established three reserves to protect and preserve its marine environment, and is home to the eastern Caribbean’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Morne Trois Pitons National Park. The incredibly lush landscape includes volcanic hot springs, countless rivers and waterfalls, unspoiled rainforest, and natural swimming holes – if you get there early enough, you may even enjoy one all to yourself. On Black Sand Beach, you’ll even find a leatherback, hawksbill, and green turtle sanctuary.

Roatan, Honduras Roatan, Honduras
Credit: Roatan, Honduras by Bigstock.com

Roatan, Honduras

If you’re looking for tranquility and relaxation, but you also don’t want to spend your days twiddling your thumbs, Roatan is another ideal Caribbean island. Away from its busy West End, it’s still largely undeveloped. This is one of the best destinations for snorkeling and diving, as it’s surrounded by the second largest reef on Earth, and provides the opportunity to see all sorts of colorful marine life, as well as to experience drop-offs, canyons and the largest variety of coral and sponges in the Caribbean. Day trips are available to a variety of keys, where you’re likely to be the only person on a tiny patch of sand. An array of land adventures can be enjoyed too, such as zip-lining through the jungle and even close encounters with macaws and capuchin monkeys.

Barbuda View of Barbuda and Antigua
Credit: View of Barbuda and Antigua by Bigstock.com

Barbuda

Barbuda is the astoundingly undeveloped sister island to the more well-known Antigua, located a 20-minute flight or three-hour ferry ride away. Here you’ll find the chance to play Robinson Crusoe, enjoying its 365 alluring beaches, “one for every day of the year,” as the locals say. It’s an ideal place to enjoy diving, snorkeling, beachcombing, and bird watching. In fact, one of the island’s main attractions is its 5,000 birds that reside in the Frigate Bird Sanctuary. There is very little tourism on the island, but that’s part of its charms as one of the few remaining natural islands left in the world. While you could take a day trip from Antigua, to get to know it, it’s best to spend at least a night or two, at one of the guesthouses, hotels, or even camping under the stars. Frangipani Camp not only offers campsites but a variety of tents as well as cooking equipment and water.

Saba, Dutch Caribbean Saba Island
Credit: Saba Island by Wikimedia Commons

Saba, Dutch Caribbean

Known as the “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean, there are no mass resorts, or even beaches, on this five-square-mile volcanic island. It flourishes as a fertile slice of paradise and is famous for its excellent diving and wealth of scenic hikes along mountain rainforest trails, including the chance to conquer the Mt. Scenery, the highest lookout point on the island. There are no franchises here – just idyllic gingerbread houses and well-kept gardens, along with small eclectic bars and eateries that are perfect to pop into after a day of play on land or at sea. Although it’s just a 12-minute flight south from St. Maarten, it feels as if you’re worlds away.

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