A bird’s eye view of the Caribbean

Renowned as the world’s finest playground because of its sun, sea and sand, the Caribbean is not, of course, a single destination.

Bordered by the coastlines of Central and South America, this region of island-nations spans over a million square miles (2,590,000 square km), and is as diverse in culture, dialect and geography as are the European countries to which they once belonged.

Development of New World resources in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries depended, shamefully, on shackled slaves from western Africa who, once freed, contributed immeasurably to colonial cuisine, music and artistic expression. These British, Dutch, Spanish, Danish and French influences flavoured each island quite differently.

So how then does one choose a Caribbean destination best suited to your vacation enjoyment? The island profiles below highlight the characteristics of each. Bear in mind these are personal impressions (hardly scientific) – the kind of things that come to mind when describing a destination to a friend. Also listed are the phone numbers of their national tourist offices in North America.

ANGUILLA (British):
Rolling, low-lying farmland · friendlpeople · tranquil atmosphere · upscale accommodation · bleached white beaches · dry year-round · undisturbed reefs · superb snorkelling, diving, sailing, fishing · great dining · craft shopping · no direct international flights; ferry from St. Maarten · expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (264) 497-2759.

ANTIGUA: (British):
Busy tourist and cruise ship island · high-calibre hotels, resorts and services · long white beaches © undulating countryside · low humidity, autumn showers · water sports, tennis, golf · plantation heritage and British colonial history · variety of restaurants · duty-free shopping · varied nightlife, casinos · friendly people, particularly outside busy port of St. John’s · moderate/expensive.
Tel (416) 961-3085.

ARUBA (Dutch):
Reliably sunny · flat, arid terrain · white beaches · highly literate, friendly people · top-notch hotels, resorts and services · Arawak heritage · English and local dialects · always windy · reef diving, deep-sea fishing, golf · lively nightlife including casinos · many restaurants · busy cruise-ship port · duty-free shopping · moderate/expensive.
Tel. (416) 975-1950.

BARBADOS (British):
Long, white beaches · dramatic cliffs, mountains and seascapes · reliable hotels, resorts and services · acclaimed resort and local dining · watersports, tennis, golf · varied nightlife (no casinos) · good roads, well-developed infrastructure · duty-free shopping · friendly residents · moderate cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 214-9880.

BONAIRE (Dutch):
Hot, sunny, barren, flat · exceedingly dry · great diving resorts and instruction · fascinating salt flats · flamingo ponds · sailing, fishing · limited nightlife, centred around diving crowd · limited souvenir shopping · friendly people · access via Aruba · moderate/expensive.
Tel (1-800-266-2473.

Serene cluster of islands · ideal sailing, yachts for charter · secluded beaches · upscale hotels and small-property accommodation · water sports, fishing, hiking · dramatic cliffs and seascapes, gently rolling hills and vales · brief showers · ferry access from St. Thomas · small airstrips · cruise ship port on Tortola · tourism development contained · local and resort dining · no casinos · craft shopping · genuine hospitality · expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (212) 696-0400.

Three main, flat, coral-based islands · long, white beaches · excellent diving and snorkelling · duty-free, tax-free port · international banking · golf, tennis, water sports · upscale hotels and resorts · safe environment, welcoming people · gourmet and family restaurants · varied nightlife, nightclubs, dancing, comedy clubs, movies · expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 485-1550

CUBA (Spanish):
Large island-nation · distinct variations in landscape, coastline and climate · intelligent, well-educated population · unmatched, genuine friendliness · thriving tourism industry · idyllic white beaches · eco-tours · mountains, waterfalls, forests · historic and architectural treasure trove · budget, mid-priced, and upscale accommodation · souvenir shopping, few imports · no cruise ships · peddling/begging outlawed, but Cubans are not shy · inexpensive/moderate cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 362-0700.

CURACO (Dutch):
Cruise-ship port · Dutch-designed capital, Willemstad · dry, flat, bland landscapes · dining varied – local and resorts · mid-priced and upscale hotel and resort accommodation · white cove beaches · good diving · waterside caves · moderate cost-of-visit.
Tel (212) 683-7660.

One of the first New World ports, bustling, populous · vibrant Spanish colonial heritage · affordable · intermittent power and water failures · budget, mid-priced and upscale hotels and resorts · frequent showers · golf, scuba, windsurfing · good beaches · mountainous · varied dining · all-night entertainment, including casinos · craft, souvenir shopping · good-natured people · inexpensive/moderate cost-of-visit.
Tel 1-800-563-1611.

GRENADA (British):
Lush, rolling landscapes · fertile rain forest · long white beaches · friendly people · good hiking, scuba, sport fishing, sailing · showers June-Dec. · mostly intimate, low rise hotels · tourism development contained · busy cruise ship port · varied · resort nightlife of folk music, steel bands, moonlight cruises · limited, low-duty import shopping · moderate cost-of-visit.
Tel 1-800-267-7600.

JAMAICA (British):
Scenic perfection, peaks and vales, lush rainforests, waterfalls · white beaches · excellent tourism services · well-run, all-inclusive resorts · acclaimed local and resort dining · championship golf courses · lively resort nightlife · craft and duty-free shopping · cruise ship port · aggressive peddling · creative, resourceful, politically-aware people · showers Aug. to Nov. · moderate/expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 482-7850.

ST. KITTS and NEVIS (British):
St. Kitts: Lush, green, mountainous · intermittent showers · volcanic dark-gold or white sand beaches · rainforest hiking · championship golf · converted plantation hotels · local, resort and plantation dining · well-preserved fortress · mid-priced and upscale resorts · friendly people · resort-based nightlife · craft shopping. Nevis: St. Kitts in miniature · postcard pretty, rolling, fertile hills, tranquil atmosphere · frequent showers · old style West Indian charm and hospitality · upscale, hillside plantation hotels · superlative beach resorts · craft and souvenir shopping · expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 368-6707.

ST. LUCIA (British):
Scenic north: rolling hills and white sand seascapes, rainforest; south: dense, tropical, intoxicating ecosystem with volcanic sea mountains, black sand beaches · mid-priced and upscale resorts · acclaimed local and resort dining · world-class diving (south) · golf resorts (north) · rudimentary road access (south) · cruise-ship port (north) · nightlife, duty-free shopping, restaurant variety (north) · remote, tranquil resort life (south) · moderate/expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 703-0141.

St. Martin (French):Serene, reserved · French language · good beaches · upscale services, accommodation · fine French cuisine · expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 593-4723.
St. Maarten (Dutch): Rolling hills, sculptured coastline, picture pretty · white beaches, abundant water sports · upscale tourist hotels, private homes, condos · busy cruise-ship port · duty-free shopping galore · lively clubs and bars plus 10 casinos · moderate/expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (212) 953-2084.

ST. VINCENT and the GRENADINES (British):
St. Vincent: Volcanic, lush, fertile, beautiful · rainforests · frequent, brief showers June-Oct. · waterfalls · black-sand beaches · superlative sailing, hiking, diving · small hotels, few resorts · complete yacht outfitters · quiet nightlife, based at hotels moderate cost-of-visit. Bequia: Tranquil perfection · yacht haven · sheltered, picturesque bays · white beaches · good local restaurants and cuisine · expensive cost-of-visit. Mustique: Exclusive, largely private · tourism development contained · yacht mooring · five-star resorts · celebrity haven · very expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 924-5796.

TURKS and CAICOS (British):
Providenciales: Exotically-arid, low-lying terrain · stunning turquoise sea, white beaches · tourism development contained reliable services · mid-priced and upscale hotels and resorts · lively town, good local food · superb diving · renowned coral reef · moderate cost-of-visit. Grand Turk: Remote capital of the islands tranquil setting · 7,000-foot reef, excellent visibility, underwater canyons · fishing, boating · chalk-white beaches · small harbour hotels · moderate cost-of-visit. East Caicos: Cruise shop port and exclusive, self-contained condo and entertainment community under development.
Tel (416) 253-6863

St. Thomas: Scenic hills and valleys · developed, populous · busy cruise-ship port · duty-free shopping mecca · mid-priced and upscale resorts · world’s most photographed beach · diving, snorkelling, watersports · lively nightlife · moderate/expensive cost-of-visit. St. Croix: Broad, grassy, agricultural lowlands · good sailing, diving, snorkelling · limited golf · duty-free shopping · good restaurants and nightlife in Christiansted only · pleasant but unspectacular beaches · moderate/expensive cost-of-visit. St. John: Idyllic, mountainous terrain · fabulous views · regular, intermittent showers · white crescent beaches · superb sailing, diving · protected forests, parkland, widespread camping · upscale resorts limited craft shopping · quiet nightlife · moderate/expensive cost-of-visit.
Tel (416) 233-1414.

Resist the temptation to size up or even write-off an island as a holiday destination based on a quick cruise-ship visit. Although cruising serves as a small taste of many interesting ports, one-day visits can be harried and impersonal, sometimes spoiled by island entrepreneurs overeager to cash in on visiting cruisers.