The picture-postcard idyll of the Caribbean vacation is often true.
Yes, you’re going to get those perfectly tilted palm trees and champagne sands. And let’s not forget the balmy sun-filled days and addictive calypso and reggae beats. But with world-class botanical gardens, mesmerizing cave systems and unique geological wonders to wow the whole family, the Caribbean is more diverse than you might think.
Daring teens can get their adrenaline fix through all sorts of high-thrill adventures, and the complex history behind the region – explored through forts, colonial cities and harbors – is a lesson for all. Fancy exploring? Here are the top 10 destinations for families in the Caribbean.
1. Willemstad, Curaçao
Best trip for tweens and teens
Consider yourselves city-trippers? Don’t pass up the chance to wander around Willemstad, the candy-colored capital of Curaçao, characterized by the Unesco-listed Handelskade waterfront, which serves as a reminder of its 17th-century colonial Dutch past.
Spark the kids’ imaginations with a tour of the hip street art and Rif Fort of Otrabanda, walk your excited children across the famous Queen Emma pontoon bridge, and pick up some famous Chichi dolls down Punda’s art alley. If you’re traveling with arty teens, head for Serena’s Art Factory, located east of the city, that holds open-air workshops where visitors can paint these voluptuous clay sculptures (and sometimes animal figures too) in their own style. Don’t forget to treat the family’s tastebuds to some Dutch delicacies like bitterballen (deep-fried meatball) and poffertjes (mini pancakes).
Planning tip: Book a trip between September and November to avoid the crowds.
2. English Harbor, Antigua
Best trip for all-round family fun
Antigua ranks among the best Caribbean islands for family vacations – and rightly so, with its 365 beaches and plentiful kid-friendly beach resorts. But make time to explore the Unesco-listed Nelson’s Dockyard National Park on the south coast’s English Harbour. Its supremely-preserved Georgian naval buildings, built by enslaved Africans during the 18th century, and Dockyard Museum – housed in the former Admiral’s House – offer a compelling history lesson for youngsters. They’re bound to tell their friends about the various canons, muskets, telescopes and trinkets that are on display here, too.
What’s equally gripping is the view you get of the marina from the famous lookout point Shirley Heights. Check out the party atmosphere up here on Sundays, with BBQs and steelpan bands. It’s a steep walk up, so it’s best to take a taxi, or drive, if you’re with little ones.
Planning tip: Kick back at the all-new Loose Cannon Beach Bar, over on family-friendly Galleon Beach in Freeman’s Bay. You can have a refreshing drink while younger kids play in the sand.
3. Havana, Cuba
Best trip for culture-loving teens
Where better for culture-thirsty kids to get their fill than the exhilarating city of Havana? Excuse the cliché, but the Cuban capital does have that time-stood-still quality everyone speaks of. So, if you’re with teens that are usually hard to please, you might see their eyes light up when you’ve jumped into the back of a restored 1950s Oldsmobile with Havana Vintage Car Tours and you’re ogling at the crumbly-yet-glorious architecture of this eye popping Ciudad.
And no, teens won’t find their favorite designer clothing brands or sneaker shops here. But they will find a one-of-a-kind culture and fascinating street life – from characterful street vendors to Rumba performances – which might just pique the interest of the most aloof adolescent.
Planning tip: Consider this for a trip of a lifetime in November or December. It’s a great add-on to Varadero’s family beach resorts, down the coast.
4. True Blue Bay Beach Resort and Marina, Grenada
Best for children that love chocolate
Not only does this place live and breathe family-friendly holidays and sustainable living, it’s also the host of the annual week-long Grenada Chocolate Festival, held each May. Celebrate the island’s long cocoa-growing heritage with chocolate-related experiences, from educational walks through Theobroma Cacao forests, to tasting sessions tasting sessions, where you get sample the sweet stuff. The kids will love “dancing the cocoa” (a traditional way of helping the cacao beans to dry) too. With a chocolate bakery onsite, your family might struggle to tear yourselves away.
5. Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Best for teens seeking adventures
A popular cruise ship stopover and a city chock-full with souvenir shops and family resorts, Ocho Rios, or “Ochi” as the locals call it, has everything you need for an entertaining family vacation. Take your gang of adrenaline junkies on a Cool Runnings-esque adventure at Mystic Mountain, where a gravity-driven bobsled will take you on a hair-raising 1000m (3280ft) ride through the jungle. Bring your rock shoes because Dunn’s River, Jamaica’s most-visited waterfall, is also down the road. Anyone over eight years can attempt to climb its tumbling waters.
Planning tip: Stop by the vibrant Miss T’s Kitchen for some mouthwatering Caribbean food, including its popular oxtail stew, and perhaps the kids’ first taste of authentic jerk chicken.
6. St Nicholas Abbey, Barbados
Best trip for tots and toddlers
See your toddler’s eyes light up at the sight of a heritage locomotive at St Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway, one of the newest family attractions in Barbados. Little ones will beam with excitement as this former sugar train snakes its way around mahogany woodlands. Grown-ups? Well, you can relish in the stunning views afforded from the Cherry Tree Hill lookout, over the island’s Atlantic-facing east coast. While you’re on the east of the island, visit the otherworldly rock-strewn Bathsheba Beach – heralded among surf pros for its epic Soup Bowl. The strong currents may not be suitable for swimming, but kids will love paddling in the shallows and running along this sweep of sand.
7. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Best for kids that love nature
Exploring the colonial remnants of the Dominican Republic’s capital city is interesting enough (it’s the oldest European-founded city in the western hemisphere). But its sprawling Dr Rafael Maria Moscoso Botanic Garden, with its Japanese Garden and arboretum of 1500 tree species, offers the best horticultural lesson the kids will ever have. Other must-see family attractions include The Three Eyes (Los Tres Ojos) National Park in Santo Domingo Este. This natural cave system, home to blue lagoons that the indigenous Taino people called “eyes”, is sure to ignite young imaginations.
8. Baths National Park, Virgin Gorda, The British Virgin Islands
Best trip for pre-teens
Flabbergasted is probably how you’ll feel when you catch sight of the Baths National Park on Virgin Gorda for the first time. These massive granite boulders, brought to the surface during volcanic eruptions, are like few places on earth and provide a playground for intrepid explorers young and old, but are best enjoyed by confident swimmers, who aren’t put off by the sometimes choppy water. Revel in its otherworldly grottoes and secret rock pools before following the steps and rope handrails to the sweep of sand known as Devil’s Bay.
Planning tip: Visit the baths outside of the winter months when swimming conditions are safer.
9. Tobago Cays Marine Park, St Vincent and the Grenadines
Best for teens to see marine wildlife
A quick flight from Barbados and you’re in the dreamy paradise of St Vincent and the Grenadines – a nation of 32 minuscule islands and cays in the Lesser Antilles. And while you can impress the kids with the region’s Pirates of the Caribbean fame, you can take your own swashbuckling adventure in the Tobago Cays Marine Park, where untouched islands, sea turtle nesting sites and the 2.5-mile-long Horseshoe Reef inhabit the cobalt blue sea.
In short, it’s a diver’s (or snorkeler’s) paradise. There are top-notch family resorts on Bequia and St Vincent where you can access the marine park by water taxi and organized boat trips.
10. Soufriere, St Lucia
Best for adventurous older kids
Head to Soufriere in southwest St Lucia and you’re within gawping distance of those incredible Unesco-listed Pitons, but also close to the island’s Sulphur Springs, dubbed the world’s only drive-through volcano, a sure-fire hit for science-loving students. The sulfurous odor is pretty ghastly but seeing the belching fumaroles appear from the landscape is pretty epic as far as real-life science lessons go. And if the promise to (supposedly) fix a whole range of ailments – from eczema to sore joints – doesn’t entice you into the mud baths, perhaps the opportunity for a cool family photo will.
Planning tip: Stop by the mountain-top Rabot Hotel for tree-to-bar tours and cacao-infused cuisine – it’s super slick and bound to impress any reluctant visitor.