Here at The Trunki Files, we’ve become rather fond of the Caribbean. Never really on our travel hitlist before we had offspring, we now find ourselves going back again and again. In the winter months, it has just about the most perfect climate you could hope for: never too hot, never cold, with just the odd downpour to freshen things up. The 4 hour time difference from the UK means minimal jet lag (and minimal grumpiness). Direct flights avoid the hassle of stopovers and changes which blight family hops to Asia. Plus with palm trees, white sands and rum punches on tap, what’s not to like?
The Caribbean brochure image of a brightly-coloured, tropical paradise is so ubiquitous that you could be mislead into thinking that all the islands are the same. But, having visited five of the most popular, I can confidently say they are unique and their appeal will depend on what exactly you are after from your holiday. With this in mind, here’s my guide to which island you should choose.
1. Barbados – for sophisticates
Choose Barbados if you and/or your kids like things a bit urban. The island is one of the most populous in the Caribbean, is the easiest to get to and has the longest history of tourism. With all that comes a much greater density of shopping malls, restaurants, bars and attractions than on the other islands. What’s more, all-inclusives haven’t taken hold here in the same way (staying in self-catering villas and apartments is much more common) so there’s a much greater tendency for people to get out and about.
The beaches themselves are nice enough – you get your white sands and azure waters – but on the South Coast the water is often too rough for tots; and on the more glamorous west coast they can be quite narrow and crowded. However, with botanical gardens, animal parks, caves, submarine trips, swimming with turtles and even Concorde to visit, there’s plenty to keep the family busy once the pull of the beach wanes. And for Mum and Dad, there’s no shortage of world-class restaurants to visit with a bit of help from a babysitter.
2. Antigua – for beach-lovers
If, for you, the Caribbean is all about beaches, aim for Antigua. On a recent trip, the beaches blew us away – both in their quantity (allegedly 365) and quality. The sand is whiter than white; the sea so blue it is unreal. Plus, on the Caribbean side, the waves are gentle and perfect for kids (the Atlantic beaches offer more in the way of kite-surfing and sailing).
We found Antigua to be a very ‘easy’ island – simple to get about, not heinously expensive, family-friendly and with welcoming locals. There’s not a lot to do other than the beach or water-related activities – the only settlement of any consequence is the capital, St John’s, which isn’t really somewhere you’d go with young children; and attractions like water parks, zoos and the like are thin on the ground; about the only family day-out is a trip to swim with sting rays. So most of the time you’ll be lounging under a palm tree and searching for hermit crabs – which suited our kids, and us, perfectly.
3. St Lucia – for the active
St Lucia doesn’t have the same plethora of beaches as Antigua; but it more than makes up for this with its outstanding natural beauty. The island is lush, mountainous and consequently less developed than other Caribbean islands. It’s great for being active: taking a boat trip round the famous Pitons; snorkelling; taking a cable car up the mountain or zip-lining through the forest canopy. Development is concentrated in the north of the island and if you want to see a bit of life, this is where you should stay; you can at least here plenty of different restaurants and head to the colourful capital Castries, which has one of the Caribbean’s most vibrant street markets. In summary, St Lucia’s a great choice I think for when your kids are a bit older and want more than to paddle and build sandcastles – although, that said, we went with a 2 year old and had a great time.
4. Grenada – for peace-sekkers
Go to Grenada if you want to do nothing but fly and flop. The island is pretty but it is small and doesn’t have a whole load of attractions (save for the decommissioned Pearl airport, beloved by our son, and the pretty capital St George’s). You really go here to mooch by the pool, potter about the beach and gaze at the horizon. Because of this, choice of resort is really important – you need to be in a place that has enough to occupy kids on-site. We stayed at Spice Island Resort, which has a stellar location, right on Grande Anse beach (one of the finest in the Caribbean) and a kids club. Perfect for toddlers, older kids may get a bit bored.
5. Tobago – for music-lovers
The furthest from the UK and the steamiest (you are pretty close to the equator), I would opt for Tobago if you are in search of the ‘real Caribbean’. I cringe as I write this because of course the other islands are ‘real’ too, in their own way. It’s just that they have been more internationalised – or rather, don’t bare their Caribbean soul in quiet the same way. In Tobago, Soca music blares out from speakers in car boots and food stalls line the roads and beaches (we had the finest BBQ chicken we’ve ever had in Store Bay; avoid the rum cake if you are driving). You feel like you’re swaying to a rhythm every where you go. The beaches aren’t quite up there with Antigua but they’re pretty good. And the rainforest backbone is beautiful. Maybe an island that’s most appreciated once you’ve visited a couple of the others.
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