Choosing Your Fantasy Island

You know you want to venture south but you're just not sure where. Here's help.
by The Knot

Whether you seek a steel-band beat, secluded beach, or something in between, you'll find it in the Caribbean, where the only commonality is the warm cerulean sea and the time zone: "island time."

What Are They?

Each island is either independent or flies the flag of its French, Dutch, English, Spanish, or American mother country (the island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten is split down the middle between the French and Dutch). The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos are not officially part of the Caribbean islands, but they share a common sea and are, therefore, included below. Everyday life and natural terrain can vary widely from island to island.

Where Are They?

The Caribbean islands arch from the southern tip of Florida to the northern coast of Venezuela. The largest islands (known as the Greater Antilles) lie to the northwest. The smaller isles (called the Lesser Antilles) curve southeast and are caressed by the placid Caribbean Sea on the west coast and pounded by the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean on the east. The chain ends with the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.

Which Is Right For You?

There are many ways to choose the ideal destination for your honeymoon, whether you're looking for someplace close and cheap, a lush terrain, lots of activities, or do-not-disturb seclusion. Read on to pinpoint your one perfect fantasy island, and don't worry: You'll have a lifetime of anniversaries to visit the rest.

*** Notes: The U.S. Virgin Islands, hereafter referred to as USVI, include St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. The main islands of the British Virgin Islands, or BVI, are Tortola and Virgin Gorda. The Dominican Republic and Dominica are two very different islands more than 500 miles apart. Cuba is included for our Canadian readers.

Overall Ambience

British Territory (British West Indies) or Ex-British Colony
The mood here can be slightly more formal. Think afternoon tea, jackets at dinner, and cricket tournaments.

Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas , Barbados, Barbuda, BVI, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Tobago, Trinidad

Dutch Territory (Netherlands Antilles) or Ex-Dutch Colony
Candy-colored, gingerbread-house architecture dots these islands.
Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, Sint Maarten, St. Eustatius (also
known as Statia)

French Territory (French West Indies)
The spirit of joie de vivre fills the French territories; lovers are tempted with fine French food and wine.
Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Martin

Ex-Spanish Colonies
These islands combine historic sights and ecotourism with sizzling nightlife.
Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico

Peace & Quiet
Anguilla, Nevis, St. John, Tobago, Virgin Gorda

Sweet Seclusion
BVI resort islands (Guana, Peter Island, etc.), Dominica, Little Cayman, Mustique

Time & Money

Quick Escapes
These islands have the combined advantage of being relatively close to the United States and served by a good number of direct flights.

Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Grand Bahama and Nassau (Bahamas), Jamaica (Montego Bay), Providenciales (Turks & Caicos), Puerto Rico, St. Croix , St. Thomas

Safe Bets During Hurricane Season (late summer/early fall)
This is more about timing, than time invested.
Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Tobago, Trinidad

Budget Islands
Bahamas, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Saba, St. Eustatius, Trinidad

Budget Packages
Thanks to a high volume of travel, good air/hotel packages can often be found for these islands.
Aruba, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, USVI

Most All-Inclusives
Antigua, Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, St. Lucia


Lots to See & Do

Jamaica, Nassau, Puerto Rico , St. Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Thomas, Trinidad

Best Nightlife
Aruba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten

Most Casinos
Aruba, Sint Maarten, Nassau, Puerto Rico

Musical Roots
Curacao (tumba), Dominican Republic (merengue), Guadeloupe & Martinique (beguine and zouk), Jamaica (reggae), Puerto Rico (salsa), Trinidad (calypso, soca)

Best Ports of Call
Aruba, Barbados, Nassau (Bahamas), St. Lucia, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan (Puerto Rico)

Best Shopping
Bahamas, Grand Cayman, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, USVI

Natural Bounty

Lush Tropical Terrain

Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia , St. Vincent

Best Beaches
Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Cuba, Grand Cayman, Grenadines, Jamaica, St. John, St. Thomas, Turks & Caicos

Nude Beaches
(For basking in the sun au naturel)
Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barts, and St. Martin (the French West Indies); Jamaica

Best Ecotourism
Bonaire, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad

Best Hiking
Dominica, Dominican Republic, Nevis, St. John, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Trinidad

Best Bird Watching
Bonaire, Jamaica, Little Cayman, Nevis, St. Kitts, Tobago, Trinidad

Rain Forests
Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Eustatius, St. Lucia, St. Vincent


Most Golf Courses

, Grand Bahama (Bahamas), Jamaica, Puerto Rico

Most Tennis Courts
Antigua, Jamaica, Puerto Rico

Best Snorkeling & Scuba Diving
Anguilla, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Saba, St. Lucia, St. Eustatius, Tobago, Turks & Caicos

Best Sailing
Antigua, BVI, St. Lucia, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, USVI

Best Windsurfing
Antigua, Aruba, Barbuda, Barbados, BVI, Puerto Rico

-- Paris Permenter & John Bigley, authors of Caribbean for Lovers (Prima Publishing)

Photo: Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

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