Sunning and Shopping in the Eastern Caribbean Islands

Swashbuckling pirate tales, romantic ruins and international flavor are just a few of the things you’ll find the eastern Caribbean.


St. Maarten/St. Martin displays genteel Continental charm. Two-thirds French, one-third Dutch, the island boasts a reputation as the fine-dining capital of the Caribbean. In the town of Grand Case, restored cottages house upscale restaurants where diners are as likely to find escargot as they are mango salad.

Soaring to 1,556 feet above sea level, lofty St. Thomas (of the U.S. Virgin Islands) has been a bustling seaport for centuries. These days its capital, Charlotte Amalie, hums with shoppers instead of sailors, but visitors still enjoy spying traces of the island’s past—such as the watchtower known as Blackbeard’s Castle.

To the west, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico overflows with Latin flavor. Explorer Ponce de Leon once came seeking gold; now travelers seek rich nightlife and atmospheric colonial architecture. One popular pastime: wandering the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, then cooling off with a pina colada.

The quieter islands of Turks and Caicos seemingly feature more beaches than people, but even the drowsiest beachcomber will do some exploring eventually. Fortunately, there’s the Caicos Conch Farm, where visitors can learn about the Caribbean’s signature shellfish.

Only about 60 miles from the coast of Florida, the Bahamas are as fascinating as they are close. European and African influences have blended here, and you’ll find one-of-a-kind cultural offerings such as rake ’n’ scrape (a contagiously rhythmic music) and the heady dessert known as rum cake (no explanation necessary).

Shore excursions let travelers get up-close to fascinating eastern Caribbean history and culture. Off St. Maarten/St. Martin, snorkelers can float over the sites of long-ago shipwrecks, while St. Thomas’ panoramic gondola ride lets travelers soar 700 feet above Charlotte Amalie, the better to soak in the historic city below. From flamenco to mambo, samba to rumba, dances seduce and amaze during a Latin Traditions show in Puerto Rico. A tour of Turks and Caicos’ historic prison, which housed prisoners from the 1830s till 1994, draws provides a sense of gravitas; so does the Bahamas’ Pirates Museum, where visitors can go below deck on the ship Revenge.

Insider tip: If you’re strapped for time and need to keep your cruise short, the eastern Caribbean’s proximity to the United States makes it a great choice.

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