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13 Lesser-Known Caribbean Islands You Should Visit

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With autumn in full swing and winter on deck, it's time for warm-weather seekers to plan their sunny, sand-filled winter getaways. The faraway islands of Fiji or the untouched beaches of Hawaii may sound tempting, but the Caribbean—just an easy direct flight from more than a dozen U.S. airports—are actually home to their own remote, tourist-free destinations. If you’re planning a winter vacation, here are 13 lesser-known Caribbean islands to consider.

1. SAN ANDRÉS, COLOMBIA

EUGENIO CELEDON VIA FLICKR // CC BY-ND 2.0

An island of just 10 square miles, San Andrés has a low number of tourists compared to its popular neighbors like Nicaragua. The island’s downtown is far from impressive—it’s filled with plain buildings and less-than-welcoming duty-free shops—but what San Andrés lacks in colorful buildings, it makes up for with stunning beaches. It’s a stone’s throw from the protected Johnny Cay Natural Regional Park, the Cueva de Morgan hidden cave and the San Luis coast, known for its white-sand beaches and out-of-this-world snorkeling.

How to get there: Avianca and Copa Airlines fly directly to San Andrés from Colombian cities like Barranquilla, Bogotá, and Cartagena.

2. NEVIS, WEST INDIES

Nevis, located in the northern part of the West Indies, is truly a hidden gem. With luxury hotels like the Four Seasons and epic dive sites like Booby High Shoals—which has an impressive population of sea turtles and stingrays—Nevis is the perfect spot for adventurers and loungers alike. In addition to its outdoor offerings, Nevis also has an interesting history—including its claim to fame as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.

How to get there: Fly into San Juan, Puerto Rico and catch a quick, direct flight over to Nevis. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from St. Kitts.

3. VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO

DAVID SCHROEDER VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This small island, located off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, is best known for its bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, the brightest in the world. The bay lights up at night from organisms called Pyrodinium bahamense found within its waters. Vieques is home to free-roaming horses (owned by locals) who enjoy the laid-back Caribbean life, as well as the Punta Mulas Lighthouse, the bright blue waters along the Playuela beach, and a number of boat and scuba tours for aquatic adventurers.

How to get there: Puerto Rico has a number of direct flights and ferries into Vieques.

4. GRENADA, EASTERN CARIBBEAN

Known as "Spice Isle," Grenada is an island with a number of nutmeg plantations, including some you can actually tour. But Grenada is more than just spices. It’s the site of an underwater sculpture gallery filled with marine life, the relaxing Grand Anse Beach, and the historic Fort George, which played a large role in the Seven Years War, the French Revolution, and the Grenadian Revolution.

How to get there: Airports in Miami, New York, and Atlanta have flights direct into Grenada’s Maurice Bishop International Airport.

5. CULEBRA, PUERTO RICO

JIRKA MATOUSEK VIA FLICKR // CC BY 2.0

Just off the east coast of Puerto Rico, Culebra is a sleepy, no-frills island with calming sandy beaches, turquoise water, and a consistently quiet vibe. Its remote beaches—including the Flamenco Beach, ranked third best beach by TripAdvisor in 2014—have some of the area’s clearest waters. Activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, and boat tours are also popular for the few tourists who do choose to visit this off-the-beaten-path Caribbean island.

How to get there: San Juan offers direct flights into Culebra, and Fajardo—a one-hour drive from San Juan—provides ferry service over to the island.

6. SABA, LESSER ANTILLES

Saba is not like most beachy Caribbean islands. In fact, it has no beaches at all. The island is filled with lush, green mountain landscapes, including the potentially active—and hike-able—Mount Scenery volcano. The island’s main towns have just under 2000 inhabitants combined, and with little to no crime, Saba has that cozy, small-town feel. In addition to the island’s many nature hikes, visitors can stop by the island’s museums and galleries, including Jo Bean Glass Art Studio and the Harry L. Johnson Museum (a 160-year-old sea captain's cottage), or the island’s capital town (with perhaps the coolest name), The Bottom.

How to get there: St. Maarten’s Juliana Airport has direct, 12-minute flights into Saba. Ferry service is also available from St. Maarten to Saba.

7. MARTINIQUE, LESSER ANTILLES

ARTEFACT 40D VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With mountains of rainforest and miles of tropical beaches, Martinique has a little something for everyone. The island was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and has seen its fair share of volcanic activity since. The highest point is the island’s volcano, Mount Pelée, which erupted in 1792, 1851, and twice in 1902. Martinique’s northern region is mostly mountainous, but down south, beaches like Anse Turin and Anse Dufour offer soft, sandy shores where visitors can sit back, relax, and enjoy the waves.

How to get there: Miami offers direct flights into Martinique, and ferry service is also available from Guadeloupe.

8. ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

While St. Croix may be a large island, many portions of it still have a small-town feel. St. Croix visitors can tour—and taste—at the Cruzan Rum Distillery, an award-winning rum distillery located on the island’s west end. Those looking for a little R&R under the sun can hit up Protestant Cay, a small, sandy oasis with beach-side bars and restaurants. The island’s Buck Island Reef National Monument also boasts some fascinating snorkeling, with an 18,800-acre coral reef system off the coast.

How to get there: Numerous airlines including U.S. Airways, American Airlines, and JetBlue fly into St. Croix, and most connect to the island through Puerto Rico.

9. ANEGADA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

ALAN WOLF VIA FLICKR // CC BY-ND 2.0

Anegada is a coral island in the British Virgin Islands chain, filled with secluded beaches, vast wildlife like the rare rock iguana, and some of the Caribbean’s best fishing. Right off the island, snorkelers and scuba divers can explore some impressive sea life at Horseshoe Reef, as well as eerie shipwrecks at Wreck Alley.

How to get there: Anegada is accessible with flights from St. Thomas, San Juan, and Tortola.

10. CANOUAN, GRENADINES ISLANDS

Canouan is far from a budget getaway—it’s where the rich and famous go to escape. Canouan is the site of the four-star Tamarind Beach Hotel, the Pink Sands Club, and Canouan Estate, which includes an 18-hole golf course, fine dining, and high-end spas. Beyond the glitz and glam, Canouan is also surrounded by one of the Caribbean’s largest coral reefs, with some charming, white-sand beaches along the island’s perimeter.

How to get there: Flights are available from Barbados, Puerto Rico, and St. Vincent. Ferry service is also available from Kingstown.

11. CAT ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS

TRISH HARTMANN VIA FLICKR // CC BY 2.0

Virtually untouched by tourists, Cat Island boasts all the essentials for a perfect remote island getaway: hidden coves, untouched caves, shark dives, nature trails, and the highest point in the Bahamas, Mount Alvernia. Cat Island’s history is visible throughout the 48-mile stretch of land, which has remains of cotton plantations, slave huts, and Arawak Indian caves that visitors can explore. The island also has a number of secluded private and public beaches, all offering that iconic Bahamas-blue water and soft white sand.

How to get there: Cat Island is accessible by flight or ferry from Nassau.

12. MONTSERRAT, LESSER ANTILLES

Montserrat is best known for its volcano adventures, which include tours along the beautiful coastline, and much eerier views of the deserted capital town of Plymouth, which was destroyed when the island’s Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in 1995. Montserrat is more mountainous than it is beachy, but it does have one small, sandy beach at Rendezvous Bay. The island also has a cultural museum, an observation deck for viewing the volcano, and a number of scenic hiking trails.

How to get there: Nearby Antigua offers flights, ferries, and chartered helicopters to Montserrat.

13. CAYMAN BRAC, CAYMAN ISLANDS

MATT PETTENGILL VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Caribbean doesn’t get much quieter than Cayman Brac. Situated just south of Cuba, Cayman Brac is home to hidden caves, peaceful hiking trails, unbeatable diving and—best of all—very few tourists. The interior of the island features "The Bluff," a limestone outcrop that stands tall along the length of the island, which provides an abundance of caves and hidden pathways for visitors to explore. The island is also home to more than 200 bird species, including the red-footed booby, the brown booby, and the Cayman Brac parrot.

How to get there: Cayman Brac is a 30-minute plane ride from Grand Cayman.

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11-Headed Buddha Statue to Be Revealed in Japan for First Time in 33 Years
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Buddha statues come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The various poses and hand gestures of the Buddha represent different virtues, and any items he happens to be holding—say, a lotus flower or a bowl—have some religious significance.

But not all Buddha relics are created equal, as evidenced by the reverence paid to one particularly holy statue in Japan. The 11-headed figure is so sacred that it has been hidden away for 33 years—until now. Lonely Planet reports that the Buddha statue will be revealed on April 23 during the Onsen Festival in Kinosaki Onsen, a coastal town along the Sea of Japan that’s famous for its hot springs. The statue is kept inside Onsen-ji Temple, a religious site which dates back to 738 CE.

Al altar inside Onsen-ji temple

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The big Buddha reveal, however, will be held elsewhere. For that, festivalgoers will need to ride a cable car to the top of Mount Taishi, where they’ll catch a glimpse of Juichimen Kanzeon Bosatsu, a name which means “11-faced goddess of compassion and mercy.” It will be hard to miss—at 7 feet tall, the statue would tower over most NBA players. Considered a natural treasure, it’s displayed in three-year blocks once every 33 years. So if you miss the initial reveal, you have until 2021 to catch a glimpse.

“The people of Kinosaki are very excited about this event, especially the younger generation," Jade Nunez, an international relations coordinator for the neighboring city of Toyooka, told Lonely Planet Travel News. "Those who are under 30 years old have never seen the statue in its entirety, so the event is especially important to them."

After paying their respects to the Buddha, festival attendees can take a dip in one of three hot spring bathhouses that will be free to use during the Onsen Festival.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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All National Parks Are Offering Free Admission on April 21
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Looking for something to do this weekend that's both outdoorsy and free? To kick off National Park Week, you can visit any one of the National Park Service's more than 400 parks on April 21, 2018 for free.

While the majority of the NPS's parks are free year-round, they'll be waiving admission fees to the more than 100 parks that normally require an entrance fee. Which means that you can pay a visit to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, or Yellowstone National Parks without reaching for your wallet. The timing couldn't be better, as many of the country's most popular parks will be increasing their entrance fees beginning in June.

The National Park Service, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, maintains 417 designated NPS areas that span more than 84 million acres across every state, plus Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

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