Famed for its postcard-perfect beaches, azure water, and welcoming atmosphere, the Caribbean continues to reign as a premier travel destination. While larger islands like Jamaica and Puerto Rico hold a wealth of attractions, there’s an undeniable appeal to discovering a tiny island paradise. Whether you’re looking for a Crusoe-style escape, charming fishing villages, or trendy resorts, the classic Caribbean vacation can still be had at these nine smaller Caribbean islands.
Still Caribbean dreaming? Check out the ultimate cheat sheet on where to go in the Caribbean.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order for US citizens to travel to the Caribbean islands they must provide a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Set within the Leeward Islands, St Bart’s stands out for its unique blend of French culture, understated luxury, and superb natural Caribbean beauty. The island is a popular stopover for yachts and sailboats traveling around the Caribbean, but there’s plenty for visitors to explore from land too. A total of 16 beaches line St. Bart’s, ranging from secluded coves to posh beach clubs. Backed by rocky hillside, Plage de Saline’s golden sand is one of St. Barth’s least trafficked beaches, despite its picturesque qualities. Plage de Colombier affords offshore snorkeling and a tranquil horseshoe bay that can only be reached by boat or coastal hike. Nikki Beach is renowned for its day-time parties that attract celebrities and revelers to dance to international DJs and bask in the crystal-clear waters. After dark, the party scene moves to clubs like Le Ti St-Barth, famous for its extravagant costumes and lively dance floor, and Bagatelle, which exudes French Riviera glamour.
Boutique Manapany offers the amenities of a luxury resort in a more laidback setting. The property boasts a beachfront location on Anse des Cayes and an ocean-view pool. It’s the place to see and be seen in St. Bart’s.
The smaller of the two islands comprising St. Kitts and Nevis, Nevis has the edge on its sister island in terms of nature-based activities and empty beaches. Pinney’s Beach spans three miles of golden sand along the west coast. A handful of resorts and casual beach bars tout cool cocktails and fresh seafood, while coral reefs lie just offshore. For more solitude, Lovers Beach and Windward Beach see fewer crowds, since there are no on-site facilities. However, the fine white sand on Lovers Beach and rolling waves at Windward are well-suited for a picnic and day of beach-combing. When it’s not enshrouded in clouds, the conical Nevis Peak can be seen from around the island. Reaching the summit entails a demanding four- to five-hour hike round-trip, but the effort is rewarded with views of neighboring Montserrat. The forest-covered hillsides are home to an array of bird species, including several types of hummingbirds. There’s also a host of plantation ruins from the British Colonial era to explore, notably the Hamilton Estate which belonged to Alexander Hamilton’s family until the 1950s. The stone mill and structures are being reclaimed by the tropical foliage. For more insight into Hamilton’s life here, check out the Museum of Nevis History, which was rebuilt at the site of his childhood home.
Overlooking the ocean from its hilltop setting, the Montepelier Plantation enjoys a secluded and picturesque setting within 60 acres of lush grounds. The hotel features modern amenities in a historic 300-year-old sugar mill, making for a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
Although its official Spanish name is Isla Pequeña del Maíz, the island’s Afro-Caribbean population refer to their home as Little Corn. Encompassing just 1.1 square-miles, the only way to get around Little Corn is by foot, with several walking paths leading from the ferry dock on the western coast to the rest of the island’s settlements. Visitors arrive here via Panga boat, which whisk about 45 passengers at a time from nearby Big Corn, where there’s an airport with daily flight connections to Managua and other Nicaraguan cities. There isn’t much to do on the island besides swim, snorkel, and wander through the forest between beaches — but that’s the whole point. The Tarpon Channel off the eastern coast serves as the island’s best dive and snorkel site, as hammerhead sharks, sting rays, and countless fish species can be spotted along the deep coral walls. A metal tower, known as the lighthouse, grants sweeping views of the island. On the way down, stop by the Lighthouse Hotel bar, which serves delectable seafood and rum cocktails on its patio.
Little Corn Beach and Bungalow occupies a scenic spot on the island’s east coast. Detached bungalows with covered front porches and ocean views fan out into the lush foliage from the property’s Turned Turtle Bar and Restaurant. Oh, and there’s a charming yoga palapa.
Isla De Providencia, Colombia
If you’re seeking a laid-back and authentic small Caribbean island retreat, look no further than Isla De Providencia. Situated more than 50 miles from the nearest landmass, this Colombian territory affords secluded island paradise. Although Providencia totals a modest 6.6 square miles in size, it packs sparkling white-sand beaches, dense forest, and the world’s third-largest barrier reef. El Pico Natural Regional Park includes 1,100-foot El Pico Mountain, which can be summited in 90 minutes for panoramic views over the island. To access Providencia’s underwater wonders, snorkelers can explore the coast off of Morgan’s Head or seek out sea turtles off of Crab Cay. The island’s main settlements of Bottom House, Southwest Bay, and Jacob feature charming beachside cafes, crab shacks, and reggae bars, where it’s easy to mingle with locals. The only direct flights to Providencia come from San Andrés — a nearby Colombian island territory. This added effort has helped keep Providencia an under-the-radar gem.
Culebra, Puerto Rico
Located midway between mainland Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Culebra is known for its pristine natural beauty and bohemian atmosphere. The island is largely undeveloped due to U.S. Navy occupation (lasting until the 1970s), meaning that you won’t have to vie for space along its gorgeous white-sand beaches. Playa Flamenco, which lines a tranquil, horseshoe-shaped bay, is Culebra’s most renowned for its crystalline waters and beached military tank. For more solitude, embark into Culebra National Wildlife Refuge to hike through lush greenery and along abandoned coastline at Playa Brava. Vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life sit just offshore Playa Carlos Rosario and Playa Tamarindo. The outlying islands of Culebrita and Cayo Luis Peńa can be easily visited on kayak and snorkeling excursions as well.
Oyster Anegada, British Virgin Islands
The most remote of the British Virgin Islands, Anegada’s stunning topography, uncrowded beaches, and pristine coral reefs are its main draw. The island’s desert-like landscape is broken up by wild orchids, frangipani trees, and a series of salt ponds that serve as habitat for the protected flamingo population. Visitors can get a closer look at local fauna from the Flamingo Pond Lookout or spot rock iguanas along Bones Bight Nature Trail. Not only are Anegada’s beaches gorgeous, but quirky names like Loblolly, Flash of Beauty, and Cow Wreck add further charm to this lesser known small Caribbean island. The neighboring beaches of Loblolly Bay and Flash of Beauty both boast coral reefs that can be reached from the shore. Cow Wreck Bay does in fact see cattle lounging below swaying palms, not to mention powdery sand and dazzling turquoise water.
Saba, Caribbean Netherlands
Characterized by rugged volcanic terrain and steep cliffs, Saba’s landscape stands out amongst its Caribbean neighbors. The island is just five square miles, though its highest point, Mt. Scenery, constitutes the highest elevation in all of the Netherlands at 2,910 feet. Saba is also unique in its virtually non-existent beaches. The only stretches of sand can be found at a man-made beach along Cove Bay and another sliver that emerges at Wells Bay during low tide. While these factors have deterred large-scale tourism, Saba has plenty of allure for escapists and scuba enthusiasts. Undersea geothermal activity has resulted in fantastic rock formations, such as the Eye of the Needle. This pinnacle rock formation is set 90 feet below the surface, and descends to 225 feet below sea-level. The rock is covered by rich corals, providing habitat to reef sharks and hammerheads. Lucky divers may spot manta rays, humpback whales, and whale sharks. Besides its underwater attractions, Saba boasts hiking trails to coastal tide pools and up through cloud forest to Mt. Scenery. Departing from the village of Windwardside, hikers climb more than 1,000 steps through mahogany forest and lush greenery to the summit.
La Désirade, Guadeloupe
Located to the east of Guadeloupe, La Désirade exemplifies all of the quintessential Caribbean qualities: palm-fringed beaches, thick jungle, and laidback island living. An imposing ridge spans the center of the long island, separating the wild northern coast from the southern coast, where the island’s 1,700 inhabitants reside. The River Trail connects the opposing coasts from Souffleur Beach to the deserted northern shoreline. Along the way, hikers will spot wild orchids and waterfalls, while the plateau offers expansive views over the La Désirade. Less arduous hikes can be found at the National Geological Reserve, which is home to iguanas and endemic cactus species. There are plenty of isolated white-sand beaches, such as Plage Anse Petite Riviere, which enjoys calm waters thanks to an offshore reef. La Désirade can only be reached by ferry from Grande-Terre, which crosses twice per day from St-François.
Best known for its nutmeg production and occupation by the U.S. in 1983, Grenada’s tourism industry is quietly surging thanks to its idyllic beaches, historic sites, and natural beauty. Though nutmeg is not endemic to the island, it has flourished since being introduced by the British in the mid-19th century. The island also produces cocoa, cinnamon, and cloves amongst other spices. The 300-year-old Belmont Estate cultivates all of these crops and includes a bean to bar chocolate tour. Grenada also has a rich history in distilling rum. Visitors can sample some of the island’s finest at River Antoine Rum Distillery, which has been in operation since 1785. The island’s beaches won’t disappoint either, namely remote Levera Beach and golden-hued Grande Anse. Grenada’s mountainous interior holds gushing waterfalls and jungle treks. A quick jaunt to Annandale Falls grants a refreshing swim in its large pool. Though it’s not exactly tiny, Grenada is smaller than other Caribbean island nations like Barbados, Dominica, and St. Lucia.
The eco-friendly Maca Bana allows guests to immerse themselves in Caribbean nature without compromising on comfort. One- and two-bedroom villas come fitted with hot tubs on private decks and stocked kitchens.
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