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Caribbean Gems

With over 35 unique destinations, all with azure waters and white sandy beaches, the Caribbean provides a wide variety of tropical isles for all kinds of vacationers. Beach-goers, snorkelers, divers, golfers, and those in need of some serious relaxation will find this and more.

On land, the larger towns provide excellent shopping opportunities; lush rainforests are home to hundreds of plant and bird species, golf courses, horse stables, provide other recreation activities. The islands also range in size and popularity; some attract cruise ships, shoppers, or families, while others are small and secluded — perfect for newlyweds on their honeymoon. The extensive archipelago is strung between south of Florida through South America with each area having assorted cultures, languages and currencies. The Windward Islands of Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Vincent are known for volcanic peaks and French and African influences.

The six Leeward Islands, known for coral limestone formations and some of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean include Montserrat, Nevis, and St. Kitts, Antigua, Barbuda, and Anguilla.

The Virgin Islands are divided between the British and United States with the United States islands offering many entertainment choices, and the British islands offering more seclusion and quiet. There are three main United States Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Although there are many more British Virgin Islands, the two largest are Tortola and Virgin Gorda.

The French Antilles and the Netherlands Antilles exude a French and Dutch influence when it comes to culture, food, and lifestyle. This part of the Caribbean is known for its well preserved coral reefs.

The following are a few of the lesser known gems of the Caribbean Islands.

St. Thomas Separating the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, St. Thomas is perhaps the busiest of the United States Virgin Islands and the number one point of call for cruise chips sailing the Caribbean. St. Thomas is a destination for visitors who enjoy the bustle of duty-free shopping, fine dining and exciting nightlife. Excellent scuba diving and snorkeling, a wonderful golf course, tennis courts, and 44 fabulous beaches are all on the offer. Magens Bay on the north coast is considered one of the world’s best beaches with a stunning view. The main street of the picturesque town of Charlotte Amalie is a shopping mecca where you will find duty-free shopping on liquor, linens, china, crystal, jewelry, designer fashions, perfume, and other luxury goods. Locally produced goods include native shell jewelry, carved fruit bowls, straw brooms, woven baskets, and handmade dolls.

Coral World Ocean Park and Underwater Observatory at Coki Point reigns as St.Thomas’s number-one attraction. Visitors can tour Coral World Ocean Park and Underwater Observatory, take a Sea Trek along the ocean floor, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters, take a scuba diving lesson, experience Snuba(a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling), or just swim in the warm waters.Sea trekkers wear special air-supplied helmets with a large glass masks along with foot protection as they walk 15 feet underwater through the coral reefs. Trekkers hold onto a handrail as they follow their guide along the 60-yard underwater trail, where they see yellowtails, tang, trumpet fish, sergeant majors, sponges, and sea fans.

Anguilla Looking for the best place to do absolutely nothing, then look no further than Anguilla, a quiet, laid back home to fabulous beaches, friendly people, and wonderful dining. One of Anguilla’s loveliest beaches is Shoal Bay East, also considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Here you will find white talcum sand bordered by coconut trees and sparkling turquoise waters, all which hold visitors awestruck. A barrier reef that runs along the beach keeps the water calm. Those wanting to explore the blue waters and its underwater creatures can snorkel right off the beach, where shining fish, stingrays, lobster, crayfish, and eels collectively meet.

Numerous dive shops offer scuba diving trips to the reefs, walls, canyons, boulders, and sunken wrecks all that have earned Anguilla a reputation as a great place for scuba diving.Serious pampering occurs at the island’s three world-class resorts, each with its own signature spa treatments in idyllic settings. There are a host of activities at the resorts including a cooking school. Gourmets delight in Anguilla’s lively food scene. With more than 70 restaurants, there’s plenty of places to enjoy a wonderful meal. Blanchard’s, Kemia at Cap Juluca, Malliouhana, KoalKeel, and Straw Hat are a few of the Anguilla’s popular restaurants.

St. Barts A branded destination for the super wealthy, St. Barts, part of the French West Indies, remains a favored destination for sophisticated travelers. The formal name is St. Barthelemy, named for Bartheleme, brother of Christopher Columbus who discovered the mountainous, eight-square-mile volcanic island in 1493.Today, St. Barts is a popular port-of-call for small cruise ships; the small harbor cannot accommodate larger vessels. Moreover, there are no direct flights to St. Barts, visitors must fly to a major island (St. Martin/St. Maarten, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico), then catch a small plane for the short hop to the St. Barts airstrip. Other travelers take the ferry from St. Martin. When a plane lands on the small airstrip, it comes to the end of the beach nearly touching the water, almost emulating a thrilling amusement park ride. The official currency is the Euro and the official language is French and Creole. Locals appreciate any attempt at their language, so be prepared.

While St. Barts is renowned for duty-free shopping, gourmet dining and 22 white-sand beaches (all are public and free), St. Barts’ main attraction is its plethora of villa rentals. In fact, the island claims more villas than hotels.On St. Barts, the term villa can mean anything from a modest cottage to a luxurious estate. High end villas throw in a housekeeper and even a private French chef. Prices vary widely, depending on season, location, size, and amenities. Daily rates range from about $250 per night to $5,000 for a sprawling, 6 or 7-bedroom beachfront mansion with private staff.

Curacao Yes, the blue alcohol stems from this small island and visitors can take a tour of the distilleries that produce the liqueur made from the peels of bitter oranges native to the island. Curaçao is perhaps the most Dutch of the Caribbean’s Netherlands Antillesand with its restored mansions and tiny houses painted in an array of pastel and bright colors. In addition, the native language Papiamentu, a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, and other languages is widely spoken. In addition to Dutch, English, and Spanish, almost everyone speaks English.

As the island is positioning itself as a tourism powerhouse, with the construction of six new resorts and the renovation of five existing properties by end of this year travelers will find more choice in quality lodging than ever before.

In Curaçao one will want to spend outdoors as the island is packed with sporting attractions. On land or on water, active vacationers can choose from a wide range of activities, ranging from swimming and snorkeling to hiking and horseback riding. Finally, shopping is an extremely popular pastime for those visiting the island, especially among cruise ship passengers.

Antigua Antiqua is recognized as the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands and with 365 white sand beaches, Antigua claims to have one for every day of the year. The great majority rest inside the calm, protected waters of the island’s Caribbean side. All are open to the public, so it is a daunting task to choose which to enjoy for the day. Scuba divers and snorkelers, come from around the globe to explore the spectacular, nearly unbroken wall of coral reef that surrounds the island.

English Harbour, Antigua’s elegant and reminiscent historic district, is focused on the fifteen square miles of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Further above the harbour, at Shirley Heights, are the partially restored fortifications of the harbour’s colonial observation post with the view extending as far as across the Caribbean to Montserrat and Guadaloupe.

All of the viewing points, as well as the park’s beaches, become especially popular spectator positions during Antigua’s renowned Sailing Week. Usually held in April, this event draws sailing enthusiasts from all over the world. This year will the event’s 40th anniversary and preparations for the festivities are already in full swing.

For those who want to try their luck at the tables, Antigua is the hot spot for its casinos. The glamorous Grand Princess in Jolly Harbour, the swanky Kings Casino at the Heritage Quay shopping and entertainment complex, the Royal Antiguan Beach and Tennis Resort on Deep Bay, and the Casino Riviera at Runaway Bay are all worth trying your luck at.

Published in Jetwings Feb. 2009

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