Belize – Kick Back On The Cayes
Situated on a reef of some 200 cayes, and blessed with a fascinating mix of Rastafarian, Garifuna and Creole culture, Caye Caulker offers a Caribbean experience at its most laidback and affordable best. Only seven kilometres long and 600 metres at its widest point, you can stroll down its bougainvillea-lined sandy lanes barefoot in under 10 minutes.
Once the hangout of pirates, Caye Caulker’s main industries today are lobster-fishing and its own special brand of locally-run tourism.
If you tire of watching the frigate birds wheel in lazy circles from your hammock, there are plenty of activities to tempt you, including sailing trips on a reef second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, observing manatees, diving the Blue Hole, a boat trip to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha and a sunset drink at the Lazy Lizard.
Trinidad & Tobago – Enjoy The Calypso Beat
In these southern-most Caribbean islands, there is an almost tangible native pride about the steel pan, a musical marvel often described as the only acoustic instrument to be invented in the 20th century.
From biscuit tins to the hubs of motorcar wheels, all manner of items have been employed in the past to create musical notes, but it wasn’t until the 1930s, that the steel pan, made from discarded oil drums, evolved into a fine example of creative recycling.
‘The people’s street festival’, or the Carnival, held in February each year, is where the steel pan reigns supreme. More than a hundred steel bands, both large and small, are active throughout Trinidad and nearby Tobago.
Dominican Republic – Wander Back In Time
A trip to the Dominican Republic would not be complete without a visit to its vibrant capital, Santo Domingo. This old Spanish colonial city, founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, was designated a UNESCO site of World Heritage Importance in 1990.
It contains many of the oldest buildings in the Americas, and its labyrinth of narrow streets will reveal the New World’s first church, the oldest street, nunnery, monastery, library and university.
The weathered stonework, heavy iron-studded doors and beautiful colonial balconies are testimony to the grand style in which Columbus and the early colonists lived.
Saint Lucia – Climb The Pitons
The lush volcanic island of Saint Lucia is situated in the Caribbean Sea, northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique. More mountainous than many other Caribbean islands, Saint Lucia’s most famous landmark is the Pitons, located between Soufrière and Choiseul on the southwest coast.
These two towering volcanic spires attract hikers and climbers and feature everywhere from postcards and T-shirts to paintings and drink labels. In spite of being the highest, Gros Piton is the easier of the two Pitons to ascend and is more a hike than a climb.
However, a decent degree of fitness is required to tackle Petit Piton, with various obstacles to negotiate such as twisted roots, boulders, exposed areas and a section of knotted rope ladder.
Although there is no mandatory park service guide required to climb Petit Piton, it is a very good idea to find a local guide who knows the route. It’s well worth the effort, and from the summits of the Pitons there are unparalleled views of Piton Bay and Saint Lucia.
Martinique – Watch A Cock Fight
This beautiful and lush mountainous isle in the Lesser Antilles chain of the Caribbean is sandwiched between Dominica to the north and Saint Lucia to the south.
Since its discovery in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, Martinique has survived the horrors of slavery and colonialism, wars, the French Revolution, given birth to an empress and was home to the artist Paul Gauguin – who spent five months here in 1887.
One particular Martinique activity is cockfighting, introduced to the West Indies by the Spanish. Fights are held regularly all over the island, where spectators gather around packed dirt arenas called pitts to watch two cocks battle it out.
Before fighting begins, there is a ceremony where the cocks are weighed and fitted with plastic spurs. Then, people place their bets. Cockfighting certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re interested, cockfights are held on Sundays and Wednesdays at the Clery Pitt in Riviere Pilote in the island’s south.