Where is the best place to go in the Caribbean?

May 13th, 2002, 09:33 AM
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Where is the best place to go in the Caribbean?

My family and I have decided that in the next few years, we will take a vacation to the Caribbean. We have never been there and are very excited. This is our background:
I am a HUGE history buff, my sister is a die-hard shopper, my mother loves beautiful beaches and relaxation, and my father wants a little of everything. We are an outdoor-type family, have a great respect for nature, and love hiking and ecotourism. Open to snorkling.
My question is: what island would be the best for us? At first, we were thinking Puerto Rico, Grenada, or the Dominican Republic, but now we're not sure. I would appreciate any feedback. Cost is flexible, but nothing too outrageous. Thank you.
May 13th, 2002, 02:11 PM
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My first instinct when I read all your criteria would have been Puerto Rico. There is so much to see and explore there both in San Jaun and surronding area's. Shopping is great in old San Juan - a very quaint town area, hilly, neat history to it. Beaches in the outer area's are wonderful! Great for water sports. There is hiking, rain forests, caves, etc...

AS far as Dominican Republic, I personally have not been but several people I know who have stated they would not fair to go back again as compared to other islands.

May 13th, 2002, 05:37 PM
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St John, USVI. Just got back.
Got married on the beach at Trunk
Bay and rented a villa. The only
way to go. Stunning beaches.
Beautiful Mongoose Junction downtown
has gorgeous shops or you can ferry
for the day to St. Thomas for major
shopping. There are hiking trails that
lead to secluded beaches for the
best snorkeling. Lovely people. Clean.

St John get my vote!!!!!

May 14th, 2002, 05:10 AM
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My suggestion would be to research the lush islands of St. Kitts/Nevis. You might even enjoy staying at one of the beautiful plantation resorts, some near the rainforest. Information with Fodors online destination guides--go to Caribbean section. Also, Where2Stay.com.
May 15th, 2002, 08:47 AM
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Let see, you want these things: history, die-hard shopping, beautiful beaches, relaxation, outdoor-type family, respect for nature, love hiking, ecotourism, snorkling. Ummmm, lets see: USVI, St. Johns and St. Thomas combined with a few days stopover in Puerto Rico.

St. Johns - you will find all the the best beaches, nature, hiking, snorkeling, camping, ecotourism and relaxation.

St. Thomas plenty of shopping, history and great beaches (Meagans Bay and Coki Beach).

Puerto Rico has history, gambling, rainforest, phoseresant bays (that glow at night) and a unbelievable senic mountian highway drive.

May 15th, 2002, 02:04 PM
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For serious history buffs, the Dominican Republic is a must. That was from where the Americas was planned.

You have two choices: Santo Domingo or Puerto Plata. Santo Domingo is from where the conquest of the Americas was planned. The 16th century buildings are still there, and the colonial city is lovely to tour. The beach is about half an hour away in Boca Chica, or Juan Dolio. So that is your first option. Book a hotel in Boca Chica or Juan Dolio and travel into the city for history and shopping. Santo Domingo offers great shopping -- lots of European imports, lots of shopping centers. Your mother may appreciate time out for a day at one of the city's first class beauty salons/spas where she will be pampered for much less than at home.

The other option is to fly into Puerto Plata on the north coast. There you can travel to Isabela, the first European settlement in the New World. There is a park and museum on the premises. You would have to rent a car to get there, but on the way you can visit Luperon beach, so it is worth it.

Puerto Plata also boasts the Damajagua falls near Imbert. You can probably book an excursion at your hotel to visit the first seven of the 21 waterfalls. You need to know how to swim, or have one in your group help you along some stretches where you will need to do some swimming. The North Coast is wonderful for explorers. You can travel East to Sosua and Cabarete beaches for souvenir shopping and beach visiting. And go all the way out to Playa Grande, a spectacular beach.

To get a full grasp of the North and South Coast of the Dominican Republic, visit the destinations section in the travel page of http://www.dr1.com
There click on the Santo Domingo, Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, La Romana pages for info on the South Coast. And on the Puerto Plata, Playa Dorada, Sosua, Cabarete, Playa Grande pages for info on the North Coast.
May 15th, 2002, 03:07 PM
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Lots of information at tripadvisors.com.
Research St. Lucia--may be the island for you. In St. Lucia, avoid the rainy season.
May 15th, 2002, 03:47 PM
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I am in the same position you are in. I should say I was in the position you are in! We just booked our trip. We decided on Turks and Caicos. They have the most beautiful beaches in all of the caribbean....quite place so not much for night life, but all the best in everything else.
I am so excited! I am counting all of the days, and its not until July!!!!!
We got a great deal at an all inclusive, too.
Good luck and let us know when you decide!
[email protected]
May 15th, 2002, 05:24 PM
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Response to Ari:

If you are a huge history buff and want shopping, beaches, the outdoors and ecotourism, Puerto Rico would be my recommendation because all of these can be done in a trip.

If you stay in San Juan, you will be on the coast, history and shopping is at Old San Juan (10 minute cab ride), the rainforest is an hour away (most hotels offer tourguides) and as far as snorkeling, rent a car to Fajardo and Captain Jack Becker will take you sailing and snorkeling to small islets. This can all be done in various day trips, which doesn't make it complicated. No need to stay overnight at places, all these are reachable through San Juan easily...

And you'll have the best time of your life!
May 16th, 2002, 04:52 AM
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Look into Timothy Beach Resort (condos)in St. Kitts and the Montpellier Plantation in Nevis. Islands are 7 minutes flying time apart. St. Kitts has a lot of history and a rainforest. Montpellier Plantation shuttles you to the beach next door to the Four Seasons--Pinney Beach-- and you get a new experience of staying at a Plantation plus a rainforest.
May 16th, 2002, 05:10 AM
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Correction: History also in Nevis--Horatio Nelson Museum, Alexander Hamilton, sugar plantations etc. Correct name is Montpelier Plantation Inn. See information using Google.
May 16th, 2002, 09:28 AM
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Hi Ari! You want beaches, nature, shopping, history and enough 'stuff to do' to keep a diverse family happy. I have 2 suggestions:

1) Go to Mexico. You can base yourself in Playa del Carmen. Your sister can buy Mexican crafts, you can explore the Mayan ruins (and if you are serious about more history spend a couple of days in Merida, which is a colonial town 4 hours away from Playa). You can visit cenotes as part of your ecotourism, and take a snorkel tour to the Palancar reef.

Meanwhile, your mom can just plop on the beach. I have always split my Mexico vacations and have chosen different bases: Merida, Cozumel, Playacar, etc. You may want to get a guidebook and read some options.

2) Go to Puerto Rico. It's small enough that nature, ecotourism, history, shopping and beaches are not far away but big enough that you will find variety for your family. You can base yourself in a resort (like the Hyatts, the Conquistador or the Westin) and rent a car and take day-trips or split your time between a couple of days in the outer islands of Vieques/Culebra (for the beach person) and a the rest of the time in San Juan.

There's excellent shopping, lots of historical sites - from the old houses in Old San Juan and Ponce, to colonial forts, to museums in Ponce and San Juan (a new one just opened about 1 year ago), to coffee haciendas. There's mountains and many nature tours that take you spelunking or hiking (check out www.travelandsports.com). You can take a snorkel tour to the cays off Fajardo or visit the dry forest and mangroves of Guanica. Good luck!
May 16th, 2002, 11:11 AM
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If you like history I don't think you would consider Turks and Caicos as a previous poster suggested. Also, there is very little shopping. It does have beautiful beaches and can be relaxing. Not much hiking opportunities. If you haven't been to the Caribbean before, I suggest you select an island other than the Dominican Republic.
May 17th, 2002, 05:55 AM
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Hi Ari: The most complete island that we have visited is Barbados. There is definitaly something for everyone. Beautiful beaches , good snorkling trips, great restaurants and shopping. There are beautiful churches and historical buildings. It is easy to drive around rent a moke and drive around the island to Codrington College. Everyone would be able to find something to make them happy in Barbados. Also Martinique is an interesting island, lots of history, great shopping nice beaches and rainforest area. Have fun choosing.Karen
May 17th, 2002, 10:40 AM
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Mayan Riviera (Mexico) I know this is not a caribbean island but I have been all over the caribbean and this is the only place I could think of that has everything you want in abundance. Mayan Riviera is the area south of Cancun (DONT stay in Cancun - stay in Playa Del Carmen or one of the resorts south of Playa - Akumal in my opinion has the best beaches in the area). Shopping in Playa. History - Amazing Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba and a bit further away at Chichen Itza. Hiking and stuff - look into Alltournative tour company - they do an excellent tour to the mayan village of Pac Chen that involves hiking,kayaking and a swim in an unusual cenote AND a visit to the Mayan ruins at Coba.
The other places people mentioned have aspects of what you want but I think only the Mayan Riviera has it all. T&C - best beaches and snorkeling but not much shopping or history;St Kitts - some nice beaches and snorkeling and history (Brimstone Hill fortress) - but not a lot of shopping - altho Caribelle batik is nice. Really research this and decide what is most important to you. Very few of the islands have everything you want.
May 17th, 2002, 11:29 AM
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I'm surprised no one has mentioned
B E R M U D A. It has everything - from beautiful beaches, to shopping, to (many, many) historical sites. BERMUDA would be my 1st choice.
Have fun.
May 17th, 2002, 11:31 AM
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I forgot to add that Bermuda is very safe island.
Jun 4th, 2002, 09:08 AM
Chef Jason Girard
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My wife and I have spent as much vacation time as possible in the Caribbean over the past few years. It sounds like your family and mine have very similar interests.

If you have as much as two weeks and are willing to take a few short flights, I might suggest a little island hopping. I'm assuming you're originating in the U.S., so I'd suggest San Juan, Puerto Rico as your first stop. We rented a huge 4 bedroom apartment right in the middle of Old San Juan for USD$100/night. If you rent a car, the El Yunque rainforest is just a short drive. From San Juan, you can also take a day trip to Ponce on the southern coast -- we found a local guide who took us sea kayaking to an uninhabited island. It was INCREDIBLE and hardly expensive.

You might also want to take a look at a couple of the islands off Puerto Rico (Culebra and Vieques). Culebra is absolutely beautiful and WAY off the beaten path. It's an inexpensive ferry (or small plane) ride from Fajardo. Spend a couple nights there at one of the outlying guest cottages and take a scuba or snorkeling trip to one of the dozens of gorgeous uninhabited islands in the area... BREATHTAKING!!! All of the above can be done in a week, for far less than you'd imagine.

Don't forget to save a few days for Old San Juan. Spanish Colonial architecture, fortresses, museums and TONS of historical sites to see. You could spend the entire week strolling around. It’s probably the best restaurant city of my top three historical Caribbean ports (the others are Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Habana, Cuba). Lots of neat little local places tucked among the Burger Kings and KFCs. I prefer to eat where the locals eat – little mom & pop type places… Dining out “locally” is also less risky in San Juan than elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Old San Juan is famous for great duty free shopping bargains. Pewter (candlesticks, chandeliers, etc.), linens (beautiful lace tablecloths), jewelry (watches and silver) are all great bargains. Not to mention great “Don Q” rum. Many major clothing manufacturers (Polo, Hilfiger, Coach) also have outlet stores in the old city. By far the best shopping in the Caribbean (even better than St. Thomas).

If you have more than one week, you might consider a short flight (on American Airlines) to the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo is chock-full of INCREDIBLE historic sights.. You could spend several days walking around the historic old city. Visit the oldest church, hospital and hotel in the Americas… Not to mention the incredible Columbus sights, forts and tombs. Everything is much less expensive here, so you can hire an all-day (or all-week) tour guide for $10 or so.

Santo Domingo is great for street shopping. Indoor/outdoor markets are filled with vendors selling everything from cocoa, vanilla and coffee to handcrafted rocking chairs, jewelry and artwork. Of course cigars and incredible rums are also a great bargain. It’s like a giant bazaar. Stay in one of the old, historic hotels if you want to feel like you’re back in the 18th century. Stay alert for conmen and pickpockets, but most Dominicans are incredibly friendly and helpful. Widespread poverty is somewhat overwhelming – more so than anywhere else I’ve visited. Keep your wits about you, especially in Santo Domingo. Travel smart and you should be perfectly safe.

(continued below)
Jun 4th, 2002, 09:09 AM
Chef Jason Girard
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(cont. from previous post)

If you really want an off-the-beaten-path vacation, Cuba is the place! Not particularly known for incredible beaches, the historical and shopping aspects are off the charts. You can fly there from the Dominican Republic, although travel and travel arrangements are challenging. We made an entirely separate trip of Cuba – I found it best to make Cuba travel plans through a reputable Canadian travel agency… We flew from Toronto, but I’ve heard that flights from Santo Domingo are pretty cheap. Cigars and the world’s best rum rule the day. The outdoor art, craft and book market at the Plaza Cathedral is amazing. Gorgeous, but crumbling Spanish Colonial architecture and lots of Hemmingway stuff. VERY VERY CHEAP!!! Not much of a restaurant city (country), but we did manage to find a few favorite places, away from all the European and Canadian tourists… Incredibly friendly (and shockingly poor) people. Remarkably safe. As with any major city, be sure to stay alert for conmen, etc…

My favorite cities for:
History – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and San Juan, Puerto Rico
Shopping – Old San Juan, PR and Habana Vieja, Cuba
Beautiful beaches – Culebra, PR (I’ve heard that Punta Cana, DR is amazing.)
Relaxation – Casa de Campo Resort in La Romana, DR or Culebra, PR
Outdoors/Nature – Ponce, Culebra and El Yunque Rainforest, PR
Hiking and Ecotourism – El Yunque Rainforest, PR
Snorkeling – Culebra, PR

Q: What island would be the best for us?
A: If you have a week or less, I’d suggest PR. Rent a car and stay in Old San Juan for a few nights. Check out the outlying islands, rainforest and daytrips for more adventure. If you have more time, I’d strongly recommend a few days in Santo Domingo. As long as you’re in Santo Domingo, you should really consider a couple nights at Casa de Campo Resort in La Romana – it’s a wonderful (and incredibly inexpensive) place to relax with the family. Save Cuba for another trip, unless you have lots of time. There are lots of websites and discussion groups on these places. I’d be happy to offer more info, if you need it. Good luck!

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