From beaches to zip lines, these are the Caribbean's best cruise shoreside experiences.
Having the perfect day ashore means doing your research and choosing wisely to make sure you’re picking the best excursion for your time and money. Sometimes, a visit to the perfect beach is your best bet. Other times, you’ll want to do something more active. Here are some of our favorites.
Magens Bay & Skyride
WHERE: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
This excursion combines two of St. Thomas’s most popular attractions into one trip. You’ll enjoy Instagram-worthy scenic views from legendary Drake’s Seat before heading down to Magens Bay, one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches. Here you can take a couple of hours to swim in turquoise waters or relax in a shaded beach chair for two hours, perhaps grabbing a refreshing tropical drink from the nearby bar. Then you’ll meet your driver, who will take you to the Skyride, a seven-minute gondola ride up to Paradise Point (700 feet above sea level), for spectacular views of St. Thomas, including the Charlotte Amalie harbor. Post a few photos to social media and have a bite to eat before making the return trip back down the mountain, to where your ship awaits near the main shopping street.
Sips & Bites in Old San Juan
WHERE: San Juan, Puerto Rico
If you’re looking for both a literal and figurative taste of Viejo San Juan, you can do no better than this night-time tour of the old city’s best bars. You visit four different watering holes, sampling local craft beers, creative cocktails, and delicious bar bites with a small group. The oldest part of San Juan dates back some 500 years, and its narrow streets will take you up and down hills, so you get a bit of a workout to go with your dining and drinking experience. Needless to say, in addition to being willing and able to traverse the cobblestone streets, you must also be at least 21 years old. Bar-hoppers will be pleased to know that this is primarily a drinking tour, with four full libations.
White-Water Rafting Class
WHERE: Puerto Limón, Costa Rica
If you’re looking for something on the adventurous side, this trip down one of Costa Rica’s picturesque inland rivers is one of the best opportunities for white-water rafting in the Caribbean. You depart Puerto Limón on a one-hour bus ride to the Río Reventazón. Costa Rica’s stunning scenery, wildlife, and exotic landscapes are on display throughout the journey, which includes a combination of rapids and relaxed stretches with quiet pools. Following the tour, you return to the Rios Tropicales Center for a Costa Rican lunch and refreshments, before returning to your ship. Rafters can be as young as age 12, so this excursion is family-friendly as long as you don’t have younger kids.
Zip-Lining & River Tubing
WHERE: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Chukka Caribbean operates this tour from their Jungle Outpost, a former sugar plantation along Montego Bay’s Great River. You start out on a multistage zip line, which ends with a 1,100-foot stretch over the river and forest, where you might reach speeds of 35 miles per hour. Once back down on the ground, you commandeer a tube for a relaxing trip down the Great River, ending at an Instagram-worthy waterfall. Then it’s back to the welcome center for a jerk lunch. Kids can be as young as age 6 for this excursion, so it’s suitable for almost everyone.
Rum & Bananas Tour
WHERE: Fort-de-France, Martinique
Martinique is famous for its rhum argricole, which is distilled from sugar cane juice, distinguishing it from traditional Caribbean rum, which is molasses-based. This boozy half-day tour gives you a taste of Martinique’s beautiful natural environment as well as its famous rums. You start off slow, with a tram ride through L’Habitation Belfort, a lush banana plantation in Lamentin. The tour gets more interesting at Habitation Clément, a historic Creole home with lush gardens as well as its own distillery, where you’ll have a rum tasting. Clément is one of only 14 producers of rhum agricole in Martinique. There’s ample time to pick up a bottle or three after the tasting.
Virgin Gorda and Baths Beach
WHERE: Tortola, British Virgin Islands
While lush Tortola is beautiful, nearby Virgin Gorda has one of the most unique Caribbean beaches you’re likely to see and it makes for an unforgettable trip. Baths Beach is famous for its giant boulders and other unique geological formations. Spanish Town is a 40-minute cruise via powerboat across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from Road Town. From there, you’re taken to the famous beach and let loose to swim and explore at your leisure. There are plenty of trails leading to sea caves, where you might find some seclusion (it can be busy here on cruise-ship days). Snorkel gear is available for rental, and there’s a place to buy good (if expensive) food and drinks.
Tabyana Beach & Gumbalimba
WHERE: Roatán, Honduras
If you’re looking for a family-friendly adventure and want to see a bit of Roatán’s untouched natural beauty, Gumbalimba Park, a nature and adventure park, gives you the best of all possible worlds, including a popular zip line, the opportunity to see monkeys and macaws, and the chance to simply relax in the extensive gardens featuring more than 200 plant and tree species. Later in the morning, you take a short drive to Tabyana Beach, a quintessential Caribbean strand with beautiful blue water lined with shady palm trees. You can stroll along the beach, play in the water, or rent a kayak to explore further afield. A barbecue lunch is provided.
Coral Reef Restoration
WHERE: Cozumel, Mexico
Some tours give you the rare opportunity to do some good while having fun, and this is one of them. Famous for its reefs that offer tremendous diving and snorkeling opportunities, Cozumel nevertheless suffers from coral bleaching and destruction, and you can learn how to restore them with local marine biologists. After a brief introduction to coral reproduction and restoration concepts, an expert will teach you about coral spawning and reproduction at Cozumel Reef Restoration’s shoreside aquarium. (This trip is mostly about learning how coral is raised, so it’s “education lite.”) Afterward, you’ll take a snorkeling tour and get to see the workers doing the hands-on restoration work before ending up at the beach for some downtime. There’s a restaurant and a bar where you can buy food and drink. Although you need to be able to swim and snorkel for this trip, you don’t need to be scuba-certified, and guests can be as young as five years old.
WHERE: Frederiksted, St. Croix
Although St. Croix is known for its excellent diving opportunities—most of the action centers on the wall off Cane Bay and Salt River (both on the island’s north shore)—you don’t have to go that far for a good dive. Cruise ships dock in Frederiksted, and this excursion offers a nearby dive for certified divers. Off St. Croix’s west end at Butler Bay (north of Frederiksted), you can see a trio of wrecks in fairly shallow water (at about 55 feet): a submerged fishing trawler, a barge, and a tugboat. There’s also a nearby colorful reef at about 45 feet. The U.S. Virgin Islands now forbid using chemical sun protection if entering the water, so you’ll need to wear UV-protective clothing or biodegradable sun protection.
America's Cup Sailing Regatta
WHERE: Phillipsburg, St. Maarten
This sailing excursion has long been one of the Caribbean’s most popular shore excursions—and one of the best-loved. If you’ve ever dreamed of sailing aboard an actual racing yacht from the America’s Cup, this might be your one and only opportunity. Called the 12 Metre Regatta, you can either sit or help sail (no prior sailing experience is needed), but you do indeed split up into groups and race one another. No matter who wins, in the end, everyone gets to celebrate. Kids can take part if they are ages 9 and up (or ages 6 to 8 if they have sailing experience).
WHERE: Belize City, Belize
For cruises that call at Belize City, an excursion to Altun Ha, the country’s most easily accessible Maya archaeological site, is reachable in a two-hour guided cruise along the Belize River. Once a thriving city and trade center, its ruins still have 13 recognizable structures surrounding two plazas and Altun Ha’s 60-foot Temple of the Sun God. You can climb up the temple steps to the tops of three main sections of the structure and capture the Instagrammable photos of the surrounding countryside.
Aquaventure Water Park
WHERE: Nassau, Bahamas
Simply the best water park in the Caribbean, Aquaventure at Atlantis Paradise Island is full of thrilling water slides, a not-so-lazy river, and numerous pools and other attractions, including a beautiful beach and tranquil lagoon for swimming. You can also explore the aquarium. A day here is expensive but fun, and it’s a big draw for cruise passengers. A day pass normally includes a reserved sunbed, where you can plant your flag and explore. For those whose ships offer the excursion, book it early because day passes almost always sell out, and you can’t typically book one on your own.
Cave and Mangroves by Kayak
WHERE: Samaná, Dominican Republic
Proximity to remarkable Los Haitises National Park is one of the best things about a port call in Santa Bárbara de Samaná. It’s just a 45-minute boat ride to the park from the cruise pier. You’ll see the peninsula’s beautiful limestone formations as you travel to Bird Cay, famous for its resident American frigates, pelicans, and vultures. Next, you’ll visit San Gabriel Cave, where your tour breaks into two groups—one doing a kayak tour of the surrounding mangrove forest (the Caribbean’s largest), and the other exploring the caves by foot (to see Taíno pictographs). Groups then switch, so that everyone gets to do both activities.
Martha Brae Rafting
WHERE: Falmouth, Jamaica
A tranquil three-mile journey on a bamboo river raft is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable excursions you can have in Jamaica. The Martha Brae River is easily reachable from the cruise port in Falmouth or Montego Bay. In Falmouth, after disembarking at the cruise port, you take a short drive through town to the rural village of Martha Brae; the trip from Montego Bay is a bit farther. Rafts are built for two passengers and a guide, who will no doubt keep you entertained on the journey.