Island hopping in the Caribbean is a unique sailing experience that offers a colourful blend of different cultures, styles and landscapes. With over 7,000 islands, islets and cays to choose from, the Caribbean Sea is one of the world's most popular sailing regions.
The best known Caribbean islands cannot be visited in a single trip, but a number of them are within easy reach of each other and offer an exciting sailing adventure with lots of swaying palm trees, pristine beaches, amazing coral reefs, a diverse marine life and relaxing island atmosphere.
The Turks and Caicos Islands in the Lucayan Archipelago are ideal for spending long, lazy days on soft sandy beaches, swimming with sea turtles, and exploring the shipwrecks in the waters around the islands. The archipelago is divided into the larger Caicos Islands and smaller Turks Islands and lies southeast of the Bahamas and north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Most of the population lives on Providenciales, or Provo, the largest of the Caicos Islands, known as one of the world's best beach destinations. The island's largest resorts are mainly centered on Grace Bay, an 8-km bay with some of the archipelago's finest beaches. Long Bay Beach on the less developed part of the island is a top kiteboarding destination.
Grand Turk island is an excellent destination for exploring Caribbean culture, with a number of old buildings lining the waterfront streets of the island's capital and main port, Cockburn Town. The island is home to the Turks and Caicos National Museum.
The islands are also a hotspot for scuba diving around coral reefs, kayaking, and watching humpback whales as they migrate. North Caicos, also known as the Garden Island, is perfect for swimming, snorkelling and bird watching. West Caicos, popularly called Iguana Island, is the place to go to discover tropical reptiles, while Middle Caicos appeals to those looking to explore beautiful limestone caves and go biking or hiking.
The U.S. and British Virgin Islands, two stunning archipelagos in the Lesser Antilles, were made for island hopping cruises. The green hills, pearly white beaches and long stretches of coral reefs appeal to every kind of traveller and the islands' unique attractions are best explored from a chartered yacht or catamaran. The Virgin Islands National Park, which covers 60% of the island of Saint John, almost all of Hassel Island and over 5,500 of ocean in the U.S. Virgin Islands area, is ideal for snorkelling, scuba diving and long hikes through the tropical rainforest. St. Thomas Island harbours the capital, Charlotte Amalie, with a large cruise-ship harbour, the popular beach at Magens Bay, and Blackbeard's Castle, a 17th-century watchtower.
The British Virgin Islands draw visitors to world famous dive sites around Anegada, beachside boulders at the Baths on Virgin Gorda, and the Sage Mountain National Park on Tortola, the largest island in the group.
Saint Kitts and Nevis and the neighbouring Antigua are among the most popular cruising destinations in the Lesser Antilles. Saint Kitts is known for its Frigate Bay beach, Mount Liamuiga volcano, crater lake, rainforest with countless hiking trails, and a scenic coastline route with spectacular views of sugarcane fields and the sea from the last working passenger train. For amazing panoramic views, travellers can also visit the top of the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a well preserved colonial-era military fortress.
Nevis draws countless visitors with its healing volcanic spring waters and is home to one of the most challenging trails in the Caribbean, Nevis Peak. Antigua is a top destination for a beach hopping holiday, offering an unworldly selection of 365 pink and white beaches fringed with coral reefs. The island also appeals to history buffs, harbouring Nelson's Dockyard and the Dockyard Museum, while nature lovers can explore the limestone Devil's Bridge, formed by waves, and the natural blowholes of the Indian Town National Park.
Saint Martin, Anguilla, Saba and Saint Barthélemy are within short sailing distances of each other and each makes an excellent sailing destination in itself. Saint Martin is divided into the French north, Saint-Martin, and Dutch south, Sint Maarten. The island is famed for its fusion cuisine, crowded resort beaches and electric nightlife. Maho Beach and the resorts around Simpson Bay on the Dutch side draw the biggest crowds with a vibrant party scene and many open-air restaurants and bars.
Anguilla and its several offshore islets are famous for their long beaches, including Rendezvous Bay, and isolated coves such as Little Bay, which can only be reached by boat. History lovers can find prehistoric petroglyphs in the protected Big Spring Cave and hike along the Heritage Trail to see colonial-era landmarks, while those looking to explore the island's wildlife can visit the beaches where sea turtles nest and the wildlife conservation site at East End Pond. The nearby uninhabited Dog Island and Prickly Pear Cays are popular destinations for day trips.
Located to the southwest of St. Martin and lying on a dormant volcano, the island of Saba is one of the last untouched treasures of the Caribbean. Known for its warm hospitality and lush landscapes, the island that served as the backdrop for King Kong's Skull Island in the 1933 feature is covered with a tropical forest and craggy shores. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the local lifestyle by staying in one of the traditional cottages and enjoy dramatic mountain and ocean views from every angle.
Saint Barthélemy, or Saint Barth, is another small volcanic island, but one with a very different character. Considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, St. Barth has a stunning natural landscape and 14 breathtaking white sand beaches, but also offers all the comforts of modern life and draws countless celebrities to its shores every year. Travellers can enjoy a variety of activities during their stay, from horseback riding, kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing to waterskiing, wakeboarding and kite surfing.
Also situated in the Lesser Antilles group, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are perfect for an island hopping cruise. The main island of Saint Vincent with the lively capital of Kingstown is a wonderful place for a restful beach holiday with many long walks and hikes up the active volcano La Soufrière.
The 32 Grenadine islands that stretch from St. Vincent to Grenada are known for their rainforests and white sandy beaches that remain uncluttered by visitors. They are home to numerous natural attractions. The Tobago Cays National Marine Park in the Southern Grenadines rests on a sand-bottom lagoon and has the most extensive coral reef complexes in the archipelago. Bequia Island is a top destination for snorkelling and whale spotting. The islands of Union and Mayreau appeal to visitors looking to explore authentic island life, while those looking for secluded beaches and luxury villas will find them on the private Mustique Island. Petit St. Vincent is one of the hotspots for diving and home to the Jean-Michel Cousteau Diving Caribbean center.
Grenada is only a short hop away from Union Island and offers a haven with countless hiking trails, spectacular panoramic views from Fort George in the capital of St. George, and a number of idyllic beaches to catch the perfect sunset.
The islands of Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia also make for an interesting and varied island-hopping route. Guadeloupe islands make an excellent, more affordable alternative to Saint Barth. Travellers are mostly drawn to their spectacular beaches with soft sand in three different shades: black, white and golden. The two main islands, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, are separated by a narrow strait, and the smaller islands of Marie-Galante, La Désirade and the Îles des Saintes are within a short sailing distance. The islands offer a warm, cordial atmosphere without much glamour, but being one of only 25 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the world, they harbour a rich variety of landscapes and wildlife. One of these landscapes, Les Saintes Bay, was named one of the world's most beautiful bays by UNESCO.
Nicknamed the Nature Island, Dominica requires more than a single day to reveal all its natural charms, from the rainforest-covered mountains crisscrossed by numerous hiking trails, active volcanoes and dozens of waterfalls to black sand beaches and around 40 popular dive sites. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated on the island, features five volcanoes, numerous dramatic slopes, freshwater lakes, a 'boiling lake', hot springs and about 50 fumaroles.
Martinique is another popular destination for an active holiday. Travellers can climb the Mount Pelée volcano to enjoy the panoramic views of the island, dive in the underwater caves at Diamond Rock, or explore the coral reefs and colourful fish of Anses-d'Arlet. The island is also known for its distinctive cuisine, a blend of Creole and French traditions, and welcomes travellers from all over the world to its many seaside resorts.
Saint Lucia has something to offer to everyone, from beachgoers, party seekers and naturalists to history buffs and adventure travellers. The island's southwest corner is one of the most photographed places in the world, with a stunning sight of two volcanic peaks known as the Pitons. The golden sand beach of Anse Piton, with a reef teeming with underwater life, is possibly the best in the entire Caribbean, while the natural harbour at Marigot Bay draws numerous luxury yachts each year. Rodney Bay, the island's biggest town, is also the most popular place on the island. Most of Saint Lucia is covered with rainforest, giving nature lovers plenty of unique sights to see. These include the Tet Paul Nature Trail, the Millet Bird Sanctuary, the Edmund Forest Reserve, and Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens.