If you only had time to visit one or two places in the Caribbean, where would you go? Also, would you go to Key West and the Dry Tortugas in Florida or are there way better places to go in the Caribbean? Things I like: cove-shaped beaches, mountain peaks in the background, good food like rotis, snorkeling and seeing nice coral or fish, live music, somewhere safe-feeling. Thanks!
I feel strongly qualified to answer a question about the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. I lived in the Keys (Islamorada) for seven years, and my wife and I owned a sailing yacht in Tortola, BVI for six years, which we sailed all around the Caribbean basin.
As for the Keys, I loved them, but you won't get mountains you're looking for, the beaches are nothing to write home about, and the reefs have been over-dived and over-snorkeled. The Tortugas are less visited, but they lack something I cherish in the Caribbean; the culture that springs from the soul that comes from the history of slavery, piracy and the African diaspora. There is almost nowhere you can visit where the music isn't stellar.
In Tortola, I always anchored overnight in Cane Garden Bay BeachCane Garden Bay, rated one of the 10 finest beaches in the Caribbean. However, don't go there during the day when the cruise ships are in port in Road Harbour. It's like Coney Island. Then at 5 p.m., the passengers traipse back to their ships, and it becomes a gorgeous beach again. During the winter season (Nov - May), Tortola's incredible Reggae singer/songwriter, Quito Rymer performs at his beachfront restaurant/nightclub, Quito's GazeboQuito's Gazebo. He normally plays acoustic midweek, and with his band, the Edge on Fridays and Saturdays. The kitchen is in the hands of a relative -- his mother, I think -- who cooks the best rotis in the BVI, which fulfills another thing on your wish list.
The next bay over from Cane Garden is Brewers BayBrewers Bay, which is a bit tough to get to, but provides the deserted soft curved white sand beach in mountain shadows you have requested. And if you snorkel or dive be on the lookout for a small school of Caribbean manta rays -- actual mantas, not stingrays.
The real must-visit in the BVI is AnegadaAnegada. This island is the third largest in the BVI, but has only 150 permanent residents. It is one of the most unspoiled isles in the Caribbean. It's tough -- but doable -- to get to. Some ferry services will transport you from Virgin Gorda, and there is small plane air service from Virgin Gorda or St. Thomas. The favored place to stay is the Anegada Reef HotelAnegada Reef Hotel, which is Spartan, but clean. From the hotel, for $5 USD (as of 2007) you can get a kidney-jarring open jitney ride to the north shore of the island which is comprised of twenty-some-odd miles of pristine, nearly empty beaches. The two popular drop-off points are Loblolly Bay(Loblolly Beach) and Lower Cow Wreck beach. Either has an excellent open air café, in the case of Loblolly, it's Big Bamboo, which serves great fish lobster and rotis. While you are there, if you collect a piece of driftwood, you can make an Anegada postcard. The Big Bamboo will provide you with a magnifying glass, which you can use to focus the sun to spell out your message on the surface of the driftwood, which they will then nail up on the wall with other patrons' creative efforts.
Anegada is the source of 90% of the spiny lobsters harvested in the BVI, and the Anegada Reef Hotel features a nightly lobster barbecue, with an honor bar populated by some of the best yarn-spinners you'll ever hoist a drink with.
The only part of Anegada not on your list is that there are no mountains; unlike the rest of the Virgin Islands, Anegada is not volcanic; it's a low-lying coral island like the Bahamas or Florida Keys.
The other part of the Caribbean I love is Grenadines. Here are more delightful and undervisited venues. I can't cover all the islands here -- there are too many -- my favorites include Mustique, Mayreau, and the Tobago Cays.
Mustique is an island with numerous bays and beaches, as well as two excellent hotels:
The Tobago Cays, not to be confused with the Island of Tobago, are a string of uninhabited islands with beautiful beaches and some of the very best snorkeling in the Caribbean. They have been declared a national Marine Park by St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which further protects their already unsullied beaches and coral reefs. Unless you are on a yacht charter, being uninhabited and undeveloped, these islands are ideal only as a day trip, which can be arranged with dive operators on the neighboring islands of either Canouan Island or Mayreau.
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We really enjoyed Barbados. Lovely beaches all over the western coast, with crazy cliffs and breaking waves on the east coast. Lovely town of Christ Church where the Oistins fish market is. Incredibly lively on weekends, pick out your seafood and they'll cook it for you with live music and a wonderful festive atmosphere.
St Lawrence Gap is a neat area to stay, or visit for the excellent restaurants. Great to spend an afternoon wandering and include lunch.
If the weather is bad you can visit the Harrisons Cave-the entrance is stunning with a little museum about the history and how they were formed. They have a little train that takes you into the caves and it is well lit so you don't feel too claustrophobic! You can also visit the Mount Gay Visitors' Centre and take a plant tour, or just go for the tasting room alone.
Holetown is also a lovely little area to shop, lunch and wander!
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