Far from a typical land of deserted and barren beaches and islands, the Caribbean today works hand-in-glove with cruise lines, many of which today own and operate their own unique paradisaical ports in the region. In time, these individual destinations have been transformed into lands befitting most people’s ideas of fantasy.
As much as people travel to the Caribbean to sit on the white sandy beaches, significant investment has been put into developing these wholly-owned islands into something resembling a theme park in the middle of the ocean.
Each one now offers boundless opportunities to discover a whole new side to the region, from exceptional historical and natural sites beyond the beaches and reefs through to action and adventure activities which will only make you wish you could spend more than one day there.
Ride horses along the beach at Holland America Line’s Half Moon Cay
Starting your exclusive gallop or trot at Holland America Line’s extensive stable facility on the private Bahamanian island is just the beginning of the exciting adventure that awaits. Suitable for novices and experienced jockeys alike, guests are escorted alongside the turquoise waters of Half Moon Cay, with the horses – which have been trained to swim – entering the water for a one-of-a-kind aquatic experience. Guests then dry off as they gallop to the highest point on the island for an amazing panoramic photo opportunity.
Swimming with the Jaguars of Honduras
Nestled among the tropical surrounds of Little French Key off the Honduran island of Roatan, this tropical oasis plays host to a Jaguar sanctuary where animals previously subjected to cruel treatment are rehabilitated and cared for by a team of vets and animal welfare experts.
Admission charges go towards ensuring the animals continue to receive the treatment they need to recover from their previous lives as circus and zoo animals around Central America. In addition, the Key sits next to the second largest coral reef in the world, offering plenty of snorkelling hot spots to enjoy.
Watching the planes land in St. Maarten
Not many people would consider going to the airport to watch planes land as a “must do” while on holiday, however the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, in the Dutch Antilles, provides an airport unlike all others.
Situated beachside, the main runway provides a unique experience that can only be shown to friends and family back home through video and photographic proof. Guests can lay on the beach while enormous jumbo jets literally come in to land only metres overhead.
So dramatic is the landing that many taller people literally have to duck out of the plane’s way as they touch down on the short runway. However, the real thrill is when a plane takes off as the thrust-induced winds from each plane are so extreme they can catapult people into the water, literally launching you off the sand as each jet takes off.
Tours to the beach are available from the cruise port, however renting a quad-bike and driving the short distance to the airport is the most fun, with the scenic drive from the main port in Phillipsburg one of the more scenic in the Caribbean.
Walk the Mayan Ruins and Cenotes of Mexico
Sailing into the island of Cozumel, guests will be immediately confronted with two things as soon as they disembark. Firstly, there will be many other ships – sometimes as many as 15 as the port is one of the busiest in the Caribbean. The second will be the opportunity to take a ferry to the mainland area of Playa Del Carmen to discover the wide range of Mayan Ruins and Cenotes located onshore.
The ruins, which date back to the Mayan era, are some of the port’s better preserved relics. You can climb the multi-storey ruins as they soar towards the sun while learning about the ancient culture and beliefs from a local guide.
After discovering the lives lived by the people of the time, cool off with a swim in a natural cenote, a chain of sink holes that fill with ground water and look more Martian than human.
Distill your own rum in Jamaica
If you’re a fan of spiced rums, you’ll be right at home at any of the distilleries in Falmouth, Jamaica, where you can tweak traditional Caribbean recipes to suit your tastes. Blending, mixing and most importantly tasting are common elements on these unique expeditions that also manage to tell the interesting stories of trade and commerce in the Caribbean, while creating a unique one-off souvenir.
Keep your eyes out for tours that also combine a traditional Caribe cooking lesion – a unique foodie adventure with flair and style, compared with traditional culinary tourist traps.
Ride an underwater scooter in St Thomas
If you have always wanted to scuba dive, but don’t have the qualifications, the experience or the drive to get a license to do so. the BOSS underwater adventure offered by Princess Cruises and the Animal Planet channel is a good entry point.
The BOSS system, which stands for ‘Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter’, is the most thrilling way to explore the underwater world which surrounds St Thomas. You simply breath as normally as you do on land, safely protected by a clear hood which still provides uninterrupted views of the aquatic life around you.
Become a ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’ aboard a traditional schooner
Sailing from Aruba aboard The Jolly Pirate, this unique experience sees guests transported to the site of the S.S. Antilla shipwreck onboard a restored ship which dates back to the 1900s.
Guests have the opportunity to snorkel across the wreck and even look for the ship’s treasure chests, rumored to have been stolen in the 1920s by – you guessed it – pirates! You’ll also have the chance to discover other snorkeling and swimming sites, where you can enjoy the boat’s rope swing to launch yourself into the water.
What is your favorite Caribbean activity? Tell us in the comments below!