With So Many Possibilities, Where Do You Begin?
You know you want sun, sand, palm trees and relaxation, but deciding where to go for a family vacation in the Caribbean can be a daunting task. There are thousands of islands and many countries, each with its own history, culture, attractions and distinct features that make visiting special. From the desert beauty of Aruba to the Hollywood hideaways in Turks and Caicos, there are many wonderful places to bring the kids for a tropical family getaway. To help you with planning, we've put together some top notch options of where to go for a family vacation to the Caribbean.
1. Head Out for a Hike
Where: Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, USVI
Family Activity: Create a family treasure hunt on the Reef Bay Trail and search for ancient petroglyphs.
Parents Will Love: Getting the kids active, and cooling off with a swim and picnic lunch at Trunk Bay Beach.
In the 1950s, wealthy American financier and eco-tourist Laurance Rockefeller created Virgin Islands National Park on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John. Today, the park covers more than half the island, including roughly 6,000 acres of untouched coral reef just off the coast. There are about 20 miles of well-marked and well-kept hiking trails that wind along the gorgeous coastline, over the gentle hills and through the rainforest. For younger kids, the Reef Bay trail leads past ancient petroglyphs that were carved by the Taino Indians who once inhabited the area. For older kids, the hike up the Bordeaux Mountain Trail to the top of the island offers an incredible view of the surrounding Caribbean Sea.
Finish the day with a stop at Trunk Bay Beach, which is part of the National Park and widely described by travel magazines as one of the best beaches in the world. The sand is as soft and white as baby powder, and the surf is gentle enough for toddlers.
2. Experience an Active Volcano
Where: Sulphur Springs Volcano, Soufrière, St. Lucia
Family Activity: Search for volcanic rocks with different colors.
Parents Will Love: The Sulphur Springs Volcano is a science class come alive, with brightly colored mineral formations and bubbling mud. Kids will love the rotten, stinky, sulphur smell.
The Sulphur Springs Volcano in Soufrière is the only volcano where you can take a bus right up to the crater and bathe in the bubbling mud. The kids may not want to indulge in a hot mud bath, but they will love the bright orange, green and yellow rocks, the hissing steam vents, and the stink of rotten eggs. It’s a wild, lunar-like landscape that makes understanding geology and earth sciences lively and fun.
If you’re not driving yourself up the winding mountain road (and you may not want to), you can book a bus tour at any St. Lucia resort. You can also hire a local cabbie to take you up and down the mountain, which will give you more time to explore. The volcano’s crater and information center is about a 45-minute drive uphill from Soufrière.
3. Take the Kids Spelunking
Where: The Green Grotto Caves, near Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Family Activity: Try to count all the bats hanging from the ceiling!
Parents Will Love: The sense of history, and the cool James Bond reference.
The Green Grotto Caves get their name from the green color of their prehistoric walls, and they have been used by pirates to hide treasure, by Spanish settlers escaping British soldiers, and by runaway slaves, gunrunners and rum smugglers. In 1973, they also served as the setting for the evil Dr. Katanga’s underground lair in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die.
The caves are about halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, and they are also right next to the popular, natural wonder of Dunn’s River Falls. There is a massive underground lake in the caves, as well as glittering stalactites, stalagmites and fascinating rock formations. With smaller children, you may want to take a tour, as the guides are often very entertaining. Older kids may prefer to wander safely on their own.
4. Bathe at the Baths
Where: The Baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Family Activity: Enjoy the best game of hide-and-seek ever among the ancient volcanic rocks on the beach.
Parents Will Love: The best place in the Caribbean to get neat pictures of your kids having a blast in an beautiful and unusual setting.
When pondering where to go for a family vacation in the Caribbean, suggesting going to the beach doesn’t narrow things down much. However, of the thousands of beaches in the Caribbean, the geological formations at The Baths on Virgin Gorda make it the most unusually beautiful.
The sand is soft and the surf is gentle, but the main attractions are the dozens of massive boulders left scattered across the beach and coastline by an ancient volcanic eruption. Make sure to bring snorkel gear, as the water is crystal clear, and the boulders create little, natural, tide pools that are perfect for toddlers to take a peek at undersea life.
The Baths is a small walk from the road along a marked path and down a hill, so be prepared for a little hike. Pack a picnic lunch, as there are no restaurants at the beach, though there is a restaurant called Top of the Baths where the road meets the path to the beach.
5. Go Fly a Kite
Where: San Felipe del Morro Fort, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Family Activity: Fly a kite with other families in the wide field in front of this historic fort.
Parents Will Love: The view is incredible, and the kites are cheap and easy to come by.
San Juan is a wonderful, vibrant and historic city, and one of the most entertaining ways to spend a day there is heading to the historic El Morro Fort to fly kites. There's a large, grassy, area right in front of the fort, where the wide open spaces and the strong sea breezes create the perfect kite-flying conditions. You can go any day, naturally, but if you want a more local experience, go on Sundays when Puerto Rican families flock there to fly kites. Don't worry if you didn't pack one; the small food stands parked around the fort all sell small kites, which are called chiringas.
The fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has protected San Juan for hundreds of years. The ramparts have an incredible view, and make sure to walk around the walls and soak in the vistas. The fort is easily accessible on San Juan’s free trolley service.
6. A Pirate’s History in the Bahamas
Where: Pirates of Nassau, Bahamas
Family Activity: Every kid loves pirates, and this museum is their chance to be a pirate for a day.
Parents Will Love: It’s a fun, interactive museum.
The old saying goes that when pirates slept, they dreamed of returning to Nassau. Today, right in downtown Nassau and steps away from Western Esplanade Beach, there is a wonderful, interactive museum dedicated to everything pirate. Inside, there is a replica of a pirate quay, complete with live fiddlers and costumed pirates at the tavern, as well as a life-sized replica of the pirate ship Revenge. This is where kids can climb aboard and yell “Arrrrr” to their heart’s content.
There’s also a replica of a shanty town, complete with an interactive display about history’s most famous women pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The museum is perfect for little kids who like to run and play. You can explore it all in under an hour, and it’s a nice air-conditioned break from the heat. Children will also love the totally pirate-themed gift shop at the end, so expect to come home with a sword or an eye-patch. Arrrr.
7. Swim with Stingrays
Where: Stingray City, Antigua
Family Activity: Kids of all ages will love being in the open water, interacting with some of the ocean’s most fascinating creatures.
Parents Will Love: The guides are well-trained and will help even the most squeamish kid see that the stingrays are gentle and friendly.
When you’re planning where to go for a family vacation in the Caribbean, you might want to consider something out of the ordinary for some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. On the northeast coast of Antigua, in the waters of Mercers Creek Bay, Stingray City will take you out to swim with a gentle colony of Southern Rays. This type of stingray is known as the puppy of the Caribbean, and they love attention, pats and snacks.
After a brief lesson in how and where the rays like to be touched, this two-hour tour takes you out into the water and back. You'll have lots of time to feed the stingrays and go for a swim in the crystal-clear waters. There is no age limit at all, and life vests are provided for children or anyone who is not a strong swimmer.