How fortunate we are in the United States to have such easy access to some of the most beautiful white sugar-sand beaches and aquamarine-hued waters in the world in the Caribbean.
The area called the Caribbean is located south of Florida and east of Cuba. It consists of 7,000 islands – of which only around 700 are inhabited.
No matter where you go, each island offers its own charm. The Caribbean provides relaxing beaches, excellent water sports, welcoming and friendly people, centuries-old culture and history, scenic attractions, and deliciously fresh local cuisine. Your family will enjoy boundless opportunities to connect with nature, from snorkeling vibrant coral reefs to hiking and ziplining in tropical rainforests.
The year-round mild climate makes it a great destination, and you can even visit some islands without a passport.
Let’s get to know the Caribbean and some of the best islands for your family. And be sure to download the KeeKee Kid’s Corner Mini-Guide to the Caribbean.
FIRST, WHAT IS THE CARIBBEAN?
According to geologists, the Caribbean archipelago, a group of islands, is a portion of what was once the bridge between North and South America. Some of the lands sank, and what remains are the peaks of a submarine volcanic mountain range. The Caribbean sprawls across more than a million square miles.
The Caribbean consists of the Lucayan Archipelago and the Greater and the Lesser Antilles. (The Antilles were named after Antillia, a mystical island sought by Spanish explorers.)
The Lucayan Archipelago, closest to the U.S., includes the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.
The Greater Antilles is the most visited and includes the largest islands: the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the island of Hispaniola, which contains Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The Lesser Antilles includes the remaining arc of smaller isles and several islands off the coast of Venezuela. The major grouping includes the Virgin Islands, Windward Islands, and the Leeward Islands.
- Leeward Islands (northern islands of the Lesser Antilles) – Anguilla, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Saba, St. Barthelemy, Saint Martin & Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, and Nevis, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Windward Islands (Southern Caribbean) – Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago
- the “ABC Islands” (3 western-most islands of the Leeward off Venezuela) – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao
Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of the Bahamas in 1492 and developed the first European settlement. Other countries followed over the centuries, adding their cultural marks to the Caribbean, and today’s island groups reflect this heritage. You’ll also hear the islands referred to as the following groups:
- French West Indies: Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin
- Dutch Islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius and Saba, and Sint Maarten
- British West Indies: Anguilla, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos
- American: U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
9 POPULAR ISLANDS FOR FAMILIES
With so many islands, how do you choose? Here are some of the more popular islands for family vacations and what they have to offer.
Let’s start with the No Passport Required Destinations of Puerto Rico & the U.S. Virgin Islands.
An easy and fun island for families full of history, culture, fantastic food, tropical rain forests, and beautiful beaches. Visit Old San Juan and explore Spanish Colonial architecture and incredible fortresses from the 1500s, including Castillo San Cristobal, one of the largest Spanish Forts still standing. You can also visit the home and burial site of Ponce de Leon, who founded the first European settlement on the island. Everyone will love El Yunque National Forest, the tropical rainforest with waterfalls, beaches, and trails. Don’t miss kayaking over Mosquito Bay’s bio-luminescent glowing waters at night.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Stay on one of the three U.S. Virgin Islands below and enjoy all three, as each is a short ferry ride to the next one.
The most well-known of the U.S. Virgin is the busiest and most commercialized of the three islands, with plenty for the family to do. Delicious beachside restaurants serve up conch fritters, johnnycakes, and coconut patties. Kids will love the St. Thomas Skyride that takes you 700 feet above the island’s capital of Charlotte Amalie for incredible views of the Caribbean. You can swim with sea lions at Coral World Ocean Park. There’s a lot of Danish history on the island, including Bluebeard's Castle and the Haagensen House. Not to be missed is Magens Bay, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and Coki Beach, for the best snorkeling.
This is the island to enjoy nature, as nearly two-thirds of the island is protected as part of the Virgin Islands National Park. Hike the trails from the beach to the mountain, snorkel at Trunk Bay, or explore the remains of sugar plantations. There’s also great fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Accessible by ferry without a major airport, you won’t find crowds on St. John.
It’s the largest of the three islands yet sees the fewest tourists. It's known for its historical destinations, incredible food, amazing snorkeling, and beaches. In Christiansted, you can tour the historic fort and catch a boat to Buck Island for snorkeling at one of the U.S.’s only three underwater national monuments. The island is home to Cruzan Rum and Captain Morgan Rum, which offer tours. Also, St. Croix has two of the Caribbean’s rare bioluminescent bays. Salt River Bay National Historical Park, Ecological Preserve, and Altona Lagoon offer the incredible family adventure of kayaking with nature’s “living lights” at night.
Now on to the Passport Required destinations.
This string of 700 islands and its people are incredibly welcoming. Each island offers different and unique experiences with the aqua blue waters, colorful architecture, pink sand beaches, swimming with the pigs, seeing the flamingos, visiting the Pineapple Farm on Eleuthra, and Blue Lagoon Island, just to name a few. You'll find some of the biggest family resorts in the Bahama capital city of Nassau. Atlantis Paradise Island features a 141-acre water park and the world's largest open-air marine habitat with animal encounters and educational programs. Also, in Nassau, the Baha Mar resort complex has the Baha Bay waterpark with more than 30 attractions. Or explore the island’s pirate heritage at the Pirates of Nassau Museum.
Located in the southern Caribbean, Bonaire is part of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, which all lie outside the hurricane belt). Bonaire is best known for its coral reefs and amazing snorkeling accessible right from shore. Kids will love Washington-Slagbaai National Park's beautiful salt flats and pink flamingos. Sorobon Beach at Lac Bay is great for families with its shallow waters, where the whole family can take windsurfing lessons.
This is the whale-watching capital of the Caribbean. Families will also love exploring the island’s lush tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, volcanoes, black-sand beaches, hot springs, and Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies can visit locations where Disney filmed the second and third movies.
On this island, also shared with Haiti, you’ll find Punta Cana on the easternmost tip with white sandy beaches and many kid-friendly resorts. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana offers a kids’ climbing wall and the KIDZ BOP Experience. The Nickelodeon Resort is an all-inclusive resort with so much for the kids to do, including character dining with Sponge Bob and Paw Patrol, a water park, and a kids club. You can also pack in the adventure with rainforest ziplining and canopy tours, surfing, snorkeling, diving, sailing, canyoning, caving and rock climbing, river rafting, and mountain biking.
The third largest island in the Caribbean is lush and laid back yet full of adventure. Relax in Negril on the island’s best beach, Seven Mile Beach, lined with restaurants, bars, and hotels. Then for adventure, zip line through the rainforests, swim on horseback, explore by ATV, swim in the waterfalls, and bamboo raft down the river. Visit the Jamaican Institute in Kingston and Montego Bay to explore Jamaican culture and heritage. The island offers many family-friendly resorts, including all-inclusive.
And there’s so much more to explore in the Caribbean. Download the AAA Caribbean Tour Book or explore AAA Caribbean vacations.
Caribbean Adventure Awaits!