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Where else in the world can you start your day with a café au lait in a French café, take traditional

English afternoon tea in a plantation house hotel, and enjoy a sunset rum punch to the lilting tones of a West Indian steel band? It’s only in the Caribbean that you can find

such a plethora of contrasting experiences and landscapes that make island-hopping so rewarding and enjoyable. These diverse islands and countries may

share the same region and move to the same tropical rhythm, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find that each has its own unique feel. Four distinct cultures of English, French,

Dutch and Spanish reflect their colonial roots, but the differences don’t end there. The Caribbean boasts plenty of glitz and glamour with commercialised big resorts in the likes of Nassau (The Bahamas), St. Maarten, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands contrasting with the undiscovered vibe of hideaways like the Grenadines or Montserrat. Barbados and the French island of St. Martin brim with sophistication, with upscale hotels and restaurants while isles such as Tobago and Barbuda are quieter havens. Even the topography varies, from the coral islands and white-sand beaches of the Cayman Islands and Anguilla to the volcanic terrain of Saint Lucia and Dominica and the jungle-covered hinterlands of Belize, Guyana and Venezuela. Thanks to the Caribbean’s extensive network

of flights and ferries, inter-island travel is easy but planning your route is vital. The key is to start your onward journey from

a main ‘gateway’ island that has direct flights from the UK – namely Antigua, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Jamaica and Barbados – and then take an onward local flight. To explore the northern Caribbean, fly

into Jamaica or Antigua; for going south and jumping across to South or Central America, fly into Trinidad which has flights to Guyana and Venezuela which are relatively close. Barbados is a key access point for the eastern Caribbean while Curaçao is good for both Belize and Bonaire. Ferries tend to operate between groups of islands in relatively close proximity. For instance, Saint Lucia is connected to its neighbours Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe by the Express Des Iles ferry. St. Eustatius can be combined with St. Maarten. A number of

islands also have ferry links to their smaller sister isles. Guadeloupe has services to its more rustic sisters Les Saintes, Marie Galante and La Desirade. Similarly, there are services linking Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Kitts and Nevis. Alternatively, try combining the Turks & Caicos islands in the Western Caribbean with The Bahamas or Jamaica with Cuba or the Cayman Islands. The distances between them means that there are no ferry services, but it is easy to make the hop on inter-island flights. For those looking for shorter excursions,

there are also day trips that combine islands in the same group: for example, between St. Vincent and the Grenadines such as Bequia, Canouan, Petit St. Vincent, Mayreau and Union Island. There are also links between nearby islands

such as the British Virgin Islands to the US Virgin Islands or Anguilla to St. Martin/St. Maarten.

COSY BOLTHOLES Beyond the sheen of the Caribbean’s famously glitzy hotels lies a collection of small hideaways promising everything from barefoot luxury to rustic escapism. St. Kitts and its sister island Nevis are known for the pretty former sugar mills which have been converted into chic hotels, while Jamaica boasts a string of atmospheric retreats that even include a hotel with a recording studio. Island resorts in the Grenadines and the British Virgin Islands

appeal to frustrated castaways looking for the ultimate escape, while Anguilla and Mustique in the Grenadines have built up a jet-set following thanks

to their accommodation.

You can find diving lodges in the Cayman Islands, jungle retreats in Belize, Trinidad and

collection of luxury

Above: Mount Cinnamon in Grenada with, below, a multi-hued parrot seen throughout the Caribbean region

Guyana or atmospheric city boltholes in Puerto Rico and Old Havana in Cuba. For a more personal taste of Caribbean hospitality, stay in one of the small locally- run hotels and B&Bs, promoted in special programmes on islands such as Anguilla, Antigua and Grenada.

CRUISING The Caribbean is the world’s most popular cruising ground, with its warm climate, calm sea and exotic islands. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines offers departures

from the UK and also from Bridgetown in Barbados, for voyages that visit several islands. Its sailings from Southampton and Glasgow are 34 nights and 32 nights respectively, crossing the Atlantic both ways and calling at islands including St. Vincent, Grenada, Turks & Caicos and Saint Lucia. Fred. Olsen’s 14-night cruises from Barbados include Antigua, St. Kitts and Curaçao. Royal Caribbean International’s summer Caribbean season sees five of the industry’s most innovative ships, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas sailing throughout The Bahamas and the Caribbean. Royal Caribbean International also has two

private destinations as ports of call on the vast majority of its Caribbean sailings: CocoCay in The Bahamas and Labadee in Haiti. Carnival Cruise Lines is one of the leaders in Caribbean cruising, with no fewer than 18 out of its 24 ships visiting the islands all year round. Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Grand Turk, La Romana, Barbados and Curaçao are just some of the destinations Carnival’s ships will be sailing to this year on three- to eight-day itineraries, from ports including Miami, Florida and Galveston in Texas.

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