10 reasons to visit the Caribbean this year

Exhilarating sailing, the maddest party, wine-tasting on a castaway island, memories of Shakespeare, a day at the races and the finest coffee in the world.

1. To party the Irish way!

Thanks to its Irish heritage, Montserrat is the only country beyond Ireland where St Patrick’s Day (17 March 2019) is an official holiday. The accompanying, eleven-day cultural festival is a time for homecoming, celebration and, of course, partying. It’s a crazy mix of carnival and craic where islanders sing about The Boys From The County Armagh and sport the national costume of emerald and gold madras cloth. Expect beauty pageants, street parades, brilliant live music, tasty roadside snacks and a super-friendly atmosphere. Oh, and an awful lot of green.


2. To climb a beautiful mountain


At 798m (2,619ft), Gros Piton is the tallest of the iconic twin volcanic peaks that soar above St Lucia‘s west coast. Climbing it is quite a challenge, but a good part of the fun of the muddy, four-hour hike comes from the uniformed rangers from the nearby village of Fond Gens Libres, half of whom are women, who coax you up while offering insights into life (and, if you ask, love) on this intensely green island. Around a fifth of climbers never make it to the top but for those who do – if the weather’s good – the reward is incredible views and a fine sense of achievement. And then, obviously, a local Piton beer. Or two…


3. To savour the finest coffee in the world

Getting to learn about Jamaica‘s highly regarded Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the treats in store in ‘Jamaica on a Platter’, a new four-day culinary weekend based at Island Outpost’s elegant and lofty hotel, Strawberry Hill. The escorted small group tours also includes a visit to Kingston’s Coronation Market, a rum tasting, a hike and a picnic plus private visits to historic houses, gardens and estates in the surrounding World Heritage-listed mountain scenery.


4. To get fit in a fun way


Only very special people can walk on water – but what about working out on it? FloatFIT is a group fitness class on paddleboard-like mats that’s been steadily spreading through the Caribbean.  Two early resorts to offer it were the St James’s Club & Villas and Galley Bay Resort & Spa on Antigua. Now it’s also available on Palm Island Resort in St Vincent & The Grenadines and St James’s Club Morgan Bay in St Lucia. The classes are free to guests at all these hotels and exercising outdoors is a whole lot more fun than a sweaty gym – and then at the end you can just jump in the water to cool off. We call that move Downward Splash…


5. To drink fine wines on a castaway island


The tiny island of Petit St Vincent in St Vincent & The Grenadines is a place to get cast away in style. There’s just 22 luxury cottages and two-bedroom beachfront villas that come without TV, phone or Wi-Fi – but you do get a Balinese spa, a Jean-Michel Cousteau dive centre and – on selected weeks from late November to mid-April – the unexpected chance to learn about and sample fine wines from Tuscany, California or Washington State, or alternatively craft beers from Grenada. The vintners that visit the island to do this usually stay for a week and give two complimentary 90 minute talks with guests trying around eight drinks each time before heading to dinner.  Now that’s a very civilised way to do a wine tasting.


6. To celebrate Shakespeare


Carriacou is an island that is a part of Grenada but much smaller, drier and quieter than its mountainous big brother.  You can get there by ferry or on a short flight and it has its own distinct character that includes a long tradition of boat-building, drumming and staging an annual carnival that features a unique Shakespeare Mas – next year this takes place on 4 March 2019. For this, brightly costumed street performers recite passages from the Bard’s tragedy Julius Caesar in a competitive manner – fluff your lines and you could well get struck with a whip. It is thought that this ritual originates from the days when plantation owners made their slaves perform for them – and dealt out punishments if mistakes were made.


7. To go sailing on the ocean blue


Who needs roller-coasters when there’s the sea? Visited by Nelson and famous for its sailing regattas, Antigua is an island where everyone seems to feel a primal urge to get out on the water. There are numerous ways to do this but one of the best is to go sailing for half a day in the head-to-head yacht races organised by Ondeck Antigua. Within minutes of setting sail you’re being told to pull ropes, man winches, hold on tight, mind your head… The canvas strains, tactics change, hats blow away and then all of a sudden you’re standing at the wheel trying to steer a 40ft racing yacht through the waves at an impossible angle. The match-style races aren’t only serious fun – they’re also a good workout and the experience, which includes a spell sailing out on the open sea, leaves you feeling tanned, salty, bonded and exhilarated.


8. To take a scenic train ride


St Kitts is home to a narrow gauge railway line that was built in 1912-26 to carry sugar cane from the north of the island to the capital, Basseterre. It continued to operate until 2005 and was then reborn as the St Kitts Scenic Railway. Today its cheerfully painted double-decker carriages take visitors on a delightful ride from Needsmust to Lavallee stations, chugging merrily through the fields and towns and getting a wave from just about everyone it passes. There’s a guided commentary, snacks and drinks, and an a capella group that sings songs as you watch the island roll by. Commuting this is not.


9. Spend an enjoyable day at the races

They’ve been racing horses at the Garrison Savannah Racetrack since 1845. It lies on the outskirts of Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, and is part of a World Heritage Site that is considered an outstanding example of British colonial architecture. Races take place on selected Saturdays from now till late April with the climax the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup on 2 March 2019.  The lively crowd includes locals from all social strata plus a good crop of visitors – it’s as much an island get-together as a competitive event. While we can’t pick you a winner we can give you a tip: take a close look at the horses (plenty of spectators don’t) and you’ll stand a much better chance!

10. To sit by a quiet pool with a good book

We recommend small and stylish Montpelier Plantation & Beach on Nevis, which is up in the hills with fabulous gardens. Settle down with Rivers of Time: Why is everyone talking to Philippa? by June Goodfield, a historical mystery set on the island.


Images: lead, 1, 2, 7, 8, 10 © The Coconut Times,  4 © Casey Omar Jerson, 6 courtesy of Grenada Tourism Authority


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