Planning a cruise can be a daunting task if you have no idea where you want to go. And with at least 28 island nations located in the Caribbean, you really have to do your homework to make sure you visit the islands that really peak your interest. So, Vacation pulled together this list of popular ports of call to help you start making plans for your next cruise. From high-end shopping to wildlife preserves to beautiful secluded beaches, you should consider adding a couple of these destinations to your itinerary. Bon voyage!
For cruisers who enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling, you might want to consider a visit to Barbados. This island’s reefs are more pristine and full of colorful marine life because it isn’t as popular as the islands close to the U.S. that are normally crowded with tourists. Avid treasure hunters can book an excursion to dive below water and see more than 200 sunken shipwrecks near the island... OK, not all of them, but maybe a couple. If you like your feet firmly planted on land, then book an 4x4 tour to get a different perspective of the entire island or take a stroll through Bridgetown, the island’s British colonial capital for a quick history lesson.
If you enjoy exploring ruins, water sports and a little beach time; then, Cozumel should be added to your itinerary. The 300-square mile island features activities such as snorkeling in the Mesoamerican Reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world); a stroll around historic San Miguel; a wildlife tour at Faro Celerain Eco Park; a 45-minute ferry ride to Playa Del Carmen, and a visit to see the ancient San Gervasio Ruins. And of course, no trip here is complete without some beach time on Palancar Beach, popular for watersports or family-friendly Paradise Beach. There’s something for every cruiser when making a pit stop at this port.
George Town, Grand Cayman
If you’re a foodie who enjoys shipwreck dives and or swimming with stingrays, then you’ve hit the jackpot on Grand Cayman. In addition to Stingray City and diver-friendly wrecks such as the Kittiwake (a submarine-rescue vessel on Seven Mile Beach), Grand Cayman also features some top-notched, celebrity-owned restaurants, including chef Eric Ripert’s restaurant, Blue, and chef Michael Swartz’s restaurant, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. Cruisers can walk off a few calories with a stroll along Camana Bay, where there’s no shortage of high-end boutiques for international brands such as POLO by NKY, Prada, Gucci, Michael Kors and Lacoste. And on the Northside of the island, beachgoers can relax in a hammock near the Rum Point Club, where the famous mudslide cocktail was invented. You cannot leave here without trying one of these!
So, what’s so special about a cruise stop at this port? It might have something to do with its sunny weather (read: not much rain) and great beaches such as the less-crowded Eagle Beach. And just beyond the beaches, Arikok National Park draws tourists looking for a unique desert getaway to go horseback riding to find a hidden swimming hole to rejuvenate before heading back onto the ship.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten
This port is the perfect spot for cruisers who don’t want to spend a 6+ hour flight to get a taste of Europe. Welcome to St. Maarten or St. Martin, depending on whether you’re on the Dutch or French side of the island. Drop anchor and take an excursion on this island if you enjoy great boutiques for shopping, Dutch Colonial architecture, traditional French cuisine and small, but gorgeous beaches such as the clothing-optional Orient Beach.
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
An alternative to lounging by the ship’s pool, we suggest getting off at Puerto Plata for a visit to Ocean World. And if you’re traveling with kids, this adventure park provides them with unforgettable experiences such as swimming with dolphins in a lagoon. For the adults, the fairly-new port at Amber Cove (opened in 2015) has waterslides, hilltop or overwater cabanas and superb shopping. Book an excursion further out to really immerse yourself in Dominican culture, stroll through museums or just relax on some of the most underrated beaches in the country.
Welcome to Roatan – the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. It’s not a secret, but this island is also home to the second-largest coral reef in the world. So, it’s no surprise why this is a hot spot for divers and snorkelers from all-around the world. Need serenity now? Go kayaking through the mangroves or zip-lining above the jungle at Gumbalimba Park. Looking for some beach time? We recommend a short bus ride to Turquoise Bay, where the crystal blue water laps at the white sand beach, making this the perfect place to get some much-needed R&R.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Yes, this port is steeped in Spanish colonial history with sights such as 16th-century El Morro and 18th-century San Cristobal. However, it’s the El Yunque National Forest that is the real star in this major port where cruise ships usually depart to the Southern Caribbean. The 40-minute bus ride to El Yunque from San Juan is so worth it! Hike through the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Park System, and climb to new heights with a hike to the top of El Toro – the Caribbean’s tallest mountain. The hiking trails may be muddy and less developed than other parks, but we bet you’ll still appreciate it because it’s not crowded with tourists. And if hiking isn’t your thing, but rum is, then take an excursion to visit the Bacardi distillery, which offers historical, rum tasting and mixology tours.
For history buffs, we suggest a stop at St. Kitts or take a 45-minute ferry ride to Nevis. These are the two oldest settlements in the Eastern Caribbean. Visit the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton before his surname was lit up in bright lights on Broadway. But that’s not all cruisers can see at this port of call. The 350-year-old-Romney Manor, the colonial square and Brimstone Hill Fortress are just a few sights from the 1700s that tourists can visit, too. Need a break from the history? Grab a drink on one of the many bars lined up along Frigate Bay or go hiking to see dormant volcanoes.
This is the Caribbean’s most popular cruise port with as many as six ships docked at a time. And there’s no shortage of things to do and see here. Soar 700 feet above the town of Charlotte Amalie on the Skyride; get stunning Instagram-worthy shots of Magens Bay from Mountain Top (also famous for its banana daiquiris); take the Sea Trek along the ocean floor at the Coral World Ocean Park; take a tour of Blackbeard’s Castle, where the infamous pirate watched for ships entering the harbor. Also, Trunk Bay, duty-free shopping and the ease of visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. John, Water Island) offer a few more reasons why this port should be on your list of must-see Caribbean ports.
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