If you’re having trouble choosing which Caribbean destination to book, why not make the decision a little easier and opt for a multi-centre break? Island hopping by ferry is not only possible, it’s a great way to experience the region as the locals do rather than in the cocoon of a cruise ship. Though it pays to book ahead in peak season, often you can simply turn up on the day and board the next ferry, particularly when travelling domestically to offshore islands. International ferries run less frequently, and for these it’s wise to arrange your reservations before you leave home. Here’s some inspiration to get you started.
St Vincent and Bequia
The ferry from Kingstown in St Vincent to the sleepy isle of Bequia (pronounced “bekway”) takes only an hour to make the 9 mile crossing. Book with Admiral Ferries or Bequia Express, both of which offer regular connections. On St Vincent, there are plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Enjoy the panoramic views from historic Fort Vincent, built in 1806 and check out the lovingly tended botanic gardens that have been a fixture in Kingstown since 1762. Out in the countryside, follow a hiking trail through banana estates and lush rainforest to reach La Soufrière volcano. So long as it’s not actively erupting, on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with extraordinary views into the crater and across the island.
Hop on the ferry when you’re ready to slow the pace. Enjoy chilling out on Bequia’s lovely beaches such as the white sands of Princess Margaret Beach, Lower Bay and Friendship Bay. One of the island’s more unusual attractions is its model boat building tradition. Stop by at Sargeant Brothers Model Boat Shop, close to the ferry terminal, where the level of craftsmanship won’t fail to impress.
Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, Martinique and Saint Lucia
Ferry operator L’Express des îles links Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia. Services resumed recently after an 18 month hiatus and this exciting international line is ferrying passengers between these beautiful Caribbean islands once more. Start in St Lucia, one of the greenest, where the distinctive peaks of the Pitons are a must-see landmark. Further north, the lively resort of Rodney Bay makes the ideal base from which to tour Pigeon Island. Experience the Sunday night jump up at nearby Gros Islet. Inland of its breathtaking beaches, you’ll find a lush interior boasting cocoa plantations and even a drive-in volcano.
Take the boat north from the island’s capital Castries and hop off in Martinique. This overseas territory of France successfully blends Gallic flair with Caribbean charm. Its appeal lies as much with its pineapples and palm trees as it does its croissants and crepes. Go there to swim off its glorious beaches, dive in warm water or gaze up at formidable Mont Pelée, the island’s active volcano that most famously erupted in 1902.
Take a ride from Ceiba on Puerto Rico to the outlying islands of Vieques and Culebra. Puerto Rico is one of the most diverse Caribbean islands with much to recommend it. Many cruise ships call in at the large port beside historic San Juan. However, although visitors can comfortably tick off the old town’s major sights before filing back on board, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for a longer trip. Drive the Ruta Panorámica which forms the scenic backbone to the island, blessed with thick vegetation and a coffee plantation serving up some of the smoothest blends in the region. In Toro Verde Adventure Park, test your mettle on the Americas’ longest zipline as you whizz through the trees on a 2.5km long cable.
But thrilling though this is, you’ll appreciate the chance to relax and unwind on pretty Culebra. The ferry from Ceiba takes just 45 minutes, leaving ample time for kayaking, snorkelling or simply relaxing on Flamenco Beach. Alternatively, visit the neighbouring island of Vieques by ferry. It’s best known for its bioluminescent waters, found in Mosquito Bay. There, the microorganisms present in the water give it a strange but captivating blue-green glow.
Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
The fast ferry from Osprey Lines connects the islands of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Begin on the spice island of Grenada where towering mahogany trees, verdant ferns and colourful tropical flowers fill the Grand Etang National Park. Criss-crossed by hiking trails and littered with waterfalls, this is a nature lover’s paradise. Birdwatchers will relish the opportunity to spot some of the island’s native species, including the Doctor Bird, gree-gree and soursop. Listen to the chatter of frogs and watch the antics of mischievous Mona monkeys. Grenada’s history is another draw. Check out Forts Frederick, George and Matthew in St George’s. Learn more about the island’s past at the Grenada National Museum.
Laidback Carriacou, nicknamed the Land of Reefs, is an easy ferry ride away. Learn about its sugar plantations and long tradition of boat-building or simply unwind on one of its delightful beaches. On Petit Martinique, it’s possible to hike up The Piton, the island’s highest hill. From the top you can see as far as Petit St. Vincent, Union Island, Palm Island, Mayreau, Canouan and Mustique. At low tide, explore the Darant Bay Cave, whose wave-cut arched openings frame your souvenir snapshots and selfies.
Antigua and Barbuda
Although the ferry service between Antigua and Montserrat has been temporarily discontinued, the Barbuda Express shuttles between St John’s on Antigua and its sister island of Barbuda. Boats depart daily. Of particular interest to visitors based on Antigua are the day tours which run on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You’ll need to make an early start as the boat departs from St John’s Harbour. That said, the 90 minute crossing allows for a short nap if you can bear to close your eyes.
On Barbuda, a guide escorts the group to see one of the largest frigate bird colonies in the western hemisphere, located amidst the mangroves of Codrington Lagoon. Try to time your visit for mating season, from October to February. Then, the males puff out their necks, courting female frigate birds by showing off their protruding red throat pouches. Your excursion boat continues on to Two Foot Bay to see its caves – one contains ancient Arawak drawings. Of course, the island’s ripe for exploring on your own. Birdwatchers will be keen to point their binoculars on Barbuda’s tropical mockingbirds, warblers, herons, pelicans and oystercatchers. Meanwhile snorkellers will enjoy the teeming marine life as they duck their head below the surface of the island’s pristine waters.