The best non-beach activities to enjoy in the Caribbean

When day-dreaming about the Caribbean, as we all often do, it’s the sandy beaches, straw umbrellas, and glowing turquoise waters that come to mind. And with more than 700 islands, each surrounded by equally eye-catching beaches, the region truly is a paradise for those that love salt in their hair, sand between their toes, and a cocktail in their hand. 

Yet, this island paradise is not just beautiful on the outside, it’s beautiful on the inside too. The region’s coastlines encompass a wealth of nature, history, and culture that promise exciting island activities. Meanwhile, the surrounding seas await to ensnare the senses with otherworldly sea life. So, swap your flips flops for walking shoes and hike up the Caribbean’s scenic mountains. Get off your float and onto a boat. Put down your book and listen to the stories from a sugar cane plantation. And ditch the beach for the vibrant streets as the carnival comes to town to experience a more adventurous side of the Caribbean.

Immerse in nature on a hike

Having been formed as a result of drastic tectonic and volcanic island activity millions of years ago, the Caribbean is strikingly mountainous and nature-rich. The region is carved by excellent hiking routes from the perpetuating Pitons peaks rising from the sea in St Lucia to the wondrous long-distance Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica. You can even reach the crown of the Caribbean by hiking its tallest mountain, Pico Duarte in Dominican Republic. Within its marvellous green carpeted mountains, you’ll undoubtedly stumble upon meandering mangroves, rapid waterfalls, and imagination-defying coastal scenes peaking through the luscious trees.

The Pitons, St Lucia

Uncover the Caribbean’s history

With Afro-Caribbeans, Latinos, Creoles, and indigenous Caribs spanning the Caribbean islands, the region has one of the world’s most diverse heritages. This colourful mix of culture we see today was created by the Caribbean’s vast history as a sugar farming, slave trade, and lucrative commercial shipping region for Europeans during colonial times. Today, grand plantations in Barbados, an 18th century fortress in Cuba, and the historic Nelson’s Dockyards in Antigua are just a few of the captivating sites that tell the insightful tales of the region’s important history. Whilst some are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, others are yet to appear on the tourist radar.

Learn more about the Dominican Republic’s history here.

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, Cuba (source: www.piviso.com)

Get down to the Caribbean beats

Wherever you travel in the Caribbean, the distinctive sounds of joyful drum beats and serenading guitar strums fill the air and your heart. As Caribbean islanders live and breathe for music and dancing, the region has produced some of the most distinctively uplifting and influential sounds in modern music. Whilst Jamaican’s are jamming out to reggae, Cubans are swinging to rumba, and Dominicans are swaying with their partners to merengue. From the local market to the local bar, you can find live music playing, but for the best Caribbean music experience, put on your feather boa and join a carnival. These exuberant celebratory street festivals take place throughout the year on islands including Trinidad, Bahamas, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands.

Find the best carnivals across the Caribbean here.

Roam around the reefs

With the largest reef in the Northern Hemisphere, the Caribbean is a hot-sea-bed for underwater island activity. Almost every Caribbean island has sweet scuba-diving and snorkelling spots where you can swim with elusive sea creatures like stingrays, sharks, and turtles. Some spots, like Half Moon Dolphin Lagoon, Grand Cayman Stingray City, and the Bahamas’ Pig Island, are known throughout the world. Others remain waiting to be discovered off the coast of secret beaches and hard-to-reach islands. The most impressive sighting of all, however, can be found by taking a boat from the Dominican Repoublic coast where pods of humpback whales dance and dive in the water.

View from the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Sail the Caribbean Sea

Although the Caribbean Sea isn’t quite as pirate-ridden as Johnny Depp makes it out to be in Pirates of the Caribbean, it is just as exciting. And its rambling water, salty air, and sunny weather makes it perfect for sailing. Experienced sailors can test their abilities in one of the Caribbean’s famous regattas, and aspiring sailors can get front row seats to the race. Those who prefer to enjoy the sea at a slower pace can join one of many island-hopping boat tours that navigate BVI, the Cayman Islands, Antigua, and other parts of the region. Of course, there’s always the option to navigate the Caribbean from the luxury and comfort of your own yacht too.

Find out more about island-hopping here.

Sample the local spirits

Although rum originated in the West Indies, islanders, pirates, sailors, and colonials throughout the Caribbean have been drinking it since the 17th century. No wonder it is the staple spirit on every cocktail menu in the region. To find out more about why the Caribbean adopted this spicy yet smooth spirit, you have to go to the source — the distilleries. Luckily, that’s very easy to do since there’s a few distilleries to be found in almost every Caribbean country. The top of the barrel, however, include Casa Bacardi in Puerto Rico, Mount Gay Distillieries, and the Cayman Spirits Company Distillery.

Mount Gay Rum resting on a Barbados beach

Crave the Caribbean cuisine 

Honestly, hiking trails and sail boats aside, it’s worth going to the Caribbean for its cuisine alone. A fusion of African, European, East Indian, Arab and Chinese, the cuisine is hearty yet fresh, and spicy yet fragrant — a unique treat for the tastebuds. As each Caribbean island is surrounded by the salty sea, a diverse and delicious range of seafood features heavily in the islanders’ dishes. Whilst Barbados is famous for its spicy lime-infused coucou and flying fish, the Bahamas serves up its iconic conch fritters. The most iconic Caribbean dish of all though is Jamaica’s tongue-tingling jerk chicken.

Get more Caribbean cuisine inspiration here.

Written by Emily Draper

Having visited over 70 countries across all seven continents, it's safe to say Emily has the voice of a true traveller. She has lived with the Hare Krishnas in Chile, an Amazonian tribe in Peru, and a retiree named Jerry in a Wisconsin trailer park. Now, Emily has embarked on the coolest adventure yet: across Europe in her self-converted van.

Stingray City

Top 10 Things to Do in Grand Cayman

Selonodon

Breathtaking Wildlife in Haiti