The Lesser Antilles look from space like a necklace of pearls dropped into the ocean. Palm-fringed tropical islands and sandy reefs plunge into emerald waters. Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, the perfect weather and the happy people. Welcome to paradise!
The Caribbean islands have been shaped by nature and history. Each and every island is different in this place where British, French, Dutch and Spanish speaking islands merge into a tropical melting pot. The fresh trade wind breeze cools the air and allows you to sail from the British Virgin Islands to Grenada through dozens of magical destinations.
This region is the world’s yachting club, and there is always a sail in sight. The British Virgin Islands area is a sailing paradise in miniature, where beachfront bars, full-moon parties and rock-settled restaurants create an unique sailing atmosphere. St Maarten and Antigua host world-class regattas, and the sailing race spirit remains present for the rest of the year. St Lucia’s Rodney Bay receives the ARC race participants annually in December.
Martinique and Guadeloupe have great marinas where most charters start, while the Grenadines are a favourite for wandering yachties and those who like the end-of-the-world atmosphere.
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Sighted and named by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the islands still keep their sailing heritage. With steady trade winds, calm currents, protected bays and pirate-ship bars, this is one of the world’s sailing hotspots. Dozen of larger islands and about 50 islets with numerous bays are settled around the region’s main island, Tortola, which is covered with thick vegetation. Nearby, Virgin Gorda boasts a Seychelles-like landscape in the south, where the famous “Baths” beach with its collection of sky-high boulders is found. Northern lying coral atoll Anegada is known for the best lobster around, and the huge Horseshoe Reef, running 30 km south, is the largest coral reef in the Caribbean, where hundreds of shipwrecks can be found. Dozen of smaller islands offer secluded bays (which were once pirate hideaways) and legendary sailing bars. Soggy Dollar Bar is where the Painkiller drink was invented, and the famous Willy T is settled on an old schooner among anchored yachts.
ST MAARTEN, ANGUILLA & ST BARTHELEMY
Divided between two nations, France and the Netherlands, the “Iles du Nord” as they are called here are a spectacular cruising area. St Martin offers the finest restaurants, while St Barth is the place to enjoy the nightlife. Anguilla has pristine beaches and a laid-back atmosphere. One of the highlights is Maho Beach, where huge airliners approach the airport, flying just 20 feet above the sand. French sibling St Martin is more sleepy with harbours full of colourful boats and houses built up into the cliffs. The atmosphere here resembles a Mediterranean fishing village. Thanks to the French influence, you will find here the best food in the Caribbean. Zucchini soup shooters, salmon and caper bruschetta, and tonka bean crème brûlée are among the favourites.
ST KITTS & NEVIS
Lying a little way off the cruising track, this relaxed twin-island nation wraps palm-shaded beaches, jungle-draped dormant volcanoes and plenty of vestiges of a turbulent past into one tidy package. It combines beaches and mountains with rich history to engage your mind. The sugar industry survives here in pleasant plantation inns, while the local culture is mellow, friendly and infused with a pulsing Caribbean beat.
ANTIGUA and BARBUDA
Here, life is wind and sails. Home to one of the world’s most famous regattas – Antigua Sailing Week – the Antigua coast is full of perfect little bays lapped by blue water. Once a shelter for pirates, nowadays they are a yachtie’s escape. The island interior is a Caribbean picture of your dreams, with narrow roads and candy-coloured villages. Antigua’s smaller sister, Barbuda, is a pancake-flat island rimmed by beaches and reef-filled waters. The wildlife is amazing here and greatly outnumbers human residents on this piece of Caribbean paradise.
Looking like a butterfly that has landed to show a glimpse of its beauty, Guadeloupe is a fascinating archipelago of islands. Pointe-á-Pitre is the region’s economic capital, located in the crossroads between Grande-Terre, which is covered with sugarcane fields, and Basse-Terre, which has La Soufrière volcano towering almost 1.5 km above its turquoise waters and thick tropical forest. Anchorages in Les Saintes are among the favourites for sailors, with tiny Caribbean villages and beachfront restaurants. Marie-Galante – the “Island of a Hundred Windmills” – boasts one of the region’s best rum distilleries; a remnant of the sugar industry. For those who want to get away from the crowds, La Désirade is a good choice – the empty beaches and deserted atmosphere are alluring.
Lying in the shade of her two great neighbours, Dominica is another off-the-beaten-track destination. With no marina facilities, few sailors decide to drop anchor here. Those who do are rewarded by untouched rainforest, hot sulphur springs, waterfalls and jungle lakes, snorkelling in a glass of “champagne”, swimming up a narrow gorge – the list goes on. Don’t miss Emerald Pool and Trafalgar Falls, where lush scenery is worthy of a slow pace. Keep your eyes open – the tropical forest is home to two native species of parrot, the Sisserou and the Jaco.
Once named “The Island of Flowers”, nowadays this is the biggest flight hub in the region and the favourite choice of sailors, as most charters start and end here. Volcanic in origin, Martinique is a mountainous stunner crowned by the still-smouldering Mont Pelée, which wiped out Martinique’s former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. Martinique offers a striking diversity of landscapes and atmospheres. The rainforested, mountainous northern part is the most spectacular, but the south has its fair share of natural wonders, including lovely bays and miles of luscious beaches. Le Marin’s bay hosts one of the region’s best marinas, perfectly located to set up for a north or south itinerary.
Here where the sea and jungle meet and the reggae rhythm beat can be heard all day long, St Lucia is a Caribbean cliche. Rodney Bay in the north offers modern comforts amid a beautiful bay. In the south, Soufrière is at the heart of a gorgeous region of old plantations, hidden beaches and the geologic wonder of the impossibly photogenic Pitons.
Standing out of the ocean like a rocky chunk of green emerald ringed by silver beaches, it is the perfect spot. Rodney Bay’s marina hosts the participants in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers each year in early December, and the whole place changes into a sailing fiesta. The island’s capital, Castries, still keeps its original style with street stalls and vendors. Marigot Bay makes a perfect place to lay anchor and plunge into warm waters. Sailing south to Soufrière, you will find one of the most jaw-dropping landscapes of the Caribbean – Mighty Pitons – the island’s landmark which rises from the ocean to 770 metres high.
ST VINCENT and THE GRENADINES
This chain of small islands stretching south from St Vincent is like the Caribbean in miniature. Uncluttered by tourist exploitation, the islands are accessible almost only to sailors and evoke visions of exotic, idyllic island life. White-sand beaches on deserted islands, sky-blue water gently lapping the shore, and barely a soul around. You can spend weeks sailing here, sipping rum and discovering another and yet another island.
The biggest island of the archipelago, this has dozens of anchorages and bays to enjoy. Scenic roads wind through a lush interior blanketed with banana and coconut plantations. Picturesque villages offer visits to rum distilleries. Dont miss the famous Wallilabou Bay and Falls (where the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were largely filmed) and the famous Richmond Bay with its black sand beach.
This is arguably the most beautiful island in the whole of the Grenadines. Admiralty Bay offers great shelter, and is a favourite place for wandering yachties. Beachfront bars here are filled with sailor stories from the Seven Seas. Stunning beaches dotting the shoreline and a slow pace of life all help to create an environment that is unforgettable. There are fine restaurants, shops that retain their local integrity, and enough golden sand and blue water to keep everybody blissful. Dont miss a walk on the windward side of the island, where ocean waves break on the coral reefs and trade winds bend the palms.
CANOUNAN and MUSIQUE
These two small and magically named islands have no more to offer than an anchorage, small settlement, beachfront bar and perfect surrounding of coral reefs, turquoise waters and swaying palms. Don’t rush through the Grenadines – this place is like a perfect cocktail that you will not want to finish.
A small archipelago of islets ringed by coral reefs, Tobago Cays leaves most people speechless. The snorkelling is world class here, and the white-sand beaches complete the picture. Underwater, sea turtles and parrot fish are just the start of the myriad species you’ll see. The coral is gorgeous.
Lush green hills towering behind the island’s capital, Clifton, resemble a picture from Tahiti. The palm-fringed beaches and bars serving rum-based drinks are the best of their kind. Don’t miss the bars built on the coral reef, and ask your skipper for an umbrella island where you can take an ultimate Caribbean picture.
The last island in the necklace is a spicy gem. The sand of Grand Anse Beach is so pure is seems to have an inner radiance, and diving in the turquoise waters is sublime (and you’ll likely have some sea turtles for company). The towns are bright tropical colours accenting lush, green hillsides. The two tiny charms, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, are worth laying anchor at for their idyllic, isolated and intoxicating atmosphere – the perfect hideaway. Advanced divers can head to the Bianca C shipwreck (called the Titanic of the Caribbean). The 180m-long liner sits in clear waters after an explosion that occurred in 1961.