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8 of the best Caribbean islands for winter sun and seafront stays

Here are the sun-kissed Caribbean shores to retreat to come winter, from Dominica’s rainforests to Antigua’s lively corals

Natalie Wilson
Friday 01 December 2023 16:30 GMT
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Year-round sunshine makes the Caribbean’s sandy swathes a go-to for a winter holiday
Year-round sunshine makes the Caribbean’s sandy swathes a go-to for a winter holiday (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Islands that stretch from jungle to sea, with rainforests and rivers bordered by captivating coves – it can only be the Caribbean.

Though balmy temperatures prevail year-round, swerving the storms of the region's unpredictable hurricane season is a must for that picture-perfect Caribbean retreat, and there’s more to it than wafting palms and white sand.

With subtropical climates basking in vitamin D from December to April, thousands of travellers flock to relish in flavourful food and punches of rum to the rhythm of music.

From “Nature Island” Dominica to “Island of Spice” Grenada, off-grid hikes up Unesco-listed mountains and mud baths on active volcanoes meet diving in the underwater world of the Caribbean Sea in the diverse archipelago.

Here are our top island picks from the curve of Caribbean tropics – along with luxe sandside resorts – to inspire your holiday plans and secure that winter sun fix.

Read more on Caribbean travel:

Bahamas

Powder beaches, water parks and some swimming companions bless the family-friendly Bahamas (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Family fun

With temperatures still a mild and dry minimum of 22C in January, the Bahamas, has beach resorts to suit all budgets in Nassau and Paradise Island, making it the ideal place for a family getaway.

Trot off to Big Major Cay off Exuma to swim alongside some sandy snouts, spend a Friday night at Oistins Fish Fry where the seafood is king, and learn about the island heritage around the landmarks of Bridgetown for a top-notch trip with the whole clan.

Where to stay

Margaritaville Beach Resort, a five-star stay in Nassau, offers easy access to Junkanoo Beach and steamy hot tubs, plus American and Italian cuisine from five on-site restaurants. Cobalt accents and wood slats adorn rooms while thatched parasols set the tone for some serious poolside R&R.

Aruba

With around 300 days of annual sunshine, Aruba is one of the Caribbean’s sunniest hotspots (Getty Images)

Best for: Perpetual sunshine

Hailed as the Caribbean’s sunniest island with around 300 days of 11-hour sunshine, chances are you’ll come home from an Aruba holiday sunkissed with lashings of sand hidden in your suitcase and a big grin – it has been nicknamed “One Happy Island” after all. Laze on the loungers of the famous white beaches while sipping an Aruba ariba crème de banana cocktail to truly sink your toes into the Caribbean pace of life.

This Dutch-speaking shore off the coast of Venezuela has a carnival season of parades, floats and dancers throughout January and February, an aloe vera plantation primed for healing hair and skin qualms and the desert plains of the Arikok National Park – best explored four-wheel drive style for winter thrills in the Great Outdoors you don’t have to wrap up for.

Where to stay

Mere metres from Eagle Beach, the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort in Aruba exudes beachy style and Caribbean charm in the shell of Dutch colonial architecture. Spacious self-catering studios and suites sleep guests while extensive buffet breakfasts waft the walkways come morning and with daily freshly grilled fish at the Passions Beach Bar & Lounge you can consider dinner catered for.

Grenada

The tiny island is full of surprises, with hoards of bespoke boutique hotels and all-in resorts (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Sophistication and spice

With January one of Grenada’s driest months and one of the UK’s wettest, a tropical trip to the suntrapped island couldn’t come at a better time. Luxury all-inclusive resorts and bespoke boutique hotels line the shore – great bases to dive into St George’s underwater sculpture park, stroll the Palm Tree Botanical Garden and watch leatherback turtles hatch and paddle from Levera Beach.

Known as the Caribbean’s “Spice Island”, there’s a plethora of spices to pinch, from nutmeg to cinnamon and ginger. Try “oil down” meat and vegetable stew (Grenada’s national dish), curried goat and nutmeg ice cream to taste the homegrown flavours at their best.

Where to stay

The swish True Blue Bay Resort offers spacious suites, an infinity pool and marina access from Grenada’s southernmost point. It’s just three miles to the powder-white shore of Grand Anse Beach, for a day of sun and sand followed by feasting on seafood and Grenada barbecue at the al fresco Dodgy Dock Restaurant when you return to the resort.

Dominica

Hike, dive, kayak and swim in the rainforests of this mountainous Caribbean island (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Intrepid adventures

Wild Dominica, the “Nature Island”, has an average high of 30C in February and plenty of areas ripe for soaking up some rays. With a lush rainforest interior, hiking routes, diving centres and hidden hot springs Dominica is a paradise found for intrepid visitors.

The 114-mile-long Waitukubuli National Trail crisscrosses the island for a hefty two-week hike while the Boiling Lake is an enticing geothermal lagoon – though not for swimming – in the south. Elsewhere, tourists can float happily in steaming sulphur pools of Ti Kwen Glo Cho for some well-deserved post-adventure muscle melting.

Where to stay

A scuba diver’s dream, the comfortable Fort Young Hotel on the edge of Roseau features its own on-site diving school, waterfront restaurant and infinity pool. Built on the location of an old military fort overlooking the ocean, spa days, Caribbean cocktail nights and exploring the town are on the itinerary for guests. Better still, Morne Trois Pitons National Park and Victoria Falls are less than a 30-minute drive away.

Jamaica

Jamaica’s vibrant culture is unrivalled for a lively, sun-drenched getaway (Getty Images)

Best for: Reggae and rum

One of the largest Caribbean islands, a Jamaica escape provides warm rays, good vibes and even better company. Bob Marley’s home marches to the beat of a reggae drum with the song of laughing gulls to match. If you can tear yourself away from lively beach barbecues of jerk chicken and cold cans of Red Stripe, tour the Appleton Rum Estate to taste rich rums.

Negril, a quietly cool resort town to the west, glows in gold red and green with a coast of sand including Seven Mile Beach, dotted with bars, restaurants and water sports – the ideal spot for a December to May retreat.

Where to stay

If chic modern rooms, serene swimming pools and hammock-hung sun terraces are what you desire from a Jamaica holiday, then The Cliff Hotel in Negril should fit the bill. Less than 600m from a stretch of bars, restaurants and street food stalls, the resort promises a best-of-both-worlds stay of peace and partying.

St Vincent and the Grenadines

Fringed by palm groves, the coves of St Vincent offer isolated stretches of black and white sand beach (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Secluded beaches

Forgo snow for sand on a January getaway to St Vincent’s cloudless chain of 32 islands. On peaceful Bequia, a paradise of pure sands and the largest Grenadine, secluded scuba spots, pristine black beaches and quiet off-grid coves guarantee the ultimate unwind in the company of only your towel (and perhaps a St Vincent parrot or two).

Charter a catamaran from Port Elizabeth, Bequia to peruse the islets of the sunkissed territory from the water and finetune your sailing skills.

Where to stay

Bequia Beach Hotel, in the heart of the Grenadines’ largest island, combines luxury spa facilities with pristine natural spaces from its groomed tropical gardens to the manicured white sands of Friendship Beach. A popular area for snorkelling and windsurfing, the hotel offers free watersports facilities for guests holidaying in sea-view suites and terraced villas.

Antigua

Head beneath the surface for reefs teeming with turtles, rays and schools of tropical fish (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Snorkelling Caribbean coves

In the Lesser Antilles archipelago, Antigua shines with highs of 28C in winter and a consistent seven hours of blazing sun year round – ideal for bathing on one of the island’s over 365 golden swathes of sand. A long nautical history littered with sailing regattas only scratches the surface of the water pursuits Antigua has to offer with dives to coves and corals teeming with turtles and rays the main draw of a holiday to the pocket-sized island.

Back on shore, Sunday nights at Shirley Heights dance with steel drum bands and smoking barbecues infused with Susie’s hot sauce at the weekly sunset party over the English Harbour.

Where to stay

Admiral’s Inn and Gunpowder Suites, a boutique hotel housed in an 18th-century complex, sits in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour. Rooms in the historic property feature four-poster canopy beds, harbour and infinity pool views, wood beams and access to a free shuttle boat that takes guests to swim and snorkel at Galleon Beach. 

St Lucia

Adventures in the Piton Mountains and Sulphur Springs await (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Best for: Mountains and mud baths

If you’re looking to escape another dreary UK winter, up to eight hours of daily sunshine and average temperature highs of 29.9C in December make St Lucia a top candidate for a post-Christmas holiday. Peaked with the Unesco-protected Piton Mountains and blanketed by historic military base Pigeon Island National Park, the lush natural landscape is a playground for explorers looking to hike, zip wire, and dive while topping up their tans.

You’ll also find the world’s only “drive-in volcano”, complete with mineral Sulphur Springs and therapeutic mud baths, not to be confused with chocolate from the island's famed cocoa beans, under a canopy of exotic birds.

Where to stay

The Bay Gardens Hotel offers world-class service on Rodney Bay with two outdoor pools, a shuttle to the golden sands of Reduit Beach and a Creole-style rum shop. A sunshine yellow exterior, striped sun loungers and shady parasols pepper the poolside and there’s an on-site restaurant to get your fix of rum punch and St Lucian seafood specialities.

Read more of our best winter sun hotel reviews

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