When it comes to the Caribbean, there’s a temptation to just head to whichever island is easiest to get to. After all, they’re all just beaches and cocktails, yes? But sometimes it pays to look beyond the usual suspects, island destinations such as the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. A connecting flight to one of the smaller, less-visited islands can pay dividends for those prepared to spend a little longer in the air. And amongst the more interesting options are these four.
Read more: Top 25 Things to Do in the Caribbean
Underrated in the Caribbean: Anguilla
In recent years, the tiny British territory has become something of a celebrity magnet. Some seriously high-end resorts and villas have attracted the likes of Robert De Niro, the Clintons and anyone who’s anyone in the world of hip-hop. Arrive on the island and you’ll soon plug into the gossip mill. Has Beyonce arrived on a private jet? Will Brad Pitt take Angelina to island he used to go to with Jennifer Aniston?
But the reason that the stars love Anguilla so much is that they can go there without being hassled. The locals are friendly, but reserved, and willing to treat everyone equally. There’s no star-struck hounding for autographs and paparazzi intrusion is minimal. As a result of CEOs, sports stars and entertainment industry bigwigs pouring in, the accommodation and dining options on Anguilla are seriously impressive. But it is possible for the ordinary mortal to visit without having to file for bankruptcy.
Lloyd’s Guesthouse offers a character-packed accommodation at very reasonable prices, while there are a selection of very good locally-run restaurants that go easy on the wallet. Tasty’s is a case in point: the goat curry and the cheesecake are top class.
But the island’s real draw cards are free. Anguilla has some of the best beaches in the world – covered in dazzling white sand and merging into clear Caribbean waters. Arguably the best are Rendezvous Bay and Shoal Bay East, but the eel-like island is ringed with them.
Many visitors come over to Anguilla on a ferry day trip from St Martin, but it’s worth staying a little longer to understand why the big names love it.
Underrated in the Caribbean: Dominica
Dominica is the one that just doesn’t fit the mold. It does have beaches, but they’re generally unspectacular. It does have resorts, but they’re generally budget affairs aimed at divers and eco-tourists. People don’t go to Dominica for the stereotypical Caribbean holiday though – they go for the nature, the walking and the sense of adventure.
It’s a steep, mountainous island and much of it is covered by rainforest. There are many excellent walking trails, of which the daddy is the Boiling Lake hike. It’s a pretty brutal six hour return trek that goes up and down mountains, through valleys of volcanic springs and vents, past hot pools and to the second largest boiling lake in the world.
Read more about Dominica’s Boiling Lake.
There’s also a cultural aspect to Dominica that isn’t shared by other islands. It is the last remaining (substantial) home of the Carib people that the Caribbean is named after. Within Dominica’s Carib Territory, there are a number of villages in which traditional systems are maintained.
Those wanting to get a deeper understanding of the Carib way of life should head to the Kalinago Barana Aute (or Carib Model Village). It employs weavers, dancers, tour guides and craftspeople, and visitors can discover the people’s sad history. The main joy of the island is how undeveloped it is – everything is awe-inspiringly green, and the sound of a trickling river or stream is never too far away.
Underrated in the Caribbean: Montserrat
Another British territory, Montserrat has a population of under 5,000 and a sleepy, village-like atmosphere. You’d be hard-pressed to find any friendlier, more genuine people in the entire Caribbean region. Montserrat also has an incredible story to tell – and it’s one that is ongoing. From 1995 to 1998, the previously quiet Soufriere Hills volcano came back to life. The resulting eruptions changed island life forever. At one time, it had the best standard of living in the Caribbean; after the volcano, two-thirds of the island had to be abandoned.
The capital, Plymouth, was destroyed and the islanders had to rebuild on the hillsides of the north. Steadily, things are getting back to normal – a new capital is being built at Little Bay, and houses are beginning to spring up where goats once roamed.
The volcano is still active, and it’s possible to see the vents hissing steam from the side of the ever-growing crater. The best spots to look out onto the volcano are Jack Boy Hill and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
But seeing the damage that Soufriere Hills has caused is what makes Montserrat a unique tourist destination. Take a boat tour around the island or – even better – get a taxi driver to take you into the exclusion zone (certain areas are OK in daytime).
Do that, and you get to see desolate river valleys that have been covered in dust and look like the end of the world. More importantly, if road conditions are good enough to get up to the top of Garibaldi Hill, it’s possible to look out over the ruins of Plymouth and the devastated southwest. It’s a truly jaw-dropping sight, and like nowhere else on earth.
Underrated in the Caribbean: Grenada
Another island that has had issues with natural disasters is Grenada. It was gutted by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, with many buildings being destroyed and crops being wrecked. Grenada has recovered from the devastation that Ivan wreaked but, partly as a result, its tourism industry is lagging behind that of other islands.
And therein lies the charm. It’s not as slick; not as calculating and sanitized. Yes, there are some polished, upmarket resorts, but the towns and villages feel genuine rather than having that sad, just-for-tourists air. Pop into the little rum shop shacks (local equivalent to bars) and get talking; you’ll soon get to hear some interesting tales.
Highlights include checking out Grenada’s fairly rustic ginger nutmeg and rum factories, whilst the island’s natural beauty becomes apparent the moment you hit the tarmac. The roads twist and wind around mountainsides, often emerging at beaches with not a soul on. Nature lovers should head over in turtle egg-laying season (from April onwards) – watching giant leatherbacks haul themselves up Levera beach to give birth is a magical site.