Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Welcome to the 2016 Viator Travel Awards: Caribbean Edition! We’re featuring some of the top things to do and the most exciting places to visit in the Caribbean. The Caribbean spans over hundreds of islands, ranging from tiny to expansive and offering a diverse range of activities. From adrenaline junkies looking for their next daring adventure to shoppers hoping to find that perfect travel souvenir, plus lots of hiking and nature found in between, the Caribbean does not disappoint, regardless of one’s activity level.
The tours and activities highlighted are chosen based on traveler reviews, data from the millions of people who check out Viator.com during the year, and information on which tours in the region travelers book most often. We think you’ll enjoy reading about the array of activities available in each of these places – it’s the little mental vacation we could all use right now – and we also think this list is a great place to start if you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean in 2016.
You’ll find all kinds of activities listed below, including ziplining through jungle canopies, coming face-to-face with the Caribbean’s sea life, horseback riding on white sand beaches, and learning about the unique culture, history, and cuisine of the Caribbean. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in the Caribbean!
1. Visit the Rainforest of El Yunque from San Juan
The El Yunque Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S., home to indigenous plants and animals like the Puerto Rican parrot and tiny coquis tree frog. Added bonus: The Loquillo Beach borders this wet wonderland. Check both of them out on an El Yunque Rainforest and Luquillo Beach tour from San Juan. Delve further into the rainforest wonders on an off the beaten path El Yunque Rain Forest Adventure from San Juan. Or take a guided tour through the El Yunque Rainforest and see the rich flora and fauna and the giant orchids that make this rainforest unique on the El Yunque Rainforest Hiking tour from San Juan or this El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Trip from San Juan.
2. Soak up the sun on a day cruise
Surrounded by gorgeous, vibrantly-colored water, it’s an absolute must to bask in the sunshine on the deck of a Caribbean boat. Enjoy a great day, even as a shore excursion, on a St Lucia Catamaran Day Sail and soak up the sun and the sights of the Caribbean. Try a Catamaran Cruise to Saona Island from Punta Cana and you’ll have the choice of simply relaxing on the beach or exploring the beautiful tropical environment. Sail over to Dunn’s River Falls on this Jamaica Catamaran Cruise from Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, where you’ll be guided up their terraced rocks or swim down in the stunning lagoon. In Puerto Rico you can snorkel and swim in paradise on a Culebra Day Trip by Catamaran from Fajardo.
3. Snorkel under the sea
Much of the unspoiled beauty of the Caribbean lives below the surface of the water. Underneath lightly rippling waves is a world of colorful coral and active marine life. A snorkel trip is a fun way to ensure you see the wonders of underwater life in the Caribbean, as on a San Juan Snorkel and Picnic Cruise. Or live in the lap of luxury on an Island Snorkel Cruise from Freeport with Lunch. Try the Grand Cayman Catamaran Cruise with Snorkeling at Stingray Sandbar and Reef, where you’ll get to snorkel with stingrays. Or, take a Catalina Bay and Antilla Shipwreck Snorkel Cruise and get a little extra adrenaline with your snorkel.
4. See the sunset from the water
Cruising the Caribbean at sunset is one of the best things that you can do while on vacation. Everything about it is what you come to the Caribbean for – beauty, romance, balmy weather, peace, open skies and seas. An Aruba Sunset Catamaran Cruise or an Aruba Sunset Cruise and Seaside Dinner is this idyllic scene realized, though the Negril Catamaran Cruise with Sunset at Rick’s Cafe is truly an experience not to be missed. And for a nighttime adventure, try the Luminous Lagoon Night Cruise in Jamaica.
5. Explore the Dutch and French sides of St Maarten
Many islands in the Caribbean had or still have colonial histories, but St Maarten is unique even in this context. Entirely separate and distinct French and Dutch sides – complete with linguistic, culinary and cultural differences – make this island one to explore fully. If you’re cruising there, try a St Maarten Shore Excursion: Orient and Maho Beach Half-Day Tour or a St Maarten Half-Day Trip to Orient and Maho Beach to get a great feel for the place. Another shore excursion to look into is a Island Sightseeing Tour from Philipsburg, which includes rum punch in Grand Case! A St-Martin and St Maarten Sightseeing Tour of the French and Dutch Sides of the Island gives a great overview of how these two cultures coexist, and allow you to enjoy sunbathing and picturesque views as well.
6. Go off-roading and ATV riding
Off-roading and ATV riding is a blast, and there are few better places to do it than in the Caribbean. Riding through the countryside gives you a unique look at your host country, and it makes for a fun and exciting day out. If you’re in Jamaica, look for the Jamaica ATV Off-Road Adventure to Sandy Bay which will give you adventure and a nice tour of popular Sandy Bay. Or you can explore panoramic views of the Caribbean while on a Punta Cana Half-Day Dune Buggy Adventure or get in the driver’s seat and explore gorgeous locations on an Aruba ATV Tour.
7. Horseback riding
Horseback riding in the Caribbean is an activity that ticks off all the boxes – it’s romantic, it’s family-friendly, it involves adventure and scenery, and it’s the perfect thing to do in a place where the weather is consistently gorgeous. With a Punta Cana River Horseback Riding and Zipline Tour, you can discover the beauty of the beach and the jungle with plenty of adventure mixed in. A Zipline and Horseback Riding Combination Tour in Puerto Plata, instead, gives you a full immersion into the jungle of the Dominican Republic and is a real thrill. For something a bit less intense and perfect for the whole family, the Horseback Riding Day Trip from Punta Cana or a Horseback Riding Adventure Punta Cana is a better choice.
8. Dunn’s River Falls
Dunn’s River Falls is one of the most famous attractions in Jamaica, with thousands of visitors coming each year to see the majestic force of nature as it falls from the hills into the Caribbean. Consider the Jamaica Combo Tour: Dunn’s River Falls and Bob Marley’s Nine Mile in order to get the most out of your Jamaican experience. See the final location on a Jamaica Catamaran Cruise to Dunn’s Rivre Falls from Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, where can also enjoy snorkeling and swimming. A Dunn’s River Falls and Ocho Rios Shopping Tour instead lets you enjoy nature and city life all in one experience.
9. Taste the flavors of the Caribbean
Many different cultures have called the Caribbean home through our world’s long history, and the rich remnants of these histories are most obviously seen in the culinary traditions unique to each island. If you’re in Puerto Rico, try tasting the many flavors of San Juan’s colorful markets with an Old San Juan Food Tour. If in the Bahamas, try the Nassau Food Tasting and Walking tour – it highlights the best assets of Caribbean cuisine and gives you some great history of the islands as well. Taste exquisite food and hear expert historical detail on a Grand Cayman Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour. A Flavors of St Maarten Food Tour takes you to both the Dutch and French sides of this fascinating island for a real gourmet treat spanning five restaurants!
10. Old San Juan
Old San Juan is a Spanish colonial gem of the Caribbean. Even if you’re going to Puerto Rico for sun and fun, it’s a must to take some time to see this gorgeous town. Start off with an Old San Juan Walking Tour to orient yourself and fall in love with the cobble-stoned streets and Old World feel. If you want to know more about the buildings you see, try the Old San Juan Architectural Tour, which also allows you to walk around as you learn the origins of its unique look. Cruising day trippers will want to take advantage of the Old San Juan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour, or an Old San Juan Segway Tour for a bit of fun! Quench your thirst with a Casa Bacardi and Old San Juan Tour, which includes a hand-crafted cocktail.
11. Get glowing and see some bioluminescence
Truly experience some of nature’s beauty by seeing some of the Caribbean’s bioluminescent brilliance. Get up close on a Bioluminescent Kayak Adventure from San Juan or sit back and have a stunning evening on a Bioluminescent Bay Glass Bottom Kayak Tour from San Juan. Vieques Bioluminescent Bay Night Kayak Tour and enjoy the wonder of the lagoon that’s naturally glowing. Or spend all your time in the wonders of nature on an El Yunque Rainforest Nature Walk and Bioluminescent Bay Kayaking Combo Tour.
12. Swim with stingrays
The Caribbean is full of exciting water sports opportunities, and some even offer the chance to frolic in the beautiful sea with equally beautiful marine life! If you’re a fan of this kind of adventure, then Stingray City in the Caymans should be your first stop. Although they sound dangerous, the stingrays you meet on a Stingray City Experience from Grand Cayman are fun, friendly, and love to play with visitors. If you want the maximum amount of water time, then opt for the Stingray City Experience Plus Two Snorkeling Stops, which take you to Coral Gardens and the gorgeous Barrier Reef as well as Stingray City. However, the Caymans don’t have a monopoly on these wonderful creatures; a Gibbs Cay Stingray and Snorkel Adventure in Grand Turk, which takes you by catamaran to a snorkel spot that lets you enjoy these sea buddies as well as show you the fascinating world of the Land and Sea National Park.
13. Zipline through the jungle
Ziplining is a great way to explore the outdoors of the Caribbean islands. Get the adrenaline pumping on a Punta Cana Zipline Canopy Adventure and you’ll see what life is like atop the forest canopy. Or, if you’re in Puerto Rico, try the Zipline Canopy Eco-Adventure from San Juan for a day filled with adventure. If you want to relax a bit, you have the option to skip a few ziplines on this St. Kitts Zipline Canopy Tour.
14. Have a dolphin encounter
While learning about marine life can be informative and fun, nothing beats the family-friendly adventure of meeting dolphins up close and personal. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will change how you view the seas. In the Bahamas, a Blue Lagoon Island Dolphin Encounter or Dolphin Swim from Nassau takes you from Paradise Island to Blue Lagoon Island, where you not only learn about the lives of dolphins but get to interact with them as well! Over in the Dominican Republic, a Half-Day Dolphin Island Tour from Punta Cana, where the natural and protected Dolphin Island is a refuge for these beloved creatures, who enjoy playing with visitors. See manta rays and nurse sharks while snorkeling, too!
15. Rum your way through the Caribbean
When visiting a destination, you want to fully experience the culture, and a huge part of Caribbean culture is rum. So it would be doing a disservice to yourself not experience the rum culture while there (or at least that’s what you can tell yourself!). This Nassau Rum and Food Walking Tour also lets you see the lovely and historical downtown Nassau. If you’re also looking for a bit of adventure, the Black River, YS Falls and Appleton Rum Estate Day Trip from Negril is the perfect fit, as you’ll get to take a boat ride and then go swimming before tasting some rum. If you’d rather take a break from the exhaustion of travel, try this San Juan Premium Rum Tasting Tour, where you will sample some incredible rums at a luxury cocktail bar, or a Barbados Mount Gay Rum Tour, which is at the source!
16. St Kitts shore excursions
Although visiting the Caribbean on a cruise ship is undeniably fun, after a while each shore excursion can start to blend together. Luckily, on St Kitts, you’ll find some new and exciting adventures awaiting you when you disembark! There is the traditional Discover St Kitts Tour and a stunning Panoramic Tour with Optional Brimstone Hill Fortress Visit, but the fun doesn’t stop there. If you’ve been itching to dip your tootsies into the limpid Caribbean waters, then a Kayak and Snorkel Adventure is the shore excursion for you. If instead you’d rather venture inland and get that heart racing, an ATV Adventure through sugar cane plantations and the countryside is exactly what the doctor ordered.
17. Santo Domingo day trip from Punta Cana
Did you know that Santo Domingo is the oldest colonial city in the Americas? It’s true. It’s also the site of the hemisphere’s first university and cathedral. Its history, dating back to the 1400s, is still alive today – as is the traces of the land’s original inhabitants, the Taino Indians. Learn about this incredible city, its culture, and its architecture on a Santo Domingo Sightseeing Tour from Punta Cana. And if you want a truly stress-free day with nothing but fun, go for the All-Inclusive Santo Domingo Day Trip from Punta Cana, which includes lunch, transportation, and a private guide!
18. Combine shopping and sightseeing
Is a vacation not a success until you’ve had a chance to indulge in some shopping therapy? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. If you’re stopping at St Thomas on your Caribbean cruise, book a St Thomas Shore Excursion: Shopping, Sightseeing and Beach Tour to combine all the fun that fits into a day at port. With a lively personal taxi tour, stunning vistas from high up Mountain Top and even some relaxing nap on a beach, there’s still plenty of time for duty-free shopping before getting back to the ship – guaranteed. In Jamaica a Dunns River Falls and Ocho Rios Shopping Tour is a fantastic day trip that not only takes you into the lush paradise of the falls for a hike and a swim, but to Ocho Rios for a browse through the craft markets.
19. Hoyo Azul Cenote
No trip to the Caribbean is complete without exploring the region’s cenotes, natural limestone sinkholes with impossibly clear waters. Arguably the most famous of them all is Hoyo Azul in the Dominican Republic. Combine a trip to see (and swim in) it with a Hoyo Azul Cenote Tour at Scape Park from Punta Cana, where a guide will explain the flora and fauna you’ll come across during your hike that finishes at Hoyo Azul, where you can jump or walk into the cenote and marvel at it from within. If you like a little adventure with your natural wonders, then a Hoyo Azul and Zipline Adventure in Punta Cana is for you! And a Punta Cana Tour to Juanillo Beach and Hoyo Azul with All-Inclusive Boat Cruise includes a gourmet lunch, beachside cocktails, and a sightseeing tour from the sea.
20. Go cave exploring
Explore a cave! Discover the mysteries of the underwater world for yourself in the Dominican Republic with an Adventure Day Trip to Fun Fun Cave. You’ll explore magnificent underground tunnels and enjoy a full day of horseback riding as well. Barbados offers visitors the ever-famous stalagmite and stalactite-filled Harrison’s Cave. And if you’ve found yourself with a hankering to do a little caving in Puerto Rico, check out the Rio Camuy Cave Park and Arecibo Observatory from San Juan. You’ll explore a cave that’s millions of years old, see the location of the James Bond film Goldeneye, and visit a world-renown observatory. Try the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, Harrison’s Cave and Scenic Drive Tour and visit the waterfalls of Harrison’s Cave while also getting acquainted with some amazing wildlife. Or see stalagmites, stalactites and an incredible underground lake on this Ocho Rios Super Saver: Green Grotto Caves plus Dunn’s River Falls, plus save some money!
21. Visit the British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands are known for their idyllic beaches and simply incredible environs. They are definitely something to check out when in the Caribbean. Start with breakfast and see tidal pools and hidden grottoes on this Day Cruise to British Virgin Islands from St. Thomas or St. John. Take the family (or just indulge your own inner child) on a Pirate Day Cruise in the British Virgin Islands. If you want to get out there and get active try a Private British Virgin Islands and St John Snorkeling Day Trip.
22. See Barbados in one day
If you’re going to Barbados on vacation, chances are it’s because you want to relax and enjoy its gorgeous beaches, warm sun and limpid waters. But the island is worth exploring, which is why there are tours that allow you to do just that without sacrificing your all-important beach time! For nature lovers, the Best of Barbados Tour lets you experience all facets of this tropical paradise, from the depths of Harrison’s Cave to just below the surface of the sea off Carlisle Beach, where you can swim and snorkel with turtles and sea horses. A more traditional Barbados Coastal Sightseeing Tour instead shows you the history and culture of the island with a visit to its cities and a stop for lunch, too. If instead you’re calling into port, an Island Highlights Half-Day Tour or a Shore Excursion: Barbados in a Day Tour shows you the highlights and still allows for swimming and snorkeling.
23. Explore the islands via speedboat
The Bahamas are many Americans’ go-to Caribbean escape. Just a dip south from the tail end of Florida, the 700 islands of the Bahamas offer unspoiled beaches, great diving and plenty of active nightlife. What’s more is that they also offer that idyllic Caribbean escape — easily accessible by exploring their outer islands via Exuma Powerboat Adventure. Here, you can feed sharks and stingrays, explore peaceful islands and cays, and feel the adrenaline rush while the wind whips through your hair as you dart around the Bahaman island chain. For a more quiet day out, relax on deck with a beer and on the beach with some lunch on this St. Maarten Speed Boat and Snorkeling Tour. Experience the thrill of driving the speedboat yourself on this Bavaro Splash Speedboat Ride tour or get your water sports fix with a Punta Cana Combo Tour: Speedboat Ride, Snuba and Snorkeling.
24. Groove to the sounds of reggae in Jamaica
Jamaica is known for being the birthplace of the famous reggae singer, Bob Marley. Many people come from all over the world to explore the rich jungle interior and beautiful beaches of Jamaica, and, while doing so, oftentimes seek out the origins of reggae and the life of Marley. Consider the Jamaica Combo Tour: Dunn River Falls and Bob Marley’s Nine Mile in order to get the most out of your Jamaican experience. Or, if you’re docking in Falmouth, consider the Falmouth Shore Excursion: Bob Marley Experience and give yourself a peek into the rich heart of Jamaica while learning about Marley himself. If you find yourself in Montego Bay, you can still find the heart and soul of reggae in the Jamaica’s Spirit of Reggae – the Bob Marley Experience from Montego Bay tour where you’ll visit Nine Mile where Marley lived, loved, and played his signature music. Ocho Rios has the Kingston Day Trip from Ocho Rios with Bob Marley Museum where you’ll visit the nation’s capital and the Bob Marley museum.
25. Go tubing
Get the adrenaline pumping as you float through the jungle waters of the Caribbean heartlands. Jamaica has several great rivers that make for exciting water adventure. The Jungle River Tubing Safari from Montego Bay goes from relaxing to adrenaline-pumping. Ocho Rios has the White River Valley Tubing Safari, which is 5-star rated and offers spectacular views the whole way down. The River Tubing Safari in Dominica is also an amazing time. Or take in fantastic jungle views on the Jamaica River Tubing Adventure on the Rio Bueno.
– Viator Travel Team