For most of us, the Caribbean means lazing on a lovely beach with a cool tropical drink in hand. But if you ever want a more active day, which are the best Caribbean islands for adventure?
The obvious option might be to look at a bigger island, such as Puerto Rico or Cozumel. They do have plenty of choice, but the smaller islands can also surprise.
Indeed, gems such as Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, St. Kitts or Grenada stand proudly among the most adventurous Caribbean islands. From heart-pumping adrenaline to something just a bit out of the ordinary, there are thrills for everyone.
Among the very best places in the Caribbean for diving or snorkeling, Grand Cayman is perfect for those in search of adventure underwater. Warm, unbelievably clear water and beautiful reefs make it a pleasure to visit.
One of the best things to do in Grand Cayman is to visit Stingray City. This shallow sandbar lets even non-swimmers encounter stingrays up close, touching them as they brush past you.
Snorkelers (and divers) can enjoy the wreck of the SS Cali, sunk in shallow waters just off George Town in 1948. The 200-foot-long schooner is now a thriving reef, busy with fish, and rich with coral.
Grand Cayman’s most popular beach, Seven Mile Beach, is full of other activities besides sunbathing, and cocktails. From kite-surfing to paddle boarding, and from sailing to cycling, there’s a vast choice of adventures.
Top off your Grand Cayman stay with a visit to Hell. This landscape of strange black rock formations is aptly named, and is a photographer’s delight.
The 32 square miles of St. Thomas make it one of the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Known for its duty-free shopping, diving, and golfing, it’s a place for more low-key adventures.
Chief among these is Buck Island, where you can do anything from hiking to scuba diving. Snorkelers love the guided underwater trail, a unique experience that signposts corals, and other natural wonders.
Magens Bay, a perfect horseshoe-shaped beach in St. Thomas, awaits anyone who enjoys watersport adventure. Choose from kayaking, paddle boarding, and hiking among many other activities—or just take a break in the sun.
There are more opportunities for watersports at Smith Bay Beach Park & Eco Reserve. Its popular pink sand Lindquist Beach is ideal for exploring rock pools, and idyllic snorkeling.
St. Thomas is also one of the best places to go sailing in the Caribbean. Join an excursion to places such as Norman Island, the inspiration for the novel Treasure Island.
Those looking for Caribbean adventure need Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica on their agenda. One of the few major waterfalls in the world to empty into the ocean, it has 900 feet of cascades.
Climb the falls with a guide, or whizz down a zipline across them. You can also go snorkeling or kayaking in the sea nearby.
To stay in freshwater, take a raft or tubing expedition along the White River, also in Ocho Rios. The river, named for the limestone rocks in its bed, flows through lush tropical greenery that Jamaica is known for.
At the top of the White River is the Blue Hole, a series of cascades in which you can swim. The braver can also cliff jump, swing from the trees, or hike to the Secret Falls.
Another one of the best places to visit in Jamaica, the Green Grotto Caves lets you explore a series of caves named for the green algae on their walls. Dry, and airy, the caves are home to a small colony of bats.
The “Nature Island” of Dominica is one of the best Caribbean islands for adventure, with its large areas of unspoiled landscape.
At Morne Trois Pitons National Park, you’ll find one of the best hikes in the Caribbean, where you can trek through tropical rainforest past bubbling mud ponds, and go swimming in rock pools.
The most popular of these is Emerald Pool, named for the green light cast by the thick forest around it. A 40-foot waterfall plunges into the water to add to the tropical setting.
You can also swim in a pool at scenic Trafalgar Falls, reached by another short hike. Even better, there are hot springs along the way where you can enjoy a warmer plunge.
If even that sounds a bit tame to you, why not try river tubing at Hibiscus Eco-Village? There are several sets of rapids, but also plenty of slow stretches to take in the wonder of nature, making it one of the best things to do in Dominica.
Puerto Rico has some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean, as well as great surfing. In fact, you can surf very close to the center of San Juan at Escambrón Marine Park.
An offshore reef protects the beach, creating a lagoon that is ideal for swimming and snorkeling. You can hire boards if you want to tackle the beginner-friendly La Ocho surf break.
More experienced surfers will want to tackle bigger breaks such as those at Crash Boat Beach, which offers some of the best surfing in Puerto Rico. It’s also beloved of snorkelers, volleyball players, and scuba divers.
For land-based adventure, head for El Yunque where you will find the only tropical rainforest protected as a U.S. National Forest. From hiking to zip-lining, there is a wide range of activities here.
Back in San Juan, don’t miss exploring the hulking El Morro fortress at the harbor. Dating back to 1539, its labyrinth of tunnels, grim prison cells, and spectacular views make for a fascinating tour.
Caye Caulker, Belize
The adventure starts offshore in Belize, where tiny islands such as Caye Caulker are idyllic bases for scuba divers. It’s near the Blue Hole, one of the world’s top dive spots.
This 407-foot-deep abyss is part of the massive Belize Barrier Reef. Most visitors will spend at least some time scuba diving and snorkeling here.
A good place to start is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a fishing-free area created by the local community. Go snorkeling to see turtles, nurse sharks, and staghorn or elkhorn corals.
On land, the thick jungles of Belize are used for training by the British Army. Those visitors seeking adventure can also enjoy them by hiking, horseback riding, tubing or ziplining.
Still largely hidden by vegetation, the Lamanai Mayan Ruins were occupied for three millennia before the arrival of the Spanish. Reach them by a hike through the jungle where you will hear the cries of howler monkeys and perhaps glimpse colorful toucans.
From swimming with stingrays and sharks to ATV or jet boat experiences, Cozumel offers a wide range of adventures. The island is also a major destination for scuba divers visiting the world’s second-largest barrier reef.
For swimmers, snorkelers, or divers, visiting Cozumel National Marine Park is one of the best things to do in Cozumel. It preserves Punta Sur, the southern tip of the island, where you will find some of the world’s best-preserved coral reefs.
At Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, you can try anything from an e-bike tour to birdwatching. The crocodile lagoon and superb beaches are further highlights for visitors.
Trek with a guide to see the pre-Hispanic archaeological site of San Gervasio, one of the best Mayan ruins near Cozumel. Hidden in the jungle, it is small enough to take in on a short tour and is extremely atmospheric.
St. Kitts & Nevis
With much of its landscape a national park, St. Kitts offers some unusual adventures. An unmissable thing to do in St. Kitts is climbing 3,792-foot Mount Liamuiga, one of the tallest peaks in the Caribbean.
Surrounded by dense rainforest, Mount Liamuiga is a steep climb through thick vegetation, a hike that is even more slippery on the way down. The reward is extraordinary views of one of the prettiest islands in the Caribbean and its neighbors.
You can see more of the rainforest on a zipline tour at Wingfield Estate, the former plantation of popular Romney Manor. One of the best zip lines in the world, the longest line is 1,350 feet long and you could reach speeds of 50mph as you soar over the treetops.
There are even more views at Brimstone Hill Fortress, known as the “Gibraltar of the Caribbean.” The vast site dominates its surroundings and has been recognized by UNESCO for its significance.
At Frigate Bay, you can have your fill of many other adventures, from windsurfing to kayaking. Only three miles from Basseterre, it’s also a base for sailing excursions.
The Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park on Grenada’s west coast was created by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. Dive or snorkel down to see dozens of growth-covered works, including 26 life-sized underwater statues of children holding hands.
In Grand Etang National Park, you can hike through the thick forest to see the water-filled crater inside an ancient volcano. Mona monkeys, originally from West Africa, will be your noisy companions.
A 15-minute drive from Grand Etang is Annandale Falls, a scenic spot with a swimming hole. You can also stand under the waterfall, while braver souls dive off a high ledge.
An equally picturesque swimming pot is Concord Waterfall, easily reached as part of a spice or chocolate tour. Several locals show off their diving skills here, which tempts many visitors to join in.
St. Lucia’s landmark Pitons are twin peaks that rise from its tropical interior. Some of the best things to do in St. Lucia include climbing both mountains for amazing views, or hiking in the surrounding jungle listening to the shriek of parrots.
These “Jacquot” parrots are also a constant presence on the gondolas that carry passengers through the tree canopy on the Rainforest Aerial Tram. Only 30 minutes outside Castries, you can feel you have entered another world.
St. Lucia’s volcano last erupted in 1776, but you can still sense its heat in the “World’s Only Drive-In Volcano”. Well, the “drive-in” part is tongue-in-cheek but the Sulphur Springs hot pools are a delight to soak in.
At Pigeon Island National Park, you can walk up to see the views from Fort Rodney, or take a longer hike to Signal Hill. Home to some of the best beaches in St. Lucia, snorkeling from here is another popular choice.
For surfers of any ability, Barbados is a paradise. Bathsheba Beach is recognized as one of the best places to surf in the Caribbean.
Breaks here such as Soup Bowl will challenge anyone, being a favorite of World Champion U.S. surfer Kelly Slater. Close by, Sand Bank on Cattlewash Beach is equally perfect for beginners.
There’s a more gentle adventure at Animal Flower Cave on the south coast. On calm days, you can swim in a rock pool inside this picturesque cave, which is a unique experience in Barbados.
In contrast, Harrison’s Cave takes you deep underground on an eco-adventure. This network of vast limestone caves is filled with picturesque stalactites and stalagmites.
At Welchman Hall Gully, a collapsed cave is now filled with tropical vegetation and mischievous wild monkeys that Barbados is known for. Take a self-guided tour among tall trees in the place where grapefruit is thought to have originated.
Are you inspired to try an adventurous Caribbean vacation? Then browse our itineraries to find the perfect Caribbean cruise for you and your loved ones.