What do you picture when you think of the Caribbean? Perhaps your first thoughts are of water activities under the warm sun, romantic rum cocktails enjoyed on powdery white sand beaches, and visiting vibrantly colored villages with the scent of BBQ wafting through the air.
All these are definitely iconic images of the region, but the Caribbean is also a place of adventure and relaxation for children and families, with opportunities for connection and discovery around every corner.
Here are some of the best Caribbean islands for families.
This island in the Southern Caribbean is the “A” of the “ABC” islands: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. It’s home to some of the best family-friendly beaches, with perfectly calm, clear waters and fine stretches of sand chiefly found on the western end of the island, in the Palm Beach area. If you go all the way down to the southern tip, you’ll find the aptly named “Baby Beach,” a shallow, calm cove of turquoise water that occasionally sees visits from sea turtles.
Back up in Palm Beach, families flock to the Butterfly Farm, a tropical botanical garden teeming with butterflies. Tour guides present educational lessons on their life cycle and incredible metamorphoses while highlighting the island’s biodiversity. Photo opportunities are best early in the day, when the butterflies are most active and the sun is not hot and directly overhead.
For older children who are not afraid to get into deeper waters for true exploration, Aruba is one of the best Caribbean islands for kids, who can go snorkeling around one of the largest shipwrecks in the world. The S.S. Antilla, a 400-foot-long cargo ship, was scuttled off the coast during World War II, and it now lies in only 60 feet of clear water, with some parts of the ship even visible above the waves. It is now a habitat for colorful corals, spotted moray eels, and all types of tropical fish.
For an adventure with activities to thrill all ages, plan to spend a full day at De Palm Island. This private oasis of beaches, waterslides, alfresco eateries, and underwater activities like “snuba” is a quick boat ride away. Even those who would rather spend all day on the beach doing nothing will find that it is a destination unlike any other. Flamingos, turtles, and iguanas walk freely amongst the chaises and hammocks—this was their home first, of course.
Make a splash at Cozumel’s Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, which includes areas and activities specially designed for small children. Complimentary activities, authentic cuisine, a swim-up bar, a massive floating obstacle course, and even soothing spa treatments will keep the entire family delighted.
For an ecotourism experience for all ages, head to Xcaret. This cultural theme park can be easily visited from Cozumel by taking the ferry to Playa del Carmen on the mainland and riding down the coast. In addition to swimming lagoons, a beach, a river that allows you to float through a Mayan village, and reefs for snorkeling, Xcaret features exhibits for learning more about the flora and fauna of this region of Mexico.
Children will love spotting manatees, visiting the bird and butterfly pavilions, and building up their courage to go inside the bat cave. Restaurants, a small zone of Mayan ruins, and live performances of traditional Mayan music and dance round out the experience of Xcaret.
Cozumel is also a great jumping-off point for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza. Hailed as one of the archaeological wonders of the world, the ancient Mayan metropolis is six square miles packed with hundreds of structures that are still standing since they were built around the year 800.
Children love visiting the ballpark stadium and learning how Mayans played their favorite sport, “tlachtli,” which has elements in common with modern racquetball. Many tours to Chichen Itza also make a bonus stop at one of the many nearby swimming cenotes, so pack a swimsuit and towel to finish the hot day with a cool dip before heading back to Cozumel.
If you’ve already been to Chichen Itza, or perhaps you don’t want to dedicate an entire day to archaeology when some of the best beaches in the Caribbean are nearby, know that Cozumel is home to some more convenient ruins. Combine a day at the beach with a visit to San Gervasio, where Mayan women made pilgrimages to pay homage to Ix Chel, the Mayan goddess of fertility, birth, medicine, and weaving. View mysterious red handprints as well as ancient carvings as you learn what life was like for these ancient residents of Cozumel.
This Caribbean island is famously split in two: One side is St. Maarten and predominantly Dutch, while the other side is St. Martin, and French. A vacation to the island can mean experiencing the best of both, as it is easy to hop back and forth (and you’ll hardly know which side you’re on, save for the top languages on the business signs). Those who want a simple, easy beach day may set up shop on the sandy beachfront of downtown Philipsburg, but those willing to go farther afield will be rewarded.
Grand Case Beach is on the north side of the island and boasts brilliant views of Anguilla. This mile-long stretch of white sand is in the French part of the island, and the restaurants all around serve excellent fresh-caught fish in beurre blanc (emulsified butter sauce) as well as the usual beach favorites like burgers and BBQ chicken. Wiggle your toes in the sand and soak up the sun alongside the gentle waves while listening to the romantic tones of the French language spoken all around you.
While Grand Case is a favorite beach on the French side, the Dutch side features one that’s famous all over the world. Popular not for its sand and clear waters, but for its location at the end of the island’s runway for its major international airport, Maho Bay Beach means swimming one minute, and looking up to the belly of a landing Boeing 737 above you the next. This thrilling experience makes it one of the best Caribbean islands for families.
The beach is bookended by beach bars that have the day’s flight arrival and departure schedules written in chalk on a surfboard stood up in the sand, so you’ll know just when to be ready with your camera and when you have an hour to enjoy lunch without being interrupted by jet noise.
Aside from the beach, St. Maarten’s lush interior hides the exciting destination of Loterie Farm. This 300-year-old nature preserve of 135 acres allows children and adults to swing from the trees. A sequence of ziplines, rope swings, and wood bridges are suspended from platforms high in the tropical forest canopy. Once you’re done playing in the treetops, Loterie Farm welcomes guests to cool off in their beautiful pool.
Sapphire Beach is a favorite stop for families visiting St. Thomas. The drive takes you through the island’s countryside and the town of Red Hook before passing through mangroves to find that the waters are just as its name describes: sapphire blue. The beach includes vendors that rent loungers, umbrellas, and snorkel gear, while of course selling rum cocktails, tropical smoothies, and activities out on the water, like a ride on a banana boat.
For families who love taking an easy hike through nature before setting up on the sand at a beach, opt instead for Smith Bay Beach Park and Eco Reserve. Surrounded by groves of coconut palms and sea grapes, the site is a stunning example of the island’s coastal ecosystem in its natural state. The beach is just as sparkling blue as Sapphire Beach, but quieter and more ideal for relaxation.
Visit the island’s largest gift shop, Mountain Top at St. Peter Mountain, to find just about any souvenir, handicraft, or island specialties. It’s a great stop for kids to find gifts for their friends back home. The market is also reputed to serve up the best banana daiquiris (and non-alcoholic versions for kids) on the island.
St. Kitts & Nevis
Misty mountains and beaches that sizzle in the sunshine—St. Kitts and Nevis is a dual island nation that boasts a little bit of everything that families love so much about the islands of the Caribbean.
Pose for a family picture atop Timothy Hill on the main road that leads to the beaches to the south of St. Kitts. The popular vista includes the winding road ahead as it trails down to the southern tip of the island, with the rise of the island of Nevis just beyond, like a dot on an exclamation point.
From Timothy Hill, continue on down the road, which leads you to the lunch shacks and clear waters of Cockleshell Bay Beach. Take in the stunning views of the Atlantic to one side and the Caribbean on the other. The passage of water that separates St. Kitts and Nevis is simply called The Narrows, and swimming at Cockleshell Bay gives a prime view of the passage as well as local boat traffic that regularly makes the crossing. Relax on the sand, go for a swim, and have cash on hand to order freshly fried fish at the shacks in the shade of the palms that line this beach.
If a view of Nevis isn’t enough, catamaran tours can take you and your family across The Narrows for a beach BBQ lunch on Nevis and some free time to yourself to explore this smaller island. After all, can you really say you visited St. Kitts and Nevis if you truly only set foot on St. Kitts?
The history of the island is on display at Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once a British fort and is now one of the best-preserved historical fortifications in the whole of the Americas, with exhibits on the incredible engineering that allows it to weather the years so well.
St. Kitts is one of the best Caribbean islands for families with many intriguing sites, and the best way to see it all is with a catamaran tour and an adventure on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. The double-decker railway is an iconic piece of St. Kitts’ history, as it helped to build the island’s economy as a transport for sugarcane. Today, it winds around the island, showcasing the lush nature, captivating views, and dramatic sea vistas that make St. Kitts and Nevis a favorite family vacation destination.
To understand the significance of Puerto Rico within the Caribbean, the United States, and the world, a family’s first stop should be the historic Castillo San Cristóbal. Inside this fort at the entrance of San Juan’s Old Town, guides share the stories of the island’s battles with the Spanish, English, Dutch, and Americans over the course of centuries. The fort also offers incredible views to the historic city center it protects as well as the ocean beyond.
Conclude your tour by strolling through the Old Town and down Paseo de la Princesa, where you and your family can shop, snack, and photograph market stands and the historic architecture all around. A favorite purchase here is fresh-squeezed lemonade, which is perfect for sipping as you browse the artisans selling “mundillo” (handmade lace), coconut shell handicrafts, and hand-carved religious figurines called “santos.”
One spot you can’t miss is El Yunque National Rainforest, which is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. Located only 45 minutes from San Juan, this special ecosystem is full of colorful flora and fauna, like beautiful blooming hibiscus flowers and the cute coqui frogs. Hikes range from easy to challenging and often lead to hidden oases, like Coca Waterfall and the historic stone-built Yokahú Observation Tower (with a spiral staircase to the top). El Yunque is a sacred place—indigenous people believed the rainforest to be the domain of their chief god.
The best way to follow a visit to El Yunque is with a refreshing dip into the tantalizingly clear waters of the island’s coast, where beaches are plentiful. Continuing with the theme of visiting protected, important sites, there’s also the option to snorkel or dive in Escambrón Marine Park.
Famous for its “fish wall,” with frequent sightings of schools of blue tangs, damselfish, yellowtail snappers, and the occasional turtles, the marine park also features sunken, faux sculptures that make it seem like you’ve stumbled upon the lost city of Atlantis. Underwater, you might believe you’re way out in the ocean at a pristine reef, but the reality is that the Escambrón Marine Park is just out from the center city of San Juan, and nearby public beaches make for the perfect spot for relaxing following your adventure.
Explore the best Caribbean islands for families on a luxury cruise vacation. On a Caribbean cruise with Celebrity Cruises, choose from guided shore excursions on multiple islands that showcase the most family-friendly aspects of each port of call.
If you’re ready to experience all that the islands of the Caribbean have to offer, browse itineraries on our website and book your family getaway today.