The island countries in the Southern Caribbean start at Dominica and bend southward to Trinidad and Tobago. Each island is quite small, with populations from 70,000 up to 1.5 million. You won’t find “big cities” – but rather, small towns and even smaller villages. When traveling throughout the Southern Caribbean, there are a great many things to see and do and places to visit. Here are 10 must-see places in the Southern Caribbean.
Most of the Southern Caribbean islands were colonized by either British, French, Spanish or Dutch explorers from the 15th to 20th centuries, and those influences remain visible in the various islands to the present day. For example, French is still spoken in Martinique, cricket is the most popular sport in the British Caribbean islands, and the French fashion boutiques and patisseries in St. Martin make it feel 100 percent like its homeland!
1. San Juan Puerto Rico National Historic Site – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, this area includes several tourist-worthy locations: Castillo San Cristobal; Castillo San Felipe del Morro; City Walls of Old San Juan; and Fortin San Juan de la Cruz (El Canuelo). Castillo San Cristobal is a fort built by Spain in 1783 to protect against land-based attacks on the city of San Juan. It is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a 16th-century citadel named in honor of King Philip II Of Spain. It was designed to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay and defend this port city from seaborne enemies. On the opposite side of the bay, a smaller fortification known as El Canuelo complemented the Castillo’s defense of the entrance to the harbor. Over two million visitors a year explore this collection of historical sites, making it one of Puerto Rico’s leading tourist attractions.
2. Pitons/Soufriere in St. Lucia – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
The landmark Pitons (a UNESCO site) are two volcanic spires about 2600 feet high located directly on the sea. There are a couple wonderful options for hiking and sightseeing in this area – one option is a trail in between the two mountains with incredible views, as well as a 4-hour trail up to the top for the more experienced hiker. Below the Pitons is the seaside town of Soufriere – the original capital of St. Lucia is a charming place with painted wooden storefronts and a bustling restaurant and shopping district along the coast.
3. Sulphur Springs in St. Lucia – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Soufriere is French for “sulphur,” so no wonder another destination in this area is Sulphur Springs…. the world’s only drive in volcano. Walk along the springs and pathways and you will see volcanic steam rising from vents in the crater. Also nearby are the Diamond Mineral Baths which can sooth aching muscles from the hike to the top of the Pitons, as well as the Diamond Mineral Baths Waterfall, which changes color during the day going from green to yellow to black and back again.
4. Maho Beach in St. Maarten – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Sitting at the end of the runway at St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport, Maho Beach draws thousands of visitors each year to watch giant passenger jets (coming in for landing) fly over the sand only a few hundred feet up. As you can imagine, it’s quite a site to see. Some of the more daring beachgoers will grab ahold of the airport’s fence and hang on as they are buffeted by the back blast from incoming jet engines. Watching or partaking in this ritual will be one of the more unusual experiences you’ll have on this island!
5. Maranatha Gardens in St. Lucia – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
When you step into Maranatha Gardens you are immediately transported to a tranquil, botanical paradise. Walk along the curving pathways to view a multitude of flora and fauna – balisier “crab claw” heliconia, ginger, torch lilies, roses, wild red cocchinea, tuberosa vines, and hibiscus are just some of the beautiful plants and flowers you’ll see. The owner of the gardens considers it not just a flower garden, but a prayer sanctuary. The name Maranatha means “Lord Come,” and whether you consider yourself religious or not, you can’t help but feel at peace here – inspired and your spirit renewed.
6. Brimstone Hill Fortress in St. Kitts – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
As one of Britain’s earliest colonies, St. Kitts was so highly prized that the vast Brimstone Hill Fortress was built to defend it. It is approximately 240 meters above sea level, and is a breathtaking complex constructed around 1690 by African slave labor. The museum on site provides interesting insight into what life would have been like for soldiers as well as slaves to live in these dramatic surroundings. It was once called the “Gibraltar of the West Indies” for its domination of 18th century battles, and the complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Interesting areas that can be toured are the imposing Fort George Citadel (which includes the museum), the Magazine Bastion, ruins of various Officers’ Quarters, and ruins of the barracks.
7. Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik in St. Kitts – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Romney Manor was built by an early colonist named Samuel Jefferson, who is believed to be the great-great-great-grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. Since the 1970s it has been the home of the Caribelle Batik workshop and store, which has acquired an international reputation for fine batik products (clothing and accessories) made of quality fabrics. Visitors can watch local artists expertly demonstrating batik techniques, along with a full narration of the ancient art form and its history. A separate portion of the estate has been transformed into a beautiful garden, mixing tropical plants of the Caribbean with European manicured lawns. Note the Saman tree in the garden which is said to be 350 years old.
8. Wingfield Estate in St. Kitts – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Next to Romney Manor is Wingfield Estate. One of the first sugar plantations in the Caribbean dating back to the mid-1600s, you’ll find ruins of the St. Kitts sugar mills, a distillery and an aqueduct system that brought water from the Wingfield river. You’ll also see petroglyphs as you approach Wingfield Estate. These intriguing rock carvings were made by the original Carib inhabitants before the Europeans arrived in the 17th century. The petroglyphs look slightly crude, as if recently painted over in white, but these rock drawings are said to be very much authentic and in their original location. Some experts think they depict images of the Carib gods, but others believe they are fertility symbols.
9. Orchid World and Tropical Flower Garden in Barbados – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Surrounded by sugarcane fields in the heart of Barbados, this garden is located on a six-acre property with lovely country views. At an elevation of approximately 800 feet above sea level, it is an ideal location for growing and displaying more than 1000 orchids, as well as hundreds of other Caribbean plants and flowers. Landscaped, meandering paths lead visitors past a waterfall, through a coral grotto, and eventually through five orchid houses with stunning blooms. Each turn of a corner offers a different view or new floral delight.
10. Mountain Top in St. Thomas – 10 Must-See Places in the Southern Caribbean
Located on the highest point of St. Thomas (1547 feet) and overlooking famous Magens Bay, Mountain Top offers visitors stunning panoramic views from its expansive observation deck of the Caribbean, St. John and the nearby British Virgin Islands, as well as other various inlets and cays. The Banana Daquiri was created here by British sea captain George Soule, and the more than 3 million visitors a year can purchase and enjoy one at the Mountain Top bar while taking in the fabulous scenery and duty-free shopping!