5 Stunning Underrated Caribbean Islands to Visit on an Expedition Cruise
The Caribbean is dotted with hundreds of idyllic places for all kinds of getaways. The blue waters, warm temps and soft sands beckon travellers of all types – whether you are seeking a relaxing vacation or want to dive into thrilling adventures.
Places like Cancun, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, the Bahamas and Aruba are brilliant destinations, for sure. But they also draw huge numbers of tourists. For me, I love to escape the crowds and find little gems that still own plenty of mystique and charm.
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Several wonderful Caribbean islands still retain that “undiscovered” feel and are perfect for travellers in search of a little tranquility. This is because they are a bit out of the way, best reached by small expedition ships in many cases.
I discovered five wonderful Caribbean islands that you will love on my luxury expedition cruise on the new Crystal Endeavor (launched 2021) from Crystal Cruises. Not only was I cruising in style, but I also was accompanied by expert guides along the way. These expedition team leaders helped highlight the birdlife, marine creatures and geology of the islands as we took part in adventures such as sea kayaking, hiking, snorkeling and other exploration.
Next time you are considering booking a trip to a Caribbean paradise, you’ll want to consider these extra special Caribbean island destinations.
Great Exuma Island, Bahamas
Great Exuma is the largest of a district of beautiful cays (more than 350 small islands of Exuma), and it spans about 60 square miles. It is well known for its soft sand beaches and beautiful waters (well, isn’t this all of the Bahamas, actually?).
I went for a snorkeling outing during my day on the island. The temps all week during my late-October visit throughout the Caribbean ranged from 26 to 28 degrees, with crystal clear and warm waters, as well.
Great Exuma offers plenty of resorts and other hotel options for visitors, and attractions available from the cay, other than beaches and water sports, include shark diving, swimming with the pigs of Big Major Cay, visit the iguanas of Sandy Cay or the sea stars at the shallow waters of Starfish Reserve.
The region is designated as Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a protected area of blue holes, estuaries and healthy coral reef. Look for white-tailed tropicbirds, terns and the rare hutia (a rodent mammal).
Inagua Island, Bahamas
This is a truly remote place. We arrived at Man of War Bay, and Crystal Endeavor anchored to allow us to do snorkeling and Zodiac tours of the island's coast line, where we spotted pelicans and other seabirds.
If you come to Inagua, you have few accommodations to choose from. One lodge and a couple guest houses. But you can always come by small boat such as a catamaran charter, which can work into your plan to visit several serene islands in the Bahamas during your trip.
Water activities and Inagua National Park represent the highlights of the island. The park covers a huge portion of the island and is a noted bird watchers haven and for its role in helping to rehabilitate flamingoes. Inagua National Park (established in 1965) now has the world’s largest breeding colony of West Indies flamingoes.
It’s also home to wild donkeys, terrapins and a number of other bird species, such as the Bahama Parrot, the endemic woodstar hummingbird, brown pelicans, herons, snowy egrets, cormorants, spoonbills and burrowing owls.
Gustavia, St. Barts
OK, so this playground of the well-heeled is hardly an unknown. But this lush capital on the French Caribbean island of St. Barthelemy, is also not out of reach for the typical traveller. You can find all kinds of accommodations that put you close to the idyllic waters and any number of the island’s 14 piblic beaches.
We spent time here during our port stop with Crystal Endeavor snorkeling, hiking and roaming the town for a bit of window shopping, as well as sipping a cold beer and enjoying the vibe.
Jost Van Dyke
Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke
We made stops at two spectacularly scenic bays and harbours here. Catamarans and sailboats dot the waters just offshore, and travellers visit to party at the beach bars and bask in the glory of the sun, sands and warms waters.
White Bay is home to the famous Soggy Dollar Bar, which serves up its Painkiller and other powerful and tasty rum drinks. The volcanic island is mountainous, offering a range of fun hikes and sweeping views.
After our time at White Bay, we hiked up and over the ridge of the mountain to reach Great Harbour, which has a more secluded and protected beachfront and is home to the famous Foxy’s bar and restaurant, a sprawling rustic hot spot known for its live music, great parties and spice-infused rum drinks.
Saba, Netherlands Antilles
This spot is a real stunner and thoroughly underrated in the Caribbean. Saba is a tiny dot that rises out of the Caribbean Sea to give views that look to St. Maarten, Anguilla, St. Barts and St. Kitts and Nevis.
Saba is home to about 2,000 residents on its five square miles, and the two towns, The Bottom and Windwardside, located atop the island’s “Road” are where you can find shops, restaurants, an art gallery and services like the dive center.
The island is surrounded by a marine reserve and is a paradise for avid divers. Aside from diving, snorkeling and kayaking, the island offers a few nice hikes, with the Mount Scenery Trail as the most well known. This 2.1-mile out-and-back path takes you into the clouds with amazing views on a clear day. The trailhead is easily located in Windwardside.