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Buttery pastries, quaint bistros and a tropical climate? Sounds like every ingredient you could possibly want in a relaxing holiday. Martinique is a slice of France proper in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and is technically an overseas French territory. That means for every pristine beach on this isle that blends two cultures, there’s an equally beautiful, tree-lined boulevard.
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Barbados is synonymous with “sunny tropical island holiday” and it certainly lives up to its reputation. There are scores of options for luxe dining and accommodation, around 100 kilometres of beaches shaded by gently swaying palm trees and plenty for the more adventurous traveller to see, including the nests and travels of beautiful Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles.
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The residents of this southern Caribbean island take protecting its natural beauty very seriously – so seriously, in fact, that 20 per cent of the island proper and every inch of the water surrounding it are designated as national parks. Consequently, any stay here is about truly appreciating the wonders around you, from the wetlands and lagoons favoured by flamingos to the trees endangered yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots nest in to the coral nurseries dedicated to rejuvenating and protecting the reefs.
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Yes, Aruba’s beaches are postcard perfect – especially the fofoti tree-lined white sands of Eagle Beach. But there’s plenty more to see and do on this island that might surprise you. For starters, its 110,000-strong population is made up of people from more than 90 different nations and four languages (Dutch, Papiamento, English and Spanish) are regularly spoken. For history buffs, Aruba has a 200-year-old gold-mining history, best showcased in the remains of two abandoned gold mills.
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Found in the eastern cluster of the Caribbean isles, Anguilla was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017 – but it’s keen to welcome tourists back to its stunning stretches of sand. The majority of restaurants, hotels and activity providers have reopened, with many more set to in the latter half of 2018 so it’s the perfect opportunity to plan ahead. Most of the nightlife centres on the relaxed village of Sandy Ground so look for accommodation that places you in the throng.
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Its main attractions might have foreboding names such as “The Valley of Desolation” and “Boiling Lake” but don’t be fooled – some of the Caribbean’s most incredible natural beauty can be found here. Boiling Lake, for example, in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, is sight to behold after a three-hour hike: a cauldron of lividus-hued water bubbling at the behest of the molten lava below the earth’s surface.
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Just one of more than 50 isles that make up the British Virgin Islands, Tortola is the largest and most populated – but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your deserted-island dreams here. Alongside the more visited beaches, there are many secret surfing spots and sandy shores where you can lay down your towel with just a few other savvy travellers. Brewers Bay, a sheltered cove on the northern shore, is one to seek out if you’re after a peaceful afternoon – but you’ll need to find it yourself.
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As the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise proved, when you think of the Caribbean, you think of swashbuckling pirates and rum. And on Grenada, aside from the curved beaches lined with almond trees, sea grapes and waterfalls so magical they’re surely hiding an entrance to another world, you’ll find the region’s oldest functioning rum distillery, River Antoine. Tours of the almost 200-year-old property are available for less than $5.
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The fourth-largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica is arguably one of the most famous, as much for its laid-back lifestyle as for the story of its unlikely bobsledding team. Popular resort areas around Montego Bay, Kingston and Port Antonio are ideal bases for exploring the wider island, including an excursion to the love heart-shaped pool at Reach Falls or dancing to buskers playing reggae in the capital.
Jost Van Dyke
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Another jewel in the BVI line-up, Jost Van Dyke is a speck of land home to less than 300 people but home to many whales, dolphins and other curious sea creatures. Named for a Dutch settler inclined to piracy, this island is zigzagged by walking trails that lead modern-day explorers on winding routes through its coconut palms. When you’ve exercised enough, visit Foxy’s for a steaming bowl of Caribbean speciality, conch stew.
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The busiest and biggest island of Turks and Caicos, Grand Turk is a likely port if you’re cruising around the balmy region thanks to a state-of-the-art cruise hub. As well as a fairly impressive historical centre – the island is thought to be Christopher Columbus’s first stop – it’s also a hub for keen divers thanks to a coral reef easily accessible from the beach and a regular crew of humpback whales that migrate past each year.
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Dive! Dive! Dive! That’s all you’ll be doing on a sojourn to this isle that’s, obviously, one of three Cayman Islands. The skinny, stretched islet that measures 16 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres is where you’ll start to begin exploring the underwater world that surrounds this island cluster, including coral canyons, eagle ray habitats and Bloody Bay Wall, a vertical drop of coral beneath the waves.
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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is actually made up of more than two islands – there are in fact 32 in these Lesser Antilles. Mayreau, the smallest of them all, isn’t as flashy as some of its sisters (access is by boat only) but therein lies its charm: a chance to slow down and really soak up the Caribbean.
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Princess Margaret certainly enjoyed the finer things in life and her island getaway of choice is no exception. The late British Royal visited Mustique so often that she eventually bought a holiday home here – though holiday mansion is probably a more appropriate description. And should you wish to live like royalty for a few notes, her villa is now available for the public to rent.
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If you hit the Bahamas, you hit New Providence. Once a hub for pirates, it now hosts the capital, Nassau, and is the starting point for travellers then tripping to one of the other 700 islands in the archipelago. It’s home to enormous resorts, plenty of beach and nightclubs and a generally bustling, fun-loving vibe.
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The smaller half of water-bound nation Saint Kitts & Nevis, this island manages to pack a lot into its surface area. In addition to glorious beaches, there’s an enormous, tree-lined volcano that offers eager climbers an unparalleled view of other Caribbean islands in the distance; gorgeous plantation-style hotels; and, for fans of the eponymous musical, the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.
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You probably know this rocky outcrop better as St Barths, holiday playground for celebrities. But don’t let that put you off – there’s more to do than spot off-duty actors drinking cocktails. Once you tire of relaxing in the sun with a good book, venture to the shore to hire a jet ski or motor-powered yacht, drop some serious cash in the many duty-free boutiques or indulge in a decadent dinner at one of the fine-dining restaurants.
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Pack your hiking boots alongside your bikini if you choose a sojourn on this wild isle. Looming over the rainforests below, the arrow-shaped peaks of the protected Piton mountains are ripe for adventurers of all kinds, from hikers to mountain bikers and zipliners. Prefer a more leisurely holiday? Then visit one of the multiple hot mud pools at Soufriere to rejuvenate your skin and soul.
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There’s plenty packed into this Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela but first things first. On arriving at your hotel, order yourself a sea-blue drink made with the island’s namesake spirit. Then, take a walk in Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its collection of lolly-hued colonial architecture that dates back to the 1600s. Continue your stroll past some of the incredible street art murals before driving a maximum of 125 minutes to one of the isle’s 35 beaches.