More than 7,000 islands in the Caribbean Sea are blessed with near-perfect weather, white-sand beaches, and brilliantly blue waters. It’s no surprise the 100 or so inhabited islands are beloved vacation destinations for visitors from around the world.
While the islands have much in common with one another, their histories, natural resources, topography, and cultures pose fascinating distinctions. Centuries of influence from European countries, Africa, and other parts of the world have created the music, art, customs, languages, and cuisine of the islands today. In many places, well-preserved architecture tells the story of the destination’s past.
Visiting the Caribbean is convenient, with air service to most islands, while some require boats or ferries to reach their final destinations – part of the fun of travel. Places to stay range from quaint bed-and-breakfasts to luxurious resorts and everything in between. Each island offers stunning beauty, and we’re sharing some of our favorites here. Here are 18 of the most beautiful Caribbean islands.
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
The third largest of the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda is known for its pristine beaches, history, nature sanctuaries, and the Baths — pools and seawater grottos formed by huge granite boulders. White-sand shores include nearby Spring Bay, with clear water for snorkeling, an expansive lawn, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and a natural swimming pool created by a circle of boulders.
This volcanic island is known for its beaches, rain forests, turquoise waters, and the beautiful Piton mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hikers can enjoy the views, wildlife, and a variety of flora on the lush mountains. Mineral-rich mud pools, thermal baths, and sulfur springs are reminders of the island’s volcanic origins. The beauty continues under the sea, where divers and snorkelers can see coral, colorful tropical fish, and sea turtles.
This beautiful island is nicknamed the “Spice Isle” for its production of spices, including nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, and vanilla. White-sand beaches on its 75 miles of coastline, rain forests, and waterfalls are part of the appeal, as is its vibrant culture, ancient rum distilleries, and historic architecture. Divers can enjoy its coral reefs, shipwrecks, and underwater sculpture park.
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica offers untouched natural beauty, rivers, rain forests, mountains, and waterfalls. A unique feature on the island is Boiling Lake, a flooded volcanic fumarole that bubbles from the molten magma below. The main town on the island’s north coast is Calibishie, an ancient fishing village lying just a mile from its seashore location to the rain forest.
Known for upscale resorts, villas, boutiques, and visiting yachts, St. Barts is a small eight-square-mile island with white-sand beaches, lagoons, and inlets. An undersea nature reserve protects the shallow coral reefs surrounding the island, and snorkeling among colorful marine life and a sunken yacht are favorite activities. The capital, Gustavia, is a picturesque harbor with promenades, historic buildings, and restaurants.
Located just about 600 miles from Miami, Jamaica’s beaches, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife provide visitors with a range of things to do and see. In addition to its sandy shores, Jamaica offers rivers flowing from its mountains into the Caribbean. Dunn’s River Falls attracts hikers as well as beachgoers who swim in the shallow waters at the base of the waterfall or relax on the white-sand beach.
From beaches to mountains to rain forests, Puerto Rico offers a diverse environment. El Yunque National Forest includes natural pools, waterfalls, and hiking trails. With more than 270 miles of coastline, Puerto Rico’s beaches range from secluded coves to lively white-sand stretches with swimming, diving, and water sports. The rare bioluminescent bays are thrilling places where the water glows, thanks to microscopic organisms that are stimulated by movement.
Turks and Caicos
This British Overseas Territory consists of two island groups totaling about 100 islands, with nine inhabited. Known for great weather, the islands receive minimal rainfall and the average annual temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The island of Providenciales is home to the majority of hotels and resorts. Grace Bay Beach offers soft white sand, calm seas, and an extensive barrier reef. Kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, and paddleboarding are popular activities here.
Located in the eastern Caribbean, Anguilla combines modern, luxurious resorts with a history that includes a plantation house dating back to 1785 and several well-preserved reminders of the island’s past. Soft sand and clear, warm waters attract visitors to the island’s resorts on the east end’s Shoal Bay and the west end’s Meads Bay, Rendezvous Bay, and other beautiful areas.
Necker Island and Moskito Island
Sir Richard Branson’s private islands are a few of the Caribbean’s loveliest. Necker Island, a mile north of Virgin Gorda, features plush villas, lush landscaping, and a variety of wildlife, cared for by a team of conservationists. Moskito Island, just across from Necker Island, also offers natural beauty surrounded by clear, blue waters, with estates available for guest buyouts.
The largest of the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman combines coral sand and a lively waterfront with restaurants and beach bars on its famed Seven Mile Beach. In George Town, visitors can enjoy duty-free shopping at designer stores and browsing among traditional buildings. At Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, visitors will find rare blue iguanas, tropical gardens, and a two-acre lake with unique aquatic birds and animals.
Located off the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cozumel is on the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Snorkeling and diving in the clear waters around the reef or relaxing on the sandy beaches are just a few ways to enjoy the island. Hikers love Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, especially when they reach the top to take in the 360-degree views.
Martinique is located north of St. Lucia, and Mont Pelée, an active volcano, is one of the island’s natural wonders. Gorgeous beaches, rain forests, and mountains provide visitors with adventures like hiking, kayaking, and exploring the island’s protected parkland. Historic shipwrecks and the island’s abundant marine life make diving a popular attraction, too, along with Martinique’s famed rum and cuisine.
The easternmost of the Caribbean islands, Barbados boasts more than 80 white-sand beaches, snorkeling and diving among marine life and shipwrecks, and some of the Caribbean’s best rum. The island’s breezes are perfect for kitesurfing, and water sports like jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, deep-sea fishing, and surfing are popular as well.
U.S. Virgin Islands
About 100 miles from Puerto Rico, this archipelago consists of three main islands: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, the largest. Known for duty-free shopping, the U.S. Virgin Islands offer much more than bargains, although it’s fun to come home with a special purchase. Visitors can snorkel among coral reefs, mangroves, and colorful marine life. On St. John, the Virgin Islands National Park is home to beaches, hiking trails, and historic ruins.
One of the so-called ABC Islands, along with Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao is located in the southern Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela. The largest of the three islands, Curaçao offers Caribbean culture with a bit of Dutch flavor, reflecting its heritage. The lovely beaches, historic buildings, nightlife, and location outside of the hurricane belt are all part of the allure.
There are more than 700 islands of the Bahamas, all of them beautiful and some quite unique. Paradise Island features modern resorts, nightlife, and casinos; Eleuthera is more secluded, with pink-sand beaches and historic architecture; and on the Exumas, swimming pigs the attraction, as is a marine reserve that protects the beautiful undersea life. The Abaco Islands, meanwhile, are known for fishing, sailing, boating, and charming colonial towns.