The island states of the Caribbean have long been a hit with honeymooners and retirees looking for a laid-back holiday, and many of these destinations are becoming popular for nature excursions too.
Spread across the Caribbean Sea between North and South America and easily accessed from Europe, the region is perfect for cruising, with many of its ports and beaches considered to be among the best in the world.
Choose an island to explore or embark on a Caribbean cruise to see the highlights of the region, from Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman to the forests of Puerto Rico and the alpine landscapes of the Dominican Republic.
With a history of colonialism, piracy and Cold War tension, the islands of the Caribbean have to offer than just beaches.
- Currency - the East Caribbean Dollar is used in 8 countries and territories and the US Dollar is also widespread as an official or secondary currency, meaning you won't have to worry about changing your money between most destinations. Some European territories use the euro and individual currencies.
- Population - nearly 40 million people inhabit the islands of the Caribbean, the largest populations belonging to Cuba (11.2 million), Haiti (10.7 million) and the Dominican Republic (9.7 million). Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are each home to several million people.
- Language - the mixed colonial history of the region is reflected in its diversity of languages, with English, Dutch, French and Spanish being official languages in various territories alongside official and informal creoles.
- Time Zone - most destinations in the Western Caribbean follow Eastern Standard Time (EST), which is 5 hours behind Universal Coordinated Time (UTC-5). The Eastern Caribbean uses Atlantic Standard Time (AST), which is 4 hours behind (UTC-4). There are some regional variations, including Daylight Saving Time, which is observed in several countries including Cuba, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Who goes there?
The Caribbean is one of the most well established cruise regions in the world, and many cruise lines depart from North America, Europe and even further abroad.
Major cruise lines including Carnival, Disney, Princess and Royal Caribbean International offer cruises all year round. Seasonal cruises are offered by Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises from North America and by Costa, MSC Cruises and Silversea from Europe.
Best time to go?
The busiest time for Caribbean cruises is from December to March, as international travellers seek escape from the cold winter weather back home. Low season is between June and November, when storms and hurricanes are most likely.
- Jamaica - a favourite stop on Caribbean cruises, Jamaica has something for everyone – family-friendly swimming and shopping at Montego Bay, romantic sunsets at Negril and waterfalls and mountain adventures at Ocho Rios. Jamaica boasts some of the region's leading visitor attractions including the waterslides of Mystic Mountain and memorable animal encounters at Dolphin Cove.
- Puerto Rico - popular for eco-tours, water sports and historical explorations, Puerto Rico offers plenty to keep visitors busy, whether you stick to the tourist spots or venture off the beaten path to discover unspoilt beaches, scenic caves and rare birds. San Juan is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean, with fortifications and churches dating back to the 16th century.
- Dominican Republic - sharing the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the most diverse terrain lies on the Dominican side. The north shore is a haven for thrill-seekers, from water sports to canyoning, and there's plenty of nature to explore from mountains to desert plains.
- Saint Martin - divided between the French and the Dutch, the two halves of Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten have held on to their distinctive heritage, so visitors can enjoy the best of European cuisine. Philipsburg is one of the most popular shopping spots in the Caribbean for duty free bargains.