I spent 18 days on the islands of the Caribbean Sea. We didn't have a lot of time to laze freely on each individual island, but it was enough to get an idea of the area and where we would like to return. So we tried to tell in this article what we learned from this trip, and our experience might be useful to you if you want to come this way. So let's proceed.
1. How do we get here from Europe?
Our route was London-Paris and then, from Paris Orly, we had a direct flight to Guadeloupa-Point a Pitre. From Paris, you can find a lot of flight options with different companies, the cheapest we found being with Level, a low-cost company belonging to the Iberia group. I paid 130 euros for the Paris-Point a Pitre segment, with meals included, but without checked luggage, because I didn't need it.
Flights from London are also available to Martinique and St. Maarten, both ways with KLM/Air France. From Berlin, on the other hand, there are even more flights to even more islands, such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts, and Nevis with British Airways.
Another good option would be to fly to Miami (for which, however, you need a US visa), and from there either take another connecting flight, as we did when leaving the Caribbean (with Norwegian), or you board a cruise ship directly, given the fact that it is an important port from where they depart for all kinds of islands in the Caribbean.
2. Cruise or do it yourself?
Many people prefer to visit this area on board a cruise ship and that's what we chose.
When it's cheaper, it's cheaper and we recognize it. Just as a vacation to Egypt, for example, is more convenient when you buy it through a travel agency that has special contracts with local hotels and agencies, so are certain cruise ship itineraries.
Thus, a cruise of 14 nights and 10 islands costs starting (depending on the cabin chosen) from 750 euros to which 140 euros are added for tips (gratuities) and an average of 30 euros per day for trips to the islands (so a total of 360 euros for 12 days, because you spend two days at sea). In total, it comes to approximately 1300 euros, to which are also added the plane tickets.
For us, for example, the plane tickets cost us around 450 euros round trip. All the more so since the cruise also provides you with the transfer between the islands, as well as three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and activities on the ship (shows, fitness room, swimming pools, etc.).
Organizing on your own would involve two or three nights' accommodation on each island (so an average of 100 euros per night for a double room), food two or three times a day (the menu costs around 15-20 dollars ), transportation between islands by plane (on average, a flight costs about 80-100 euros), transfer to and from the airport, to which are added excursions to tourist attractions, respectively transportation by taxi or bus.
Doing a calculation, 14 days with 6 islands visited would cost 2500-3000 euros per person. Basically the same number of days, but fewer islands visited.
It is also true that this way you have the opportunity to stay longer in one place, something that we would have liked in certain islands, such as Antigua, Tobago or Barbados. However, we were able to get an idea of the islands we like and where we would always return for a longer period of time, without the curiosity of a longer and more complex route gnawing away.
If you have a limited budget, but you want to visit the islands of the Caribbean Sea, we recommend that you look for offers from agencies that sell cruises. It's possible to find incredibly low prices, especially if you book months in advance. If, on the other hand, you have a more generous budget and more time, plan a do-it-yourself vacation where you spend more time on each island and digest everything properly, without rushing.
3. The Lesser Antilles are expensive
Whatever you hear left and right, know that the Lesser Antilles are not cheap places. And you don't have to take our word for it, you can make up your own mind by checking domestic flights (the airlines connecting the islands are called Liat and Winair). For accommodation, you can take a look at Booking or even Airbnb (we also tested the latter in Guadeloupe).
As a currency, you can confidently use US dollars. Each island uses the Caribbean dollar (purchasing power differs from one island to another, so you can't use the same Caribbean dollars everywhere) and the US dollar (this is a kind of universal currency).
4. The best time to visit the Lesser Antilles
The hurricane season is from June to November, and the best time to visit the islands is from December to April. The weather is wonderful in the tropics: there is a pleasant breeze, the temperatures hover around 30 degrees, and the sea water is boiling, but that does not mean that from time to time you cannot wake up, on an unsettling table, with clouds in the sky and a little rain.
Come on, a little in Martinique, because on one of the 2 days I spent on the island it rained, and the beach with cloudy skies and light rain doesn't seem to go in the Caribbean all day.
The Caribbean sun has some of the strongest UV radiation in the world. Because it is so close to the equator, the sun's rays have a shorter distance to travel to the earth, and the ozone layer is thinner here anyway, so less radiation is absorbed. Which is why don't forget to bring sunscreen and a hat from home.
5. Visa is not required to visit the Lesser Antilles
The good news is that in this part of the world, you don't need a visa. You go with your passport and that's it. Moreover, some islands such as Guadeloupe and Martinique are part of the EU, belonging to France, as remote territories, so you can also enter with the bulletin. Roaming also works here, and the currency is the euro.
Visiting these islands as part of a cruise, I did not experience any kind of control when arriving or leaving the islands.
6. People and spoken language
As with anywhere in the world, all kinds of people live on the islands here. Let's start with the fact that the West Indies, as these islands are also called, have a predominantly black population that has its roots in the African population brought by the colonists.
And, as I said, I met all kinds of people: from the very friendly ones, like those from Barbados or Antigua, to the locals who just wanted to "moan" you without showing you a bit of sympathy, as I had the impression in Grenada, or at the simply arrogant locals like those from Martinique.
English is spoken on all the islands, but Creole, the dialect of this area, is equally common. English can sometimes be hard to understand because of the accent, and sometimes it can be a really nice job. Our guide from Antigua told us, for example, about the "bonana" (banana) crops or that they take their children to school "to upgrade themselves".
7. Safety in the Lesser Antilles
In terms of safety, we didn't have any problems. Crime is very low on most of the islands, something we noticed as well. The people are quiet, waiting for their tourists and doing what they do best: dealing with tourism, growing exotic fruits and cane, and making rum.
However, we had two experiences that brought us down to earth. One of them was in St. Maarten. I went for a walk with a local woman who I later found out was from Colombia.
Very nice girl, by the way. In the parking lot near Maho beach, a Haitian hit her car, after which he insulted her and turned back, at which point the scandal began: swear at her (Hijo de puta and what else was she saying on there), threats, the family calls, more like in the favelas in Brazil.
The girl then told us that life is not so rosy on the island and that you have to be strong to resist, and that's because there are many immigrants. By the way, I also passed through the infamous neighborhood of the French side, and the houses all had grills because you risk being robbed.
The second experience was in St. Vincent. As we were quietly sitting on the side of the road and waiting for the bus in the Wallilabou Bay area, where "Pirates of the Caribbean" was filmed, we crossed paths with a group of locals, about five in number. All fine and dandy, except that one of them, had a rifle on his arm and a machete in the other hand.
Another was carrying two iguanas more than a meter long. They entered into conversation with us, and thus we learned that it was the season for hunting iguanas and that they used to eat them boiled. The "hunter" had red eyes, and his only question was if we were smoking ganja. We declined as politely as we could and continued on our way. It seemed strange to us, however, to see an armed man in the middle of the road, even for an iguana hunt.
8. Public transport, taxi, or organized tours?
I tested them all, except renting a scooter or a car, but I found out from other tourists and their prices.
In general, we read something about each island before we got there, and decided on the spot which option we choose. On some islands, the bus station is quite close to the port and runs quite often. On others, however, public transport is non-existent, so we had to resort to organized tours. For tours, a group of at least six people is generally gathered, and this is to share the cost of the car.
When we were dying to see certain places we had read about in advance and they were not on the tour schedule, we called on taxi drivers whom we paid to follow us and take us where we wanted (as was the case in Tobago).
The last option was also the most expensive, the local bus is, instead, the cheapest possible (tickets start at 1.2 dollars).
An Italian couple on the ship rented a scooter on one of the islands for $120 for three hours. On another day, a group of people chose to visit an island with a rented car for 120 euros all day. We say it's cost-effective for a group larger than four people, not to mention complete freedom. If you book ahead of time, online, it is possible to find better prices.
9. Rum was invented here
On the island of Barbados, to be exact. We don't go crazy for rum, but in combination with lemon juice, coconut juice, or other crazy things from which some delicious cocktails come out, we don't refuse it.
The substance distilled from sugar cane molasses was originally known as "Kill Devil". How the name came to morph into rum is shrouded in mystery. But many believe it has to do with the liquid stored in a cask sold in a tavern owned by Captain Rumball in Barbados. This unique drink apparently took its name from the owner and was referred to as Rum.
Rum played a very important role in the culture of most of the islands of the West Indies and still does today. It also served as a popular medium of economic exchange, used to help finance enterprises such as slavery or organized crime.
Thus, on all the islands we visited, we saw entire fields of sugar cane, distilleries where rum is still produced, some over 400 years old, distilleries that you can visit, and where you can even taste all kinds of rum combinations. Not to mention that you can learn a lot about this liquor that is now known all over the world and present in all bars.
Having said that, we can only hope that the information we gathered will help you organize your next vacation. We assure you that you will see some of the most exotic beaches on Earth, a unique culture, and the color and temperature of the water that you rarely get to meet. And you will keep all this in your mind for a long time, especially in the cold winter months.
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