1. US Virgin Islands
DAY 1: St. Thomas to St. John
DAY 2: Whistling Cay to Waterlemon Cay
DAY 3: Newfound Bay to Coral Bay
DAY 4: Congo Cay to Magens Bay
DAY 5: Magens Bay
DAY 6: Buck Island
DAY 7: Buck Island to Water Island
DAY 8: Charlotte Amalie
From Yacht Haven Marina in St. Thomas, this journey slides out into a location of the world that’s part of the United States but culturally all Caribbean. From St. Thomas, travelers go to St. John and anchor in Francis Bay.
Two thirds of St. John is made up of Virgin Islands National Park, making this one of the most pristine parts of the USVI. The Francis Bay Trail includes the historic Francis Bay Estate house; otherwise, you’re out in nature. Nearby Whistling Cay offers great coral reef snorkeling opportunities, or take the dingy over for a chance to snorkel the rich coral reefs teeming with marine life. While Waterlemon Cay’s all about the salt-flats fishing.
At Coral Bay, a unique lunch awaits at Lime Out, a floating taco boat is 200 feet off the beach, while Salt Pond Bay and Rams Head Trail offer quieter pleasures by land and sea. Congo Cay and Magens Bay offer some of the trip’s best watersports and exploration opportunities; the diving’s great at Carvel Rock while Mingo Cay’s known for surfing the cut. And beautiful Magens Bay is among the USVI’s most popular.
Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge is just as remote and peaceful as it sounds, and it’s possible to snorkel the shipwreck Cartanza or head over to Turtle Cove to swim with the, um, turtles. And after all this nature, finish off the trip with a stroll through historic, colorful (and shops-aplenty) Charlotte Amalie.
2. The Exumas
DAY 1: Nassau to Highbourne Cay
DAY 2: Highbourne Cay to Shroud Cay
DAY 3: Shroud Cay to Compass Cay
DAY 4: Compass Cay to Big Majors
DAY 5: Big Majors & Staniel Cay
DAY 6: Staniel Cay to Great Guana Cay
DAY 7: Great Guana Cay to Nassau
The Bahamas may be Florida’s closest Caribbean neighbor, but the country still offers a taste of the exotic – particularly if you can get to some of the harder-to-reach spots of the Exumas, the largely unspoiled series of more than 360 islands.
From Nassau, the voyage first heads to jumping-off point Highbourne Cay and then Shroud Cay, an uninhabited archipelago that’s part of Exuma Cays Land & Seas Park. There’s great diving, including at Norman’s Cay where you can dive the sunken plane with alleged ties to drug lord Pablo Escobar.
On Compass Cay, once a popular haunt of pirates, a hike up BooBoo Hill offers a great payoff in the form of panoramic views. Colorful wild birds are everywhere, and at Warderick Well you can check out the sun-bleached skeleton of a sperm whale that washed ashore. Compass Cay Marina is filled with fish including snapper and the Bahamas’ ubiquitous bonefish.
You might know Big Major Cay by its nickname, Pig Beach. Yup, this is where the wild, swimming pigs will come right up to you. Beware – these are wild animals. But they’re pretty used to humans by now. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club offers some of the best Bahamian cuisine around, while Guana Cay is laid back and home to beautiful Black Point Beach.
3. The ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao)
DAY 1: Bonaire
DAY 2: Bonaire
DAY 3: Bonaire to Klien, Curaçao
DAY 4: Spanish Waters, Curaçao
DAY 5: Willemstad, Curaçao
DAY 6: Eagle Beach, Aruba
DAY 7: Aruba
DAY 8: Aruba
Bonaire takes conservation seriously, so much so that its entire coastline is a protected area. That makes for some amazing diving, snorkeling and kayaking opportunities. More urbane adventures can be found in Kralendijk, Bonaire’s capital city (city being a term that’s used loosely for this town of about 3,000). Check out the Wilhelmina Square Market or have dinner at one of the town’s many excellent restaurants.
From there it’s a stop-off at Klein, a small and uninhabited island off Curacao with a historic lighthouse, underwater caves and miles of good hiking. On Curacao proper, the little bays and inlets of Spanish Water Bay provide great exploration opportunities. Willemstad, the lively capital, offers Dutch influences with its Amsterdam-style buildings – alongside some great Caribbean dining and entertainment options.
Aruba’s a mixture of nature and more man-made pursuits. This split shows up as soon as you anchor off Eagle Beach – in front of the Tropicana Casino. Oranjestad is known as one of the great culinary cities of the Caribbean – make sure you get one great last meal before flying home.