Mary Eagan-Grapsas
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  The Exotic Islands of the Southern Caribbean  

Vibrant blue waters, white-sand beaches, swaying palms and the sounds of a steel drum band often come to mind when thinking about the Caribbean. Been there, done that also comes to many experienced travelers minds.

Many cruise travelers have had the opportunity to visit the most popular islands in the Eastern and Western Caribbean, but how many of us have sailed south to discover the more exotic, unspoiled islands? But what makes these southern islands more exotic than their northern counterparts? Part of it is due to the fact that most of the Southern Caribbean islands still enjoy a strong colonial influence. The majority of the southern islands, at one time or another have belonged to larger European countries like France, the Netherlands and the U.K. and many of these islands are still considered territories. Think of the Southern Caribbean as a little piece of European charm surrounded by a warm tropical paradise and you’ll understand why they are so special.

Just east of Puerto Rico, lies the island of Tortola. The largest of the British Virgin Islands, Tortola is home to some of the best white-sand beaches around as well as rugged mountain roads that lead to breathtaking views. In close proximity to Tortola is the neighboring island of Virgin Gorda with her unusual rock formations know as “The Baths.” These huge granite rocks give way to quiet coves and lush grottos where swimmers can soak their cares away in the hidden pools.

Heading south east, you’ll come to the island of Antigua, which is one of the largest boating islands in the Caribbean and home to 366 beautiful beaches; one for every day of the year. Just southwest of Antigua lies the island of St. Kitts. This beautiful island boasts pink sand beaches, rolling green hills and dormant volcanoes. While you are there, you must visit the 350-year-old Romney Manor Estate and Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, two of the must see sites on St. Kitts.

Farther south in the Lesser Antilles, you’ll find the French island of Martinique as well as St. Lucia, Barbados and Grenada. From the islands’ architecture to its enchanting local flavor, Martinique exudes a distinct French feeling you won’t be able to miss. The lush island of St. Lucia with its twin Piton peaks offers the best of both worlds. Get back to nature as you explore verdant rain forests, discover striking waterfalls and unique sulfur springs, then kick back and relax on the unspoiled golden beaches. The once British controlled island of Barbados is rich with English influence which is apparent in its sports (like Cricket) as well as its English architecture that dates back to the 17th century. The spice capital of the Caribbean, Grenada is the most fragrant of the islands where you will find nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and cocoa on many of the spice estates. This island is also considered one of the most picturesque ports in the Caribbean with its lush vegetation, mountainous terrain and colorful colonial architecture.

To the west of the Lesser Antilles, you’ll find the Netherlands Antilles and the island of Bonaire and Curacao. Bonaire is famous for its diving with 100-ft visibility and a colorful array of tropical fish and vibrant coral reefs. Dutch influence can be seen throughout the island of Curacao, especially in its architecture which is a replication of the houses built in Amsterdam but painted with a distinctly Caribbean color palette. Be sure to explore Hato Caves where you’ll find two large caverns with ancient Indian pteroglyphs and a mystical underground lake.

So when you’re ready to head to a warmer climate but you want something new, head south and discover the European enriched, unspoiled islands of the Southern Caribbean.

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