History & Culture

The diverse history of the Caribbean has left a legacy of different languages, people, food and traditions which have all played their role in shaping the Caribbean’ unique culture. Little remains of the Carib and Arawak Indians who originally inhabited the islands, but the spirit of the European explorers who discovered and fought over these countries hundreds of years ago lives on. The English, French, Spanish and Dutch made the most impact here, though in latter years the American influence has become more prevalent. But it is easy to identify – mainly through the language and the architecture – which individual islands align their heritage to.

Take the Spanish Caribbean countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico where the traditional Spanish buildings and Latin tempo contrast greatly with the ornate architecture, café culture and gourmet cuisine found on the French islands of Guadeloupe or Martinique.

Then there are the Dutch Caribbean islands of Bonaire and Curaçao, with their gingerbread-style houses that wouldn’t look out of place along the canals of Amsterdam. There’s even the island of Saint Martin/St. Maarten which is half French and half Dutch – with two distinct cultures to match.

It’s the English-speaking Caribbean that accounts for most islands and it’s here that visitors will find plenty of links to remind them of home. From traditional stone-built churches and Georgian architecture to red telephone boxes and, of course, the fact that everyone speaks English and drives on the left! There are even familiar-sounding places such as Brighton or Worthing in Barbados, Falmouth in Antigua and Portsmouth in Dominica.

But the African roots of the islanders – many of them descendants of slaves brought across the Atlantic to work the sugar plantations – are evident in the traditions and carnival celebrations woven into everyday life. Ruined sugar mills, fortresses and plantation houses also stand as testament to the region’s varied past, with some becoming tourist attractions and the most notable sites and structures gaining invaluable UNESCO World Heritage Site status. These include the Brimstone Hill Fortress and National Park on St. Kitts; the twin Pitons on Saint Lucia; and the Morne Trois Pitons National Park on Dominica.

Barbados’s capital, Bridgetown, and its military garrison has also attracted World Heritage status, as has the Citadel, Sans Souci palace and Ramiers buildings, which together make up the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere on Haiti.

Cuba can boast the biggest collection of World Heritage accolades with nine sites, including Old Havana and the historic centre of Camaguey, while Belize’s Barrier Reef and Curaçao’s historic area of Willemstad have also attracted recognition.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Usually associated with white sand beaches and turquoise sea, it’s a revelation to many visitors that the Caribbean is home to no fewer than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Cuba which has eight cultural and historical sites including the colonial cities of Havana and Trinidad, as well as the Vinales Valley, an outstanding landscape of karst eroded limestone mountains called mogotes. Here traditional methods of agriculture, notably tobacco growing, have survived unchanged for centuries. Old Havana is a legacy of history, culture and traditions and amongst the oldest and best-preserved urban space in the Americas. In Trinidad de Cuba two sites have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, its historic cobbled street centre and Monaca Iznaga in the Valle de los Ingenios, the site of the most prosperous sugar refineries of the 19th century. Santiago de Cuba is another site renowned for the ruins of San Pedro de la Roca Castle and what’s left of the first French coffee plantations at La Gran Piedra. Others are Desembarco del Granma National Park, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in Baracoa, which forms the Heart of the Cuchillas Del Toa Biosphere Reserve, the historic centre of Camaguey and the urban historic centre of Cienfuegos.

Over on Saint Lucia, The Pitons make up one of the most dramatic UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world. Petit Piton and Gros Piton are two volcanic plugs in the south of the island. Other incredible UNESCO sites across the Caribbean include Belize’s Barrier Reef (the longest in the Americas, the Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica, St Kitts Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, Curaçao’s historic area of Willemstad, inner city and harbour and Bermuda’s historic town of St George.

Haiti has its National History Park with the ruins of The Citadel, Sans-Souci and Ramiers, all monuments to independence, in 1803 while Suriname has the Central Suriname Nature Reserve and Historic Inner City of Paramaribo. And finally for those with a special affinity for the ocean, The Bonaire Marine Park is nominated as a candidate for the World Heritage List of UNESCO. All waters surrounding Bonaire to a depth of 57 metres are protected, one of the reasons Bonaire has the largest fish population in the Caribbean.


The Caribbean is golfer’s paradise. With great weather all year round, stunning scenery and some spectacular championship courses, golfers return here year after year.

There is so much on offer to golfers throughout the Caribbean; with excellent facilities on many of the islands including Nevis, Puerto Rico and St. Kitts. Bermuda has seven championship golf courses, more per square mile than any other country. Then there are the well-established, highly-rated courses in The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Lucia.

The Caribbean’s world-class golf courses are often designed by leading golf pros: Grand Cayman -The Britannia Golf Course at the Hyatt Regency designed by Jack Nicklaus; Nevis – Four Seasons Resort Golf Course designed by Robert Trent Jones; St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, Carambola Golf Course played host to LPGA tournaments.

Adrenalin adventure

Thrill-seekers will find plenty of exciting activities to get their adrenaline pumping. Adventurers can fly through the trees on daring canopy rides through the top of tropical forests in Antigua, Saint Lucia and Jamaica, which also has Mystic Mountain, a bobsled coaster ride through the tropical terrain 700ft above the sea. Or go higher still for the views from the world’s longest and highest cable-car at Merida in Venezuela, which stretches for 12.5km and reaches an altitude of 4,765 metres.

Alternatively, take a thrilling helicopter trip around Saint Lucia’s famous twin Pitons or across to the island of Montserrat to see its active Soufriere Hills volcano.

With its rugged mountainous terrain, boiling lakes, hot springs and waterfalls, Dominica – the ‘Nature Island of the Caribbean’ – has plenty of dramatic scenery and is the only island where an indigenous tribe of Carib Indians, the Kalinago, still lives. Daredevils looking for that extra thrill can try abseiling or canyoning on the island. But to truly get under the surface of the Caribbean go underground caving in Belize or rodeo riding in Guyana.

Land sports

The Olympic spirit rides high – especially in Trinidad and Jamaica, where local legend Usain Bolt is one of a number of world-class athletes. Some countries tend to have more modern arenas where track and field events are regularly held. Tourists can participate in some of the marathons on islands like Montserrat’s with its Volcano Half Marathon; while Barbados, Nevis, Bermuda and Caymans stage similar events.

Cricket is played in most of the Caribbean islands. It is more than just a sport, it’s a way of life! The West Indies is, after all, home to cricketing legends Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards and Brian Lara to name but a few.

Cricket carries the crown as the most popular sport on many of the English-speaking islands, where it is the national game and national passion. It is particularly popular in Barbados and Antigua, and international matches are staged here and on Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Guyana.

Barbados runs an annual sports camp where local and visiting children can play football, netball and cricket with star coaches.

Tennis courts are scattered through the islands and Antigua, in particular, enjoys a growing reputation helped by its annual Tennis Week. Most 3*+ hotels will have their own courts and these are often floodlit for evening games.

For golfers, some of the world’s top championship courses are here. The Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados lay claim to top courses, while Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and St. Croix all have excellent facilities. Puerto Rico has so many of them it is nicknamed the ‘Scotland of the Caribbean’.

Horse-riding is an alternative and amazing way to explore the islands, experiencing the spectacular coastlines and lush inland trails. This activity is available on several Caribbean islands including The Bahamas and Jamaica. Start at a ranch and ride through the countryside towards the beach. If spectating is more appealing, then it is also possible to watch polo in Barbados and Jamaica.

Cycling is another great way to see the countrysides of the Caribbean, with many of the islands catering for the serious trail and mountain biker as well as the holiday pedal pushers. Cycling is particularly pleasant in the quiet roads of Bonaire, Curaçao, Cuba and the British Virgin Islands. Mountain bike tours are packaged on St.Vincent and the Grenadines by Sailor's Wilderness Tours.

Baseball is the No1 sport in Puerto Rico and Cuba where it is revered as much as cricket is in the rest of the West Indies. The two islands have produced many international baseball stars.