There’s even more to recommend on the Caribbean and Mexico’s east coast than soft sands fringed by palm trees and rum shacks. Kuoni expert Sheena Paton takes a look at three islands that offer something truly out of the ordinary.
The Drama of Dominica
Forget what you might usually picture when you imagine a Caribbean island – Dominica is all about dramatic undulating landscapes, lush foliage and gorgeous waterfalls. Volcanic soils are often very fertile and, as there are nine volcanoes on this one small island, it’s bursting with greenery and rainforest, and criss-crossed by almost 300 rivers. It’s an adventurer’s paradise – perfect for canyoning, rafting and hiking.
The beaches are beautiful, but many are in coves dotted around the island so can be tricky to get to. But the steep drops to shore make the marine life here better preserved than most. It's one of the few places where you can watch sperm whales all year round. For a truly unique experience, snorkel over the top of Champagne Reef, named after the volcanic thermal springs that constantly bubble away under it.
It’s only in recent years higher-quality accommodation has developed on the island as it hasn’t traditionally been a Caribbean holiday option. Now is the perfect time to explore before the island becomes a more mainstream choice. Leave your flip flops on Saint Lucia, grab your hiking boots and immerse yourself in this breathtakingly unspoilt natural wonder.
Best stay: Secret Bay is an exceptional adults-only eco-hideaway on the edge of a forested clifftop, made up of just 10 luxury villas. Off-menu dining and secluded beaches make it feel like your own private island.
Local eats: Refuel after a morning exploring with a rustic fried codfish sandwich and a refreshing sorrel punch.
Must do: Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it’s beautifully preserved and bursting with nature. The diverse landscape and vapour-swathed Boiling Lake (the second largest hot lake in the world) make this a truly special experience.
Top tip: As there’s only an hour’s flight between the two islands, consider combining a four-day trip to Dominica with a longer luxury-resort stay in Saint Lucia.
Grenada: Double the fun
For two completely different island experiences in one, Grenada is the perfect choice. There's a real difference between the north and the south of the island, even weather-wise, and yet they’re only separated by an hour’s drive. The south is where you’ll find beautiful stretches of golden sand and idyllic beachside resorts. In the north, however, you’ll discover lush, mountainous rainforest that’s well off the beaten track. It’s completely unspoilt, so get ready to be blown away. Less touristy than some of the bigger islands, Grenada has a rare uniqueness and authenticity.
Typically colourful villages and towns haven’t been over-developed and retain their charm. It’s old-school Caribbean – low key, casual and one of the friendliest islands you’ll find. Make sure to stop by a chocolate shop or two to sample the local wares – the island is a major producer of cocoa.
Not many places in the world can offer the chance to swim with dolphins in the morning and then wander through rainforest in the afternoon, but Grenada makes this fantasy a reality.
Best stay: Set in an elevated position on the northern edge of the island, Mount Edgecombe Boutique Hotel is surrounded by tropical trees inhabited by exotic birds. Immerse yourself in the jungle, but keep thrilling sea views and sunsets.
Local eats: Lionfish are beautiful but invasive creatures that endanger other marine life around the island. Fishermen have been granted special permits to help keep the population down and they’ve become a bit of a delicacy.
Must do: For a unique experience, dive or snorkel at the Underwater Sculpture Park, off the west coast. It’s a collection of statues, including a ring of children holding hands, that has established itself as a bit of an artificial reef with coral and tropical fish among the art.
Another side to Mexico
Mexico arguably has some of the best beaches in the world and all-inclusive options in the country offer exceptional value for money. As a base to explore Mayan ruins and Mexico’s abundant history and culture, the resorts of Cancún are always an attractive choice. But head just a couple of hours from the coastal city, via a short boat trip, and you could find yourself on the little-known, secluded islands of the Riviera Maya in the Caribbean Sea.
The car-free island of Isla Holbox allows for an experience that is like stepping back in time – into a very different world to the Mexico you might normally envisage. Once your boat docks, you'll be picked up by a little buggy to take you to your choice of small boutique guest house. It’s all about relaxation and natural beauty here. With a casual vibe and an array of pristine, untouched beaches, this is the real spirit of barefoot luxury. By contrast, Isla Mujeres is pure indulgent luxury. Think five-star boutique hotels, the sort that organise private yacht transfers to greet your arrival.
Combine a visit to the Riviera Maya islands with time spent on the mainland and you’ll get to experience two very different, but equally rewarding, sides to Mexico.
Best stay: The 30 or so Palafitos Overwater Bungalows offer stunning views across the Caribbean Sea and each has a private pool. Overwater accommodation is rare in Mexico so this is a unique option.
Local eats: It doesn’t really get any better than hot tamales and cold cerveza on the beach.
Must do: For snorkelling, head to the island of Cozumel, where you can watch huge shoals of whale sharks. It’s one of the best places in the world to observe them in the wild, especially in June, July and August.
Top tip: For a different kind of itinerary, try combining Mexico with Las Vegas. As you can fly directly between the two, it could be an exciting option.
To see our full range of beach resorts and island-hopping escapes, download our Caribbean brochure then talk to us to start planning your perfect trip.
This feature was updated on 13th July 2023. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print.