For those who have never been there – or for those who go to the same island, year after year – there is only one Caribbean: a sizeable thatched-roof resort, combed white-sand beaches, one or two full marinas. of expensive yachts, a hammock tucked between palm trees, soft calypso music, lightly spiced coconut-scented fish dishes and the polite sounds of a cricket match somewhere down there. To access this classic experience, a direct flight to Antigua or Barbados will do the trick or, if we’re feeling bold, Montego Bay and a transfer to one of Jamaica’s gated camps.
In fact, there are many types of Caribbean vacations. British Airways – long a provider of postcolonial routes and tried and tested, somewhat tame experiences – has also woken up to this. Starting in March 2023, the airline will fly from London Gatwick to Aruba.
A favorite of Latin American middle class and US residents fleeing the winter, the former Dutch colony – now a “constituent country” of the Netherlands – is somewhat larger than Liechtenstein and famous for its wreck diving and snorkeling. Usually, only experienced divers can explore the wrecks, but in Aruba snorkelers can take a boat to the SS Antilla – one of the largest shipwreck dives in the Caribbean – and float by admiring coral formations, sea turtles , tropical fish and orange anemones.
Many tourists traveling to Aruba traditionally opt for all-inclusive resorts, but there are B & Bs, villas, and small hotels in the compact capital, Oranjestad. From there it’s easy to arrange visits to cactus-filled bushlands, limestone peaks, caves and cliffs, and historic sites like Fort Zoutman, an 18th-century harbor built to keep pirates at bay.
In the same month, BA is also launching flights to Georgetown in Guyana, a route not available from BOAC’s 707 service in the 1960s. This former British colony offers a completely different kind of Caribbean, and not simply because it’s not an island. Sure, there’s cricket, rum, and Red Stripe, but the capital is a vibrant mix of modern architecture and plantations, plus an Anglican cathedral, city park with manatees, and botanical gardens. The name of Stabroek Market alludes to the ancient Dutch colony of Demerara; the river of the same name flows under the wooden floor of the market.
But Guyana really comes to life away from the city, with pristine rainforest covering 80% of the country’s territory, more than 900 bird species as well as tapirs, giant otters, armadillos, and large rodents like the paca and agouti. . Immense table mountains called tepuis dominate the western border with Venezuela, and Kaieteur Falls is one of the most impressive single-drop waterfalls in the world. Jungle lodges and canopied walks open the boundaries of wilderness, but birders and wildlife watchers will want to dive deep into the wooded highlands.
BA is hedging its bets. The Aruba flight will stop in Antigua, the Guyana service in St Lucia. Those who can’t climb out of the familiar hammock can get off before something new happens to them, but smart money may be on a dual-purpose vacation. A new direct flight to Port of Spain in Trinidad will also depart on March 26, sadly too late for the island’s famous carnival, but it’s still a new direct destination that will welcome both UK-based Trinibagonians and holidaymakers.
All of the above is good news for Latin America too, after more than two years of hiatus. But the time has come for British travelers to take a fresh look at the entire Caribbean region. After all, this was the part of the world where the Spanish adventure in Latin America began, and the island groups are rich in history and culture. Belize, easily reached by a two and a half hour flight from Miami, is another little-sold Caribbean country.
Home to the second largest coral reef system in the world and with a unique multi-ethnic population, consisting of Maya, Garifuna, Creole, East Indian, Mennonite and mestizo groups. The mainland has mountain beaches and forests, and many of the offshore cayes offer high-end accommodation. There are also elegant beach resorts in Roatan off the coast of Honduras and all along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Dominica – named after Spain, colonized by the French and then by the British, free since 1978 – is an often overlooked island, popular with hikers for its verdant, dormant volcanoes. The 185-mile Waitukubuli Trail is something of a Pennine Way through paradise, with high-drop waterfalls, hot springs, and beaches along the way. It is divided into 14 sections so that people can choose and combine excursions with other activities. River tubing, snorkeling, and diving are also popular, or people can take it easy and admire the parrots, hummingbirds, and orchids.
South America also has a Caribbean coast beyond Guyana. The FCDO advises against “travel except essentials” to Venezuela – which has the longest stretch, including the once popular island of Margarita – but Cartagena de Indias, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is one of the most romantic and historically rich cities. of the Americas, is worth more than a stop on a cruise. It will host the hay festival again in January 2023. It is also the gateway to the islands of San Andrés, a favorite of the money classes of Medellin and Bogotá, and small Providencia, formerly the island of Providence, founded by British Puritans in 1630 and a key refuge for English corsairs who target galleons carrying silver from Spanish imperial mines.
The most exciting news of all is that, from December 2023, AmaWaterways, in association with the respected local tour company Metropolitan Touring, will be bringing luxury cruises on the Magdalena River to Colombia. A purpose-built, 80-passenger, all-suite, eco-friendly ship will connect the Caribbean to the unexplored hinterland familiar to anyone who has read (or seen the film adaptation) by Gabriel García Márquez Love in the Time of Cholera. So far, only intrepid backpackers and travel writers, like the great and late Michael Jacobs, have explored this legendary river. It now has the potential to become a truly magical winter vacation.
How to do it
British Airways (ba.com) will operate two flights per week to Guyana via St. Lucia, starting from £ 524 return, and two flights per week to Aruba via Antigua, starting from £ 595 return. Flights to Trinidad will be direct, three times a week, from £ 500. All depart from London Gatwick.
To fly to Colombia, the fastest route to London and the South East is the direct Avianca (avianca.com) flight from London Heathrow to Bogotá; returns from around £ 770. For other travelers, Delta (delta.com) flights via Atlanta may be faster and cheaper.