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Totally tropical

26/07/2013

On a Caribbean cruise, you can discover the balmy climate, dazzling landscapes and cultural diversity on nine different islands in just two weeks, says Norman Miller

The sparkling Caribbean shoreline

 

Barbados

The vibrant capital, Bridgetown, is a cultural hotspot with arts and music festivals throughout the year, while Speightstown offers historic architecture and boutique shopping. Experience 1920s Bajan life at Tyrol Cot Heritage Village or explore the atmospheric Sir Frank Hutson Sugar Museum. Then taste the island’s emblem, flying fish, at an outdoor ‘fish fry’.

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Grenada

Rolling, mountainous Grenada is a true spice island, with village markets scented with local nutmeg, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. Here, the historically minded can admire Amerindian and colonial artefacts at the Carriacou Museum and National Museum, while cricket fans can learn about the sport’s history at the West Indies Cricket Heritage Centre.

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Dominica

When Columbus made landfall one Sunday in 1493, most of the native Kalinago fled during the ensuing battles for the island. The 2,000 who remain are the Caribbean’s only surviving pre-Columbus population. Discover their ancestral crafts and native dishes at the Carib Reserve, while the 18th-century creole buildings in Roseau display strong Colonial influences. Nature-lovers will enjoy Cabrits National Park and the Emerald Pool waterfall, while sperm whales can be spotted in the ocean canyons all year round.

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St Kitts

While the magnificent 18th-century Independence Square is the heart of capital Basseterre, the island’s rich past is best experienced at the lovingly restored Fairview Great House or Romney Manor, home to successive English earls.

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St Lucia

St Lucia is dominated by the twin peaks of the Pitons, their forested slopes teeming with exotic flowers and birds, while rich volcanic soil sprouts banana, papaya, cocoa and mango. Aged fortresses guard villages bustling with open-air markets, while restaurants and food stalls dish up leafy callaloo soup and green figs with salt fish. And don’t miss Sulphur Springs, the world’s only drive-in volcano.

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St Maarten

Salt rather than sugar made this island’s fortune, with the Dutch and French vying for control until a division was agreed in 1817. While Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch enclave Sint Maarten, is great for shopping, the French Saint-Martin is known for its quayside restaurants and backstreet lolos that serve up homely creole dishes. The French side is also home to the rainforest-cloaked Pic Paradis.

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Tortola

Here, national parks mingle with old plantation estates across a mountainous landscape. Visit the 18th-century ruins of Fort Burt for grand views over the capital Road Town, or discover ancient pottery and shipwreck items in the town’s Virgin Island Folk Museum. For lunch, try Josiah’s Bay Plantation – a restaurant inside a former sugar factory turned rum distillery.

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Curacao

This island is a melting pot of cultures, with a diverse landscape of lush forest, white-sanded bays and a desert studded with giant cacti. The capital, Willemstad, is a cosmopolitan town with brightly coloured Dutch architecture, while Punda’s atmospheric markets are the place to try the Caribbean’s eclectic cuisine, including yuana (stewed iguana) and kadushi (cactus soup).

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Bonaire

Bonaire is a beacon for nature-lovers, majoring on unspoiled rural landscapes and world-class diving. For history fans, the Slave Huts are a must-see and the Bonaire Museum is just a short walk from the cruise pier. During cruise visits, traditional music and dance are staged alongside a market in the Wilhelmina Park.

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