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People from all over the world head to the Caribbean to soak up the sun and relax on the spectacular beaches of this continent's delightful tropical islands. The crystal clear waters of the balmy Caribbean Sea, and the pristine white—on some beaches pink—sand are irresistible. There's Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda, Varadero Beach in Cuba, Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos, Grand Anse in Grenada, Pink Sands Beach in the Bahamas... we could go on and on. And each beach is as delightful as the next, whether it's fringed by palm trees, lush forests, or rocky crags. Of course, hand-in-hand with these spectacular beaches are the aquatic activities and water sports that beachgoers adore. Whatever ocean adventure you're looking for, you can find it here in the Caribbean.
There's more to the Caribbean than sun, sand, and ocean. Take time to learn about the history of these islands, and their colonization by other countries. Feel the European, African, and American Indian influences that shaped the culture, the cuisine, and the architecture of each island. Spend time in the fascinating cities of Havana (Cuba), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) visiting the museums, squares, and colonial buildings that have such interesting stories to tell. Move to the Caribbean rhythms in discos and nightclubs. Sink your teeth into fresh tropical fruit, indulge in a mojito or pina colada now and then, and savour the hot peppers and rich spices that are characteristic of the local cuisine. Talk to the locals every chance you get because they will provide you with the best insights into what the Caribbean is all about.
For the most part, this is an island continent, consisting of some 35 countries that lie in the Caribbean Sea. It's hard to pin down an exact number because several South American and Central American countries have Caribbean coasts, so they are sometimes considered to be Caribbean countries. Also, there is Bermuda, which sits north of the main Caribbean islands, and west of the coast of North Carolina. This delightful country is often included as a Caribbean country because it has a Caribbean spirit and flavour, but technically Bermuda sits in the Atlantic Ocean. For our travel guides, we shall consider the Caribbean to include the islands only—along with Bermuda—and not the countries that are part of the larger continental landmasses.
A combination air-land package is, in many cases, the most cost-effective way to travel to the Caribbean. For most travellers, because they're typically looking for beach vacations, this is the perfect option. "All-inclusive" packages are extremely popular because they include air, hotel, transfers between the airport and the hotel, meals and alcoholic beverages, and some entertainment as well. So, tourists arrive at a resort, lock their wallets away, and simply enjoy.
Numerous tour operators, such as Sunquest, Air Canada Vacations, andTransat Holidays offer all-inclusive packages from Canada to many Caribbean destinations, and if you're flexible in terms of travel dates, there are some absolute steals in terms of last-minute deals, particularly during non-peak periods like the month of November and into December (up to the week before Christmas), and late April through May. If you want to be in the Caribbean at Christmastime, expect your wallet to take a hit, and be sure to book well in advance. The same goes for Spring Break and the end-of-terms break periods of universities and colleges.
While package or all-inclusive travel is great for islands where the tourism infrastructure is only concentrated in resort areas (i.e. the Dominican Republic), or where solo travel is not advised (i.e. Jamaica), some islands deserve more than a cursory glance from the confines of an all-inclusive resort. If you crave a bit more adventure, and want to truly experience the culture of the island, consider booking your airfare and accommodation separately, so that you can stay in several places on the island you're visiting. Rent a car and explore.
You can find some dirt-cheap airfares if you watch for seat sales or if you don't mind stopovers. Quite often you can fly inexpensively from Canada to a major US city, and then take a budget airline like JetBlue Airways or Spirit Airlines to the Caribbean. This may be your only option if you want to travel in the summer (July and August), because many of the charter airlines and tour operators don't even operate to the Caribbean at this time of year.
The Bahamas is the most northerly island group in the Caribbean, and it enjoys a subtropical climate, so winters (December, January, and February) are warm with temperatures averaging 21°C Summers are warmer, with temperatures averaging about 27°C. The other islands of the Caribbean enjoy a tropical climate, so they are warm to hot year-round, with temperatures seldom dropping below 24°C, and only occasionally hitting 30°C or higher. The ocean's tradewinds have a lovely cooling effect, which helps to keep the temperatures from getting too high. June through November is hurricane season, but most hurricanes occur in September. The peak tourist periods are mentioned in the preceding section. Avoid those periods plus September, and any other time is great to go.
Bermuda is a rather unique exception to all of this. Remember, technically it's in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea, so its climate is under the influence of the Gulf Stream. May through mid-October, the island is hot, often hitting 29 degrees, and extremely humid, with humidity often in the 85% range. August through September is hurricane season. November and April,the shoulder months, are the best times to go.