A pick ’n’ mix of shore ex­cur­sions, high-end duty-free out­lets and lo­cal mar­kets await Caribbean cruis­ers and savvy shop­pers af­ter a bar­gain

Your Guide to the Caribbean - - Contents -

The sheer di­ver­sity of the Caribbean is­lands and coun­tries, with their dif­fer­ent his­toric and cul­tural in­flu­ences, makes it the per­fect re­gion to ex­plore on a cruise.

One day you’ll be dip­ping a toe in the soft pink sands of an is­land in The Ba­hamas, the next you will be swim­ming with stingrays in the Cay­man Is­lands or An­tigua, or among tur­tles in St. Vin­cent & The Gre­nadines.

Those who are in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing Mar­tinique can sign up for canyon­ing, hik­ing, Atv­ing (go­ing off-road in an All Ter­rain Ve­hi­cle), or horse­back rid­ing; while a stop in Cu­raçao will be re­mem­bered for the is­land’s Dutch colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture, busy cap­i­tal and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory mu­se­ums.

And surely noth­ing can be as mag­i­cal as a bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent sun­set kayak trip in San Juan, the cap­i­tal of Puerto Rico, where tiny di­noflag­el­lates make the wa­ters glow mag­i­cally.

Or for a lit­tle cul­ture, cruis­ers stop­ping in Haiti’s cap­i­tal Port-au-prince can visit The Musée du Pan­théon Na­tional Haï­tien, which hon­ours the na­tion’s his­tory and found­ing fa­thers.

Lo­cal rum and coastal views are avail­able in equal mea­sure on a Rhum Run­ner boat trip for Fred. Olsen pas­sen­gers look­ing to ex­plore Gre­nada. There’s also hik­ing through the Grand Etang Park to the is­land’s mag­nif­i­cent Seven Sis­ters Wa­ter­falls.

Of course, you don’t have to make a splash to en­joy the huge se­lec­tion of shore ex­cur­sions on of­fer in the re­gion. There are plenty of aerial thrills, too. Fly like a bird through the rain­for­est canopy on a zip-lin­ing ad­ven­ture in Ja­maica, An­tigua and Saint Lu­cia. While in Ja­maica, en­joy a raft­ing trip on the Martha Brae River and climb the spec­tac­u­lar 600-foot Dunn’s River Falls; the wa­ter cas­cad­ing through your toes as you make the as­cent.

Shore ex­cur­sions also pro­vide a de­li­cious taster of each Caribbean is­land’s food, his­tory and cul­ture. On Saint Lu­cia, guests can even make their own choco­late us­ing beans grown on the es­tate of Bou­can by Ho­tel Cho­co­lat. The 20-minute process in­cludes de-shelling the co­coa bean, conch grind­ing, mix­ing, and then fi­nally pour­ing their own choco­late bar.

In St. Kitts, hop aboard the dou­bledecker Scenic Rail­way just out­side Bas­seterre, and lis­ten to the ca­lypso tunes of acap­pella singers as it trun­dles past lush fields, pic­turesque plan­ta­tion houses and dis­used mills. The tourist train was once used to trans­port su­gar cane from plan­ta­tions around the is­land to the fac­tory.

San­ti­ago de Cuba is Cuba’s sec­ond largest city, and the place to see key land­marks of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion such as the Mon­cada Bar­racks and Plaza de la Revolu­ción. Cés­pedes Park of­fers a slice of Cuban colo­nial cul­ture.

In St. Maarten, take a fas­ci­nat­ing tour around the homes of na­tive Kun­ste­naars (in­dige­nous artists) and learn about their per­sonal sto­ries and his­tory from their liv­ing rel­a­tives.

Re­tail ther­apy

Savvy shop­pers can shop ’til they drop – or un­til their ship leaves – in the Caribbean’s cruise ports. Whether it’s high-end duty-free watches and jew­ellery you’re af­ter, lo­cal crafts and sou­venir trin­kets to take home, or a cou­ple of bot­tles of your favourite Caribbean rum, there’s usu­ally an eclec­tic se­lec­tion of shops just steps away from the ship’s gang­way.

In Mar­tinique’s Fort-de-france, vis­i­tors can work their way through the best of French fash­ion and per­fumes, as well as Cre­ole crafts and jew­ellery.

In Cu­raçao, down­town Willem­stad (a UNESCO World Her­itage site) is a port favourite for cruise-go­ers. The town’s wind­ing streets are filled with invit­ing bars and din­ing spots and the colour­ful float­ing mar­ket, where fruit ven­dors from Venezuela dock to sell their range of wares. There are duty-free bou­tiques and depart­ment stores aplenty on Broad Street in Bridgetown, Bar­ba­dos, a short walk from the cruise ter­mi­nal. For high-end luxe, visit Limegrove shop­ping mall in Ho­le­town, nearby.

In Philips­burg, St. Maarten, the Dutch­side ter­mi­nal boasts all of the big duty-free brands; on the French side, Saint-martin’s open-air wa­ter-front mar­ket in Marigot is the place to spend time brows­ing for cute trin­kets and sou­venirs. The Ba­hamas of­fers re­tail ther­apy op­por­tu­ni­ties ga­lore. The Bay Street shop­ping hub in Nas­sau is close to Prince Ge­orge Wharf, and Par­adise Is­land’s re­tail out­lets are just a 10-minute wa­ter taxi ride away.

Puerto Rico’s cruise ter­mi­nal is right in the cen­tre of San Juan’s cob­ble­stoned old town. Here, stores sell ev­ery­thing from duty-free jew­ellery to ar­ti­san crafts. A short cab ride away in Avenida Ash­ford, Con­dado, the prod­ucts are all Gucci and gold. The Port Zante cruise ter­mi­nal in

a few blocks from down­town Bas­seterre, the cap­i­tal, of­fers more than 60 duty-free shops, in­clud­ing plenty sell­ing ‘well-priced’ jew­ellery – but be pre­pared to ne­go­ti­ate! If you need a re­fresh­ment stop, there are some lively bars in the ter­mi­nal, too.

Shop­ping ar­eas close to Her­itage Quay and Red­cliffe Quay in down­town St John’s, An­tigua, of­fer lo­cal arts, crafts, jew­ellery and per­fumes.

Ocho Rios is Ja­maica’s main cruise port, and the Is­land Vil­lage shop­ping cen­tre is hand­ily just steps away from the main pier.

Pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark­ing in Ge­orge Town, Grand Cay­man, will find shop­ping malls, bou­tiques, and duty-free shops along the wa­ter­front Har­bour Street – and the Cay­man craft mar­ket is per­fect for art and hand­made sou­venirs.

In Port-au-prince, Haiti’s cap­i­tal, the large cov­ered bazaar of the Iron Mar­ket has been wel­com­ing vis­i­tors for well over 100 years. With stalls piled high with lo­cal pro­duce and hand­i­craft stalls, se­ri­ous shop­pers will be in sev­enth heaven. •

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