Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Escape the Crowds in Little Cayman
With its stunning coral reefs, near-perfect weather, and laidback atmosphere, the island of Little Cayman offers a true Caribbean escape. Located 150 miles south of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman is the smallest and least developed of the three Cayman Islands. Here, you’ll find secluded beaches, excellent diving, and a pace of life that harkens back to the old Caribbean.
Due to its small size and remote location, Little Cayman sees far fewer visitors than bustling Grand Cayman. The tiny island has a population of just 180 full-time residents, and visitors are capped at 70-80 per day. This means you can enjoy Little Cayman’s famed Bloody Bay Wall dive site without fighting crowds of divers. The beaches remain uncrowded, even in high season.
Accommodations on Little Cayman are limited to a handful of small resorts and guesthouses. But what the island lacks in luxury, it makes up for in warmth and hospitality. Southern Cross Club is the premier resort, set on a former coconut plantation. The laidback vibe here perfectly suits the island. Spend your days beachcombing, snorkeling the coral reefs, and dining on freshly-caught seafood.
While the dining options may be limited, the quality is excellent. Kurt’s Corner and the Hungry Iguana offer local specialties like conch fritters and grilled lobster. You’ll also find top-notch coffee at Mango Mania. Don’t miss trying the Cayman Cabana, the local rum drink.
Out on the water, Little Cayman rewards visitors with world-class diving and snorkeling. The sheer drop-off of Bloody Bay Wall amazes divers, while the coral gardens of Jackson’s Point delight snorkelers. Spot green sea turtles, stingrays, and even the occasional whale shark gliding by. Most resorts offer dive packages and snorkel equipment rental.
When you’re ready for a break from the beach, head inland to Booby Pond Nature Reserve. Here you can hike through one of Little Cayman’s last remaining old-growth forests. Iguanas lounge in the sun while red-footed boobies nest in the treetops. Keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Cayman Brac parrot on this undeveloped part of the island.
Little Cayman’s small size makes it easy to explore by scooter or bicycle. Pedal to Point of Sand for gorgeous views of Owen Island and the Caribbean Sea. Stop at the saltwater blowholes on the northeast end of the island, a product of underground caves carved by the tides.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Escape the Crowds in Little Cayman
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Find Solitude in Mayreau
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Experience Unspoiled Beauty in Barbuda
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Relax in Culebra, Puerto Rico's Hidden Gem
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Enjoy Old Caribbean Charm in Saba
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Trek Through Rainforests in Dominica
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Unwind in Paradise on Anegada
- Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Dive with Shipwrecks in Bonaire
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Find Solitude in Mayreau
Tucked away in the southern Grenadines, Mayreau is as close to a Caribbean castaway fantasy as you can get. At only 1.5 square miles, this tiny island offers a tranquil escape from the crowds of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ more popular islands. With just one village, one road, and a single beach bar, Mayreau epitomizes barefoot luxury. Visitors in search of solitude need look no further than this undiscovered gem.
Mayreau boasts nearly as many goats as humans, with a local population around 300. The island feels wonderfully remote, worlds away from the cruise ship crowds. Here, you can spend days surrounded by more sea turtles and colorful fish than actual people. The pace of life drags blissfully slowly. No one’s in a hurry on Mayreau.
The island’s lone settlement, Saltwhistle Bay, comprises a few pastel cottages, a church, and some cheerful rum shops. But Mayreau’s crown jewel is its breathtaking mile-long beach. Saltwhistle Bay offers swimmable turquoise waters and powdery white sand lined with swaying palms. Grab a drink at Dennis’ Hideaway and watch the sunset, or snorkel off the beach to spy manta rays and sea stars. Just offshore you’ll find Tobago Cays, a marine park famed for its coral reefs and green sea turtles. With a permit, visitors can even camp overnight on the uninhabited islands.
Accommodations on Mayreau are wonderfully intimate, enhancing the deserted island atmosphere. Opt for Saltwhistle Bay Club to enjoy hillside cottages with sunset views, or choose Mayreau Gardens for its cozy seaside cabins. The food on Mayreau perfectly matches the surroundings – fresh, simple, and made from scratch. Don’t miss Mayreau Gardens’ rotating daily menus highlighting the catch of the day. Sample the national dish of saltfish and bakes at Rose’s Table d’Hôte in the village.
While beach bliss provides the backdrop, more active travelers won’t run out of things to do. Hike up Mayreau’s tallest hill for panoramic vistas of the Caribbean Sea. Take a guided hike through verdant forests to hidden waterfalls only accessible from the sea, or charter a boat to explore the uninhabited islands dotting the horizon. Scuba divers can submerge themselves in one of the healthiest coral reefs in the Caribbean, expecting to spot sea turtles, rays, and nurse sharks.
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Experience Unspoiled Beauty in Barbuda
Far flung from the bustling tourism of neighboring Antigua lies the untamed natural beauty of Barbuda. This low-lying island paradise remains the Caribbean of yesteryear, an unsullied escape where visitors feel truly far from the grind. Barbuda’s remote location has kept modern development at bay, allowing its abundant wildlife to thrive. Pink sand beaches stretch for miles without a resort in sight, presenting the opportunity to play Robinson Crusoe without sacrificing comfort. Experience the magic of having an entire Caribbean island nearly all to yourself.
Barbuda boasts over 62 pristine beaches along its Caribbean and Atlantic coasts, with nary a sun lounger or cruise ship passenger in sight. These rosy sands remain protected by law, open only for day use with camping prohibited. While undeniably gorgeous, Barbuda’s beaches lack amenities, retaining their wild spirit. Come prepared for a true back-to-nature experience, and you’ll be rewarded with a private beach worthy of paradise.
Low-key accommodations allow you to soak up the unspoiled surroundings at your leisure. Forget bustling all-inclusives— lodging here ranges from modest guesthouses to exclusive retreats. Those craving luxury in solitude can opt for The Peaceful Penguin, nestled on quiet Cocoa Point Beach. Fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping gentle Caribbean surf. Active travelers prefer the roomy villas at Barbuda Cottages, located near prime kite-surfing and kayaking spots.
Barbuda’s main draw lies in its wealth of wildlife, both on land and below the waves. This unspoiled island remains a major breeding ground for native and migratory species. Embark on birdwatching hikes to spot herons, frigatebirds, and the indigenous Barbuda warbler. Below the turquoise waters, snorkelers and divers swim alongside pack dolphins, turtles, and nurse sharks patrolling the reefs. Nature lovers find no shortage of wonders to uncover in this island sanctuary.
While Barbuda lays nearly empty, visitors can still indulge in exceptional local cuisine. At beachfront Jumby Bay, dine al fresco on freshly grilled lobster with cracked conch as the sun sets over the Caribbean. Or sample homestyle island specialties like fungee (cornmeal), crab backs, and curried goat at family-run Trevor’s Takeaway. Nightlife may be non-existent, but with ethereal pink sand beaches and starry, starry nights, who needs more?
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Relax in Culebra, Puerto Rico's Hidden Gem
Just a short ferry ride from the Puerto Rican mainland lies the island of Culebra, a hidden gem of turquoise waters and white sand beaches without the crowds. This low-key island offers a peaceful Caribbean escape for travelers craving deserted beaches and a relaxed pace of life. Avoid the tourist masses and high-rise resorts of San Juan and head to Culebra for a genuinely local experience steeped in natural beauty.
With its stunning coves, laidback villages, and abundance of sea turtles, Culebra feels a world away from the developed resorts of other Puerto Rican islands. The pace here drifts along nice and slow, giving visitors a taste of island time at its finest. Miles of deserted beaches remain protected by the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, keeping overdevelopment firmly at bay. Exploring the island by golf cart allows you to access secret coves and secluded stretches of sand where you just may have the beach entirely to yourself.
Longtime visitors rave about the pristine beaches and charming ambiance. As Mary Beth from Missouri shares, “Culebra is paradise, simple as that. The beaches take my breath away every time with that crystal clear turquoise water. And the local restaurants are some of the best I’ve found in the Caribbean—fresh fish, mofongo, cold beer. What else could you need?”
Snorkeling and diving are prime in the translucent waters around Culebra and neighboring cays. Sea turtles are a common sight while colorful fish dart among the coral reefs. Charter a boat for a day spent exploring uninhabited cays like Cayo Norte and Cayo Luis Peña. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on your own private stretch of sand surrounded only by swaying palms.
While the dining scene remains pleasingly low-key, visitors won’t want for delicious local cuisine. Follow the locals’ lead and start the day with a café con leche and mallorca pastry. For lunch, join the surf crowd slurping oysters and ceviche at Mamacita’s while soaking up the chilled-out vibe. As the sun sinks toward the sea, snag a table at El Eden for fresh seafood like whole fried snapper as the waves crash nearby.
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Enjoy Old Caribbean Charm in Saba
Tucked away on the small Dutch island of Saba rises a towering volcano which has shaped both the landscape and culture here. From rainforested peaks to picturesque villages, Saba offers travelers an escape to the Caribbean of the past, where island charm and hospitality persist. Wander quiet lanes, hike secret trails, and soak up the cozy atmosphere of this undiscovered gem just begging to be explored.
With its rugged topography and lack of beaches, Saba flew under the tourism radar for decades, allowing local traditions to remain wonderfully intact. Here you’ll find a slower pace, friendly faces, and an authentic vibe hard to come by on more popular Caribbean islands. Pastel cottages with white gingerbread trim characterize the capital of Windwardside, where you can browsing shops and stop to chat with locals. Nearby Hell's Gate provides Instagrammable views with red rooftops tumbling down the hillside against lush green peaks.
Active travelers find no shortage of adventures on Saba’s 16 square miles. The jagged landscape translates to endless opportunities for heart-pumping hikes and dives. Experienced climbers take on the aptly-named Mount Scenery, scaling near-vertical slopes on the volcano rising over 3,000 feet. More moderate treks like the Crispeen Track and Sandy Cruz Trail deliver misty rainforest vistas without the knee-wobbling heights. Beneath the waves, Saba beckons divers to explore its vibrant reefs swirling with sergeant majors, trumpetfish, and the occasional shark.
While the dining scene remains delightfully cozy, visitors won’t lack for exquisite cuisine showcasing Caribbean and Dutch influences. Despite its diminutive size, Saba punches above its weight class when it comes to inventive fare. Longtimers rave about chef-helmed Tropics Cafe serving an ever-changing chalkboard menu of global fusion cuisine. And on Thursday nights, just about everyone on island gathers at Scout's Place for its legendary barbecue highlighting tender local lobster and juicy ribs. From freshly baked pastries to just-caught fish, Saba’s close-knit community comes together around unforgettable food.
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Trek Through Rainforests in Dominica
Untamed and overflowing with natural wonders, Dominica beckons adventurous travelers to explore its lush rainforests teeming with secrets. Nicknamed the “Nature Island,” this rugged Caribbean gem offers limitless opportunities to trek through a primeval paradise far from tourist crowds. Ancient gorges, boiling lakes, and towering waterfalls await discovery on Dominica's 141 square miles. Whether you aim to summit its highest peak or simply soak in the verdant scenery, a rainforest trek here delivers once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Dominica’s thickly forested interior may intimidate novice hikers, but numerous guided treks allow both beginners and advanced trekkers to uncover its treasures. Novice ramblers opt for the easy Waitukubuli Trail segment from Laudat to Freshwater Lake, wandering through mossy grottoes and spying tiny tree frogs. More daring souls brave the challenging 9-hour hike to Boiling Lake, the world's second largest flooded fumarole. Along the route, waterfalls like Titou Gorge cascade into emerald rock pools perfect for a brisk swim. Experienced climbers aim to conquer Morne Diablotins, Dominica’s highest mountain at 4,747 ft. While the eight-hour round trip ascent proves grueling, triumphant hikers gain bragging rights plus panoramic vistas from the cloud-wreathed summit.
Wherever your abilities land on the spectrum, Dominica offers an embarrassment of riches to uncover, as Meredith from Canada shares. “I’ll never forget my rainforest adventures in Dominica - it simply astounded me at every turn. One day we were clambering up a steep gorge, the next gazing at Crazy Creoles boiling mud pots. The guides brought each unique landscape to life with stories about the nature, history and culture.”
Amidst impossibly green hills blanketed in rainforest, roaring rivers carve out steep gorges slice through the rugged terrain. Sections like Breakfast River Gorge and Indian River transport hikers into Jurassic territory where prehistoric vines drape down fern-filled cliffs. Floating downstream in a dugout canoe or bamboo raft offers a uniquely Dominican experience. Guides expertly maneuver through mini rapids and point out wildlife like great egrets scooping up fish.
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Unwind in Paradise on Anegada
Far-flung from the British Virgin Islands’ polished resorts lies one of the Caribbean’s final frontiers, a place where life moves at an unhurried pace and Mother Nature still rules supreme. Welcome to Anegada, a flat coral and limestone island rimmed by the world’s third largest barrier reef. With endless stretches of deserted beaches and laidback vibes, this barefoot paradise beckons travelers in search of escapism to unwind in simplicity.
Nicknamed the “Drowning Islands” for their low terrain just above sea level, Anegada and its cays remain one of the few undeveloped areas left in the BVIs. Here you’ll find authentic island life continuing on in colorful fishing villages instead of tourist traps. The 18-mile-long island has barely 300 year-round residents, meaning its 15 pristine beaches stay blissfully uncrowded. Bonefishing guides may wave as you stroll for hours on beaches like Flash of Beauty and Loblolly Bay. Anegada’s pink-tinted sands owe their hue to pulverized red coral and cone shells.
“We visited during peak season but still had entire stretches of beach to ourselves every day,” shares Keira S. “It was such a gift to spend a week tuning out everything but the sound of waves, connecting back to each other without distractions. Anegada resets your soul.”
While amenities remain limited, no one visits for the nightlife. Here, diving the reefs, sailing to deserted cays, casting for bonefish, and feasting on fresh lobster are the highlights. Relaxation is the main event. Visitors find plenty of cozy lodging nestled in the dunes to escape the stresses of home. Opt for beachfront cottages at Anegada Reef Hotel or Neptune’s Treasure, Anegada’s only luxury resort offering pampering spa treatments.
Off the Beaten Path: 21 Secret Caribbean Islands to Add to Your Bucket List - Dive with Shipwrecks in Bonaire
For scuba divers, Bonaire offers access to one of the Caribbean’s top wreck diving destinations. With crystal-clear waters allowing visibility up to 200 feet, Bonaire’s shipwrecks provide the perfect underwater playground. Both novice wreck divers and technical veterans can explore history while enjoying close encounters with coral, fish, and even turtles who now call these sunken vessels home.
Located off Venezuela’s coast, Bonaire’s calm, current-free waters with little wave action created ideal conditions for divers of all levels. Shore diving abounds with over 90 marked sites reachable by simply wading in from the beach. This easy accessibility combined with protected reefs teeming with marine life cements Bonaire as one of the top scuba spots worldwide. The island boasts two national marine parks covering the leeward coast and Klein Bonaire islet, preserving the pristine corals.
But Bonaire’s pièce de résistance for wreck divers remains its collection of ships either deliberately sunk as artificial reefs or meeting their end in Bonaire's waters. In shallow sites like the Hilma Hooker and Captain Don Stewart, divers can explore these fascinating time capsules while avoiding risky deep descents. Technical divers can push their limits on advanced dives to wrecks like the St Michiel, a 400-foot cargo vessel sitting upright in over 110 feet of water. With Bonaire offering wreck dives for all skill levels, this island paradise puts its fascinating history on full display.
Liz K. from Colorado still raves about her first experience diving Bonaire’s wrecks as a newly certified diver. “The Salt Pier was the perfect shallow intro where we could take our time exploring the remains of the tugboat while getting comfortable. I'll never forget peeking inside the Captain Don's wheelhouse, it felt like traveling back in time. The viz was gin clear even during our night dive on the Invisble, it was just incredible!”
Bonaire’s best-known wreck remains the Hilma Hooker, a 237-foot freighter purposefully sunk in 1984 and sitting in just 30-60 feet of water. The shipwreck’s shallow perch allows ample time to explore its remains on a single tank. Penetrate the wreck to discover tarpon swimming through the radio room and barracuda hovering in the engine room. At the shallowest depth, the Hilma Hooker’s deck now brims with colorful sponges and swaying sea fans, a testament to Bonaire’s thriving reef system.
Many of Bonaire’s wrecks have an intriguing history behind their demise. The Captain Don Stewart served military purposes in World War II before retiring here as an artificial reef. Technical divers exploring the deeper St Michiel may spot artillery shells in the cargo hold, remnants of the ship’s days supplying Soviet troops. And the Hilma Hooker herself once smuggled drugs and migrants before authorities seized and sank her. Divers love the thrill of uncovering these wrecks’ storied past lives.