After six months spent in West and Central Africa, we were ready for some sun, beach and some visa-free countries. Naturally, island hopping the Caribbean seemed like the perfect idea. Over 7,000 islands surrounded by turquoise waters and home to pristine white beaches just waiting to be discovered – yes, please. It was a perfect time as well. March and April are great months to go, it is the end of the high season, so the weather is still nice but you will most likely find an empty beach too.
The Caribbean is a unique part of the world where most of the visitors come on pre-arranged packages, resort stays and of course as part of the ever-expanding cruising industry. Independent travellers keen on island hopping are quite rare. As expected the islands do cater mostly for cruisers and resort stayers.
But with a bit of planning and knowledge, island-hopping across all 13 independent countries is possible. And if you are lucky you might visit a few islands that despite being overseas territories, they’re also worth visiting. But most importantly there are islands that offer a lot more than just a beach.
In this article, we provide some information on our experience in the Caribbean in April 2019 and ALL updated information on airlines and ferries in 2022.
How to plan your island-hopping Caribbean itinerary?
Getting to the Caribbean is not particularly hard, there are plenty of direct flights from Europe and North America to get you there. If you are travelling on a budget, the best option is to search for European charter flights to Barbados, Guadeloupe, or Martinique and start your travels from there.
We use Aviasales to book the best deals on flights anywhere in the world and great to create the most cost-effective Caribbean island-hopping itinerary.
Are you coming from Canada or the USA? Well, you are spoilt for choices of flights and can possibly do your Caribbean Island hopping in a few segments. If you are aiming to visit all of them, a good idea might be to start in the south (ie Trinidad or Barbados) and hop your way north.
Island hopping the Caribbean as an independent traveller – What is it really like?
I admit it, island hopping the Caribbean can be lonely at times. It’s harder to meet other travellers and hopping from island to island can be costly as there are simply no cheap flights (minimum of $100-$150).
There are not that many ferries (mostly in the Eastern Caribbean) and you could possibly help out on a boat to catch a ride to the next island but that does require more time and waiting around.
Backpacking the Caribbean Islands
Island hopping the Caribbean – Ferry vs Flights vs Cruise
I am personally not a big fan of cruises. You have limited time on each island, the whole concept of cruise enriches the people who own them and little goes to the actual islands. It’s also very bad for the environment.
Locals in the Bahamas said to me that according to the statistics, cruise visitors only spent 10 USD on the island, as they eat and drink on the cruise ship and organise trips through the cruise as well.
But I know many people are simply short on time and cruises can offer amazing value. Or for those with a fear of flying, this can be the perfect option to visit the Caribbean. If you do choose to book a Caribbean Cruise, try to contribute to the local’s economy, rather than booking excursions from the cruise company.
How to fly around the Caribbean?
There are two options here. You can either fly in and out of the most of islands from Miami. Or you can connect them with small Caribbean Airlines, but this requires some planning as flights are not daily and a few were cancelled during the pandemic.
Here are a few airlines to look at and again the best way to search for prices is on Aviasales.
InterCaribbean Airways, Ltd. is a passenger airline based in the Turks and Caicos Islands flying to Antigua, The Bahamas, The British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Maarten.You can find the current schedule here.
Bahamas Air is based in Nassau Bahamas and connects several cities in Florida, but also connects Turks and Caicos, Havana, Kingston, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Caribbean Ferry between 4 Islands
If you are planning to island-hop the Caribbean with ferries, I have some bad news. These are not really the Greek islands, and a majority of the Caribbean islands don’t have standard passenger ferries.
I mean, there are small ferries, like in St Vincent and the Grenadines where you can take a ferry to the next islands, but when it comes to international crossing, there aren’t many.
There is one ferry that connects 4 different islands: L’Express des Iles (translates to the express of the Islands).
L’Express des Iles offers a dependable, inexpensive, and pleasant ferry service between the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, and St.Lucia (and Marie Galante and Les Saintes). You can book your ticket online easily and see the cost and schedule. The website is in French only, however.
Our Island Hopping the Caribbean in 2019:
To give you a better insight, here is a little recap of each island. Yes, things have changed since the pandemic, but the cost or vibe of these islands will be the same. Our island hopping Caribbean itinerary started in Barbados and finished in Haiti.
Our island hopping started in Barbados and we really liked it here. We spent almost a week here and found the island big enough to keep ourselves entertained.
The beaches are beautiful with white sand and despite the package holidaymakers, you can still find your private spot like on the Miami beach.
Bridgetown, the capital didn’t seem to win us over at all. Yes, we admit it is expensive to eat or drink out, but we only went to Oistins for the fish market to treat ourselves and otherwise, we found enough local eats to get by. In some way, we also had an amazing stay due to our Airbnb host.
Trinidad & Tobago is known for its festival, but we were too late for the party. Instead, we were keen to try some of its food, which is quite unique in the Caribbean due to the influence of Indian immigrants.
We tried doubles, roti filled with Indian curries, plus bake and shark too. If you head to the north side, you’ll find the nicest beach at Maracas Bay. Or you can check out the many waterfalls inland – Maracas Waterfall was our favourite.
At the waterfall in Trinidad
Eating doubles in T&T
Oh Grenada, you had us at your views of the harbour. We arrived in the middle of the night and woke up to stunning views of St George, the capital of Grenada. We went exploring the town and did a food tour to learn and taste some of the food on the island.
The views of Grenada
Carib Beer on the beach!
Grand Anse beach is where you want to go. A beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear waters and lined with almond trees. This is an island we would definitely like to return to.
Caribbean Island Hopping – Beautiful beaches of Grenada
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
We considered travelling to St Vincent on a boat from Grenada, but it would take a few islands to hop and a few ferries/boats. But if you have time this is a great option as you would get to see a few other islands such as Carriacou and Union Island.
We arrived in St Vincent and took the public bus to the top of the green hills where we stayed in our Airbnb. Everyone told us we must go to Bequia island which is accessible by daily ferry. We were promised some of the best beaches in the Caribbean and the island really delivered.
We were all beached out when we arrived in Saint Lucia, so we decided to stay close-by Gros Islet and Rodney Bay. Our Airbnb place was super cosy and gave us a chance to catch up on some blogging and planning the upcoming island hopping.
We knew St Lucia was a popular stop for yachties and walking around the harbour we could see why, it’s beautiful here. Gros Islet is known for its Friday street party, we ended up walking the colourful streets mid-week as we were leaving on Friday morning on a ferry.
Caribbean island hopping by boat would be the best way to see the islands. There is only one ferry that links 4 islands.
Yes, St Lucia is linked with 3 islands: Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe.
The other thing to see or do here is Pitons – the volcanic peaks in the south of the island. Check out the great range of Pitons hikes and day tours available.
Dominica turned out to be a paradise! Its mountainous landscape offers insane views, there are waterfalls, beaches, great food and hot springs! Nicknamed “The Nature Isle”, it really lives up to its name! If you love adventure, you will love Dominica.
We hiked up to Trafalgar Falls as well as Middleham Falls. We were set to hike up to the boiling lake as well, but unfortunately, due to the heavy rain, we had to change our plans.
The capital, Roseau offers markets and streets with lots of small eateries where you can try local cuisine and mix with locals. You’ll find many great eco-friendly places on the islands.
We were warned that the beaches in Antigua (pronounced An-tee-ga ) are some of the finest. We rented a car here for a few days to see what the island has to offer. Our road-tripping started with a flat tyre within ten minutes. They say there are 365 beaches in Antigua and we think there might be 3650 potholes on this island too.
We stayed for a few days and enjoyed the beaches and turquoise water here.
If you’re in Antigua for just the day as part of a cruise, then this Shore Excursion to explore the whole island. The tour includes pick-up and drop-off from the port and you’re guaranteed to be back in good time before your ship sets sail again.
Caribbean Island Hopping involves a lot of beautiful beaches
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Another flight took us to our country number 159 St Kitts & Nevis. This dual-island nation is one of the smallest in the Caribbean and we were almost at the end of our Eastern Caribbean island hopping trip. This was a popular place for family vacations for North Americans and Brits as well.
We checked out the Atlantic and the Caribbean side which is only a short walk away from each other but overall thought it was very quiet as it seems most people spent their day in their resorts.
The tour includes a visit to famous landmarks such as Independence Square and Romney Manor and you will have free time to swim or shop before being transferred back to the ship before departure.
St Kitts & Nevis!
The next country on our list was the Bahamas. We chose a flight that took us via the Turks and Caicos Islands. We stayed for 24 hours and we’re so glad we stopped here. Grace Bay beach might be up there with some of the best beaches we’ve ever seen! It was hard to leave as we love beach time!
Our flight from Providenciales (Turks & Caicos) to the Bahamas was quite a surprise. We didn’t expect to be chauffeured there in a small 16 seater ex-private jet of a retired rockstar from the 80s. Well, that’s what it felt like for us. The only thing missing was a bottle of whiskey and some canapes. It was cool.
The Bahamas is a coral-based archipelago that has over 700 islands! We stayed on the main island of Grand Bahama although everyone will tell you that you must visit the smaller so-called family islands to see the real Bahamas. To try and keep costs down, we stayed with a local woman in a beautiful Bahamian Airbnb house, as this country is super expensive.
We beach-hopped, explored on foot, and explored the area in search of the 10 best foods in the Bahamas. I think we gave it a solid effort, the seafood in particular is fantastic and fresh.
Caribbean Island Hopping – Bahamas capital Nassau
Jamaica was next. We hired a car and set ourselves a very busy itinerary here. We wanted to see as much as we could in the time we had. Our favourite place was Negril for the great beaches and it didn’t feel too touristy.
We spent a night at Treasure Beach, which is more aimed at independent travellers, however, Negril had a much nicer beach and vibe.
The jerk chicken and rum tasted great in Jamaica and reggae music can be heard everywhere. We swam in the Blue Hole, visited the Bob Marley museum, enjoyed cold ‘Red Stripe’ beers on some white sandy beaches and met some very friendly Jamaicans. Did you know there are 2 Jamaica languages?
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Perfect Beach in Jamaica
This country has been on our bucket list for quite some time so we were excited to arrive. We booked a charming little hotel located in the historical centre in the capital city of Santo Domingo and we instantly loved the vibes here. A few reasons why we love the Dominican Republic.
It’s much more affordable than other Caribbean islands, our hotel in Santo Domingo was $35 p/n incl breakfast and the location was amazing! Good food and great coffee are everywhere, Uber is available to get around and everything feels affordable. We took buses to explore this island, different cities, beaches and areas and we loved it!
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