We hear so much about the same handful of big Caribbean islands, the ones with large airports and infrastructures big enough to welcome cruise ships full of thousands of people. And yet, the Caribbean is home to more than 7,000 islands, and 28 island nations — which means that there’s more to explore beyond the big names. These 10 islands haven’t received the hype because they’re hard to get to — which, for some travelers, may make them all the more worthwhile.
Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
This funky island packs all the beauty of St. Barth, but because it remains a gem that few know about, the low rents allow for a community of artists to call it home. Because of this, expect galleries, cute cafes and an overall fun, fresh vibe. One not-to-miss attraction is Whaleboner Bar featuring an archway of whale jawbones marking the entry, and bones supporting much of the structure, including the bar itself.
What sounds like the name of your French cousin or an after-dinner drink is a 61-square mile island south of Guadeloupe. Nicknamed the “Big Pancake,” it’s flat, with plenty of white-sand beaches. Book a ticket if you love sun, sand and utter sanctuary, and have a thing for French culture (yes, French is spoken here).
Isla de Mona, Puerto Rico
This uninhabited satellite island 41 miles west of Puerto Rico has been nicknamed “the Galapagos of the Caribbean” by in-the-know scuba divers. No overnight visitation is allowed without a permit, but hikers, birdwatchers and divers can enjoy this unspoiled island with a guided day tour departing from Rincón.
Staniel Cay, Bahamas
Sailors dropping anchor in the Bahamas tend to spend at least a night or two at this Bahamian outpost island 250 miles southeast of Florida — but you don’t need to own your yacht to visit, just a ticket on Watermakers Air from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Most resorts offer kayaks and paddle boards, and some, including Staniel Cay Yacht Club, offer rooms that come with Boston Whaler motor boats so you can explore the islands, picnicking on sand spits that only appear at low tide.
Charming and quiet, this island, really a collection of villages, is ideal for anyone hoping to pen a novel — or simply finish the book tucked into their carry-on. Plus, the reefs here abound with sea turtles and schools of fish, so even first-time snorkelers will come home with a story.
Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos
With one bar and one restaurant, Salt Cay ranks among the sleepiest inhabited islands in the Caribbean. Don’t go for the nightlife — go for up-close humpback whale encounters January through April. One snorkel day trip can mean meeting a dozen mamas who take advantage of the shallow waters to teach their calves the basics about ocean living.
Just a 15-minute flight from St. Maarten, this patch of green is best known for its theme-ride airstrip, the shortest in the world. Beyond the airport, the lush island is treasured by hikers and birders who seek the cloud forests of Mt. Scenery, rich with orchids and air plants, hummingbirds and bananaquits. Beach-lovers be warned: With sheer sides, this volcanic island doesn’t allow for flat, sandy stretches.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Pronounced “hole-bosh,” this spit of sand is just a 15-minute boat ride from Cancun, but worlds away from the high-rises. This sleepy isla is all about thatched roofs and hammocks. Plus, June through August, it serves as a jumping-off point for snorkelers to boat to open water where plankton blooms draw in dozens of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark.
Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Mick Jagger, Ally Hilfiger and David Bowie helped put Mustique on the map as an escape for the well-to-do set. The next island south is Canouan, with the same swoon-worthy white beaches, rolling emerald hills and bright turquoise water, but without the price tag that only rock stars and models can afford.
The largest of the Bahamian islands, and also the least populated, has long been known to bone fishermen and scuba divers relishing cave exploration. These days, with a handful of eco-resorts, including Tiamo, Mangrove Cay Club and Deneki Outdoors Andros South, the island and its reefs have become the playground of the outdoor traveler seeking to do more, including swim with wild dolphins, snorkel with eagle rays or sail above the pristine reefs.