You’re already off the beaten path, so why not follow it a bit farther and see where it takes you? Some of the Caribbean’s best surprises are the many little islets that surround the major islands. Find islands that are always up for a party, others that offer secluded getaways, and still others that are pristine time capsules of the Caribbean at its wildest and most unspoiled. Here are ten of our favorites.
Klein Curacao, Curacao
If a wave crashes on a beach and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Sounds like a question to be researched on Klein Curacao, an uninhabited island eight miles off the coast of Curacao that is ringed by soft white-sand beaches. To reach the island, look for trips offered by dive operators and companies providing sailboat charters. A jaunt to the island usually includes a beach barbecue and some excellent snorkeling.
Scilly Cay, Anguilla
Find your way to the sleepy village of Island Harbor on the northeastern end of Anguilla, walk to the end of the pier, orient yourself in the general direction of the wee speck of an island just offshore, then wave your arms—and maybe jump up and down for good measure. Pretty soon, someone will motor across the harbor and whisk you to Scilly Cay, where you can spend the afternoon savoring crayfish and lobster, knocking back strong rum punches, and making yourself at home on this tiny slice of conch-shell-lined paradise.
Buck Island, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Buck Island Reef National Monument, a five-mile sail from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is more about surf than turf—most of its 19,000 acres are not actually the island but the surrounding “submerged land’’ (read: underwater). And while the land itself is lovely, there’s no denying that the incredible barrier reef, which rises 30 feet from the sea floor, is the real star. Hike the island and enjoy the view from the 328-foot summit, or strap on your snorkel and swim the underwater trail with its educational signs, marine gardens, and 90 species of fish.
Big Major Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Big Major Cay is a Caribbean island with a surprising porcine twist. The island, also known as Pig Island, is home to a drove of feral pigs that swim out to meet passing boats. Visitors from nearby islands can visit to swim and walk among the friendly (and food-motivated) animals. It’s unclear exactly how this uninhabited island came to be ruled by pigs, but it remains one of the Caribbean’s most unusual day trips.
Chacachacare Island, Trinidad and Tobago
Some swear that when you visit Chacachacare Island, you walk among ghosts. The now-abandoned island is still dotted with the ruins of a 20th-century leper colony and convent. Most visitors pause for the day and explore the slowly decaying buildings, the cemeteries, and the still-operational lighthouse. Some hardy souls choose to camp, and a number of TripAdvisor reviewers have reported strange noises in the night. Visitors with boats can explore independently; local tour companies also often make Chacachacare a stop on “down the islands’’ boat tours.
Sandy Cay, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
Play out your deserted-island fantasy and be back to civilization in time for dinner. The tiny island of Sandy Cay sits just off the shore of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Hire a boat or arrange a ride out (and back), then spend the day swimming, snorkeling, lounging, and picnicking. Fun fact: If you’re looking for the perfect unplugged spot in which to tie the knot, this just might be it. The islet can be used for weddings, though you need to get advance approval from the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands.
Prickly Pear Island, Antigua
The name may be prickly, but the island welcome you’ll receive here will be anything but. The relaxed, friendly vibe of Prickly Pear Island attracts both island visitors and cruise-ship passengers. Take the five-minute boat ride across Hodges Bay to discover free professional snorkeling instruction and equipment, a generous West Indian buffet, and plenty of room to simply stretch out and soak up the sun.
Lime Cay, Jamaica
One of Jamaica’s most beautiful beaches isn’t on Jamaica, but on nearby Lime Cay. The low-lying island attracts beachgoers, snorkelers, and weekend revelers, but because Lime Cay is occasionally inundated by high tides, no one actually lives there. Pack your own everything because there are no facilities on the island, just a lot of gorgeous scenery. To get there, head to the Morgan’s Harbour Marina in Port Royal and rent a boat, arrange a shuttle, or strike up a deal with a local fisherman.
Mona Island, Puerto Rico
Wild and isolated, Isla de Mona (Mona Island) is one of the Caribbean’s last frontiers. The trip to the island sometimes called the “Galapagos of the Caribbean’’ is long (about three hours) and the surrounding waters are treacherous. But the adventurous will be rewarded with ancient petroglyphs, magnificent limestone cliffs, rich wildlife, and pristine beaches. If you go, it’s best to be with an experienced guide.
Attention cruise-ship passengers: Your private island awaits. Cruise lines including Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean International maintain islands for the exclusive day-trip use of cruise-ship passengers. All offer beautiful beaches, family-friendly swimming, food, and other activities. Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay is home to a 175-foot-long waterslide, Disney’s Castaway Cay has a teen activity area and an adults-only beach, and on Royal Caribbean’s Labadee island, you can shop for local artwork or get a bird’s-eye view of this Caribbean paradise from a zip line or parasail. These islands may not deliver much in the way of isolated serenity, but they can be a whole lot of fun.
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