The Best Caribbean Destinations for an Easy Beach Getaway
Well, relatively easy anyway.
Some things are given on a Caribbean beach getaway: water that dazzles in shades of emerald and blue; gently swaying palms; a slower pace of life; a steady flow of ice-cold rum drinks. There is no bad time for a Caribbean escape. And right about now, a chance to immerse yourself in island culture—or to book a future trip to look forward to—is not only more enticing than ever, but also more possible than it’s been in a while.
When choosing the right piece of paradise for you, there’s a lot to consider: What language is spoken, what types of accommodations are available, and, most crucially, what you have to do to enter the country. Luckily, many Caribbean destinations are currently welcoming guests, and while pretty much every place has its own testing requirements and protocols, one thing is the same: These beaches are winners and worth the medical precautions. After all, a mandatory quarantine is a lot better when there are white sand beaches involved.
Welcome to the jungle—and the beach
A far cry from your typical Caribbean experience, St. Lucia’s verdant jungle covers spiny mountain peaks that look down over striking black-sand beaches. The port town of Soufriere is a great jumping-off point from which to get into the island’s hot springs, hike the trails, and climb Gros Piton, which offers sweeping views over St. Lucia and a few neighboring islands.
For an unforgettably idyllic beach day, set your sights on Anse Mamin, a strip of black sand framed by the dramatic peak of Jade Mountain on the island’s western sunset coast. It’s nearby the ridiculously fancy (and photogenic) Jade Mountain Resort, so everyone assumes the beach is exclusive to the hotel. They’re wrong: it’s open to all, magically secluded, backed by shade trees and green cliffs. There’s a small burger joint on the beach that is part of the hotel, but it, too, can be enjoyed by anybody. The burgers are legendary, spoken about by locals in hushed, reverent tones. —Meagan Drillinger
COVID-19 rules and regulations: All arrivals over age five must have a negative PCR test within five days of arrival. You must also complete a travel authorization form and submit to screening, which includes temperature checks.
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Ancient boulders, dazzling beaches, and pirate dens
If you love a good beach getaway but are a little bit over the piña colada scene, BVI could be your spot. There are 20 national parks across its 60 or so islands, but The Baths National Park on Virgin Gorda, the archipelago’s third-largest strip of sand, stands out above all else. Think lush peaks, ancient boulders, unspoiled beaches, and fantastic opportunities for hiking, rock-climbing, and spelunking—not to mention there’s no trace of the rampant crowds that flood US national parks like Yellowstone. There’s also Saba Rock, which is essentially a millionaire’s hangout that used to be entirely run by a pirate. Somehow lacking pretension, it’s another great mix of beach-getaway-meets-off-grid-adventure. You could almost swim there—it’s a 10-minute ferry from Virgin Gorda—but you might as well save your butterfly strokes for when you’re snorkeling or diving in the reefs. —Jacqueline Kehoe
COVID-19 rules and regulations: To enter, fully vaccinated travelers will need to present proof of travel insurance and a negative PCR test or antigen rapid test no older than five days. (Note that travelers with test results older than 48 hours must retest using a $50 rapid antigen test upon entry.) All travelers will be subject to temperature checks.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Minimal vacation-planning stress, maximum beauty
One of the Caribbean’s most accessible and inexpensive destinations, Punta Cana is far from a hidden gem—but it’s popular for good reason. Just a 20-minute drive from a bustling airport, this is not a Caribbean destination that requires you to take a plane to a Cessna to a water plane to a ferry to a taxi to a moto before you find your particular corner of paradise: the entire area is objectively gorgeous, complete with soft white and yellow sand and pretty much any tropical experience you desire. Your vibe will vary based on lodging, be it upscale and luxurious, laid-back and cool, active and adventurous, or romantic and honeymoon-y. Yoga, snorkeling, ziplining, cooking classes, windsurfing, sea kayaking, golfing, great restaurants (check out local fave Bachata Rosa)—find it all, and then hop back home, easy as you like. —Katy Spratte Joyce
COVID-19 rules and regulations: No PCR test is required to enter the Dominican Republic. Between 3-10% of passengers will receive a quick, aleatory breath test, as will anyone displaying symptoms (if you display a vaccination card, you’re exempt). You will also need to fill out a health affidavit upon arrival.
Home of Garifuna beats
In 1937, the Caribbean Afro-Indigenous Garifuna community escaped persecution in Honduras and became the first settlers in what is now known as Hopkins, Belize. The secluded fishing village, about a two-hour drive south of Belize City, gained about 200 more people when a hurricane devastated northern Belize in 1941. Today, Hopkins is a laid-back fishing village of about 1,500, lightly touched by resorts and tourists. That means uncrowded beaches where a hammock is always waiting for you in the cradle of Garifuna culture in Belize.
The Lebeha Drumming Center teaches local percussion ways and then takes you out onto the beach for drumming and dance. Just a short drive away, experience some of the best of Belize, including the chance to rappel down a waterfall at Mayflower Bocawina National Park or walk among big cats at the world’s only jaguar preserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Though you’d be forgiven for skipping the adrenaline and settling into the rhythms of Hopkins' beaches for the long haul. —Jennifer Billock
COVID-19 rules and regulations: First, you’ll need to purchase Belize’s travel health insurance ($18 USD). If you’re entering through the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA), you’ll need to provide a negative PCR test within 96 hours of arrival, or a negative antigen test within 48 hours of arrival. Lacking a PCR test, you can get one at the airport for $50 (cash only); if you test positive, the Ministry of Health will advise you.
Champagne Reef, Dominica
Swim through streams of photogenic, volcanic-vent bubbles
Tiny, mountainous Dominica is covered in craggy mountains and lush forests that reward visitors—those who know well enough to actually visit—with a wealth of waterfalls, jaw-dropping hikes, hot springs, and beaches both rocky and sandy. But it's what's beyond the shoreline—and below the surface—that truly makes the mind reel.
Throughout the Champagne Reef, submerged geothermal springs release curtains of volcanic gas. One of the world’s most famous and unusual dive sites—which some liken to swimming through a giant flute of bubbly thanks to all the volcanic bubbles—Champagne Beach attracts swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers of all skill levels with the warm, shallow waters. Admire the vibrant colors of hard corals, barrel sponges, and fish schools, then trace the topography down to the oceanic pinnacles and other volcanic rock formations of the Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve. As above water, there is seemingly no end to the jaw-dropping discoveries. —Amanda Castleman
COVID-19 rules and regulations: U.S. travelers must upload negative PCR test results 72 hours prior to arrival. You must also submit a health questionnaire 24 hours prior to arrival and provide a health clearance to travel. Upon arrival, you’ll be taken to a secondary screening area and receive a rapid diagnostic test. Assuming you have no symptoms, you’re good to go.
Cinnamon Bay, St John
The secluded part of an already untouched island
With two-thirds of the island of St. John protected as national parkland, there’s not a hint of the waterfront over-development often rampant in the Caribbean anywhere near a port or airport. But what makes Cinnamon Bay so ethereal is that it’s an especially quiet beach on an island with nothing but tranquil shores.
Here, you’ll find even fewer visitors than at nearby Trunk Bay. This means untouched beaches with soft white sand, crystal-clear blue waters, and swaying palm trees are all yours at the end of your journey. If computer-wallpaper-fodder levels of natural beauty aren’t enough to entice you, the calm bay-facing sea here makes it perfect for everything from swimming and snorkeling (be sure to look for the sunken airplane) to kayaking and windsurfing, and nearby historic sugar plantation ruins make for an easy hike that will get you out of the water for a minute. —Zach Mack
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Even though the USVI is not an international destination, you'll still need to provide a negative PCR test within five days of arrival. If you don’t have the results by the time you land, the USVI asks you to self-quarantine until they arrive.
Costa Maya, Mexico
The boho beach town that hasn’t yet been Tulum’ed
Beautiful Tulum hasn’t been the same since it became a mainstay of luxe glossies and #vacationgoals. But if you want to get a glimpse into what Tulum used to be like, all you have to do is keep driving south. Way, way south. Like to the border of Belize. Here, you’ll find a sugary stretch of Mexican coastline called the Costa Maya, anchored by the town of Mahahual. The vibe here is straight-up dreamy, with miles of undeveloped powdery sand fringed in green palm trees. Mahahual is that Mexico beach town that Mexicans escape to when Playa del Carmen and Tulum become too “stressful.” Decompress here with small boutique eco-hotels, beachfront guesthouses, and bohemian beach bars that are actually boho, minus the chic… or the Tulum prices. —Meagan Drillinger
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Mexico does not require any test results upon arrival, but you must fill out a COVID-19 health form.
Easygoing resort town with miles of beach and splashy skies
Nestled on the westernmost tip of Jamaica about an hour from Montego Bay’s airport, the sunsets steal the show at Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, which, by the way, is a natural beach and only four miles long—naturally. Plenty developed with resorts and tourist delights, it’s the place to go for easy-going days of uninterrupted beach bummin’, scuba, snorkeling, horseback riding, evening sailing trips where the sun transitions orange to red as it dips peacefully below the western horizon before the nighttime festivities begin.
Most anything is on offer after dark, from laid-back beach bars to energetic reggae and jazz clubs where you can dance all night. The small-town feel invites guests to friendly chatter amongst locals while sipping cocktails around a bonfire, or dining on freshly prepared escovitch fish and veggies. —Ezinne Mgbeahuruike
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Residents of the US—along with a number of other countries—are required to submit a negative PCR or Antigen test within three days of travel to Jamaica. You must also apply for a Travel Authorization within seven days of your departure.
Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
A popular yet uncrowded de-stressor that can even include puppies
The white sand of Grace Bay—a scant 20-minute cab ride from the airport—bends for 12 elegant miles, so it’s not crowded despite being one of the more popular destinations for people desperate for an unfussy repose. Getting there is a breeze thanks to nonstops from airports all over the United States, and once you’re there, icy stress melts in an instant.
A short boat ride from Grace Bay Beach will take you out to a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore for snorkeling or diving along the world’s third-largest coral reef system. On your trip back, stop at Little Water Cay, or "Iguana Island," a nature reserve full of iguanas, birds, and wildlife. For kayaking, Provo’s Chalk Sound is perfect—a brilliant but calm body of water. On Thursday nights, locals head to the Fish Fry for fresh fish, conch, lobster, grilled island corn, rum-filled coconuts, and reggae under the starry skies. For the ultimate feel-good, you can rent a dog for the day at Potcake Place, a rescue center with adorable, friendly pups. —Jennifer Mattson
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Travelers to Turks and Caicos must show a negative PCR test at most three days prior to arrival. You’ll also need travel insurance and proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and similar venues.
The Florida Keys
The United States' wild, weird piece of Caribbean archipelago
Conchs—the eccentric Key West locals—say that hurricanes blew away all the churches but left the bars standing. And while the Conch bars absolutely must be explored, the Keys have so much more to them than a debauched trip down Duval Street. Stretching nearly 150 miles, the Keys are teeming with history, mystery, wildlife, and weirdos. Home to the only coral reef in the continental U.S.—one of the most delicate, diverse, and important ecosystems in the world—it’s a national treasure to be savored and preserved. At the end of the road is Key West, a place both tacky and elegant. An iconic LGBTQ destination, Key West has also been a community for many of America's greatest writers. Hemingway, yes, but also Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, and Joy Williams, who wrote a guide to the Keys that remains one of the best pieces of travel writing in existence. Oh, and it’s also said to be extremely haunted. Which, here, is actually part of the weirdo charm. —Bison Messink
Pink sands, surf, and solitude
Eleuthera isn’t for everyone. There are no major hotel chains, only a handful of good restaurants, and no nightlife to speak of. Instead, quietly swaying palms, secluded snorkeling, and clear water stretching over pink-tinted sands. The long, slender island—one of 30 inhabited islands (out of 700 total) in the Bahamas—is home to one of Earth’s unique vantage points: the so-called Glass Window Bridge. Here, you can stand on a strip of land just 30 feet wide, overlooking the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean to one side and the turquoise glow of the Caribbean Sea to the other. Ponder the mysteries of both bodies of water while you wonder why more people haven’t flocked here… then be thankful that they haven’t. —Dana Freeman
COVID-19 rules and regulations: The Bahamas requires a negative PCR test within five days of traveling to the islands. Those staying beyond five days must get a rapid antigen test on day five of their visit.
Kick it at the beach on the Caribbean’s most intriguing island
The most popular beach destination in Cuba, Varadero is a long barrier island that juts off the northern coast of Cuba two hours east of Havana and dishes up the powdery white sand and turquoise waters of your tropical dreams. Playa Azul is the main place to relax, from which you can head out on a catamaran cruise or just sip a coco frio in the shade of a palm. All-inclusive resorts line the shore, but opt for a casa particular (room in a private home) to put more money directly into the hands of the locals, who are just as curious and eager to meet Americans as you are of them. When it’s time to party off the beach, The Beatles Bar goes off with live rock bands, mojitos, and the smooth, smooth dance moves for which Cubans are famous. —Terry Ward
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Travelers 12 years and older must provide proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 test results taken within 72 hours of departure.
Carlisle Bay, Antigua
The beachiest of Caribbean beach destinations
Antigua claims to have 365 beaches in its 108 square miles: one for every day of the year, the locals will happily tell you. And while you’ll get about as many answers when you ask said locals for the “best” on the island as you will asking New Yorkers where to get the “best” slice of pizza, it’s hard to beat the combination of seclusion, scenery, snorkeling, and pristine water you’ll find in Carlisle Bay.
This little cove tucked along Antigua’s southwestern shore is surrounded by lush rainforest, creating a perfect emerald wall around your little semicircle of paradise. The soft golden sands give way to pristine turquoise waters, and if you’re up for a swim, you can head out to a small beach around the bend that’s even more secluded. There, you’ll find a coral reef only a few feet offshore, where you can lose a couple of hours with your undersea friends before retreating to a slice of sand that feels a world away. The beach is bordered by the Carlisle Bay Resort, and if you want the seclusion to last, it’s an ideal place to post up for the week. —Matt Meltzer
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Travelers to Antigua and Barbuda must be fully vaccinated and provide a negative PCR test within four days of travel to the islands. Children under 12 are exempt.