Over the last 6 months, we visited most of the Eastern Caribbean islands all the way to Puerto Rico. Along the way we learnt some useful tips and tricks that may just come in handy for other cruisers following a similar route.
Admittedly we did not go to Trinidad so cannot comment about their services. We also didn't hike every island, see every beach, buy every trinket but here are a few of our musings based on what we saw.
1. Communities. Grenada has the best cruisers network in the Caribbean in our opinion. St Martin a close second. There are loads of yachties who seem to live in Grenada. There is always loads to do too. Everything from cooking classes to hashes (think of them as fun runs in interesting places) to BBQ's and cruiser specials.
2. Stocking up. There are a variety of places to go to do this. Of course, Walmart in Puerto Rico is good for some bulk shopping, however certain items (funnily enough) you will find cheaper in other places. For instance, tinned tomatoes were really cheap in the main supermarket in Jolly Harbour (Antigua). Walmart / Cost Co are fairly cheap, but lacks a wide range of products and not everyone is interested in going all the way to Puerto Rico just to stock up. Grenada has some decent stores (CK Value) and reasonable prices as does St Martin (Grande Marche).
3. Booze. St Martin was probably the cheapest place for imported booze. Recommend stocking up if you happen to have a weakness for russian vodka, gin, whiskey etc. If you are like me and happy to slurp Caribbean rum, then find a place with decent tasting rum (at a decent price) and stock up there. Every island makes their own rum but for me, Grenadian rum is tops from a price and quality perspective. Westerhall or Clarks Court are good rums and at $7 USD a bottle not bad value!
4. Best snorkelling. An interesting one this as the usual caveat ensues (it depends…). We found a lovely reef off of Carriacou (Grenada) at Sandy Island. Loads of fans, brain corral etc. But I am a fish person and for fish of decent size, I really loved the BVI's.
5. Best fishing. Without a doubt the Virgin Islands (US and British and Spanish). We once had 3 takes in a single day passage of 8 hours. Fantastic fishing. You only have to count the amount of pleasure fishing boats in Puerto Rico to realise how big an industry it is and that there must be loads out there to catch.
6. Best sailing. British Virgin Islands and the Grenadines (St Vincent & the Grenadines). You can see why charter companies operate out of these two areas. One could spend a few months in the BVI's just pottering around and going from anchorage to anchorage. Planned well, no sail would take longer than a few hours before you are swinging on a mooring enjoying a cocktail (if you are a charterer).
7. Best diving. I think that every island in the chain has dive schools and something to offer. We did not do enough diving to provide a well rounded opinion on diving in the caribbean other than to say that most dive schools have interesting dives to offer. We dived on the RMS Rhone in the BVI's and loved it.
10. Most relaxing. Tobago Cays. Surrounded by turtles and rays in clear shallow water. It is a great place to chill out for a few days. Charterer's love it for the same reason so it is popular year round, but out of season it is definitely much quieter.
11. Best local vibe. Montserrat closely followed by Dominica. We loved the locals of Montserrat, a country of hand waving people so willing to help you. They all stop and say 'morning' or 'afternoon' when they pass or get on a bus. Dominica is very similar.
12. Best boat boys. Dominica - Portsmouth. These guys have sorted themselves out with an actual authority keeping things organised. The boat boys don't hassle, they actually offer proper services and at a decent price.
13. Best hiking. Dominica. This island has a well marked trail covering the whole island from coast to coast with segments able to be accomplished within a day. There are guides available, its rustic and takes you right into the heart of the local villages and forests.
14. Best beaches. Barbuda (part of Antigua). The beaches here are a pink colour from the coral and gorgeous long sandy deserted strips with coconut palms lining the shore.
15. Best shell collecting. Dog Island - Anguilla. The shallows of this small island are teaming with deserted shells of a decent size.
16. Best souvenirs. St Lucia. Where else do dread locked rhastafarians paddle out on a beaten up kayak to sell hand carved calabash and regale you with stories of Jah.