My wife Diane and I recently enjoyed a seven-day cruise to the eastern and southern Caribbean, and brought back with us literally hundreds of pictures of some of the best beaches in the world. Our cruise on the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas launched from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and began with a day at sea to the southernmost island on our trip, Grenada. We then island-hopped our way back to San Juan, with stops in St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Croix and St. Thomas. At each stop, at least one of the excursions offered through the cruise line included a stop at one of the great beaches of the Caribbean, and we made sure we visited at least one beach on each island, while also finding time to see other attractions on the islands, visit with locals, browse the shops and learn about the local history and culture.
Many of the excursions include island tours, finished off with an hour or so at a beach. Of course, on each island you can simply get off the ship on your own, grab and taxi and head to whatever beach – or other area – you like. Every one of these islands is as scenic as the next and has a broad selection of beautiful beaches. If you do your research and plan ahead you can find that perfect beach that suits your tastes. Here are the beach highlights of our beach-hopping extravaganza:
Grenada: Grand Anse Beach
After walking around St. George’s – and daringly walking through a narrow tunnel alongside speeding cars – we took an excursion that included beautiful island views and a visit to Fort Frederick. We were then taken to Garfield’s Beach Bar, a small, quaint Caribbean-style establishment with friendly staff and good prices, right in the heart of Grande Anse Beach. Because we only had a short time at the beach, we settled in with some of our new friends at a picnic table. Grand Anse (anse is French for beach) is a very comfortable beach, with soft white sand and a long stretch – two miles – of activity. Mild waves and clear water made swimming irresistible but I was a little disappointed that we did not see any colorful fish in the water. Water activities are available for rent. The hills overlooking the beach make for spectacular scenery. You can find your perfect spot on this beach: rent a chair in the more crowded spice market area, walk to a secluded area and lay down a blanket in the soft sand, or hang out like we did at the bar for a while. Grand Anse Beach is the most popular on the island and has pretty much everything to offer, from dive shops to vendor markets to water sports rentals. And at two miles long, you are sure to find your perfect spot to just soak up the scenery and that warm Caribbean sun.
St. Lucia: Rodney Bay
After a sometimes exhilarating jeep safari trip through the inland hills of St. Lucia – with spectacular views – and a trek through a rain forest, we ended up at Rodney Bay, a long, picturesque stretch of sand in the shadows Pigeon Island National Park, with its towering brown peaks. From Pigeon Island south, you will find Pigeon Island Beach, the main beach area near Gros Islet, and Reduit Beach. Look in any direction here and you are amazed by the beautiful hills and calm turquoise waters. Great area for swimming and lots of water sports options. The bay is buzzing with speedboats, kayaks, sailboats and yachts. The sand is soft and gentle on the feet. You can rent snorkel equipment on the beach, but you may want to take an offshore excursion for much better underwater sights.
Dickenson Bay, Antigua
After spending the morning browsing the shops and markets in the Capital port city of St. John’s, we took a trip to Dickenson Bay, where we were set up with lounge chairs on the beach outside of Halcyon Cove by Rex Resorts. This was one of our favorite beaches, partly because we had great lounge chairs and because the beach was a little busy but definitely not crowded the day we were there. Dickenson Bay beach is not as long as some of the others we saw in the Caribbean, but it is long enough for an interesting stroll along the scenic beach. This is great people-watching beach, and wonderful for swimming because of the calm waters in the protected bay. The water was not as clear as we have seen at other beaches, but still a perfect temperature (we were there in January), and very inviting. A Sandals resorts occupies much of the landscape here, but that’s OK because there are lots of places to eat and drink on either side of it, as well as water sports rentals.
Sand Castle Beach, St. Croix
Just to the left of pier at Fredricksted is a small beach with alternate rocky and sandy shores and sparkling clear water. You’ll see crabs scattering about the rocks as the shallow water washes ashore. After a short walk along this very nice beach (not sure if it has a name), we shopped at the open market along the beautiful shoreline and then took a very short cab ride to Sand Castle Beach just two or three miles down the coast. Although other beaches in Croix have received very good reviews, we were looking for something nearby, and the locals bragged that Sand Castle Beach would be perfect. They were right. For a small fee, we rented lounge chairs and parked ourselves right on the water, with our cruise ship overlooking us from just down the shore. Beautiful soft sand, clear water, mild waves, and picturesque setting made this an idyllic spot to sit back, have a drink, read a magazine and just enjoy being where you are. Like so many of the beaches we visited, this one is great for swimming but not so much for snorkeling from the beach. We did not see any fish in these waters. Find a nice spot to swim but be careful not to stub your toes on the large underwater rocks.
Magen’s Bay, St. Thomas
After a morning of shopping in the famous St. Thomas downtown area, we took a cab just three miles over the hill to the other side of the island to Magen’s Bay, repeatedly recognized as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, and for good reason. No, you won’t find hotels and bars on the shores of Magen’s Bay, which is protected much like a national park and is run by the Magen’s Bay Authority. There is a $4 entrance fee, and the authority provides a rustic park-like concession stand. It also rents snorkeling equipment, lounge chairs, kayaks, paddle boats and other non-motorized boats. The bay is surrounded by an arc of mountains and islands, protecting the waters from the rough waters of the Atlantic and creating a calm respite of beauty and relaxation. Many say Magen’s Bay is more like a salt-water lake than an ocean. Walking from one end of the mile-long white sand beach to the other reveals stunning views of cliffside mansions (one, we’re told, owned by Bill and Hillary Clinton and another by Adam Sandler) scattered on the hills, green and blue hued waters, yachts, sailboats, kayaks and swimmers. Way off to the right of the beach, past the boat rental area, be sure to take a walk along the rocks in the soft shallow sand (but watch your step) for beautiful views of the clear water and the beach behind you. You also might see a sea turtle or ray in this area. We went snorkeling and only saw small, thin, long colorless fish (not sure what they are called), but the day we were there we saw thousands of them, right in front of the concession stand. I’ve never seen such a thick mass of small fish underwater. However, based on other reviews I’ve seen this may have been unusual. The pelicans – and another type of bird I’m not familiar with – were having a field day dive-bombing into the water and grabbing quick meals. It was entertaining to watch them dive right alongside the swimmers.
Isla Verde Beach, San Juan
This is the most popular and busiest beach in San Juan. With sometimes strong waves – and a lot of wind the day we visited – this beach is great for surfing and body-boarding. Not, however, for snorkeling. As you walk along the beach, your feet sink into the golden sand, which in areas comes out of the sea at a fairly steep slope. This beach is lined with hotels, condominiums, resorts, casinos, restaurants and bars, and you will find jet ski and other water sport rentals. My favorite area of the beach was the quieter western end where the sand is firm but gentle on the feet and the water washes slowly across it and splashes onto a rock formation along the shore. This palm tree-lined beach has a downside. On the central and eastern side of the beach, you will hear a lot of airplane noise. We spent the afternoon as visitors at the Marriott Courtyard, and the airplane noise was deafening at times, with the runway directly behind a treeline at the back of the resort. Although the resort has the typically beautiful pool area that Marriotts are known for, the roaring noise of jet engines strongly detracts from the “get away from it all” atmosphere most beach-goers are seeking.
Condado Beach, San Juan
This is the second most popular beach area in San Juan, and like Isla Verde – but to a lesser extent – is lined with hotels and resorts. The water here can also be choppy at times, making it cloudy as it kicks up the sand and brings in some algae in spots. But this beach is convenient to the Condado shopping area and is a mostly clean, relaxing beach. As you walk along the beach you will find it goes from a tourist crowd near the hotels to more a local crowd to the east. The area that most impressed me was near the Renaissance La Concha Hotel, which borders the very tropical Park La Ventana al Mar, which is basically a small, well-maintained palm tree forest in the sandy soil. The park also has a cement pier that juts out into the water and back along the shore for panoramic views of Condado Beach. The pier also helps create a small protected cove alongside the park with a quiet sandy beach that is great for the kids.
Those are the beach highlights of this trip, but it left me wanting more. After the Serenade of the Seas returned to San Juan, it regrouped and headed back to sea to visit another group of islands. Other popular ports of call include Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Pointe A Pitre, Guadaloupe; and Bridgetown, Barbados. On our cruise, 140 people stayed onboard for the second cruise, thereby turning this into a two-week cruise that included all these incredible islands. Hmm. Maybe we’ll have to do this again!
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