Guest writer Eve Kitching finds an alternative side to the Caribbean…
The Caribbean isn’t just luxurious escapes of azure beaches and palaces in the sunset – for all the resort envy the rest of the world may cast on it, a movement in tourism is shifting from bayside cocktails to vibrant festivals and ecotourism. Travellers and tourists are seeking a little less of the glam and more of the authentic cultural experience, and the Caribbean is the perfect place to start.
Surveying magnificent vistas that stretch from rising tides to lush green peaks is a priceless gift that can be enjoyed anywhere in the Caribbean. Though the islands are small, their carved and coral-rich coastlines hold an abundance of striking fauna and flora. It is little wonder that the ancient civilizations of Central America sought these lands as the seat of their empires and the explorers were equally enamoured with its paradise-like scope. Take a look at Guatemala, home to Tikal, a pinnacle of archaeological wonder. Rising above the hazy palms, Tikal Temple strides into the heavens at over a hundred feet high, overlooking landmarks like the North, South, and Central Acropolises and the Great Plaza. Steeped in mystery and grandeur, Guatemala is a destination which cannot be missed on a quintessential Caribbean cruise.
Though Tikal reigns as one of the most breathtaking and comprehensive historical sites, the Caribbean’s legacy of architectural and artistic wonder can be marvelled at across the Antilles. Journey to Cuba and absorb some masterpieces at the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Havana, home to collections which span the globe while featuring some impressive contemporary artists. And the Ernest Hemingway Museum is another stop for travellers who have the rugged explorer in them and wish to pay tribute to the writer of the Old Man and the Sea. The Bob Marley Museum in Jamaica is also a catch for the literary connoisseur.
Pirate Port No Longer
As for the swashbuckler? Put into port at the Pirates of Nassau Museum for an engaging and highly-interactive museum experience. Full of bounteous relics from the age of the buccaneer, it is one of the greatest draws of the Bahamas for the curious adventurer and kid at heart. Whichever the destination, an inquisitive peek into the vast and enticing history of centuries of pyramids, pirates, and ports are crucial for a complete voyage of the Caribbean. And given the glorious sunshine which dazzles the stunning beaches, the cultural industry has capitalised on the delectable cuisine and local entertainment to line the boardwalks with cafes and bars which are open for dancing, music making, and talking into the long hours of the evening. It is a must stop for any essential Caribbean cruise and has so much to offer regardless of whether you are new to cruising or a regular to the waters – you won’t be disappointed.
Viva la Festival!
What really gives the Caribbean its exuberance isn’t just the tales and relics of the past, but the way in which Caribbeans celebrate their diversity and zest for life. Throughout the Antilles festival after festival lights up the night with dancing and singing that is illuminated by a myriad of colours. Stemming from ancient pagan rites to modern Christian celebrations, every month is animated with delights.
The former Dutch city of Curacao is one of the liveliest ports in the region, and its Catholic roots in colonial history make as passionate about celebrating Mardi Gras as it becomes penitent during Lent. The Curacao Carnival features a calypso festival, a midnight Kaya Grandi festival, a children’s parade, and an explosive finale in the Grand Carnival itself. Its neighbours Aruba and St. Maarten also partake in the festivities, offering an exciting and cultural experience for locals and travellers alike. With musicians and performers lighting up the already elaborate and colourful streets and ports, it’s the perfect mixture of European and Caribbean cultural influences.
For the music lover who becomes enthralled by the rapturous magic of orchestral music, the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico – founded by the legendary cellist Pablo Casals over 50 years ago – draws some of the foremost musicians in the classical music world to delight audiences. For those who enjoy a slightly different shift in tone, Jamaica offers Bob Marley Week where the reggae icon is honoured and his followers experiment and reinvent with their own styles of the genre in festive atmosphere.
Perhaps most famous of all is the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, with the crème de la crème of the performing world putting on shows to put the rest of the world to shame. It’s the triumph of a year’s worth of preparation and several years of rich tradition which places the region on the map for its joie de vivre.
Yet no matter what time of year or place, cruising the Caribbean has never been a more intoxicating prospect with the wealth of its cultural treasures on show for all to see. It is definitely worth leaving the poolside for, to journey into an old Mayan tomb, be swept away by the rhythmic pulse of a lively festival, or quietly gaze into some of the greatest works of art and relax on a terrace afterwards to the lull of the street entertainment.