for National Geographic News
Not every sun-seeking family need set their sights on the beaches of California, Florida, or Texas for their spring vacations. Another, culturally-rich option lies just a short airline flight away: The Caribbean. The islands of the Caribbean and coasts of Central America offer a host of family-friendly activities. The region's different cultures add spice to any vacation.
National Geographic Books recently issued a new guidebook to the region, National Geographic: Guide to Caribbean Family Vacation. National Geographic News spoke with guidebook author Candyce Stapen about travel to the Caribbean.
Most people associate the Caribbean with sun and sand. Are there other possibilities for adventurous travelers?
The Caribbean offers much more than beaches. Active travelers can hike rainforests in St. Lucia and Grenada, bike down the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, windsurf in Aruba, swim with stingrays in Grand Cayman, as well as dive and snorkel dazzling reefs in Bonaire, the Caymans, Cozumel [Mexico], and in the Roatan Islands, Honduras.
Many islands celebrate festivals similar to Carnival or Mardi Gras, but they often occur at different times of the year. Is timing a trip to a Caribbean celebration a good idea?
Celebrations reveal aspects of the local culture through spectacle. Kids will not only enjoy these parades and bands but will also remember them.
Puerto Rico's Carnival, especially the one in Ponce, features revelers wearing devilish-looking papier-mâché masks. The Cayman Islands celebrates its heritage with sea turtle-decorated floats. Many festivals also feature exciting and colorful figures such as mocko jumby dancers on stilts.
Music is the soul of many festivals. In Barbados, during Crop-Over, a three-week summer festival, costumed revelers parade to calypso music. Visiting teens can join the Junior Kadooment Parade and dance along with their Bajan peers. Jamaica's Reggae Sumfest, held in July or August, celebrates Bob Marley and other island musicians.
St. Lucia's Jazz Festival in May has popular jazz and rock stars performing at ticketed events. At the free Jazz on the Square series, regional bands play Trinidadian steel pans and St. Lucian jazz masters perform. Your kids can join the local school children in impromptu dances.
Why travel to the Caribbean especially at a time when many Americans fear traveling outside the U.S.? Why not Florida or California?
This is an uncertain travel time. No one knows for sure what will happen. The Caribbean is as safe a place to travel as you can find these days and the islands are easy to reach. Within three or so hours from home, you can enjoy beautiful beaches plus experience another culture.
Is it possible to get away from tourist crowds in the Caribbean?
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