So, you're a world traveler. You've spent your time in the cultural capitals of Europe and experienced the diversity of the U.S. You've been to the touristy islands in the Caribbean or Mediterranean and gone for business to one of the mega-cities of Asia. Maybe you've slummed it backpacking in Latin America or Southeast Asia and felt adventurous glamping (glamorous camping) on safari in Africa.
Now you're ready for a "real" trip. You want to explore, to be challenged! But where should you go?
The "real" Caribbean
The Caribbean is not just Jamaica and St. Barts. You do not have to stay in fancy resorts. You do not have to eat only fancy meals and drink only pina coladas. And there is more to do than beaches.
I love the Caribbean. I have visited more than half a dozen times. I briefly worked on a project there with my NGO, Trail of Seeds. And ever since seriously taking up Caribbean dancing, I've been quite invested in the culture. Here are some of my highlights of the less than oft-visited locations:
Where to go?
Most tourists know of and visit the Caribbean islands that are still under their colonial rulers: France (St. Martin), Netherlands (Curacao), the USA (St. John's), or the UK (Bermuda). However, there are almost a dozen sovereign nations in the Caribbean, each with a unique culture and history.
Here are some of my favorites:
Home to the most famous Caribbean carnival and its soca dancing, Trinidad has endless cultural experiences to offer. As one of the biggest islands there are also a multitude of natural sights to see, including the only real tar lake in the world. In addition to carnival culture, Trinidad is known for it's tasty food; a mix of colonial, native, and Indian cuisines, some of the favorites are chickpea doubles, rotis, blood pudding, and, my favorite, bake and shark up north at Maracas Bay. Whenever I'm in Trinidad I always gain a few lbs!
The nature island of the Caribbean, Dominica is home to gorgeous volcanic peaks. Most of the land is protected habitat which lets flora and fauna thrive. Generally hard to reach but well worth it, you can spend your days trekking in Dominica's mountains or relaxing in the many hot springs. It is also the only location in the Caribbean with a specific area set aside for the Kalinago (Carib) People, the native inhabitants of the Caribbean who in other islands number quite few.
I find Grenada to be the most beautiful Caribbean island. Not only does its capital city, St. George's, have one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, but all around the island are stunning beaches and sea views. The center of the island is mountainous with lush forests dotted with tiny villages and handfuls of inland lakes and waterfalls to explore. Known as the "Spice Isle" Grenada produces some of the world's finest nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and more. On the sweet side, the people are some of the kindest in the world, always up for fun conversation, it's the only place in the world that I have picked up hitchhikers as it is somewhat of a customary expectation.
Again I must admit a bias, St. Kitts is where I've spent the most time in the Caribbean. Even though it has one of the smallest populations and land sizes of any country in the world, St. Kitts is full of beauty and culture. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Brimstone Hill Fortress is one of the best preserved examples of a fortress in the Caribbean and worth a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable staff. In the South of the island you'll find the long stretch of narrow land, coming to the top of which gives you a stunning view of beaches on both sides.
How to do it:
Spend time in one place. Instead of going to a resort, book an AirBnB or another apartment sharing set-up. Book a week or two and try all the local foods, take the public transport, and get to know the people. Since nearly all of the sovereign Caribbean islands are English-speaking, this should be easier than in other parts of the world.
What to watch out for?
Really, spending time in the Caribbean is quite easy. With no visas and straight forward money systems. But there are a few things to be aware of:
Getting there: of course getting to the less-visited islands is more difficult. There are usually not direct flights from any large cities and the local airlines can be unreliable. But the extra time will pay off.
Escaping the trap: Because there is such an big infrastructure for the resort-tourist, it's hard not to fall into the trap. It may be a bit further off and less clean to go to the public beach, harder to find the small unkown food stalls, or uncomfortable to wait for local transport or to not have room service at the hotel. Usually in the Caribbean though, there is always a cheaper option.
Staying safe: each island has its own safety concerns. Do some research before you go and ask your host or any locals (cab drivers, neighbors, etc) what they warn against.
So there you have it! Three parts of the world that you may have never known you should visit! I'm always happy to offer tips and more specific recommendations. So reach out if you'd like to know more!
Part 1: Central Asia
Part 2: East Africa