Anguilla is only 17 miles long, but has 12 miles of lovely, fine sand beaches, beach bars, art galleries, plenty of restaurants and a host of water-sports activities. The island manages to mix glamour with tradition; along the coast are brightly-painted clapboard shacks and luxurious villas.
St John’s is Antigua’s main port and capital, and is one of the Lesser Antilles’ most developed cities. It is well-known for its malls and boutiques, and the Antigua Rum Distillery, the only one on the island. At the entrance to the harbour is Fort James, built by the British in the 18th century. Within reach is the historic Nelson’s Dockyard at Falmouth Harbour, where he served as a captain aboard HMS Boreas in his youth.
Bridgetown has a British flavour and its sights include the Parliament Buildings which sit on what was once known as Trafalgar Square, and a huge baobab tree said to have come from Guinea in the 1730s. St Nicholas Abbey in St Peter and Drax Hall in St George are Jacobean buildings with Dutch gables and coral-stone finials. For beaches, bars, restaurants and clubs, make for the south or the Gold Coast to the west.
Bequia belongs to the Windward Islands and is the second-largest of the chain. It is famous for its open-backed taxis which take visitors on island tours. Beyond Port Elizabeth are small fishing villages, green meadows and quiet beaches. Attractions include Hamilton Fort, the Spring Plantation and its ruined sugar mill, and the OldHegg Turtle Sanctuary at Park Beach.
Dominica is rich in natural beauty, with waterfalls, rivers, tropical rainforest and numerous rare plants and wildlife. Some of the most popular sights include Emerald Pool, Trafalgar Falls and the World Heritage Site of Morne Trois Pitons Park, a volcanic region with some of the world's largest boiling mud ponds. Offshore, nature lovers might spot up to six species of dolphin, and perhaps killer or humpback whales.
The 'Spice Island' of Grenada has rainforests, waterfalls and a mountainous interior dotted with cocoa and banana plantations. The shore is a winding series of white and black sand beaches edged with rich vegetation. Carenage is the old harbour area of St George’s where you can see the casting of the famous ‘Christ of the Deep’ statue and watch wooden schooners unload their cargo. For shopping, make for Grand Anse. St George’s has narrow lanes, a busy marketplace and two hill-top forts.
Guadeloupe consists of two main islands, but also encompasses the Iles des Saintes to the south. The two islands are connected by a mangrove swamp, and there are surfing schools and beach bars along the coastline, plus the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve at Bouillante and Pigeon Islands. French in character, there are numerous good restaurants on Guadeloupe.
Iles des Saintes
Les Saintes consists of eight tiny islands. Only two are populated and Terre-de-Haut, as a part of Gaudeloupe, has a leisurely, French atmosphere. In the small village of Bourg there are brightly-painted houses, an art gallery and an outdoor café. There are several watersports on offer, and Pain de Sucre is a favourite spot for swimming and snorkelling.
Jost van Dyke
Once the hideaway for a Dutch pirate of the same name, the tiny island of Jost van Dyke welcomes visitors with first-rate hiking trails and some of the best beaches in the British Virgin Islands. It is known to travellers as ‘barefoot’ island for its relaxed atmosphere and laid-back beach bars. The famous Foxy's Tamarind Bar is situated in Great Harbor.
Fort-de-France is the sophisticated capital of Martinique, and has narrow lanes and Savane Park. Clement House is an old plantation with a rum factory in the grounds offering tastings. For people-watching, take coffee along the capital's Boulevard Allegre, and for good views, go to the Caravelle Peninsula, the site of a ruined chateau.
Norman Island is thought to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’. In 1750 the crew of a Spanish galleon mutinied, and numerous chests of silver coins were buried on the island before being retrieved by nearby islanders. It is now uninhabited but there is a shore-side restaurant and a cave system with excellent snorkelling.
This small island is dominated by the extinct 3000-ft volcano of Mount Scenery. The remains of an old sugar plantation are a pleasant place for a stroll, and others have been turned into charming inns. The landscape is rich and green and is home to green vervet monkeys. There is a well-planted Botanical Garden on the island.
Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands and its port is Road Town, spread around a horseshoe bay. The focus of activity on Tortola is relaxation, and places of interest include the attractive yachting harbour of Soper’s Hole, where Blackbeard lived in the 1700s; the rainforest of Mount Sage National Park, and the Callwod Rum Distillery. The interior is crossed by rugged mountains, and there are numerous beaches.
Also known as St Barthelemy, St Barts is picturesque, elegant and sophisticated. This volcanic island is rocky and edged with reefs and golden beaches. In the small capital of Gustavia, there is a French ambience, with upmarket boutiques, good French restaurants and duty-free shopping. For swimming, go to the white sand bay of Flamands shaded by lantier palms.
Basseterre is the capital of St. Kitts, overlooked by the 17th-century fort at Brimstone Hill and a backdrop of rich green hills inhabited by monkeys. The town has a number of Georgian buildings, and the Circus, a miniature version of Piccadilly. St Kitt’s has the last narrow-gauge railway in the West Indies, taking tourists on a scenic journey round the island from Basseterre.
The landscape of St Lucia is a mixture of tropical flowers, rainforest and the dramatic peaks of the Pitons near Soufriere. Beaches include Anse de Sable, Anse Chastenet and Cas en Bas, and in Rodney Bay is the brig Unicorn, used in the film 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Whales are often seen off the coast. Pigeon Island is linked to St Lucia by a causeway, and is one of the venues for the annual Saint Lucia Jazz Festival.
St Martin’s territory is shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands. Marigot is the capital of the French portion, and has smart duty-free boutiques and gourmet restaurants, overlooked by 18th-century Fort St Louis. The capital of the Netherland Antilles region is Philipsburg, which has a warren of narrow streets, courtyard cafés, and traditional West Indian ‘gingerbread’ houses at Wathey Square. St Maarten also offers the 12-metre America’s Cup Challenge aboard America’s Cup Race Boats.
The idyllic Tobago Cays are five small uninhabited islands which are now part of a protected Marine Park and include a lagoon protected from sea swells by Horseshoe Reef. The vivid colours of the coral and marine life make this a spectacular place for snorkelling and diving, and there are also many turtles and large bird colonies and a World War I wreck of a British gunship.
The 'Baths' are Virgin Gorda's unique water grottos formed long ago by ancient lava flows. Huge boulders lie scattered around the natural pools, popular for swimming or soaking. Virgin Gorda is also home to Little Dix Bay, the Bitter End Yacht Club and some excellent beaches.