Lonely Planet – £16.99
The Caribbean is a joyous mosaic of islands beckoning paradise-hunters, an explosion of colour, fringed by beaches and soaked in rum. It’s a lively and intoxicating profusion of people and places spread over 7000 islands (fewer than 10% are inhabited). But, for all they share, there’s also much that makes them different. Can there be a greater contrast than between bustling Barbados and its neighbour, the seemingly unchanged since colonial times St. Vincent? Revolutionary Cuba and its next-door banking capital, the Cayman Islands? Or between booming British-orientated St Kitts and its sleepy, Dutch-affiliated neighbour Sint Eustatius, just across a narrow channel?
(‘Welcome to the Caribbean Islands’)
I was on a beach, taking a break from research. Had I been out to the island on the edge of the bay? The fisherman asked. There was a ruin there, stories of the pirates. Did I want to see? His boat was beaten up and its sail made from old plastic sheets, but in we got and dipped over the waves, then waded ashore to a tumble of buildings overgrown with roots and lianas. It felt like Treasure Island and I wondered if all guidebooks came with maps telling you ‘X marks the spot.’ This could only be the Caribbean…
(‘Why I love the Caribbean Islands’)
I’ve now spent over six weeks sailing around both the Eastern and Western Caribbean Islands, and while I do (sort of) confer with the first of the above opening quotes, there’s a mighty large caveat that really does need to be taken on board.
Yes, there is diversity amid the many islands: Cuba is completely and utterly different when compared to say Tobago, which is completely and utterly different when compared to say Bonaire. So yes, they do obviously, kind of have their own feel and flavour; but were one to take the sun and the sea out of the equation, things really would be entirely different.
And it is said difference, which, oddly enough, goes some way in substantiating their similarities – especially within the eastern section of such islands as Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago and of course, Barbados.
To be sure, with the possible exception of the latter, they’re all essentially interchangeable.
Just like most of those terrible hairy rock bands of the seventies and eighties: all pout’n’swagger’n’much ado about nothing. Only in this instance, we’re talking sun’n’sea’n’swagger’n’much ado with regards the musical trajectory of the legendary Bob Marley. A quality which is luckily enough, intuitively homed in on within the 867 pages (excluding Glossary, Behind the Scenes and Index) of Lonely Planet’s superlative Caribbean Islands.
For instance, the following introduction of Antigua & Barbuda on page 99, is pretty much a description that could just as readily be applied to (m)any of the Caribbean Islands: ‘’[…] life is a beach. It’s corrugated coasts cradle hundreds of perfect little strands lapped by beguiling enamel blue water, while the sheltered bays have provided refuge for everyone from Admiral Nelson to buccaneers and yachties. If you can tear yourself away from that towel, you’ll discover that there’s a distinct English accent to this island […]. ‘’
Clearly, while the ‘’English accent’’ does not apply to any of the Spanish speaking islands (such as Cuba and The Dominican Republic) nor Dutch speaking (such as Aruba and Curacao), the actual descriptive aesthetic invariably does.
Recognising as much, this undoubtedly explains why Caribbean Islands many writers have opted to home right-in on the small print of every island – an invaluable aspect of this travel guide, which has essentially made my travels around the Caribbean a whole lot easier.
Moreover, it goes without saying that really does Cuba stand out.
As well as alone.
Having already spent time on the ”revolutionary” island, it is indeed unique and rather special; qualities altogether touched on in the country’s introduction herein: ”Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat; behind the sometimes shabby facades, gold dust lingers. It’s these rich dichotomies that make travel here the exciting, exhilarating roller-coaster ride it is. And, as a country on the cusp of change, there’s rarely a better time to visit. Private enterprise is displaying the first buds of a creative spring, while the big-name brands from that well-known enemy in the north have yet to dilute the cultural magic.”
Along with Lonely Planet’s Dominican Republic (which I have already reviewed on this site), Cuba very much warrants and has its own guide.
Although I do have to say, this is a most succinct, concise and dizzyingly impressive travel guide. Along with all the usual indispensable features such as Why Go?, When to Go?, Maps, Sights, Beaches, Activities, Entertainment etc; it really is the accumulation of the varying countries idiosyncrasies that have accounted for Caribbean Islands being nigh indispensable.