Here’s our pick of 10 top Caribbean and Central American ports. All you need to do is decide where to go first!
Nassau is a favourite port of call for cruise ships offering mini-breaks from the US and can handle seven large ships in port at one time. The little town can get overwhelmed during busy times but there’s plenty to see in a small area – the colonial town itself, long white sand beaches a few minutes away and the enormous resort of Atlantis.
Barbados is the most popular cruise port in the Caribbean. Bridgetown gives easy access to the whole of the island and the myriad of activities on offer – from exploring Harrison’s Cave and the island’s botanical gardens (Barbados is a regular exhibitor at the Chelsea Flower Show), to a 4×4 island safari or a visit to the old plantation houses.
The gateway to the Panama Canal is a crazy, vibrant city with an incredible buzz about it. You can learn all about the canal, its history and future plans at Miraflores Visitor Centre. A new visitors’ centre on the Caribbean side, will be completed for the Canal’s 100th anniversary in 2014.
One of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, its Mahogany Bay Port helped it welcome the most cruise passengers out of all Central American countries (it’s just hit its one millionth). One of its key appeals is a chair lift that takes guests from the welcome centre to Mahogany Beach, a 10-acre private island with a 825-foot-long beach.
It’s not so much Cancun itself, but the access it gives you to the Mexican Riviera that is the main appeal of this port. Highlights along this stretch of the coast are Tulum, less than an hour from the port, with its breathtaking Mayan architecture on a cliff top above the Caribbean sea; and Chichen Itza, a new seventh wonder of the world.
Castries, St Lucia
St Lucia boasts the “only drive-in volcano in the Caribbean”! – which should be enough of a draw in itself. The picture-perfect island with its twin volcanic peaks of the Pitons boasts white sand beaches (in the north; volcanic grey in the south), zip-lining, a rainforest aerial tram and the botanical gardens of the Diamond Falls waterfall.
The brand new Falmouth Cruise Ship Terminal, which opened late last year, will welcome approximately the same number of cruise ship passengers per week as the town’s population (c. 9,000). The development, a joint venture between Royal Caribbean and the Port Authority of Jamaica, has taken three years to construct.
La Romana, Dom Rep
Most cruise ships dock at La Romana, the country’s third largest city, rather than at the capital Santo Domingo; or at Samana, an undeveloped area on the north coast famous for whale watching. The Dominican Republic is one half of the island of Hispaniola (the other is Haiti), and is a f ascinating mix of Caribbean and Latin culture.
Just open to three cruise lines – Saga, Thomson and Fred. Olsen – as the rest are banned due to the US embargo, Havana is a wonderful time-warp city where you won’t find any evidence of Western advertising. The town is crumbling and chaotic, but brimming over with character and life with music pouring from every open window.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was given a huge boost last year when BA launched direct flights from the UK. The island is a US protectorate, but retains a strong cultural identity of its own in the 500-year old town of cobbled streets, pretty squares and pastel-coloured buildings. An hour’s drive away is El Yunque, billed as “the only rainforest in the US”.