The Caribbean is a fantastic vacation spot for families with kids. Here, on its many islands, they can hit the sunny white or golden sands, lapped by the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. They can race around historic forts pretending to be in Pirates of the Caribbean, and become awed by the region’s wildlife spectacles, both above and below the water.
With more than 700 islands belonging to 30 different nations, deciding where to head might be your most difficult task in heading to the Caribbean for a vacation with the kids. Hugely diverse, each has its own distinct feel. Some, like Jamaica, are huge, while others are no larger than sand banks in the middle of sparkling seas.
5 Best Caribbean Islands for Kids
Their proximity to the US in particular means few visitors have to endure the boredom of a long-haul flight, and many islands are known for their family-friendly resorts and attractions. These are the Caribbean islands we think are the best when traveling with kids.
When it comes to bringing history to life, no island in the Caribbean does it quite so well as Puerto Rico. San Juan’s historic district will take you and the kids right back to the time of the earliest European settlement in the Americas.
Its cobbled and winding streets lead to Castillo San Cristobal, one of the largest Spanish-built forts in the entire Caribbean, and one ripe for exploration. Meanwhile, the citadel of Castillo San Felipe del Morro has excellent play areas in addition to its hundreds of years’ worth of history.
Not to be outdone by neighboring islands, Puerto Rico is also able to boast areas of subtropical rainforest alive with chattering wildlife. El Yunque National Forest offers several trails suitable for kids, who get to splash about in a cooling lagoon or lake at the end of the walks too. They’ll also love racing to the top of Yokahú Observation Tower for unmatched views across the region.
The island’s golden beaches lead into waters that teem with a kaleidoscope of different fish and coral species, which thrive as far out as the smaller and quieter Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra. If you need one final push, it’s this – as a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico uses the US dollar, and US citizens don’t even need to bring a passport!
At just 15 miles long and three miles wide, Anguilla is one of the smallest islands in the Caribbean. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have a wealth of family attractions. The island’s main draw is undoubtedly its 33 idyllic white sand beaches, which regularly notch-up awards as some of the finest in the world.
I recommend starting at the wide expanse of sand at Maundays Bay, and checking out the competition from there. Sites like WIMCO have a range of excellent family-friendly villas and rentals right on many of the beaches too.
Anguilla’s dining scene is generally excellent, with restaurants happy to make allowances for children’s sometimes very specific dietary requirements. However, this British overseas territory is very much about sun, sea, and sand.
Scuba diving continues the laid-back atmosphere of Anguilla below the waves, while those looking to get the blood pumping might want instead to try horse-riding, parasailing or hang gliding. All are available from its beaches. The most adventurous kids will also surely love spelunking – or crawling around in some of the island’s underground caves.
Although the island’s currency is the East Caribbean dollar (and not British Pounds Sterling), the US dollar is also widely accepted.
Although it’s true Jamaica’s larger size means you’ll need to limit yourself to one section of the island, the upside is a larger diversity of things to do with the kids than is possible on Anguilla.
The island has plenty of rich golden sands for that authentic Caribbean getaway (just check out images of Negril, which stretches on for an astounding seven miles, or the more famous Montego Bay), but head inland and you’ll also find the dramatic landscapes of the Blue Mountains, draped in lush vegetation, and hiding a wealth of beautiful waterfall locations.
At Ocho Rios, for instance, families can head out to Dunn’s River Falls, which tumbles down a hillside for 600 feet. Nearby, you can also glide gently downriver on an inflated tube through the exotic scenery above the city itself.
For a quieter Jamaica experience without missing out on attractions, families often instead head to Port Antonio, which is nestled within the foothills of the Blue Mountains, yet is just a short distance from the coast. Its two picturesque harbors are visible from much of its accommodation. Here you can swap the inflated tubes of Ocho Rios for the pirate-like wooden rafts that are used to float gently along the Rio Grande.
One of the Caribbean’s better-known islands for family vacations, competition between all-inclusive resorts keeps costs down, and ensures there’s plenty to keep the kids entertained. Check out my previous post on the 5 best things to do with kids in Jamaica for some ideas.
The Dominican Republic might not be at the top of your list of Caribbean islands that are great for kids, but it should be. Those in the know hail it as the region’s adventure capital.
On the all-important coast, alongside its beaches, there are chances to try your hand at surfing, sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. Inland, the island offers canopy tours through the rain forest and zip-lines that slide through the vegetation.
Like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic boasts several great value all-inclusive resorts, including Onyx Punta Cana on the northeast coast close to Playa Macao, which despite the number of hotel rooms still feels out of the way and undiscovered.
Further north along the coast is Puerto Plata, or the Port of Silver, one of the first places Christopher Columbus landed on his world-changing 1492 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. The city is therefore an important place in the history of the United States itself.
Direct flights to and from the US make getting to the Dominican Republic with a family all the easier, while you can let the all-inclusive resorts deal with all the logistics so you can just enjoy time with the kids on your well-deserved vacation.
For a family Caribbean vacation with a difference, it’s hard to argue against Martinique. Technically part of France, and equivalent to Hawaii’s position within the United States, here the sophistication of Paris meets the laid-back vibes of the Caribbean.
The French tricolor flies from all the important buildings, and the French language is widely spoken (as well as English, which is taught in schools). So, if you fancy a trip to Europe without even having to leave North America, Martinique is the island for you.
Not only that, but the island has a great infrastructure due to its close connection with the mother country, and a range of attractions which make it a destination which offers a little of everything the Caribbean as a whole has to offer.
Increasingly easy to get to from the United States, here small villages dot the beaches, and stays on the island have a much more personal and individual emphasis compared to the larger all-inclusive resorts of Jamaica and Dominican Republic.
For the most part, accommodation options are family-run, giving them the feel of a family home and ensuring they are very used to children. They normally comprise a handful of rooms just a short distance from the nearest patch of pristine sand. Despite this, it’s still easy to get on the water with a number of water sports, while the island’s heritage is an equally tantalizing proposition.
The Caribbean is a fantastic option when considering a vacation with the kids. The five islands I’ve highlighted might not share much on the face of it, but each one of them offers something different for vacationers and their kids that for me make them the best in the region.