In the Western Caribbean, you’ll find plenty of what the Caribbean is famous for — Fabulous beaches, sunshine, and palm trees! — plus some special additions that the other two regions (the Eastern and Southern Caribbean routes) can’t claim: ancient history in the form of Mexico’s Mayan ruins, as well as the rich culture of Jamaica, where you’ll be seduced by the reggae beat, the local cuisine, and the distinctive patois.
Just five or six of the Caribbean’s thousands of islands are included on weeklong Western Caribbean itineraries: Jamaica and Mexico, plus Grand Cayman and, for a few cruise lines, private beach areas in Haiti (Royal Caribbean’s Labadee) and the Dominican Republic (namely the Casa de Campo resort in the La Romana province). Occasionally, Bohemian Key West is part of the itinerary as well.
Of the ports on this itinerary, Jamaica and Mexico tend to make the biggest impressions on visitors to the Western Caribbean. From the still- thriving cultural legacy of singer Bob Marley to the rugged natural beauty of its waterfalls, jungle rivers, and idyllic beaches, Jamaica has a personality that’s hard to forget. The island’s four cruise ports (Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Falmouth, and the less-used Port Antonio) help keep crowding at bay and offer a great variety of things to do, from bobsledding and ziplining to river tubing, horseback riding, and rum tasting. A climb up and a slide down Dunn’s River Falls? It could qualify as a rite of passage.
Besides the spectacular Mayan ruins, the colors in Mexico are brighter, the people more passionate, and the food full of the flavors of chilies, cilantro, and lime. Outdoor markets are piled high with giant sombreros and blankets in bright hues, and festive bars blasting dance music dispense pitchers of margaritas and ice-cold beers.
What Grand Cayman lacks in culture and vitality, it makes up for with its world-famous diving and legendary Stingray City, where tour boats congregate and visitors snorkel among the tame, well-fed creatures.