Every spring sees packed planes of families and couples escaping their own cold temperatures for a tranquil sea down south, hoping to bring color back into their skin and to get a boost of summer before everyone else. However, as much as beaches are more or less all the same, no two Caribbean destinations are – Mexico’s got Mayan Ruins, the Bahamas has Atlantis Paradise Island, Curaçao has languages and art and culture. That’s why families love the Caribbean – because though kids get bored at the beach, when they can come face to face with a dolphin, their year is made.
Read on to see the five best family friendly Caribbean destinations to pass a sunny spring break.
Located an hour from Cancún and a short ferry ride across the Caribbean Sea from Cozumel, Playa del Carmen is a sun soaked, scenic getaway with luxury all-inclusive resorts, plenty of local sightseeing and exciting Indiana Jones-esque exploration attractions designed for families of all ages. The Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa is conveniently located between Cancún and Playa del Carmen. It’s sprawling white sand beaches, swim-up bar, restaurants, waterparks and tons of other amenities are perfectly suited for families looking to stay in and chill out, while surrounding the area are Mayan Riviera adventures fit for explorers of any age. Diving into the underground rivers of the eco-adventure complex Xcaret is one way to see the Mayan culture. Between their three adventure parks, visitors can explore the famous Yucatan cenotés, see a Mayan ceremony in the reconstructed Mayan Village amidst real archaeological ruins, catch a cultural rain dance, swim through a natural cave system, zip across green forests on a zipline and swim with the local marine life. Closer to Carmen de Playa, families can climb the Nohoch Mul pyramid ruins in Coba Mayan Village.
Also see Hopper's article on the top five hidden travel gems in Mexico to discover other cool, lesser-known destinations in Mexico
Montego Bay is known as a popular resort town in Jamaica, but it’s also rife with history, culture and nature and adventure tours. The Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, settled right on the edge of the island looking into the clear blue Caribbean waters on one side and Montego Bay’s famous low mountains on the other, is a quintessential Montego Bay resort for the whole family. Housed in the grounds of a former sugar plantation, The Hilton Rose Hall incorporates a private beach, the championship Cinnamon hill Golf Course, intact historical ruins, Jamaica’s largest water park, a swimming pool complex and much more. The best part for families? Kids below 12 stay and eat free! The resort also provides complimentary shuttle services to attractions nearby, like the Rose Hall Great House, another former plantation house built in the 1770s, in which silk-covered walls whisper the story of the mysterious Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall. Visitors to Montego Bay can also take a river raft down the Martha Brae, a three-mile ride past the area’s tropical flora and fauna and a scenic and educational tour before lunch at a local eatery.
On the fence between vacationing in Mexico or Jamaica? See Hopper's Destination Battle: Mexico vs Jamaica
Located on the easternmost point of the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana used to be a primary area for sugarcane plantations, but since the ‘70s has switched its focus tol tourism. Begin with consistent year-round perfect climate and tons of exotic wildlife, and add luxury resorts – that’s how Punta Cana thrives now. There are tons of tour companies that take visitors out to swim with dolphins, sharks and rays in a controlled environment, horseback riding through the Dominican countryside, adventure tours on buggy, speedboat or zip line. One popular destination in Punta Cana is the Punta Espada Golf Club, a par-72 designed by Jack Nicklaus right along the Caribbean Sea and the Cap Cana Resort. Cap off a day of extreme adventurin’ with a meal at any number of the fresh local seafood restaurants, like Jellyfish Restaurant, housed in a stylish and airy two-story restaurant with a barbecue by their cooking stations and the full expanse of the ocean within a gazing distance. The Zoetry Agua Punta Cana looks more like a luxury village than resort, with streams cutting between thatch-roofed houses, private decks looking out onto the pristine white sand beaches and ocean, and spa amenities, fine dining and airy lounges and bars.
A tiny island just off the coast of Venezuela, Curaçao doesn’t look like much on a map, but discovering its rich culture and history makes it a worthwhile stop. Curaçao is not just a place to lie on a beach – although there are plenty of opportunities to do that, too. The island is bursting with art and energy, flora and fauna and truly unique food styles derived from a multitude of different international cuisine styles paired with super fresh seafood. Sunscape is the only all-inclusive resort, spa & casino in the area, and it is very nice. Regally large and with 341 rooms and suites, four swimming pools including one with a swim-up bar, five restaurants and a café and nightly live entertainment. Outside of the resort, visitors can get to know the local marine life by going to school at Dolphin Academy and get up close with the friendly beasts while learning about marine conservation, or visit the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, which houses an underwater conservatory in a semi-submarine and also offers a hands-on experience to introduce visitors to sea lions.
Though not technically in the Caribbean, the Bahamas certainly feels close enough. And on Atlantis Paradise Island, a luxury resort just outside of Nassau, it feels like paradise. Paradise allows you to get up close and hug a dolphin, and then it invites you to become your own marine animal and make a splash or fifty in the 141-acre water park maxed out with 11 pools, river rides, extreme waterslides, and a Mayan Temple adventure that encompasses four different drops, rides, and slides. The home of the most expensive hotel room in the world certainly isn’t going to let down its deluxe clientele by not reanimating their paradisical dreams in palpable splendor, and even families who don’t have $25,000 in pocket change are invited along for the luxurious ride. Around Nassau, families can go to the gorgeous Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre to watch the world-famous marching flamingos or check out the interactive Pirates of Nassau Museum with its replica of the pirate ship Revenge.