Countless miles of sun kissed beaches, turquoise waters teeming with tropical fish, and warm weather throughout the year – it’s easy to see why so many people dream of visiting the Caribbean for the first time!
From sipping cocktails under a palm tree to snorkelling in coral reefs or hiking in lush tropical rainforests, there is no shortage of amazing things to do and see throughout the Caribbean.
However, with of dozens of countries that collectively have thousands of islands, finding the best Caribbean island for first timers can be rather daunting!
This is where our handy guide is here to help. We know this region well and want to share with you what we have believe are the best Caribbean islands for first timers.
Each island included on our list has something unique to offer, ensuring all preferences are covered when it comes to things to see and do during a vacation. They’re also all easy to navigate, and are known for being tourist friendly destinations.
So, whether you are planning a family holiday, honeymoon, or vacation with friends, our guide to the best Caribbean islands for first timers has you covered. Let’s dive in!
The best Caribbean island for first timers: The six islands that could be perfect for you
One thing holding many back from visiting the Caribbean is the cost. As a popular tourist region, especially among older and more affluent people, visiting the Caribbean often seems too expensive.
Or so most people think.
If you want to visit an affordable Caribbean island for the first time, then look no further than the Dominican Republic. It’s one of the cheapest Caribbean islands to visit as there’s affordable flights and accommodation here, alongside various package deals that won’t break the bank. (Recommended: The Cheapest Caribbean Islands).
The Dominican Republic is located on the island of Hispaniola, the second largest Caribbean island, bordering Haiti to the west. The country is a popular tourist destination, meaning there’s plenty of attractions and activities to enjoy for first time visitors.
There’s also plenty of excursions set up specifically for tourists, so if you want to see the best sights but with no hassle, you’ll be able to here. In places like Punta Cana there’s plenty of all inclusive resorts too with package deals.
Blessed with some of the most beautiful golden beaches in the region, if you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday in the Caribbean then the Dominican Republic has you covered. Miles upon miles of gorgeous coastline are populated with beachfront bars, restaurants, and cafes – perfect for sipping cocktails by the beach!
To the south of the island is Los Haitises National Park, a protected area of land that is home to hundreds of tropical birds and plants. A must-visit for nature lovers, the national park is home to over 200 tropical birds and all kinds of exotic plants and flowers.
North of the park is Samana Bay, which becomes a humpback whale nursery for several months of the year. Over 2,5000 whales visit this bay each year, so if you want to go whale watching this is the place to visit in the Dominican Republic.
To sum up: The Dominican Republic is an affordable, easy to reach destination which is known for having a great selection of excursions, as well as dreamy Caribbean beaches. Perfect for anyone’s first visit!
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is something of a hidden gem when it comes to Caribbean islands. While not the largest or most visited, this small island nation boasts arguably the most unique landscapes in the Caribbean and some of the best hospitality too!
While most islands here are known for their pristine beaches and luxury resorts, Dominica offers something a little different. Yes, there are nice beaches (often with volcanic black sand!) and plenty of your usual tourist attractions, yet Dominica’s true appeal is its unspoiled tropical landscape.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast planning a first trip to the region, then Dominia will likely be perfect for you. There’s countless mountain trails to hike, dense tropical forests to explore, and stunning waterfalls to soak beneath.
In fact in our opinion, Dominica is one of the best Caribbean islands to explore by foot – and the Waitukubuli Trail remains the only long-range hiking trail in the Caribbean.
For those seeking a less challenging excursion, Boiling Lake Trail offers a great one-day hiking experience. The eight mile trail takes just a few hours to complete, and offers the chance to take in the world’s 2nd largest hot lake in the world – an opening in the Earth’s crust which emits gases and steam!
Despite flying under the radar of many tourists, Dominica has great facilities and infrastructure, and has affordable accommodation making it a great option for first-time visitors to the region. It should be easy to find accommodation for all budgets, whether it’s low cost cabins or luxurious villas.
To sum up: Dominica is one of the Caribbean’s untouched islands. It has unbeatable outdoor adventures, is affordable and welcoming.
Part of the Grenadines islands chain, Grenada is the largest of three main islands in the country, offering an expansive island landscape to explore.
Of course, being in the Caribbean means Grenada is blessed with gorgeous beaches along its coastline. Grande Anse is the most visited beach where white sand meets turquoise waters. Despite being popular, the beach remains quiet by Caribbean standards, giving you the chance to relax and unwind in the quiet comfort of the beach. In fact this is partly why Grenada is one of the best Caribbean islands for first timers – it’s laid back, relaxed, and by no means overwhelming.
It’s also a really great place to learn how to dive. There are several dozen diving spots located throughout the island. This includes the impressive 600ft wreckage of the Bianca C, lying just off the coast of Grande Anse. That’s a more advanced diving location but one worth visiting if you love underwater exploration.
What we also like about Grenada is that it’s got a wide array of landscapes in quite a small island, so you can be sipping cocktails on the beach in the morning, and then jungle trekking in the afternoon. That makes it the perfect place if you want to come to the Caribbean but are not sure whether to go for a beach island, or one that is more lush rainforest. With Grenada you can have both!
For those looking to enjoy Grenada’s natural landscape, look no further than Grand Etang National Park. It’s less than 5 miles from the island’s capital and as soon as you enter you get greeted by some friendly locals – a group of monkeys that reside within the park!
From here you can head into the various trails winding through the park, where towering mahogany trees are populated by exotic birds and colorful reptiles, including lizards and frogs.
Most people base their Grenada stay in St George’s, a charming harbour town that is the capital of the island. There are lots of affordable accommodation and plenty of luxury dwellings, making it suitable for any budget.
This idyllic town is packed with landmarks that showcase the country’s colonial history, which was previously under French and British rule. Some noteworthy sights include Fort George, Fort Frederick, and Fort George, along with a 19th century Catholic Cathedral.
This island is also famous for its chocolate! So if you have a sweet tooth, then be sure to visit the House of Chocolate, a small museum in St George that has delicious handmade chocolates. We recommend taking a tour and treating yourself to some chocolates, maybe while you enjoy a coffee by the harbour at one of the many charming cafes throughout the town.
Those that want to enjoy even more chocolatey goodness may visit Grenada Chocolate Company. Located an hour from the capital, this company makes use of the locally grown cocoa beans to produce some of the best tasting chocolate you’ll ever try.
To sum up: Grenada is a small island which is easy to move around, has plenty of different excursions, and is affordable. It has a mix of rainforest and beach landscapes, so is perfect if you’re coming to the Caribbean for the first time and are undecided about which landscape you’d prefer to visit most.
When it comes to the best Caribbean island for first timers, Jamaica is certainly worth mentioning.
It’s one of the most popular Caribbean islands so is extremely well catered for tourists. Whether that’s from the countless resort options, to the easy transfer service from airport to hotel, or just the many excursion options available that can all be sorted in advance.
This gorgeous island nation is home to breath-taking golden beaches, vibrant tropical forests, and many historical points of interest. As a popular tourist destination is also has lots of diverse accommodation offerings, making it easy to find something for every budget.
Kingston, the capital city, is a great place to base yourself when visiting Jamaica for the first time. It has plenty of resorts and accommodation to choose from, along with some of best eateries and nightlife in the country.
If you’re looking to sunbathe on the beach rather than soak in the culture, then Negril and Montego Bay are both popular tourist resorts with stunning white sand beaches and everything you’d need for a complete holiday.
If you do stay in Kingston, there are many historical and heritage sights, including the Bob Marley Museum and Devon House, alongside various museums, galleries, and landmarks worth checking out.
The city is bursting with culture, from the local markets selling all kinds of fruit and vegetables to the local bars populated by friendly locals and ample reggae music.
Speaking of bars, anyone that loves a drink will want to check out the watering holes in Kingston, which boast some of the best tasting rum in the world. Sit back and chill with a glass of rum or bottle of Red Stripe, taking in the sights, sounds, and aromas that permeate throughout the city.
Beyond Kingston you’ll find various small towns and villages, most of which can be easily reached from the capital. These areas offer a more rural experience and tend to be quieter, while also providing an endless selection of scenic beaches to enjoy.
Snorkelling and fishing is especially popular throughout Jamaica, with countless options to choose from. This includes beginner friendly areas like Booby Cove and Port Royal, home to a large shipwreck you can explore as you snorkel.
Many locals offer low cost boat charters, taking you on a tour through the gorgeous coastlines littered with pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and all kinds of tropical aquatic life.
To sum up: Jamaica is perfect for first time visitors to the Caribbean as it already has a well established tourist infrastructure in place. There are plenty of excursions, countless hotels, and it’s possible to hire drivers and guides everywhere on the island if you wish. However it also has it’s more remote and adventurous side, so if you’re feeling confident you can easily and cheaply explore the island on your own.
Another great option for first time visitors to the Caribbean is Saint Lucia. Located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, Saint Lucia is known for its incredible landscape. It’s small and can be easily explored in a holiday of a week or two, and is a great first Caribbean destination for nature lovers.
This small volcanic island has some of the most mountainous landscapes of any Caribbean island, including the famous Pitons – a set of stunning twin volcanic peaks that dominate the island skyline and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located near the charming fishing village Soufrière on the southeast of the island, the Pitons are a hiker’s dream, offering some truly mesmerizing trails to explore. For those less inclined to hike, you can view the twin peaks from the comfort of Soufrière, sipping on some rum of course.
The panoramic views from the trails up the mountains are nothing short of spectacular, and overlook the nearby bay with its glistening turquoise waters. You also get to enjoy all kinds of lush tropical forests teeming with flora and fauna during any hike up and around the Pitons.
You can hike either of the Pitons, with Gros Piton being the easier of the two to climb. Little experience is necessary, with the hike from the top of the mountain and back down to sea level taking just a few hours. It does require some endurance though!
You’ll find all sorts of outdoor fun throughout St Lucia, including spots like the Paul Nature Trail, another great spot to view the Pitons from afar. Snorkelling and scuba diving is also popular throughout St Lucia, along with many kinds of water sports like surfing and kayaking.
As much of the island remains rural, there are a lot of unspoiled forests throughout St Lucia too. As a result, ziplining is incredibly popular here and we highly recommend you try it out – it’s one of the best ways to see all the beautiful nature of the island from high above.
The northern portion of St Lucia, which includes the capital city Castries, is more developed, offering a quintessential Caribbean island holiday experience. Golden beaches, crystal clear waters, modern resorts, and various places to eat, drink, and dance make it a great option for a more relaxing holiday.
To sum up: St Lucia is known for having some of the most spectacular scenery in the Caribbean. However as a small, relaxed island, it’s also a great first Caribbean destination for outdoor enthusiasts as you can enjoy stunning scenery close to the main accomodation centers.