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Secret Caribbean: 10 destinations you’ve never heard of

Tourism in the Caribbean is booming. Snow-weary hordes of North American and northern European travelers are joined by a growing stream of tourists from Asia, eager to breathe air scented with frangipani rather than industrial exhaust. While many places you’ve heard of have achieved legendary — and extremely crowded — status, there are still destinations in this sun-soaked paradise flying under the mass media radar. Here are a few for the bucket list of the modern-day explorer.

Isla Juventud, Cuba

Now that the American embargo has moved onto the endangered species list, everyone is going to Cuba. And you should, too. Just don’t stop and drop at Varadero like the rest of the crowds. If you’re going to the island, Havana is a must-see, but once you’ve been to the Tropicana and the Hemingway Marina, keep it moving. This wasn’t the place that put the pitter-patter in Papa’s heart; Hemingway’s first love was a bit further south, at Ensenada de la Siguanea on the Isle of Pines.

The island, the seventh-largest in the Caribbean, was renamed Isla Juventud (Isle of Youth) after the socialist revolution. The government built university classrooms and dorm rooms there for its own citizens and foreign exchange students. The classrooms are abandoned now, but the attractions that kept Hemingway coming back are still going strong. The island’s southwest side overlooks a stunning variety of marine life and scenery. Hemingway fished for marlin here, but today scuba divers do their hunting with cameras along the area’s patch reefs and walls.

There are gorgeous beaches and a few hotels, including El Colony. Originally a Hilton, after the revolution it was converted into an R&R spot for Russian military advisors. Today, Isla Juventud is hoping to cash in on the tourism revolution that has already peppered Cuba’s north shore with European beach resorts. If you want to see what the real Cuba is like, Isla Juventud is the place. Just don’t expect street parties every night. Instead, opt for a quiet stroll on a deserted beach with the moon glistening on the bay.

Côte des Arcadins, Haiti

The Côte des Arcadins is located about 90 minutes northwest of the capital Port au Prince, facing the island of La Gonave. The beaches in this part of Haiti are wide and sandy, and the water has that trademark Caribbean iridescent blue glow.

While the area is developed and attracts visitors, you’re unlikely to find your beach blanket butting up to anyone else’s. There are several beach resorts, including Moulin Sur Mer, which incorporates the ruins of a mid-19th century sugar plantation and has its own history museum. Haiti was the first Caribbean colony to gain its independence, declared in 1804 after a decade-long revolt led by a former slave, Henri Christophe.

There are more historical sites to explore in the mountains behind the beach, but most visitors opt for a full schedule of laying in the sun, trying the local cuisine and consuming astonishing amounts of rhum agricole. If you’re more ambitious, there are day sailing trips, fishing, snorkeling and — on La Gonave — scuba operators.

Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

Punta Cana has absolutely exploded and Bavaro is bulging with all inclusives, but just a little further south and west you can get away from the crowds and see what the area was like a decade or two ago. Bayahibe is between La Romana and Punta Cana, on the south coast, and it’s the gateway to one of the ecological gems of the Caribbean: the Parque Nacional del Este.

Yes, there are bus trips for cruise passengers, but it’s easy to avoid them. First, stay in the Bayahibe area instead of busing it in from Santo Domingo. Casa de Campo — one of the region’s original ultra-luxe resorts — is in nearby La Romana. Second, hook up with an established eco-tour company and let them know you want something a little special, a small-group excursion. Here’s why you don’t have to hang with the crowds: There are no roads leading into the interior of the park. If you’re going to see the caves marked with Taíno petroglyphs, towering cactus forests and 20-pound Rhinocerous iguanas, you’re going to do it on foot.

In between days spent making like Crocodile Dundee, you can find a nice quiet hammock on one of the park’s three islands — Saona, Catalina, Catalanita — and just chill. Saona has gotten outrageously popular, so it can be crowded on cruise days, but Catalina and Catalanita aren’t yet overrun, and they offer some of the country’s best snorkeling and diving.

Salt Cay, Turks & Caicos

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March 31, 2015

Category: DR Living |

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Last updated January 21, 2018 at 12:31 AM
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