18 for 2018
Ready to make some New Year’s resolutions? Then try ticking off these incredible Caribbean experiences for guaranteed fun – plus added health benefits
01 Research your roots
Why? Learning about the past provides a fascinating perspective on your present
Pay a poignant visit to Guadeloupe’s Memorial ACTe (www.memorial-acte.fr), where the history of the slave trade is examined in the most striking fashion. It’s possible to use the museum’s archives to research your relatives. Or join the Barbados National Trust’s Open House Programme (www.barbadosnationaltrust.org), recommends Lizzie Williams, author of the Footprint guide to Barbados: “Between January and March, some of the island’s most historic buildings are open to the public, including grand 17th-century sugar plantations and beautiful old churches.”
02 Scare yourself… a bit
Why? It can help you push yourself and stretch your boundaries
Eleanor Roosevelt once proclaimed that you should do one thing every day that scares you – it will make you feel you can handle anything. So why not try ziplining? Head for the verdant hills of Antigua, where a collection of nine lines are strung up over 100m high; take a Tarzan Swing through the rainforests of St Lucia, ending with a breathtaking rappel; or skim through the skies in St Kitts, where you can hit adrenalin-surging speeds.
03 Support your neighbours
Why? Helping others makes you happy
The warm glow of altruism is one of the best feelings – and many places across the region need both help and happiness right now. One way to help is to visit hurricane-impacted islands as they reopen for business, to put your money back into the economy. And why not have some fun while you’re at it? For instance, small-but-spirited Jost Van Dyke was the BVI’s party playground before Irma, with a string of famous bars dotted along its palm-lined shores. After Hurricane Irma, Foxy’s Tamarind Bar – renowned for its beers, rums and charismatic founder – became a command centre for relief operations. Efforts are already underway to restore this island, and legendary spots such as the Soggy Dollar Bar vow to be back up and running soon. Of course, many other islands would love to see you back soon, too – from devastated Dominica to battered Barbuda. Why not also raise a glass at St Maarten’s Karakter, the school bus beach bar that has rebounded after the storms. The bus, they say, can survive anything!
04 Join the most enormous party
Why? There’s no endorphin rush like playing mas with the masses
Few events rival the magic-n-mayhem of Trinidad Carnival. If you’ve never done it, make this the year in which you take part in the Caribbean’s (the world’s?) biggest party. Port of Spain explodes in a riot of colour, music, revelry and creativity – so don a gobsmacking costume, join a mas band and parade via Queen’s Park Savannah. “It doesn’t matter how you look,” says T&T football legend Dwight Yorke. “You just enjoy going out there, interacting with people of different cultures. It’s full on!” Can’t make it to Trinidad Carnival? How about donning a wedding gown at Martinique’s Carnival (February), joining the street parties at SVG’s Vincy Mas (June-July) or blending African and Western culture at Crop Over in Barbados (August)?
05 Eat more chocolate
Why? It’s good for you – and the economy!
Research suggests that chocolate is good for the heart, circulation and brain; it may help prevent diabetes, lower cholesterol and reduce memory loss; it releases feel-good endorphins; it tastes fantastic – and the Caribbean grows some of the best cacao in the world. Learn all about it on a tour of the Grenada Chocolate Company (www.grenadachocolate.com). Or indulge at St Lucia’s Hotel Chocolat (www.hotelchocolat.com), where the Tree-to-Bar experience takes you from the cocoa groves to making your own delicious treats.
06 Drive like Lewis
Why? A rush of adrenalin can boost your energy and sharpen your senses
Head to Bushy Park, Barbados, to try driving like Lewis Hamilton. The Formula 1 pro has competed on this iconic track, which offers a range of driving packages for amateurs too. On the ‘Radical Drive’ experience you can jump in a Radical SR3 race car and accelerate 0-62mph in three seconds (www.bushyparkbarbados.com).
07 Be with birds
Why? Developing patience will help you to cope with whatever life throws at you
Birdwatching involves waiting for a special species to show – a good opportunity to perfect the art of quiet and unhurried contemplation. Beginners can make it easier, though, by heading for a specialist reserve. For instance, ZiNG’s literary expert Carol Mitchell (www.caribbeanreads.com) is a fan of Trinidad’s Yerettê Sanctuary (www.yerettett.com): “High on the slopes of Maracas Valley, it’s home to 14 species of hummingbird. Sitting
among these magical creatures is a truly awe-inspiring experience.”
08 Take a dive
Why? Feel the meditative calm of ‘flying’ underwater
Scuba diving is as close as most can come to visiting outer space. It’s also like meditation, with its controlled breathing and calming effect. The clear, vibrant, life-filled Caribbean waters offer wonderful opportunities. Expert tour operator Dive Worldwide (www.diveworldwide.com) recommends Grenada: “It’s one of the Caribbean’s top diving destinations, and number one for wreck diving. Highlights include the wreck of Bianca C and the otherworldly sculpture park at Molinere Bay.” If that sounds too extreme, start with SNUBA in St Lucia, using a long air hose to explore deeper underwater without the need for specialist training and equipment.
09 Go forest bathing
Why? To soak up the health benefits of relaxing amid lush trees
Shinrin-yoku, the practise of slowly exploring and absorbing a woodland, is both an ancient Japanese concept and a new wellness trend. Research has proved that mindful walking amid trees offers numerous health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to alleviating depression. The Caribbean has plenty of places to practice: try Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Park, containing more than 200 plant species, or lush Guadeloupe, almost half of which is covered in trees.
10 Marvel at Mother Nature
Why? Learn more about yourself by reconnecting with the planet’s other creatures
Watching wildlife produces a sense of wonder unlike anything else, whether it’s watching sperm whales swim off Dominica or turtles haul ashore to nest – Trinidad’s DJ Kaotic recommends Matura Beach, one of the largest nesting grounds for leatherback turtles, where trained guides will help you enjoy a close encounter. Something wilder still? ZiNG columnist James Fuller recommends Trinidad’s Tamana bat caves: “Walk there at dusk and stand with your face at the entrance to watch thousands upon thousands of bats pour out. You can feel the wind of their wings just whooshing past, certain that one of them’s going to smack you in the face.”
11 Set a sporting challenge
Why? Signing up for a race or another sporting event will keep you motivated
Is your New Year’s resolution to get fitter and healthier? Then declare your intentions to the world and set yourself a testing but achievable goal. It might be a run – for instance, the Trinidad & Tobago Marathon event in January has races covering distances from 5km to marathon. Or maybe you’d prefer a triathlon? St Lucia’s lovely event in November allows plenty of time to train. You could even go extreme: how about the 133km TransMartinique Ultra in December?
12 Go for a walk
Why? Hiking helps keep you fit, and allows plenty of thinking time
Get your heart pumping and clear your mind on one of the region’s resplendent rambles. Classic challenges include the climbs up Gros Piton, St Lucia’s 798m pointy peak, or Guadeloupe’s steamy La Soufrière. But it doesn’t have to be so strenuous. Try combining hiking and history with St Kitts Rails to Trails (www.facebook.com/heartofstkitts), a project that is gradually converting the abandoned 13-mile west-coast segment of the old sugar railway into a hiking and biking trail.
13 Take a digital detox
Why? Take a step back from the online world to better engage with the real one
Find a place to escape the tyranny of your smartphone. For instance, St Vincent & the Grenadines’ luxurious Palm Island Resort (palmislandresortgrenadines.com) offers all manner of activities – but no phones, TVs or internet connection. Alternatively, go somewhere the digital world won’t find you – like a cool cave. Bajan filmmaker Shakirah Bourne recommends Barbados’s Animal Flower Cave, with its natural rock pool: “If the tide is low, you may be able to swim to the very edge of the cave to watch the waves hitting the rocks below.”
14 Gaze at the stars
Why? To get a new perspective on your place in the universe
There’s a growing recognition that astronomy may be beneficial for our brains, reconnecting us to nature and the planet’s daily rhythms, which can become disrupted by artificial light. The Caribbean, with its lack of urban sprawl, has some wonderfully dark skies – ideal for stargazing. For the best experiences, visit an outlying island such as Carriacou (Grenada), a nature isle like Dominica, or the remote wilds of Guyana. Hop aboard a boat to escape terrestrial light pollution. Alternatively, speak to the experts: book a tour of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, the world’s biggest single-dish radio telescope (which sustained minimal hurricane damage) or join an event with CARINA, the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy, in Trinidad (www.caribbeanastronomy.com).
15 Set sail
Why? Improve your strength, agility, teamwork and health aboard a boat
“For sailing, the Caribbean has got it all – warm water, steady breezes and hundreds of islands to explore,” says Tamsin Rand of the Royal BVI Yacht Club (www.royalbviyc.org). Once the BVI is back on its feet, there’s arguably nowhere better on the planet to set sail, whatever your level of experience. Or opt for the St Maarten 12 Metre Challenge (www.12metre.com), which gives even non-sailors the chance to help sail a beautiful America’s Cup vessel. The operation sustained damage during Irma but hopes to be running again in 2018. And the Caribbean’s regattas are almost as famed for their carousing as they are for their sailing – for a taster of the action, head along to Antigua Sailing Week (28 April-4 May 2018; www.sailingweek.com) to join in with the land-based fun.
16 Seek solitude
Why? To gain a better knowledge of yourself free from any distractions
Solitude is the positive side of isolation: a chance to take a restorative break from our overloaded modern world. To carve out quality ‘me time’, head for one of the region’s less-populated islands – maybe Culebra (Puerto Rico), Canouan or the uninhabited Tobago Cays (both St Vincent & the Grenadines). Or you could find your place of peace in the remote wilderness: try the Pakaraima Mountain Safari, a tough 4WD adventure across some of the most rugged reaches of Guyana (www.adventureguianas.com).
17 Cheer on your team
Why? Enjoy the connectedness that comes from being part of the crowd
Watching your local or national sports teams isn’t just a fun day out, it can help you feel part of something bigger, fostering a closeness to others who share the same allegiance. So why not book a ticket for the 2018 Caribbean Premier League (www.cplt20.com) – the cricket is thrilling, and a party atmosphere is guaranteed.
18 Find your favourite waterfall
Why? Water has a positive effect on mental well-being – refreshing for soul and body alike
One of the most soul-soaring ways to experience water is to hike to, shower in or simply admire one of the Caribbean region’s many glorious cascades. Some are immense – such as Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls, plummeting over 250m and one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls. Some seem designed for leaping and splashing, such as Grenada’s Concord or Annandale. Some are secretive – Janie Conley-Johnson, of Leeward Publishers (http://www.simplyantiguabarbuda.com), recommends the Christian Valley waterfall in Antigua after heavy rainfalls – the only time it appears. Some islands have so many falls that you’re spoilt for choice: “Dominica, it’s often said, has 365 rivers – one for every day of the year,” says Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, author of Island People (http://www.joshuajellyschapiro.com). “Many of them are punctuated by spectacular waterfalls. There are no hikes I love better, anywhere in the Caribbean, than a trek to one of the gorgeous cataracts – Sari-Sari, Titou Gorge, Trafalgar – that stud Dominica’s woods.”