50 things we LOVE about the Caribbean

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There are SO many reasons why our region is great. But to celebrate the 50th issue of ZiNG we’re offering a subjective pick of the 50 very best. What are yours?

01 The island vibe
“I love that you can just go to the beach whenever you feel like it – it’s never far away. Or you can go to a river and have a cook up, or go hiking to a waterfall. We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the planet, and we often take it for granted, only missing it when we’re away from our respective islands. People travel huge distances just to see the Caribbean. Like the saying goes: I live where you vacation!” Valiski Bernard, LIAT Cabin Crew

02 The world icons
Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Eddy Grant. Curtly Ambrose, Sir Garfield Sobers. Usain Bolt, Kirani James. Nobel laureate Sir Arthur Lewis. Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Machel Montano. Jus’ sayin’…

03 The spoils of the soil
All that sunshine – liquid and otherwise – means fruit grows in abundance here, from sweet BVI sugar apples and Antiguan black pineapples to 100 different types of mango (now in season!).

04 The truth-speaking songs
“Calypsonians told the stories of the day,” Mighty Gabby told ZiNG in issue 38. “Calypso was born from struggle and protest; it’s a serious business.” It’s certainly a unique song form, developed in Trinidad in the 17th century to secretly mock slave masters, spread news and, later, to speak out about corruption. Calypso, adds Gabby, is the chance to sing about the social, political and economic issues of a country: “A calypsonian is a representative of the masses.”

05 The brilliant birdlife
The Caribbean is a biodiversity hotspot, home to more than 500 species of bird, including 172 species that are found nowhere else in the world. Be wowed by the scarlet ibis in Trinidad’s Caroni Swamp, seek out the St Vincent parrot (only found on its namesake isle) and keep an eye out for the region’s resplendent hummingbirds.

06 The underwater world
The Caribbean spans over 2.5 million sq km of sea – including the coral reefs of Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve and Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park. “The Caribbean is a good place to learn to dive,” says Bajan marine biologist Andre Miller. “Our reefs are very close to shore, and we have 365 days a year of warm and clear water!”

07 Warmth of the welcome
“One of our most valuable assets is our hospitality. The way Caribbean people make our visitors feel special and ensure they have a grand time with us is quite unique. And our love for entertaining guests is just phenomenal!” Shequela James, LIAT Flight Operations Administrative Assistant

08 The style and the story of the buildings
From the Creole architecture of Grand Case, St Martin to the plantation houses of Nevis, the Caribbean has so many spectacular historic buildings. Don’t miss Trinidad’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ – the mansions that line Port of Spain’s Queen’s Park Savannah – or a stroll along the colourful colonial streets of Old San Juan.

09 The innovative eco-lodges
Our islands are gorgeously green – and so are many of our most amazing hotels. The Caribbean has embraced eco-resorts, which combine green credentials with plenty of style. ZiNG writer Ben West recommends Hix Island House on Vieques, which “combines the latest style and eco-initiatives with luxury and romance”, and Belle Mont Farm on St Kitts, which “offers boutique styling and fabulous sea views with a sense of involvement in the local community”.

10 Sublime sunsets
Is there anywhere better to watch the sun sink into the sea?

11 Liming
The Caribbean is so laid-back that we had to invent a whole new word for the serious business of chilling with friends!

12 The lip-smackin’ street-food
There’a a lot of good eating to be done at the roadside. Tricky to pick the best – but doubles has to be high on the list: chickpea curry and sauce in fried flatbreads. Download the T&T Eat Ah Doubles App to find the nearest…

13 The marvellous multiculturalism
From the indigenous peoples of Dominica’s Kalinago Territory to the huge statue of Hindu god Hanuman in Carapichaima, Trinidad, to the mosques, churches and Chinese temples in Georgetown, Guyana, our region is a melting pot. “We are of different ethnic groups and religions,” says Melissa Gooptar, LIAT Passenger Service Coordinator, “but, most importantly, we are loving.”

14 The Ice-cold beer
Drunk on a beach at sundown, pretty much any beer tastes good. But there’s no need to drink just any old beer. As well as good island staples – Carib, Kubuli, Banks, Piton – plenty of microbreweries create artisanal drinks. Seek out the ales of St Lucia’s Antilla Brewing Co, the rum-cask aged beers of Bajan brewery 10 Saints, and visit Sint Maarten’s only craft beer pub, the Perola Bar.

15 The confidence to confront the past
The Caribbean’s fascinating cultural heritage includes dark times that demand to be explored. Mémorial ACTe, at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, is dedicated to the history, memory and condemnation of slavery and the slave trade. “This black-granite museum is shrouded by a gossamer-like aluminium lattice,” says ZiNG writer Melissa Banigan. “The architectural juxtaposition of shadow and light, of weightlessness and gravity, is a metaphor for what the building contains: a record of the history of oppression and the sublime hope that by learning this history, we might prevent more human suffering in the future.”

16 The thrilling fashion
“I’m excited to see local and regional designers explode on the international scene,” says Keisha Collette Thomas, of Trinidad & Tobago fashion label Marie Collette. Ever more talented designers are incorporating Caribbean themes, colours and cultural influences into their creations. SVG’s Karen De Freitas Fraser based a collection on Haitian Kanaval: “I researched vintage images of Haitian women from the 1800s; I was interested in telling the story of freedom and resistance expressed from the first free black nation in the western hemisphere.”

17 The fusion cuisine
Caribbean food is the world’s first global cuisine. So many food cultures have mixed here over the centuries, producing an eclectic buffet of flavours. As an old Creole proverb says: ‘all the cooking pots are on the fire now.’

18 The bush teas
Something ailing you? Pour a cup of bush tea. Hot, herby and aromatic, natural infusions of hand-picked leaves and spices have been brewed in homes for centuries and are steeped in medicine folklore. Try mint to aid digestion, soursop for insomnia or wild fever grass for fighting flu.

19 The fantastical folklore characters
Jumbie. Jacakalantan. La Diablesse. Papa Bois. Mama Glow. Shape-shifting soucouyants… The Caribbean is alive with tales of the supernatural; of spirits caught between worlds, intent on making mischief. And it is rife with the storytellers who can spin these yarns, adding spice to the folklore – and scaring the wits out of whole generations.

20 The super sailing
“The Caribbean is without doubt one of the very best sailing locations in the world,” says Tamsin Rand of the Royal BVI Yacht Club. “There are crystal-clear waters, steady breezes and hundreds of islands to explore.” The BVI has possibly the world’s most perfect waters; in St Vincent & the Grenadines you can skim between tiny, otherwise inaccessible isles; in Antigua, sailing is an excuse for a party – and Antigua Sailing Week is one of the Caribbean’s biggest sea-focused celebrations.

21 The fire-breathing mountains
A chain of volcanoes forms the spine of the Caribbean, offering a range of thrilling experiences. Take a mud bath in St Lucia’s Sulphur Springs . Hike up Mt Liamuiga on St Kitts to look for wild orchids and green vervet monkeys. Or, advises ZiNG writer Tamara Thiessen, tackle La Soufrière, Guadeloupe’s “misty vaporous monster… one of the most closely watched volcanoes in the world”.

22 The resilience
Sometimes the Caribbean isn’t all liming and sunshine. The region has endured more than its fair share of disasters. But in the aftermath, the resilience of the people always shines through. We don’t give up when things are falling apart. Some get proactive. For instance, following the 2017 hurricanes, BVI writer Angela Burnett published The Irma Diaries, which tells the harrowing stories of people caught up in the storm and aims to stir action on climate change; 50% of book proceeds are donated to The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund and the survivors (www.theirmadiaries.com).

23 The inspiring women
The Caribbean produces strong women: proud, confident, dignified, high-achieving individuals who aren’t afraid to break down barriers – from Mia Mottley, Barbados’s first female prime minister, to the Antigua Island Girls, who in January 2019 became the world’s first all-black team to voluntarily row across the Atlantic.

24 The speciality shopping
There are lots of shops where you can pick up duty-free designer goods, but we really love those little places where you can buy traditional crafts, works of art and locally designed items. Akimbo, in Maraval, Trinidad, stocks clothes from independent brands. Browse St Kitts’ Caribelle Boutique for beautiful batik. And at Stabroek Market in Georgetown, you can buy almost anything.

25 The life-giving lushness
The art of ‘forest bathing’ (reducing your stress by spending time amid trees) is very on trend right now. But we’ve always known how brilliant and beneficial the verdancy of our islands is. “The Caribbean’s nature is exquisite, full of adventure, a breath of fresh air,” says Rhonda Augustine, LIAT HR Admin Assistant. “It’s a peaceful place to unwind and relax.”

26 The sounds of soca
And from calypso came soca, the uniquely Caribbean style of music that, says ZiNG writer Jeneille Lewis, “seems to emit vibrations that enable us to let loose, uninhibited; to allow us to feel bigger than ourselves”. From godfather of soca Lord Shorty to current stars such as Swappi, Mr Killa, Nailah Blackman and Patrice Roberts (pictured), soca is fast spreading from its Trini origins beyond the Caribbean and around the globe.

27 The creative force
Martin Carter, Derek Walcott, VS Naipaul, Edwidge Danticat, Anthony Kellman, Marlon James, Marie-Elena John, Lasana M Sekou… The Caribbean is a hotbed of great writers. “It is a very exciting time for Caribbean writing,” says Grenada-born writer Jacob Ross. “What’s changing in Caribbean literature is that the writing is more inward-looking, more forensic, in its examination of modern Caribbean society… The language is more unapologetic, and the literature is taking a harder look at the underbelly of our societies.”

28 The jumping parties
The Caribbean knows how to put on a good party. On Friday night, vibe at St Lucia’s Gros Inlet Jump Up. Come Sunday, head for Antigua’s Shirley Heights barbecue. And “every month, the BVI comes even more alive with its Full Moon Parties at Jost Van Dyke and Trellis Bay,” says RaeNisia Scatliffe of the BVI Tourist Board.

29 The hot hiking trails
Dominica’s Waitukubuli is the Caribbean’s first long-distance trail, an epic walk. St Lucia’s Tet Paul Trail is a more gentle stroll, with views of the Pitons (right). Elsewhere, take a nature-filled hike in the BVI’s Gorda National Park, or join a guided stroll with the Barbados National Trust, which runs free Sunday walks year-round.

30 The steer towards sustainability
Our beautiful planet is facing tough times. But in the Caribbean region, islands including Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica and Grenada have banned Styrofoam packaging and single-use plastic bags. And in spring 2019 St Kitts won the Destination Stewardship Award, a prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow Award from the World Travel & Tourism Council, recognising the island as a global leader in sustainable tourism.

31 The seafood
Our waters provide sensational seafood, served up at beach bars (try Anegada’s Lobster Trap) and street parties (don’t miss Anse La Raye’s Friday night Fish Fry). Be sure to seek out lionfish, an invasive species devastating Caribbean reefs but which makes great eating. St Lucia’s Rainforest Hideaway serves it every day. “It’s our biggest-selling dish,” says owner John Verity, “and it has become a great industry for local fishermen.”

32 The craziness of Carnival
Well, obviously. There’s no better party, right?

33 The competitive spirit
The Caribbean hosts great races in beautiful places – something to take your mind off the pain! Runners might tackle the scenic St Croix or Nevis Marathons, or epic Transmartinique, a 144km trail run across the island. Cyclists saddle up for Puerto Rico’s iconic Vuelta or the venerable Tour de Guadeloupe. Perhaps the most iconic event is the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim, offering the unique chance to race between islands.

34 The finest, oldest rums
Strong rum, even stronger rum, rum liqueur, rhum agricole, rum punch, exclusive rum at $100 a bottle… Try Mount Gay, the world’s oldest. Watch the ancient waterwheel at Grenada’s River Antoine Distillery. Taste El Dorado 12 Year Old, Gold winner at the 2019 World Rum Awards, in Guyana. Or just pop into a village rum shop to shoot the breeze…

35 The love of the gentleman’s game
No one loves cricket like the Windies love cricket. From test matches to women’s triumphs to the Caribbean Premier League (the ‘biggest party in sport’), cricket is uniquely supported across the region – beloved, cheered at, jeered at, dissected and embraced. As Antiguan legend Richie Richardson once told ZiNG: “cricket is embedded in our genes”.

36 The mood-boosting waterfalls
Some scientists claim that the negative ions abundant in waterfalls improve our mood. Whatever, we’re always happy to visit the Caribbean’s cascades. Get your shoulders massaged at St Lucia’s Toraille Falls (below). Hike to all three tiers of Grenada’s Concord Falls. Canyon through the cascades of Dominica’s Titou Gorge. Or maybe visit the region’s biggest: “Kaieteur Falls is the jewel in Guyana’s crown,” says ZiNG writer Claire Antell. “The Potaro River tumbles some 260m into a rocky canyon carved into jungle – it’s more than four times the height of Niagara and almost 100m wide.”

37 The sweet stuff
Native to the Amazon Basin, the cacao plant has made a happy transition to the Caribbean, which produces some of the world’s best chocolate. Grenada, which has five organic producers, has been dubbed ‘Chocolate Island of the Caribbean’, though Trinidad and St Lucia might contest that claim. There’s delicious chocolate made by the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company, St Lucia’s Hotel Chocolat and Dominica’s Bois Cotlette, a recently revived 300-year-old cocoa estate.

38 The massive marine mammals
Some 25 species of cetacean have been recorded in the Caribbean. Dominica has resident sperm whales, plus short-fin pilot whales and humpbacks. In the waters off Grenada, 15 species have been recorded, while Guadeloupe is good for seeing sperm whales and spotted dolphins.

39 The lap of luxury
The Caribbean can boast some of the world’s best hotels, from Puerto Rico’s Condado Vanderbilt, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, to Elegant Hotels’ new Hodges Bay Resort in Antigua, opened in late 2018. We’re looking forward to new spots on Dominica in 2019: the rebuilt Jungle Bay, rebranded as a boutique wellness resort, and the luxe-meets-nature Cabrits Resort Kempinski.

40 The finest fortresses
The Caribbean has myriad old defences. St Kitts’ Brimstone Hill Fortress is well preserved. Fort Saint Louis in Martinique is still in use. And colonial and modern history mix at Grenada’s Fort George.

41 The jam-packed diary
Is there any place on the planet that stages more festivals than the Caribbean? As well as Carnival, there are events celebrating everything from country music to mangoes, Creole heritage to chocolate, filmmaking to marlin-fishing to electronica at SXM Festival, St Martin.

42 The global resonance
“The Caribbean has been so central to world history – and remains so,” Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, author of Island People, says. “This is where Columbus first bumped into the New World. These islands were the centre of the Atlantic slave trade. They were the setting for the Haitian Revolution – the only successful slave revolution in history. CLR James, the great Trinidad historian, wrote in the 1950s that ‘of all the world’s formerly colonised peoples’ he felt that people from the Caribbean were best prepared and most suited ‘to shape the future of western civilisation’. In the decades since, he’s been proved right.”

43 The unusual natural wonders
Want to visit a bay where dark nights are lit up with bioluminescence? Head to Vieques, Puerto Rico. Magical limestone caverns dripping with speleothems? Try Barbados’s Harrison’s Cave. Curious crimson outcrops shaped by the sea? Explore the Red Rocks at Point Baptiste, Dominica. A lagoon of bubbling liquid asphalt? Go to Trinidad’s stinky Pitch Lake. We could go on…

44 The super surf
“There is no place like home – my favourite surf spot will always be Soup Bowl,” says Barbados’s first ever elite-level surfer Chelsea Tuach. “I believe it is one of the best waves in the world. I always leave the water with a smile on my face.” Elsewhere, there are plenty of fine waves to ride around the region: Rincon, Puerto Rico, has plenty of consistent, easily accessible surf, while Martinique’ Anse Bonneville – aka ‘Surfers Beach’ – is a popular hangout.

45 The world-beating beaches
The beauty of the Caribbean’s beaches is that there is one for everybody, whatever your preference: white sand, black sand, pink sand; lively and shack-backed or utterly secluded; sporty, swimmable, surf-ripped, mirror-calm, reef-edged, palm-fringed; hipster-cool, A-list loved, family-friendly, nudist; visited by turtles – or visited by no one at all except you.

46 The food that tastes like home
Rice and peas, pepperpot, black cake, breadfruit pie… No matter how far you roam, there are certain foods that will always transport you back to the Caribbean. “My typical Christmas now involves meeting with my family in New Zealand,” says expat Sarina Jack, who moved to NZ from St Vincent. “But we always make sure we have black cake and ginger beer; it’s almost like bringing a piece of the Caribbean with us wherever we are.”

47 The best beach bars
Great beaches are even greater when they’re home to brilliant beach bars. We have so many! Whether you order fab fish tacos at Hendo’s Hideout on Jost Van Dyke, go upmarket at Goatie’s Bar on Petit St Vincent or follow Antigua’s Beach Bar Trail, good times and vibes are guaranteed.

48 The UNESCO-listed sites
We’re lucky to have several UNESCO World Heritage sites across the Caribbean, highlighting their worth and helping protect them for the future. Visit Antigua’s Naval Dockyard, the magnificent 18th-century port area that illustrates the age of colonisation. Explore Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, one of the earliest fortified ports in the Caribbean. And hike into Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park to find fumaroles and boiling lakes amid the forest.

49 The unity in diversity
The Caribbean is defiantly multicultural – but also united. Perhaps the most tangible example is CARIFESTA, the Caribbean Festival of Arts, which gives expression to this cultural mix, celebrating our solidarity as much as our rich variety. The next edition of the biennial festival will be held in Trinidad & Tobago, 16-25 August 2019 (www.carifesta.net).

50 And finally… the ZiNG!
‘Zing’ – meaning ‘energy, enthusiasm or liveliness’. The lust for life. The Caribbean X-factor that makes it the best place in the world!

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