Your cruise vacation in the Caribbean becomes a three-dimensional immersive experience when you take shore excursions at the ports of call. Every ship will have packages for various types of adventures including sightseeing, food and drink events, historic tours, sports adventures, and other entertainment. If, however, you want to wander off-the-grid, consider exploring the islands on your own. It’s a great way to escape the thousands of fellow passengers shuffling down the gangway!
1. Puerto Rico
To leave the crowds behind, rent a car or grab a cab to the Isla de Cabras Recreational Park. It’s a 20 minute ride from San Juan, and the perfect spot to relax on the beach or have a picnic in the shade. There are gazebos, snack vendors, and trails to explore. For the cultural experience, you can see the historic naval fortress El Morro, and walk the perimeter of Fort San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo). There’s also an observation deck with a stunning view of the bay.
2. Virgin Islands
For a refreshing break from the heat, visit Magic Ice on St. Thomas. In the highly unlikely setting of a tropical island you can stroll through a 10,000 sf warehouse of “art below zero.” Yes, there are real ice sculptures from 16 artists across the world celebrating the rich history of the Caribbean. It is breath-taking (literally) to walk amongst this most unexpected shore excursion away from the cruise crowds. There is even a huge ‘shipwreck’ ice sculpture right in the center of the gallery. Warm coats, gloves, and shoes are loaned for free (since it’s likely you didn’t pack any for your tropical cruise vacation). Adults and kids love this exhibit.
3. Dominican Republic
You cannot visit the Dominican Republic without spending time in The Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo. This UNESCO World Heritage location is 11 blocks of rich history. The Zone has the first hospital, university, monastery, cathedral, and customs house in the Americas; and is the only New World city from the 15th Century. There are well-preserved pieces of history in the museums, forts, and buildings dating back to the 1490s.
4. Grand Cayman
For an off-the-grid glimpse at 18th Century splendor on the island, visit Pedro St. James (“Pedro Castle”). A quick 20 minute ride from George Town takes you to the fully restored and decorated structure – the oldest surviving stone edifice in the Caymans. It was once home to a wealthy Englishman; a cotton plantation; a courthouse; and a jail in its lifetime. The rooms are decorated with period pieces, and the house is surrounded by seven acres of tropical gardens. It is rumored to be a bit haunted from its difficult history of surviving hurricanes, fires, vandalism, and former neglect.
For an off-the-grid nature experience, avoid the tourist-glutted Dunn’s River Falls, and catch a ride to Mayfield Falls. Unlike some of the other ‘advertised’ locations, the waterfalls in this area of the island are more subtle. These are the kind you can experience up-close-and-personal by wading, swimming, walking behind, and playing in. There are 21 natural pools where the falls drop gently from one to another down the sloping landscape. You will be surrounded by all manner of flora and fauna native to Jamaica. This shore excursion is rated moderate on the exertion scale; and you’ll need water shoes to fully immerse at this location.
Angela is a professional freelance travel writer and published indie author – AngelaMinor.com