Goodbye, boring Caribbean resort vacations! A new generation of travelers is looking for something different from their warm-weather getaways, ditching overcrowded beaches and packed resorts for a unique travel experience.
As Skift reports that up to 70% of Gen Z and Millennial travelers are looking for off-the-beaten-path travel experiences, ones their family and friends might not have heard of or considered, it's time for new Caribbean destinations to shine.
Looking for the up-and-coming locations these new generations of travelers are loving? These six dreamy Caribbean destinations are among the region's most promising and popular new hotspots.
1. Havana, Cuba
Less than 90 miles off the coast of Key West, the largest island in the Caribbean is still one Caribbean destination that far too few travelers have yet to explore. Cuba is a one-of-a-kind destination not to overlook. It boasts some of the best beaches in the world – many still untouched and undeveloped – as well as dynamic historic cities and dance and music traditions that have turned the world upside down.
While Cuba has faced many challenges in the past several years, its appeal is undeniable. So much so that it was even awarded the number one spot on TripAdvisor's 2023 Trending Destinations list.
Havana is undoubtedly the best place to start exploring Cuba. Ride around the city in style with a cruise along the Malecón sea wall in a classic convertible from the 1950s, visiting monuments, plazas, and palaces along the way.
Things to do Outside of Havana
While there are plenty of things to do in Havana, Cuba to keep you busy for several days or even a whole week, there are plenty of gems to discover outside of Havana.
Take a quick flight to Cuba's eastern capital of Santiago de Cuba to see an entirely different face of the island. Learn salsa and other dance rhythms where they first originated. Head to Cuba's historic “first city” of Baracoa and explore the untouched white sand beaches of Holguin and Guantanamo that few visitors get to explore.
Americans Visiting Cuba
Many travelers still wonder, can Americans travel to Cuba? While it might come as a surprise, it's pretty straightforward, even easy, for American citizens to travel to Cuba.
Once considered an off-limits destination for travelers holding U.S. passports, Cuba has been easily accessible to American travelers for nearly a decade. While the last several years have seen some changes in travel regulations, they mostly remain the same. This means U.S. travelers can fly directly to Cuba as long as they don't stay in government-owned hotels and focus on patronizing small businesses as they explore the island.
2. Willemstad, Curaçao
The colorful southern Caribbean island of Curaçao is more than just trending; it's a bonafide new Caribbean hotspot. A crop of new and recently-refurbished hotels and resorts await first-time visitors and returnees to this Caribbean destination. Curaçao has so much to love.
With JetBlue being just one of the airlines to increase their flights to the island from the United States, Curaçao is poised to increase in popularity, making now the time to plan your visit.
The capital city of Willemstad is a gorgeous and lively Caribbean city well worth exploring. From the vibrant Dutch Caribbean architecture in Handelskade along the city's port to its local markets, impressive street art, and cool galleries and shops, Willemstad offers travelers a rich experience you won't find in many other Caribbean cities.
While the island is known for its seafood, new restaurants and cafes transform Willemstad into a genuine destination for foodies. Its mix of Caribbean, Dutch, Spanish, and Latin American influences produces a unique food scene and flavors you won't find anywhere else.
Looking for that classic Caribbean beach day on perfect white sand? Visit the tiny white-sand cove of Playa Lagun for world-class snorkeling right off the beach, or take a catamaran ride to tiny Klein Curaçao to enjoy your own deserted island for the day. From busy and lively beach destinations to empty, undeveloped sands, Curaçao has whatever you're dreaming of.
3. Soufriere, Dominica
No, Dominica isn't the Dominican Republic! Known as the “Nature Island of the Caribbean,” the tiny eastern Caribbean island nation of Dominica is perhaps one of the few Caribbean destinations left for those looking to enjoy the Caribbean as it once was decades ago. It has untouched, secluded beaches and plenty of local character and flavor.
It doesn't get any more authentic and off the beaten path than the small fishing village of Soufriere, located on the island's southwest coast. Beach bars and local restaurants with delicious Caribbean food await, with peaceful, uncrowded streets and lush jungles just beyond. World-class resorts like Jungle Bay are hidden on the hillside, waiting to welcome new and returning visitors.
While the beaches in Soufriere aren't the fine white stretches of sand you'll find elsewhere on the island, they reveal a diver's paradise below the waves. This includes spots that make the island one of the world's best places for scuba diving. Neighboring Scott's Head makes for an incredible viewpoint overlooking the island.
Eco-Friendly Hotel in Dominica
After being lashed by Hurricane Maria in 2017, Dominica is back and better than ever. It is at the forefront of new Caribbean travel trends and some groundbreaking hurricane resiliency work that has other Caribbean destinations taking note. The brand-new eco-resort Coulibri Ridge is just one example.
In addition to being a buzzy new luxury destination for Caribbean travelers, it is ultra-sustainable, off-grid, and thoroughly hurricane-resistant. It's an example of how islands can prepare for the worst without sacrificing elegance and style among changing environmental conditions in the Caribbean.
4. San Blas Islands, Panama
Are you a fan of the Netflix hit show Money Heist? If so, you've seen this otherwise hidden Caribbean destination just off the coast of Panama in all its pristine glory.
As the filming location for Tokyo and Rio's secluded tropical hideout in season 2 of the show, the San Blas Islands rocketed to fame. Now, you can't visit this white-sand archipelago without someone handing you one of the show's iconic red jumpsuits and Dalí masks. It’s no wonder the majority of Millennial and Gen Z travelers prefer destinations like this.
Long a favorite with backpackers passing between Panama and Colombia, the San Blas Islands can be a bit challenging to get to even though they are close to the coast. It is a contributing factor to their untouched, local feel.
Book a day trip from Panama City or a multi-day excursion for the most hassle-free travel experience to the San Blas Islands. Alternatively, travel from Colombia via speedboat, island-hopping through some of the most picture-perfect spots in the Caribbean.
5. Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
You may not picture a Caribbean paradise when you think of the Central American nation of Nicaragua. But this is the thing that has kept Nicaragua's Corn Islands so authentic, local, and untouched amidst the overdevelopment of more well-known Caribbean islands. A preciously-guarded gem among savvy travelers, Little Corn Island – more remote and relaxed than neighboring Big Corn Island – is the perfect place to drop off the grid.
You won't find a car in sight among beach bars and white sand shores on Little Cornen Island. In fact, the island doesn't even have a single paved road, adding to its untouched appeal.
Worried you'd get bored in such a remote spot? Many travelers are eager to extend their visit after discovering the charm of this Caribbean destination.
Recommended Resort on Little Corn Island
Yemaya Reefs on Little Corn Island's north coast is the best place to stay if you're looking for a beachy getaway with easy access to pristine snorkeling and diving spots just offshore. Luxurious casitas nestled among palm trees slung with hammocks feature stunning views and are just steps away from the sand.
6. Cartagena, Colombia
Located on Colombia's vibrant Caribbean coast, the historic city of Cartagena is quickly becoming one of the most popular hotspots in the Caribbean. While its thriving cruise port has been part of the city's recent renaissance, this magnetic colonial capital deserves more than just a day at port to explore.
You can book a cheap flight to Cartagena as the city's international airport is well-served, with flights from the United States and beyond. Then experience one of the Caribbean's most colorful and dynamic cities.
Cartagena oozes character and charm with its brightly-colored buildings, cobblestone streets, and historic city walls. Exploring Cartagena's walled city, popping into centuries-old churches and homes, is a highlight of a visit. The city's new cafes, restaurants, and galleries make it even more appealing.
Make sure to visit the neighborhood of Getsemani, known for its beautiful street art and jam-packed with things to see and do. Stay at Casa Pestagua, a recently-refurbished, luxurious gem, for a taste of Cartagena's history; the historic home turned boutique hotel has been called the most beautiful house in all of Cartagena.
Cartagena Beach Destinations
While Cartagena proper has its fair share of beautiful beaches, the best beach destinations in Cartagena are just outside of the city. Cartagena's most impressive beach is Playa Blanca on Isla Barú. Its short driving distance from the city makes it an easy day trip.
Travelers with a little more time to spare can head to the nearby Rosario Islands, just a short speedboat from Cartagena. These off-the-beaten-path Caribbean islands seem straight out of paradise, with white sand beaches surrounded by mangrove forests. The forests lead to incredible snorkeling and scuba diving sites. The best part? Rosario Islands are one of the most affordable Caribbean destinations if you're looking for an island getaway.
Caribbean Destinations You Won't Forget
Long gone are the days of boring Caribbean resort stays removed from the culture and diversity of their destinations. While these idyllic destinations boast their fair share of luxury accommodations and stunning beaches you'll love, they're part of re-writing the story of your next Caribbean vacation. Now is the time to plan your own unique visit!
This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks.
Carley Rojas Avila is an avid traveler, writer, and creator behind Home to Havana. Having traveled to twenty-five countries and spent years living abroad, she shares destination guides, travel tips, and hacks to help travelers and digital nomads feel at home when traveling off the beaten path, whether their travels take them to Havana or beyond.