The Lesser Antilles, from St Thomas in the north to Aruba, off the Venezuelan coast in the south, comprise some of the most magnificently beautiful landscapes on the face of the earth. Within this chain of more than 20 major islands and countless uninhabited islets – known also as the Eastern Caribbean and the West Indies there seems to be every conceivable shade of blue in the water, every variation of flower, every species of brightly colored bird. The air is balmy and perfumed, the nights are consistently clear, the days are bathed in warm sunshine. Even when it is wet, the rain is warm, refreshing and usually comes in short bursts. Indeed it seems as if everything, the climate, the waters, the land, is unimaginably perfect.
At one time just getting to these tropical Caribbean islands was an adventure, now the adventure can start on arrival. Whether you are cruising “down the islands” on an ocean liner, sailing between them on a yacht or you have picked out one or two just to spend some time relaxing on, there is plenty to explore – under the sea, on the coasts, in the rainforests of the mountains interiors and around the streets of their tiny capitals.
Each island has a character of its own and conveys a different mood. With tourism the mainstay of their economies, their natural assets are available, sometimes controversially, for the benefit of the visitor. St John is peaceful and dedicated to nature, whereas St Thomas only a few miles away is bustling and vigorous. Miniscule St Barths is as chic as the Left Bank in Paris; Barbados is as English as they come upholding the tradition of afternoon tea. Tiny St Martin, ruled peacefully by two European nations, offers a frenetic nightlife on one side of the border in contrast to gourmet dining and quiet beaches on the other. Trinidad is host to the greatest street party on earth as is St Lucia to a major music festival and Barbados to a season of opera. Aruba extends a welcoming arm to gamblers.
The surrounding warm waters provide perfect conditions for sailing, all kinds of water sports, from windsurfing off the Atlantic shores to waterskiing in the calm Caribbean bays and diving around the dramatic coral reefs and shipwrecks.
The terrain is equally diverse. One island has a salt lake, another pitch lake and mountainous, rain forested Dominica has a boiling lake. What tiny and steeply vertical Saba lacks in beaches it makes up for in underwater scenery, whereas flat and arid Anguilla has an astonishing number of maginificent beaches.
Quite simply, you never know what to expect, not only from island to island, but past the next bend on their narrow roads. And that is one of the true pleasures of the Lesser Antilles.