islands in the caribbean

10 Hidden Gem Caribbean Islands Not To Overlook

As the Caribbean continues to enjoy a post-pandemic travel resurgence to make the rest of the world jealous, it’s time to skip the built-up, overcrowded beaches that give these islands a bad name. From energetic festivals and colorful architecture to adventurous activities and incredible cultural diversity, the Caribbean has so much more to offer if you just look further afield.

These ten under-the-radar Caribbean islands are the destinations that seasoned travelers in the know have whispered about for years. Add these hidden gems to your bucket list; you’re about to start hearing about these trending tropical destinations everywhere!

dominica

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10 Best Under-the-Radar Islands in the Caribbean

Dominica

It looks like 2023 is Dominica’s moment. With new direct flights from Miami, a trending new world-class eco resort, and a coveted spot on Lonely Planet’s prestigious list of Best in Travel 2023, Dominica is finally starting to get its time in the sun. Needless to say, it won’t be considered so “hidden” of a gem for much longer.

Known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, Dominica is a true tropical paradise. Mountainous terrain reveals rainforests covering almost two-thirds of the island, home to hundreds of species of colorful birds and misty, plunging waterfalls. Take it all in as you explore the over 300 miles of hiking trails on the island, offering unbeatable ocean views and first-hand encounters with nature.

If you can’t imagine a Caribbean getaway without hitting the beach, don’t worry, Dominica has a number of beautiful beaches to choose from, even of the unique black sand variety. Snorkeling and diving opportunities abound, with excellent options for beginners and experienced divers alike. Dominica is also known as the whale-watching capital of the Caribbean, and the only country in the world where sperm whales reside year-round.

A stay at the island’s brand new, ultra-sustainable Coulibri Ridge is a must; it’s one of the most impressive boutique resorts in the Caribbean, and its eco-friendly features mean your stay in the Nature Island of the Caribbean will be an Earth-positive one.

saba
rjlerich / Depositphotos

Saba

Only five square miles in size, the tiny island of Saba is the definition of a hidden gem. With just two thousand permanent residents and four villages, Saba embraces its visitors with a friendly welcome and an unexpectedly rich and diverse travel experience. Travelers who escape to Saba quickly learn why it’s considered among the Caribbean’s finest and best-kept secrets.

The island of Saba is the peak of a dormant volcano emerging from the Caribbean sea, meaning that the island’s topography is truly unique. Explore the island along winding trails and path before retiring to any of Saba’s boutique hotels or spacious villas, which offer the island’s best viewpoints.

Brilliant blue oceans and abundant reefs await below. The island’s volcanic nature created an array of unique diving destinations below the waves, including the famous “Man O’ War Shoals” with two towering pinnacles and a swim-through.

Looking for a genuinely sustainable getaway? Saba is a perfect choice. This forward-thinking island is entirely powered by solar energy during the day, only converting to a generator at night. No greenwashing here; Saba has been doing this for years!

The Berry Islands
Courtesy of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Investment & Aviation

The Berry Islands

The Bahamas are world famous for their crystal clear shallows and powdery fine beaches, but there is no shortage of hidden gems still left to explore across this archipelago. Among the nearly 700 islands and cays in the Bahamas, only about 30 are inhabited; among them, The Berry Islands, with their brand-new international airport, are now more accessible than ever.

Located along the famed “Tongue of the Ocean” deepwater trench, The Berry Islands have long been a haven for sports fishing. However, with their white sand beaches, world-class diving, and an excellent array of boutique hotels and resorts, they’re coming into their own as a dreamy destination to accommodate whatever kind of Caribbean getaway you’ve been dreaming of.

It’s all at your fingertips at Chub Cay Club, a beachside escape at the southern tip of The Berry Islands. The resort offers a fantastic marina, giving easy access to “The Billfish Capital of The Bahamas,” while private beach cabanas, an infinity pool, and an intimate spa await those who prefer a more rejuvenating getaway.

Make sure to spend a morning paddling down Turtle Creek, just a short bike ride from Chub Cay. At this natural lazy river, you’ll have the chance to paddle alongside peaceful sea turtles and tropical fish. Plenty of secluded white-sand beaches await at your fingertips as you explore this special corner of the 30-cay cluster of The Berry Islands.

Curaçao
Courtesy of The Island of Curaçao

Curaçao

Long a favorite cruise port in the southern Caribbean, the island of Curaçao is a trending and versatile Caribbean destination that requires more than just a day at port to explore properly. Curaçao’s iconic and colorful Dutch Caribbean architecture sits alongside the island’s white sand beaches, while the island’s burgeoning food scene and updated boutique hotels and resorts welcome guests to an unforgettable experience for all the senses.

Snorkeling and diving in Curaçao are legendary, as the island boasts one-of-a-kind walls and reefs with colorful corals and fish, plus a handful of easily-accessible shipwrecks that will have you feeling like a true explorer under the waves. Dive shops around the island offer PADI courses and certifications to help you make the most of one of the Caribbean’s best destinations for diving.

With frequent direct flights from New York and Miami and easy connections from the west coast, Curaçao is more accessible than ever, whether you’re planning a long weekend in paradise or a week-long getaway. It’s hard not to fall in love with this island, so Curaçao even offers a unique digital nomad visa for travelers eager to extend their stay.

Bonaire
Courtesy of The Island of Bonaire

Bonaire

A year-round hidden gem in the southern Caribbean, Bonaire is the colorful “B” of the ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao – sitting just off the coast of South America. With less than 25,000 permanent residents, Bonaire is a tiny jewel offering huge travel experiences.

Start your trip in Bonaire at the island’s picture-perfect salt pyramids. Pastel pink salt ponds where flamingo wade meet pure white pyramids against the blue sky and sea for an other-worldly landscape you need to see to believe. It’s a viewpoint from the rest of the coastline, dotted by white sandy shores.

100% of Bonaire’s pristine coast is a protected marine park, meaning you’re in for a real treat as you explore the untouched worlds beneath the waves. This tiny island boasts 86 incredible dive spots where tropical fish swarm among corals. Bonaire takes its marine conservation seriously as one of the first Caribbean islands to join the Reef Renewal Foundation, working with the PADI Reef Renewal Diver Distinctive Specialty to offer travelers a way to learn about and participate in coral gardening firsthand.

For an extended trip to this beautiful corner of the Caribbean, split your trip between Bonaire and neighboring Curaçao. You’ll love exploring these sister islands and get an even more complete picture of the up-and-coming Dutch Caribbean getaway destinations everyone is talking about.

rosario islands

The Rosario Islands

Some of the best hidden gem Caribbean islands are closer to the shores of South America than they are to the rest of the islands in the Caribbean Sea. This is true for the Rosario Islands, a chain of 27 tiny islands just off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia. Covered with mangrove forests and hidden white sand coves, Las Islas Rosario have long been a favorite with South American travelers, though they’re just starting to get the attention they deserve as Cartagena becomes ever more popular.

The Rosario Islands are also shockingly affordable, perhaps one of the most affordable Caribbean destinations you’ll find. With an array of beachfront hostels and guesthouses just steps away from the waves and an affordable, quick speedboat ride from Cartagena, the Rosario Islands make it easy to savor a Caribbean vacation for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.

Make sure to stop at Isla Barú with its white sand Playa Blanca before hopping on the speedboat to the Rosario Islands. This “island” isn’t technically part of the Rosario Islands: it used to be a peninsula extending off the mainland until a colonial-era canal transformed it into an island. If Playa Blanca with its beach bars and pumping music isn’t quite your speed, visit the other side of Isla Barú for affordable boutique hotels hidden among the palm trees.

Culebra
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Culebra

You’ve heard of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands – but what about the Spanish Virgin Islands? Located just off the coast of Puerto Rico, the paradise island of Culebra has over twenty pristine islets protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s a wonder that this corner of the Caribbean has escaped the overdevelopment of its neighbors.

Home to incredible natural beauty, Culebra boasts the world-famous Flamenco Beach, which regularly claims a coveted top spot on TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Beaches list. With its graffiti-covered beached U.S. Navy tanks revealing the beach’s past use for military training exercises, Flamenco Beach makes for a memorable spot for a beach day.

While many travelers choose to take a day trip to Culebra from the mainland of Puerto Rico, spending at least one night on the island reveals unending treasures day trippers just don’t see. The island is home to over one hundred vacation rentals, plus an array of lovely boutique hotels and villas. A favorite example, Villa Tampico sits on a stunning peninsula close to town, offering ocean views from its infinity pool.

Read More: 10 Best Things To Do in Puerto Rico

Vieques
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Vieques

Leave your passport at home! This stunning Caribbean island is much closer than you might think. Sitting just off the shores of mainland Puerto Rico alongside hidden gems Culebra and Icacos, the island of Vieques will impress you from start to finish.

For travelers familiar with Vieques, it is perhaps best known for its bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, which holds the world record for having the brightest bioluminescent waters in the world. It was even named one of the Seven Wonders of the World of 2020 by Condé Nast Traveller. However, travelers more well-acquainted with Vieques know this is just the start of what the island has to offer visitors.

On the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico’s only black sand beach, the impressive Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, and impossibly cool boutique hotels like Finca Victoria and El Blok await, making this island much more than just a day trip draw. Plan an extended stay in paradise in Vieques, or pair a visit with a trip to Culebra and Icacos for a deep dive into Puerto Rico’s enchanting little sister islands.

corn islands
Courtesy of Yemaya Reefs

The Corn Islands

A hidden gem and long-time favorite secret of backpackers in Central America, Nicaragua’s Islas de Maiz – the Corn Islands – are the perfect dreamy Caribbean escape for travelers looking for a secluded toes-in-the-sand getaway. With picture-perfect spots for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing, these paradise islands are laid-back havens that have avoided the overdevelopment of many of their Caribbean neighbors.

Even as word starts to get out about these hidden gems, you’ll feel like you’ve found a hidden slice of paradise. Choose to stay on the larger Big Corn Island, with more amenities, restaurants, and shops, or head to Little Corn Island, just a short cruise away by boat, for an even more secluded getaway.

The star of the Corn Islands is Yemaya Reefs, located on a beautiful stretch of beach on the northern shore of Little Corn Island. Enjoy oceanfront casitas with plunge pools, fresh, locally-inspired food, and an array of land and water activities that bring the beauty of the islands close. It’s the ultimate in laid-back luxury.

Despite being relatively remote, the Corn Islands are easier to access than you might expect. Direct flights from Nicaragua’s capital serve Big Corn Island multiple times a day, with Little Corn Island just 30 minutes away by boat.

Nevis
Courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority

Nevis

Nevis may be the smaller island of the Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis, but there’s nothing small about this up-and-coming Caribbean island destination. With historical monuments, delicious local food, excellent trails cutting through the island’s lush interior, and a world of snorkeling and diving opportunities just offshore, Nevis punches far above its weight.

The viewpoints of this tiny stunner of an island are unending. See the island from the water by hopping on a catamaran with Leeward Island Charters for a sail between Nevis and St. Kitts. Stops for swimming and snorkeling in these protected waters punctuate a memorable day. Or, take a guided diving excursion to one of the island’s countless reefs, volcanic vents, or even shipwrecks.

You’ll find Nevis Peak, a volcanic cone, at the island’s center for expansive views across the ocean. While it rises over three thousand feet above the island’s shores, the hike is more relaxing than taxing. Hills & Valleys Hike and Tours takes travelers to the peak while showing off the island’s bounty of tropical fruits and stunning flora and fauna. You might even see a vervet monkey on the way up!

The island of Nevis is easily accessible via direct flights from the United States to neighboring St. Kitts. Frequent ferries and water taxis serve Nevis from St. Kitts, while the airport in Nevis also offers connecting flights from St. Kitts and Puerto Rico.

the Cays of Cuba
kmiragaya / Depositphotos

The Cays of Cuba

The largest island in the Caribbean has a hidden secret: Cuba’s 4,000+ barrier islands boast some of the most pristine beaches in the world and some of the Caribbean’s last truly untouched and undeveloped shores. Cuba is truly something special, but these tiny hidden gems sprinkled around the coastline are among the best Caribbean gems you’ll find.

These cays make an unforgettable island vacation themselves or as a perfect day trip from a vacation spent enjoying the rest of Cuba. Cuba’s paradise cays like Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Coco, and Cayo Cruz slice through the northern Jardines del Rey region with their sugar-fine sandy beaches and a growing number of luxe resorts tucked along the shores.

For a different experience, Cayo Jutias makes the perfect day trip from mountainous Viñales, one of the most picturesque landscapes in the interior of Cuba. You won’t find any resorts here, just bare beaches perfect for wild camping or day trips from nearby guesthouses. Or, head to Cayo Saetia on Cuba’s eastern end, covered with protected reserves boasting wildlife safaris and hidden shores.

If you’re craving an even more off-the-beaten-path hidden gem, visit Cuba’s southern cay of Cayo Largo del Sur for a completely unique experience. Stretching out into the center of the Caribbean Sea towards the Cayman Islands, the longest of Cuba’s cays also has some of its very best beaches, with Playa Paraiso and Playa Sirena topping the list of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches.