Note: We know COVID-19 is impacting travel plans right now. For a little inspiration, we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places around the world so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.Some things are given at a Caribbean beach getaway: water is dazzling shades of emerald blue and green, warm sand, a slower pace among gently swaying palms. Locals often depend on tourism for their livelihood and are genuinely happy to host you. Rum drinks are plentiful and cold. There is no bad time for a Caribbean escape. But right about now, a chance to immerse yourself island culture—or to book a future trip to look forward to—is more enticing than ever.
When choosing the right piece of paradise for you, there’s a lot to consider: What language is spoken, what types of accommodations are available, and, more crucially, whether you’re even allowed to visit to begin with. Luckily, many Caribbean destinations are currently welcoming guests, providing an escape from the dreary reality facing the world amid winter doldrums. And while pretty much every place has its own testing requirements and protocols, one thing is the same: These beaches are winners and worth the medical precautions. After all, a mandatory quarantine is a lot better when there’s rum and white sand involved.
Welcome to the jungle — and the beach
A far cry from your typical Caribbean experience, St. Lucia’s verdant jungle covers spiny mountain peaks that look down over striking black-sand beaches. The port town of Soufriere is a great jumping-off point from which to get into the island’s hot springs, hike the trails, and climb Gros Piton, which offers sweeping views over St. Lucia and a few neighboring islands.
For an unforgettably idyllic beach day, set your sights on Anse Mamin, a secret strip of black sand framed by the dramatic peak of Jade Mountain on the island’s western sunset coast. It’s nearby the ridiculously fancy (and photogenic) Jade Mountain Resort, so everyone assumes the beach is exclusive to the hotel. They’re wrong—it’s open to all, magically secluded, backed by shade trees and green cliffs. There’s a small burger joint on the beach that is part of the hotel, but it too is there for everybody. The burgers are legendary, spoken about by locals in hushed, reverent tones. —Meagan Drillinger
COVID-19 rules and regulations: All arrivals over age 5 must have a negative PCR test within seven days of arrival. You must also complete a travel authorization form and submit to screening, which includes temperature checks.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Convenience and unbeatable prices at one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations
Punta Cana is not some hidden gem, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. Just 20 minutes drive from a bustling airport, this is not a Caribbean destination that requires you to take a plane to a cessna to a water plane to a ferry to a taxi to a moto before you find your particular strip of paradise.
Punta Cana is objectively gorgeous, complete with soft white and yellow sand and pretty much any tropical experience you desire. Your vibe will vary based on which lodging, be it upscale and luxurious, laid back and cool, active and adventurous, or romantic and honeymoony. Yoga, snorkeling, ziplining, cooking classes, windsurfing, sea kayaking, golfing, great restaurants (check out local fave Bachata Rosa)—find it all, and then hop back home, easy as you like. —Katy Spratte Joyce
COVID-19 rules and regulations: No PCR test is required to enter the Dominican Republic. Between 3-10% of passengers will receive a quick, aleatory breath test, as will anyone displaying symptoms. You will also need to fill out a health affidavit upon arrival.
Home of Garifuna beats
In 1937, a Caribbean Afro-indigenous Garifuna community escaped persecution in Honduras and became the first settlers in what is now known as Hopkins. The secluded fishing village two hours’ drive south of Belize City gained about 200 more people when a hurricane devastated northern Belize in 1941. Now, Hopkins is a laid-back fishing village of about 1,500, lightly touched by resorts and tourists. That means uncrowded beaches where a hammock is always waiting for you in the cradle of Garifuna culture in Belize.
Lebeha Drumming Center teaches local percussion ways, then takes you out onto the beach for drumming and dance. Just a short drive away, experience some of the best of Belize, including the chance to rappel down a waterfall at Mayflower Bocawina National Park or walk among big cats at the world’s only jaguar preserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Though you’d be forgiven for skipping the adrenaline and settling into the rhythms of Hopkins’ beaches for the long haul. —Jennifer Billock
COVID-19 rules and regulations: First, you’ll need to download the Belize Health app. On the app, you’ll find a bunch of forms pertaining to your health and where you’re staying. You must stay at a Gold Standard hotel, and provide proof of your reservation. Then you’ll need to provide a negative PCR test within 96 hours of arrival, or a negative antigen test within 48 hours of arrival. Lacking a PCR test, you can get one at the airport for $50, and if you test positive the Ministry of Health will advise you.
Champagne Reef, Dominica
Swim through streams of photogenic, volcanic-vent bubbles
Tiny, mountainous Dominica is covered in craggy mountains and lush forests that reward visitors—those who know well enough to actually visit—with a wealth of waterfalls, jaw-dropping hikes, hot springs, and beaches both rocky and sandy. But it’s what’s beyond the shoreline—and below the surface—that truly makes the mind reel.
Throughout the Champagne Reef, submerged geothermal springs release curtains of volcanic gas. One of the world’s most famous and unusual dive sites—which some liken to swimming through a giant flute of bubbly thanks to all the volcanic bubbles— Champagne Beach attracts swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers of all skill levels with the warm, shallow waters. Admire the vibrant colors of hard corals, barrel sponges, and fish schools, then trace the topography down to the oceanic pinnacles and other volcanic rock formations of the Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve. As above water, there is seemingly no end to the jaw-dropping discoveries. — Amanda Castleman
COVID-19 rules and regulations: U.S. travelers must upload negative PCR test results to http://domcovid19.dominica.gov.dm/ 24-72 hours prior to arrival. You must also submit a health questionnaire and provide a health clearance to travel. Upon arrival, you’ll be taken to a secondary screening area and receive a rapid diagnostic test. Assuming you have no symptoms, you’re good to go.
Cinnamon Bay, St John
The secluded part of an already untouched island
With two-thirds of the island of St. John protected as national parkland, there’s not a hint of the waterfront over-development often rampant in the Caribbean anywhere near a port or airport. But what makes Cinnamon Bay so ethereal is that it’s an especially quiet beach on an island with nothing but tranquil shores.
Here, you’ll find even fewer visitors than at nearby Trunk Bay. This means untouched beaches with soft white sand, crystal clear blue waters, and swaying palm trees are all yours at the end of your journey. If computer-wallpaper-fodder levels of natural beauty aren’t enough to entice you, the calm bay-facing sea here makes it perfect for everything from swimming and snorkeling (be sure to look for the sunken airplane) to kayaking and windsurfing, and nearby historic sugar plantation ruins make for an easy hike that will get you out of the water for a minute. —Zach Mack
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Even though the USVI is not an international destination, you still must provide a negative PCR test within five days of arrival. If you don’t have the results by the time you land, the USVI asks you to self-quarantine until they arrive.
Costa Maya, Mexico
The boho beach town that hasn’t yet been Tulum’ed
Beautiful Tulum hasn’t been the same since it became a mainstay of luxe glossies and #vacationgoals. But if you want to get a glimpse into what Tulum used to be like, all you have to do is keep driving south. Way, way south. Like to the border of Belize.
Here you’ll find a sugary stretch of Mexican coastline called the Costa Maya, anchored by the town of Mahahual. The vibe here is straight-up dreamy, with miles of undeveloped powdery sand fringed in green palm trees. Mahahual is that Mexico beach town that Mexicans escape to when Playa del Carmen and Tulum become too “stressful”’ Decompress here with small boutique eco-hotels, beachfront guest houses, and bohemian beach bars that are actually boho, minus the chic… or the Tulum prices. —Meagan Drillinger
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Mexico does not require any test results upon arrival, but you must fill out a COVID-19 health form.
Easy resort town with miles of beach and splashy skies
Nestled on the western-most tip of Jamaica about an hour from Montego Bay’s Airport, the sunsets steal the show at Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, which by the way is a natural beach and only four miles long—naturally. Plenty developed with resorts and tourist delights, it’s the place to go for easy going days of uninterrupted beach bummin’, scuba, snorkeling, horseback riding, evening sailing trips where the sun transitions orange to red as it dips peacefully below the western horizon before the nighttime festivities begin.
Most anything is on offer after dark, from laid back beach bars to energetic reggae and jazz clubs where you can dance all night. The small-town feel invites guests to friendly chatter amongst locals while sipping cocktails around a bonfire, or dining on freshly prepared escovitch fish and veggies. —Ezinne Mgbeahuruike
COVID-19 rules and regulations: U.S. residents – along with a number of other countries – are required to submit a negative PCR or Antigen test within 10 days of travel to Jamaica.
Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
Popular yet uncrowded de-stressor that can even include a puppy
The white sand of Grace Bay—a scant 20-minute cab ride from the airport— bends for 12 elegant miles, so it’s not crowded despite being one of the more popular destinations for people desperate for an unfussy repose. Getting there is a breeze thanks to nonstops from airports all over the United States, and once you’re there, icy stress melts in an instant.
A short boat ride from Grace Bay beach will take you out to a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore for snorkeling or diving along the world’s third largest coral reef system. On your trip back, stop at Little Water Cay, or “Iguana Island,” a nature reserve full of iguanas, birds, and wildlife. For kayaking, Provo’s Chalk Sound is perfect—a brilliant but calm body of water. Thursday nights locals head to the Fish Fry for fresh fish, conch, lobster, grilled island corn, rum-filled coconuts, and reggae under the starry skies. For the ultimate feel-good, you can rent a dog for the day at Potcake place, a rescue center with adorable, friendly pups.—Jennifer Mattson
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Travelers to Turks and Caicos must show a negative PCR test at most five days prior to arrival.
The Florida Keys
The United State’s wild, weird piece of Caribbean archipelago
Conchs—the eccentric Key West locals—say that hurricanes blew away all the churches but left the bars standing. And while the Conch bars absolutely must be explored, the Keys have so much more to them than a debauched trip down Duval Street.
Stretching nearly 150 miles, the Keys are teeming with history, mystery, wildlife, and weirdos. Home to the only coral reef in the continental U.S.—and one of the most delicate, diverse and important ecosystems in the world—they’re a national treasure to be savored and preserved. At the end of the road is Key West, a place both tacky and elegant. An iconic LGBTQ destination, Key West has also been a community for many of America’s greatest writers. Hemingway, yes, but also Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, and Joy Williams, who wrote a guide to the Keys that remains one of the best pieces of travel writing in existence. Oh, and it’s also said to be extremely haunted. Which here is actually part of the weirdo charm. —Bison Messink
COVID-19 rules and regulations: No travel restrictions are in place for the Florida Keys.
Pink sands, surf, and solitude
Eleuthera isn’t for everyone. There are no major hotel chains, only a handful of good restaurants, and no nightlife to speak of. Instead, quietly swaying palms, secluded snorkeling, and clear water stretching over pink-tinted sands.
The long, slender island—one of 30 inhabited islands (out of 700 total) in the Bahamas—is home to one of Earth’s unique vantage points, the so-called Glass Window Bridge. Here, where you can stand on a strip of land just 30 feet wide, overlooking the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean to one side, and the turquoise glow of the Caribbean Sea to the other. Ponder the mysteries of both bodies of water while you wonder why more people haven’t flocked here… then be thankful that they haven’t. —Dana Freeman
COVID-19 rules and regulations: The Bahamas requires a negative PCR test within five days of traveling to the islands. Those staying beyond five days must get a rapid antigen test on day five of their visit.
Kick it at the beach on the Caribbean’s most intriguing island
The most popular beach destination in Cuba, Varadero is a long barrier island that juts off the northern coast of Cuba two hours east of Havana and dishes up the powdery white sand and turquoise waters of your tropical dreams. Playa Azul is the main place to relax, from which you can head out on a catamaran cruise or just sip a coco frio in the shade of a palm.
All-inclusive resorts line the shore, but opt for a casa particular (room in a private home) to put more money directly into the hands of the locals, who are just as curious and eager to meet Americans as you are of them. When it’s time to party off the beach, The Beatles Bar goes off with live rock bands, mojitos, and the smooth, smooth dance moves for which Cubans are famous. —Terry Ward
COVID-19 rules and regulations: All travelers arriving in Cuba will receive a PCR test at the airport. They will then be required to quarantine in their hotel until they receive the results, which takes approximately 24 hours. The test is free.
Carlisle Bay, Antigua
The beachiest of Caribbean beach destinations
Antigua claims to have 365 beaches in its 108 square miles: One for every day of the year, the locals will happily tell you. And while you’ll get about as many answers when you ask said locals for the “best” on the island as you will asking New Yorkers where to get the “best” slice of pizza, it’s hard to beat he combination of seclusion, scenery, snorkeling, and pristine water you’ll find in Carlisle Bay.
This little cove tucked along Antigua’s southwester shore is surrounded by lush rainforest, creating a perfect emerald wall around your little semicircle of paradise.The soft, golden sands give way to pristine turquoise waters, and if you’re up for a swim you can head out to a small beach around the bend that’s even more secluded. There, you’ll find a coral reef only a few feet offshore, where you can lose a couple hours with your undersea friends before retreating to a slice of sand that feels a world away. The beach is bordered by the Carlisle Bay resort, and if you want the seclusion to last it’s an ideal place to post up for the week. —Matt Meltzer
COVID-19 rules and regulations: Travelers to Antigua and Barbudaa must provide a negative PCR test within seven days of travel to the islands. Children under 12 are exempt.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Next Flight Out for more travel coverage, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.