Top Ten Family Vacations in the Caribbean and Central America

Our family-travel expert Steve Jermanok scours the Caribbean and Central America and delivers his list of the best family-friendly locales in the region.
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Family on the beach, building a sand castle
CASTLE ON A CLOUD: Have your dream vacation with the family in tow.  (Digital Vision)

Having trudged through more than 40 winters in New England's brutal cold and snow, I've had good reason to escape to the Caribbean and Central America for much needed doses of sunshine and warmth. At last count, I'd been to 13 Caribbean locales and five countries in Central America. But take a good look at my passport and you'll see some of those destinations popping up again and again. Costa Rica—a whopping nine times. Five stamps for Jamaica; three for the Dominican Republic. Like a regular returns to his favorite restaurant, I like to venture back with my family to the destinations we've enjoyed the most in the past. But no matter which of the following sunny spots you choose to visit, all of them will leave you wanting more.

Who says you can't have the perfect vacation with the kids in tow? Here are my picks for the top destinations in the Caribbean and Central America for fun with the entire family.

10. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Unlike Cancun, where high-rise hotels crowd the coast and millions of bodies strain to find their own speck of sand, Punta Cana still has the feel of a beach area that's recently been discovered. Even in the popular coastal community of Bavaro, the palm trees and beach extend for miles, so it's easy to leave civilization behind if you wander far enough. Spanish-owned Iberostar has four hotels in a row with some 2,000-plus rooms. Flamingoes and ibises run free under thickets of palms on the manicured grounds. Unlike other all-inclusives, where the same choice of food is served every day at one buffet, the Iberostar has seven different restaurants at their Bavaro Resort alone, including Japanese, seafood, and gourmet choices. Since Punta Cana's draws really don't consist of any culture or sightseeing, there's little to tear you away from the swim-up bar—a favorite of adults and kids alike, who float over to order limonata and chocolate batidas (milk shakes). There's a golf course, snorkeling, and, at the far end of the beach, shacks that sell Haitian art and Botero look-alikes.
Punta Cana Vacation Guide

9. Puerto Rico
At first glance, Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa might seem like any other mega-hotel in the Caribbean, with its 984 rooms, seven pools, golf course, and casino. Then you take a peek at their kids programs and realize Junior will have far too much fun at the hotel's waterpark, or on one of the many excursions, such as kayaking on Bioluminescent Bay or trekking to the massive caves of Rio Camuy Cave Park. The whole family will want to take the all-day hike to the lush El Yunque Rainforest to walk alongside orchids, ending at La Mina Falls for a cool dip. There are more nature trails at the hotel, set on a hillside overlooking the Atlantic. The resort takes full advantage of its ocean locale, offering scuba diving, sea kayaking, sailing, or just plain beach lounging with thick novel in one hand and rum punch in the other.
Puerto Rico Vacation Guide

8. Barbados
Barbados also offers more than just the beach. Green monkeys jump from branch to branch at the Barbados Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern part of the island. You'll also spot tortoises, deer, and strange-looking agoutis with rounded ears. At Harrison's Cave, you hop on a tram that slithers into a dark corridor of limestone coral. The 100-foot high Great Hall teems with stalagmites and stalactites, while the Rotunda features crystal-like formations that form a ceiling above pools of water. Final stop is Andromeda Botanic Gardens, overlooking the ocean. Take one of the short nature trails to see every type of palm tree imaginable. Colorful flowers like the sweet-smelling frangipani, pink hibiscus, and orchids add to the tropical allure.
Barbados Vacation Guide

7. Aruba
For families who simply want to spend a week on one of the most glorious beaches in the Caribbean, it's hard to top the seven-mile stretch of white coastline found on Aruba. And if your family's not all about the secluded bungalow, Aruba is your place. This is an island of big hotels—such as the Radisson, Hyatt, and Marriott resorts that line Palm Beach—along with splashy casinos and excellent dining. Kids can choose from a number of activities along the water, like horseback riding, sailing, snorkeling, and windsurfing. Mom and dad will enjoy the weather, with an average temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit and little humidity or rain. Indeed, you can head to Aruba in the heart of summer and not worry about being hit by hurricanes. The island lies so far south in the Caribbean that hurricanes never touch down on the island. So sit back, relax on a beach devoid of peddlers, and dive into that good book.
Aruba Vacation Guide

6. Dominica
Many islands in the Caribbean offer a great stretch of beach with good snorkeling, but the interior is usually an unremarkable, arid parcel of land. Not true of Dominica. This verdant isle is more reminiscent of the South Pacific, wet with so much water that every turn uncovers another waterfall, placid swimming hole nestled in the jungle-like bush, or a hidden hot spring to rest your weary body after a day in the outdoors. Families that venture here can hike to a lake that bubbles with hot volcanic water, sea kayak in secluded coves, or tube down a mountainous stream in nature's best version of a lazy river. You can also stay at affordable eco-lodges like Papillote Wilderness Retreat. One of the first eco-resorts to open in the Caribbean, this seven-acre chunk of land is smack dab in the middle of a rainforest. Walk the trails, a luxuriant and tangled growth overflowing with orchids, begonias, and bromeliads. Then sit down in the dining room to a meal of fish, breadfruit, and local fruits such as pineapple, passionfruit, mangoes, starfruit, tangerines, guava, and grapefruit.
Dominica Vacation Guide

Published: 8 May 2012 | Last Updated: 21 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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