When many travelers dream about a tropical beach vacation, they’re dreaming of Bali or Fiji- and while those definitely top the list of most beautiful beaches in the world, they’re often not family friendly destinations due to the length and cost of flights just to get there. That’s why many families turn to islands in the Caribbean for their tropical beach vacations! The Caribbean is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but they’re much easier to access from the US and are often much more affordable. A few islands are US territories and don’t even require a passport! But not all islands in the Caribbean are created equal. Each island has it’s own unique personality and some are better for families than others. Today we’re taking a look at some of the best Caribbean Islands for families. So if you’re craving a little bit of that island vibe this summer- you’re just a flight away!
Best Caribbean Islands for Families- NO PASSPORTS REQUIRED!
We’re starting off our list of best Caribbean islands for families with a couple of islands that do NOT require passports! Maybe your kids don’t have passports yet, maybe you forgot to renew them in time for your summer vacation, or maybe the pandemic has held up your passport processing. Whatever your reason for no having everyone’s passport in hand- no worries! There are some amazing islands in the Caribbean that are US territories- so passports are not required if you are a US citizen!
US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands are incredible- especially because there’s not one, not two, but THREE tropical islands you can visit without your passport. The US Virgin Islands are made up of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix- and each has it’s own personality! We recommend picking one island as your home base then planning day trips to the other islands as they are just a short ferry or plan ride away.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds and enjoy nature, St. John is the perfect island. It is only accessible by a three mile ferry ride from St. Thomas as it doesn’t have it’s own airport. This helps keep the major crowds down on this beautiful island. About two-thirds of the island is a national park, so that leaves space for commercial and touristy areas. Because this island is less built up commercially, it also helps keep prices down. St. John is known for being a very affordable island which makes it perfect for many families. Virgin Islands National Park is a fantastic family destination for families who want to be out exploring nature. It’s got amazing hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding as well as white sand beaches that will take your breath away!
St. Croix is the largest of the three US Virgin Islands but it’s even less crowded than St. John- making it a great family getaway if you want to avoid crowds. St. Croix is known for great historical destinations, incredible food, and amazing snorkeling. Home to a slave revolt that ultimately led to abolishing slavery in the Danish West Indies, explore Fort Frederiksted to learn about the island’s incredible history. The island is well known for it’s beaches and snorkeling but also for it’s horseback riding! Families will love horseback riding along the beaches of St. Croix! St Croix also has two bio-luminescent bays (Altona Lagoon and River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve) for another unique family excursion. Kayak out over the bays at night to see them glow!
St. Thomas is a popular cruise port and is the most popular and most commercialized of the three islands. It’s known for being pretty upscale with lots of high-end dining and duty-free shopping. For many families, this means it’s not the most family friendly of the US Virgin Islands- but it’s still totally worth a day trip! Kids will love the St. Thomas Skyride which takes you 700 feet up above the island’s capital for unbelievable views of the Caribbean. They’ll also love swimming with sea lions at the Coral World Ocean Park. There’s a lot of Danish history on the island as well including Blubeard’s Castle and the Haagensen House. If you’re looking for beaches- Magens Bay is known for being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and Coki Beach is best known for it’s fantastic snorkeling!
The US territory of Puerto Rico is another location that tops our list of best Caribbean islands for families because it’s another destination that doesn’t require US citizens to have a passport. It’s also super popular among our Wandering Moms community!
Puerto Rico has many modern day conveniences (we see you Costco!) that make it easy to navigate for many families, yet it is also jam packed with history, culture, amazing food, tropical rain forests, and beautiful beaches. History lovers will want to hit Old San Juan to see it’s Spanish Colonial architecture and incredible fortresses from the 1500s. Castillo San Cristobal is one of the largest Spanish Forts still standing, plus you can visit the home and burial site of Ponce de Leon who founded the first European settlement on the island. The El Yunque National Forest is a great place for kids to experience a real tropical rain forest and jungle. Mosquito Bay is a bio-luminescent bay that offers a unique chance to kayak over it’s glowing waters at night and little explorers will absolutely love the caves at Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy! For lazy beach days, head over to the eastern village of Fajardo, where you’ll find some of the island’s best white sand!
Best Caribbean Islands for Families- PASSPORTS REQUIRED
Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos is an amazing Caribbean island destination for families because it is home to numerous all-inclusive resorts and it’s well known for it’s crystal clear, calm water. The lack of waves at so many beaches makes it a great island for little ones who can frolic in shallow waters without fear of giant waves and strong undertows. (Please note that ALL children must still be closely supervised in the water at all times as even calm waters can still be dangerous!) Grace Bay Beach is a three mile stretch of sand known for being the whitest and softest sand in the Caribbean. Combined with it’s clear and calm waters, this is an incredibly popular family destination and for good reason! Turks and Caicos also has great snorkeling for adventurous families, little ones will love catching a glimpse of flamingos at the Flamingo Pond Overlook, and Little Water Cay is a great place to spot endangered rock iguanas!
Not to be confused with the more popular Dominican Republic, Dominica is an amazing family destination where beaches- surprisingly- aren’t the star of the show! Dominica is an English speaking, remote island located in the eastern Caribbean. It’s population is primarily African and it’s best known for it’s rain forests, waterfalls and wildlife. So if your family isn’t up for an entire week of lounging on the beach and instead you’re seeking something a bit more adventurous- Dominica is the island for you! Families will love exploring the lush tropical rain forests, cascading waterfalls, volcanoes and hot springs, and Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Because there is so much to see in the rain forests, it’s recommended to hire a hiking guide that can help you reach some of the most family-friendly spots. Dominica is also known as the Whale Capital of the Caribbean. Not only can you whale watch, but the island is also well known for it’s sea turtles. And while beaches aren’t the main highlight of the island- the beaches here are truly unique. Dominica is home to many black sand beaches! Many require a short hike to reach, but even little kids will think it’s worth it to reach these gorgeous volcanic beaches!
Located in the southern Caribbean, Bonaire is part of the “ABC” Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) and is easily accessible with direct flights from Houston, Atlanta and Miami. Bonaire is best known for it’s coral reefs and amazing snorkeling and diving. On most other islands, snorkeling and diving is only accessible by guided boat tours that take you way out to the best snorkeling spots- but on Bonaire, most of the snorkeling and diving is easily accessible right from shore- so you can skip those expensive guided trips that can often be rough with younger ones (and adults alike) due to sea sickness. Kids will also love Washington-Slagbaai National Park with it’s beautiful salt flats and pink flamingos. Sorobon Beach at Lac Bay is a super popular location for families with little ones because the water is so shallow and calm. Not only is it a great beach for babies and toddlers, it’s also a great place to try windsurfing! They even have kid-size equipment and lessons so the whole family can get in on the fun!
Curacao is another family-friendly island known for great snorkeling! It’s also a great place for delving into the history of Dutch culture with a European vibe. The colonial architecture and Dutch influence on the island’s foods can make it feel as if you’re experiencing both a Caribbean island and a part of Europe at the same time! Curacao is also known for it’s diversity, which means it’s a great place to experience numerous different cultures and also a place where people of all skin colors can feel welcomed. And with great diversity comes great food! You’ll find everything here from Asian to Cuban to African cuisine! The waterfront district of Peietermaai is a great place for foodies to visit. The town pf Punda features beautiful pastel colored buildings from the 17th and 17th centuries, and kids will love the Curacao Ostrich Farm and the Curacao Sea Aquarium where they can head underwater in a submarine! The island also has amazing beaches and amazing snorkeling!
St. Lucia is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, and it’s incredibly family-friendly! You’ll find a little bit of everything on St. Lucia- beautiful beaches, tropical rain forests, as well mountains and volcanoes. The island also has numerous kid-friendly resorts, such as the Coconut Beach Bay Resort that offers kids-only snorkeling excursions and pirate themed adventures. St. Lucia offers the best of both worlds- upscale resort life plus lots of natural elements to explore, all with a distinctly Polynesian feel. Kids will love Sulpher Springs- a drive in volcano- and they’ll also love taking a mud bath! Because what kid doesn’t love a mudbath! Rinse off in the hot springs afterwards then head for a tour of Morne Coubaril where you can learn about the history of sugar, coffee, and chocolate plantations on the island. There are rain forests to explore via hiking or ziplining, and of course, gorgeous beaches for relaxing.
If you’re an adventurous family looking for an island that offers more than just white sand beaches to lounge on, you’re going to want to consider a trip to the Dominican Republic. With it’s rain forest zip-lining and canopy tours, surfing, snorkeling, diving, sailing, canyoning, caving and rock climbing, river rafting and mountain biking- this island is known as the Adventure Capitol of the Caribbean! Families, especially those with older kids who crave adventure, love the Dominican Republic because you can spend a week here that is jam packed with wild adventures. Punta Cana is known for it’s many family-friendly all inclusive resorts, but this is not an island where you’ll want to stay on resort property for your whole vacation. Be sure to book excursions so you can explore all the island has to offer!
Many consider Barbados to be the safest and the most kid-friendly island in the Caribbean, which means it earns a top spot on our list of best Caribbean islands for families!
The safest and most child-friendly island in the Caribbean, Barbados is perfect for family vacations. The tourist industry is a huge part of the island’s economy and visitors of all ages are warmly welcomed by the English-speaking locals. Barbados is home to dozens of family-friendly beaches that are generally free of waves and safe for swimming, kids will love meeting the green monkeys at the wildlife reserve, and you can take a submarine down to explore underwater caves! Bridgetown, the capital city, is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are sugar plantations to tour and even a pirate ship to sail on! Barbados has lots of festivals and street fairs which bring together locals and tourists alike for a fantastic cultural experience on this beautiful Caribbean island!
Antigua is a fantastic family destination in the Caribbean. Many of it’s beaches are family-friendly, with calm shallow waters. Dickenson Bay is popular among families with little ones. Another popular family beach is Long Bay where the water is so shallow and clear you can walk right out to the reef and see fish without even needing a snorkel- which is amazing for babies and toddlers who aren’t yet able to wear a mask.
With hundreds of sandy coves lacing its irregular coastline, Antigua has long been a haven for boaters. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the British fleet found safe anchorage at deep water English Harbour. Now sleek yachts moor in the restored and renamed Nelson’s Dockyard National Park (pictured). History-loving kids can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s museum, climb on its cannon, and tell time using a 1777 sundial. For panoramic views, hike the trail up to the hilltop Shirley Heights. On Sunday nights, Antigua throws an admittedly touristy but fun barbecue dinner with steel pan and reggae rhythms but for hopping Antigua’s famous beaches, hire a boat tour of several coves. Favorites for families include Dickenson Bay for its soft sands and calm waters, Jolly Beach for its water sports, and Long Bay or Carlisle Bay for snorkeling. One upscale family property idea: Carlisle Bay Resort, described in more depth in our spotlight feature of our favorite family resorts in the Caribbean.
Did our overview of the best Caribbean islands for families help you decide which island your family wants to visit? Let us know what’s at the top of your Caribbean bucket list in the comments!