Most visitors to the Caribbean don’t make it further afield than their cabana, and with good reason. The powder white sand and clear water make for some of the best beach bumming on the planet. Here are the top five fascinating and picturesque reasons to pry the pina colada out of your hand and explore what’s past the tiki bar.
One of the most visited sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, this fortification has stood sentry on its sea cliffs since the 13th century. A pre-Colombian Maya city, Tulum was a major trading port. When you arrive from your resort in Playa del Carmen or Cancun, you’ll immediately be awed by the Pyramid El Castillo and the sprawling complex around it. Flawlessly preserved, the sun baked city walls, frescoed temples and majestic palaces stand as the prettiest ghost town you’ll ever see.
Delve into the ancient culture of copper at this chilling compound of carved temples and weather worn foundations. From the apex of the High Temple, 108 feet up, you’ll enjoy a sweeping view of the Jaguar Temple, Mask Temple, surrounding rainforest, and the New River Lagoon. Don’t miss the 15 foot high empty-gazed mask that has guarded Lamanai since the 6th century, or the accompanying exhibit that displays dozens of ornate copper artifacts. Lamanai is a quick and easy trip from either the coast of Belize or Orange Walk Town.
Annaberg Plantation, St. John
In the heart of Virgin Islands National Park on the northern edge of St. John, this historic sugar mill gives an interesting glimpse into 18th century island life, which largely revolved around sugar. The huge windmill, slave quarters, and packing factory are all still standing, though the rainforest has snuck up and enveloped the property around its edges. You can even still view the massive copper boiling kettles used 300 years ago.
Caparra, Puerto Rico
Visit the 16th century doorstep of the one and only Ponce de Leon, Spanish conquistador extraordinaire, at Caparra. This National Historic Landmark represents the first European capital of the island, and though it was only used until the city of San Juan was established a few years later, the foundations and accompanying Museum of the Conquest and Colonization of Puerto Rico are not to be missed.
Brimstone Hill Fortress, St. Kitts
Known historically as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies,” this fortification has overlooked the Eastern Caribbean since the late 1600s. Built by the British, its citadel and extensive ramparts acted as a key military base for almost two centuries. It’s situated over 800 feet up so the view amid the volcanic rock walls is imposing and you can easily spend a day here exploring the keeps, barracks and tunnels. A visit here is imperative when you visit Basseterre.
There, don’t you feel better now that you’ve done something productive and educational with your day in the Caribbean? Now, back to the beach towel for sunset!
Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine. She has enjoyed every corner of the Caribbean that she’s been lucky enough to visit and hopes that you rent a car in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Belize or anywhere else in the region to fully delight in your vacation.