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Ultimate Caribbean

Our travelers Justine ShapiroIan Wright and Megan McCormick set out on a voyage around the massive gulf that separates the North and South American continents. They delve beneath image: Ian Wright learns about Fidel Castro in Cubathe perception many people have that the Caribbean is merely a rich man’s playground, to bring you the Ultimate Caribbean experience.

There are hundreds of tiny islands strung out across the Caribbean but the largest islands have the strongest characters. We visit Trinidad, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic to discover the history of the Caribbean – and its decidedly dark underside. It was colonized by European settlers who put the native Carib and Arawak Indians to work on the sugar plantations; when they were virtually wiped out the colonists brought over millions of African slaves to work in them. Our travelers visit Santo Domingo, a plantation on Jamaica and meet the Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who still live in the hills).

The wealth generated by the cultivation of the Caribbean’s fertile land turned the Caribbean into a decadent playground for the Western elite. Cuba was a favorite, as Ian discovers, until Justine Shapiro dresses up for the Trinidad Carnival 1959 when Fidel Castro overturned the government and brought in communist rule. Haiti has fared less well; it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has been dogged by dictatorship for 200 years. In fact, the gulf between rich and poor has been a constant source of conflict in this region; Justine goes to Grenada to find out about the coup that led to a US invasion of the country in 1983.

Getting around the Caribbean can be challenge: Justine risks her life on the Jamaican bus system, Ian chooses the train over the bus in Cuba, home to the only rail system in the Caribbean, takes a brightly-coloured Tata in Haiti and then gives up on public transport altogether and hires a car instead!

It’s true that it’s really hard to find genuinely budget accommodation in the Caribbean, but if you do some digging you can find some pretty special resting places. Ian takes a quick tour of Taking shade in Jamaicasome of them in Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica. When it comes to food, however, you’ll find more than your fair share of bargains, for the Caribbean is a natural treasure trove whose cooking culture draws on traditions from across the world. Our travelers sample Creole food, jerk chicken and curried goat, washed down with rum.

Eighty per cent of the population are Christian but at its heart is something much more African. Ian visits Souvenos in Haiti to discover the secrets of voodoo while Megan meets a voodoo priest over the border in the Dominican Republic. With some religious rituals, the links is a little more tenuous; such as the Shakespeare Mass on the small island of Cariacou but if you want to experience the mother of all religious events go to Trinidad for the carnival! Justine dresses up in a scanty costume and takes to the streets with the tens of thousands of revelers.

If you want to avoid the crowds, head to some of the smaller islands such as St Kitts, which still has a seriously English feel, while Dominica remains a jungle paradise. Tobago is a beautiful peaceful island and a great place to get involved in local events – the Bacoo Goat Race is the place to be seen! Just outside the Caribbean, the Turks & Caicos Islands are the place to escape.

Animal lovers will find another sort of paradise in the Caribbean, like exceptional diving, swimming with dolphins, avoiding alligators, and communing with massive leatherback turtles. If you want to go trekking, Dominica has the biggest rainforest in the Caribbean and big tracts of it are still untouched, while Megan discovers the Dominican Republic‘s pine forests are a great place to go mule riding. Jamaica also offers some wonderful views – for an amazing experience climb the Blue Mountain in time for the sunrise – a perfect way to end our Caribbean odyssey!

Places Mentioned - Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago

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