Winning tip: Bioluminescence, Tobago
My friend and I went on the bioluminescent tour in Tobago run by Stand Up Paddle Tobago, leaving Pigeon Point after sundown. We paddled our kayak in the dark to the lagoon where the luminescent plankton thrive. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. When you disturb the plankton it glows like watery fireflies. Part of the tour is to swim in the (warm) lagoon and watch the streams of light in your wake… it was stunning. It cost $60 but was worth it.
Perfect seafood, Jamaica
Little Ochie is a seafood restaurant and bar in Alligator Pond, Manchester parish, on the south coast of the island. It’s at the end of a long and bumpy road, the village isn’t particularly attractive and the beach is scruffy grey sand. But the fish is up there with the best you’ll ever taste. The menu is simple: they show you a bunch of fish, you pick the one you want, it’s cooked how you like and served with your choice of sides. On the Sunday afternoon we visited there was a sound system on the beach. The music progressed gloriously from gospel through soul to reggae as the place filled up with diners from across the island. Prices were reasonable and aimed at locals.
Fish fry, Barbados
Every Friday night, the fishing town of Oistins, on the south coast of Barbados, comes alive with the weekly fish fry. As soon as the sun sets, locals and visitors arrive for fish including marlin, tuna, flying fish and swordfish, caught that day and available fried or grilled to order from dozens of vendors, alongside traditional local dishes such as macaroni pie and goat curry. A meal and a drink can be had for under £10. Other stalls sell local arts and crafts, with DJs and live music contributing to the party atmosphere.
Havana food tour
A food tour in Havana showed us how Cuban chefs are serving up world-class food amid restrictions and shortages. Our guide, Danny, took us out of Havana to Cojímar (Hemingway’s fishing haunt), to the allotments and later the kitchens of a family-run paladar. Here, we learned to mix mojitos, made traditional ropa vieja (stewed beef and veg dish) and sampled octopus in garlic. Back in downtown Havana, we visited Michelin-starred chef Alberto’s bakery, where prices are kept low to ensure that the delicious artisan bread is affordable for local people. A fascinating and tasty day.
• Cookery class and tour $110pp, athomeincuba.com/our-tours-2
Snorkelling and diving, Roatán
Roatán, one of the Honduras Bay islands, is full of character but overlooked by most European travellers. Combine snorkelling and diving on the world’s second largest coral reef with a stay in one of the quirky and affordable accommodation options in the West End. Family-owned Hotel Chillies and the associated diving school offer great value for money, steps away from the dreamy white sand beach (dorm beds from $12 a night, doubles from $25 room-only, hotelchilliesroatan.com). To get to Roatán hop on a ferry from Honduras mainland for a perfect finish to your Central American backpacking holiday, or fly straight in from Miami. Bring US dollars because cashpoints are scarce and card payments not widely accepted.
Puerto Rico hot springs
Following a local’s tip, we visited the thermal springs at Coamo in south-central Puerto Rico. With the mountains of the Cordillera Central as a backdrop, the springs were lovely enough by day but even more magical at night. Visitors can relax in or beside the pools, heated naturally to bath-like temperatures. Soft music accompanies low-level shifting coloured lights, while the island’s endemic coquí frogs chirp from the bushes. Puerto Rican culture is fast and furious, so this unexpected retreat was truly a haven. And entrance was only $3 per person.
Dominica rainforest tour
With SeaCat tours we drove and hiked through the amazing jungle landscape of this island, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. Octavius Lugay, who runs SeaCat, is knowledgable and humorous and is proud of his island and keen to share it. We stopped and tasted wild fruit amid rich wafts of herbs. We swam up a gorge featured in Pirates of the Caribbean, then dived down the waterfall at the top. Lunch in a forest restaurant was excellent and the hike to the volcanic boiling lake – the world’s second largest – in the Unesco-listed Morne Trois Pitons national park is said to be awe-inspiring. Jennifer Smith
Jamaica jerk chicken
The jerk pork at Jo Jo’s Jerk Hut off Waterloo Road, Kingston, is superb. While living in Jamaica I became a very loyal customer. On Thursday night they do karaoke – it’s hilarious! Just as you enter the car park you’ll see a tiny garden shed on your right. That’s my favourite bar: it doesn’t have a name but it’s been around for years. I used to play dominos there or would just sit and people-watch. I was told not to go out alone as a foreign female visitor in Kingston. Obviously, you should take care, but my experience didn’t match the warnings. I loved it.
The No 1 bus in Grenada gets you from the tourist areas like Grand Anse to the capital, St George’s. The minibus is usually crammed with locals going to and from work. The fare is passed along by the other passengers and when you want to get off you have to loudly knock twice on the inside of the roof so the driver can hear above the sounds of reggae. And all this for about 70p.
Caye Caulker, Belize
All of the scenery without lots of visitors and cruise ships. You’ll find backpackers on the coral island of Caye Caulker, with its lagoon and mangroves; honeymooners in Placencia, with its long white sand beach; and the best that Belize has to offer culturally in Hopkins, a village with strong Garifuna (an ethnically mixed people who speak Arawakan) heritage. Don’t miss Cockscomb Basin wildlife preserve just outside Hopkins, where jaguars are still present and you can follow trails that range from leisurely strolls to scrambling up rock faces, with waterfalls and pools to reward you at the top. Take your own rum and refreshments there – after paying the $5 entry fee at the booth six miles outside of the park, there aren’t many concessions to tourists. Guides can be hired for wildlife spotting, but I think that would spoil the fun.
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