All but the most exclusive Caribbean resorts compete aggressively for patrons -- particularly in the low season, from mid-April through mid-December. But remember that in much of the region, the rainy (and hurricane) season is June to November, Use the local library or a travel agent to check ahead on the situation in your island of choice.
For those who want to know exactly how much their vacation will cost, nothing beats the all-inclusive resorts of Jamaica. Many offer weeklong vacations for under $1,000 per person, including airfare, accommodations, all meals, unlimited alcoholic beverages and a huge variety of sports activities.
Club Med resorts throughout the Caribbean offer similar
package deals, but these are not all-inclusive. Though wine and beer are free at meals, drinks and food at other times must be paid for with the Club's signature popping beads -- and the tab can add up fast.
Club Med, once synonymous with hedonistic abandon, has gone family on two of its Caribbean properties, welcoming children from age 2 up. On St. Lucia, children can participate in mini-club activities, including a circus with high trapeze, horseback riding lessons, go-carts and even diving (using mini equipment). The Punta Cana Club Med, in the Dominican Republic, also has a circus, plus sailing, water-skiing and other supervised activities.
The Club Meds on Martinique and Guadeloupe still cling to their hedonistic roots, with lots of getting-to-know-you activities, including a variety of sports.
In Jamaica, Hedonism II, a member of the Superclub chain, often tries to live up to its name. The Grand Lido Resort, next door to Hedonism II, is a more classy Superclub catering to singles and ** couples.
Sans Souci, a spa on the beach in Ocho Rios, is not so much a meet" market, as a comfortable place to come solo for fitness classes, health treatments and spa cuisine at an all-inclusive price.
In St. Lucia, Le Sport Spa is another all-inclusive place that attracts many solo vacationers for its fitness classes and spa treatments.
Dominica is believed to have the best unspoiled mountain scenery in the Caribbean. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park has plenty of trails; tour guides can be hired. Grenada's Grand Etang National Park also abounds with trails and trail guides. Just driving through the country on its good roads is an adventure amid lush tropical foliage. St. Lucia has trails up Gros Piton for the rugged, as well as easy guided walks through the rain forest.
Montserrat, a tiny, quiet island southwest of Antigua, has many mountain trails, lush scenery and a bird sanctuary. Saba, a short flight from St. Martin, is actually a single breathtaking volcanic peak rising directly from the sea. There are no beaches and limited accommodations, so most visitors come on day trips.
In Jamaica, far from the overdeveloped North Coast tourist resorts, the Blue Mountains just north of Kingston offer great hiking. Organized tours with camping or stays in rustic lodges are run by the Kingston-based Jamaican Alternative Tourism, Camping and Hiking Association. Near Port Antonio, visitors can take bamboo raft trips down the Rio Grand; standing gondolier-like at the head of the raft, the "captain" poles you down the tranquil river.
While much of the U.S. Virgin Islands is overdeveloped, the pretty island of St. John is largely a national park. At Maho Bay, nature lovers can rent rustic canvas cottages, dining is family style, and the camp staff leads daily hikes.
Barbados is another developed island, but the wilder Atlantic side is a gorgeous scene of crashing surf. The Barbados Outdoors Club runs guided hikes through the lush interior to caves and woodsy trails. They culminate in a barbecue, limbo dance and cricket games on the beach.
Grand Cayman, with 20 full-service dive operations, is the largest single island in the Caribbean for dive tourism. Smaller Cayman Brac has fewer dive operations but even better diving. Every resort on Bonaire caters to divers, and the surrounding sea is filled with brilliantly colored fish and varied coral formations.
Belize, in the western Caribbean, has the second-longest barrier reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef, but overdevelopment reportedly is threatening the life of the reef. Some of the Caribbean's finest geology is beneath Saba. The marine park surrounding the island is filled with all hues of coral, tube sponges and enormous angelfish and grouper. Off the southwest tip of Grenada, experienced divers can explore the wreck of the Costa Bianca C, a cruise ship that sank in 1961 after a fire.
Snorkelers will find a wealth of sea life a short swim from the beach at Anse Chastanet Resort in St. Lucia. Off Anguilla, iridescent fish can be seen swimming among the coral gardens just below the water. At Trunk Bay in St. John and Buck Island in St. Croix (both part of the U.S. Virgin Islands), well-marked underwater trails guide snorkelers along the reef just off the white sandy beach.