Cities and Towns in Caribbean
The capital of Antigua is a worn and colourful mismatch of wooden, brick, but mostly concrete houses. Not a single buildings seem to be intact, not even the fine cathedral which is under never-ending reconstruction. Since there is not a lot in terms of tourist attractions, the cruise tourists usually end up shopping in the boutiques at the waterfront. The more adventurous head to the public market packed with fruits, vegetables, fish and spices.
Nassau is very much geared towards the many cruise tourists who arrive here on a daily basis. Jewels and fashion stores lie like pearls on a string on the main street where friendly touts will try to steer you into their bars. Outside the pastel coloured downtown Nassau is surprisingly run down and rather unappealing, but there are some interesting corners. There are several beaches within walking distance and for a peek into a Disneyfied holiday complex head to the gigantic Atlantis over the bridge on Paradise Island.
Bridgetown is actually a real town with people, shops, and offices. There are a few historical buildings here and there. Else, the first row of shops towards the harbour, where the big cruise ships come in, are mostly reserved for what cruise tourists apparently want, like souvenirs, jewellery, and random tax-free. As you venture further in, Bridgetown becomes a colourful, bustling Caribbean capital full of polite and friendly people, however without any significant sights besides the parliament building.
Bonaire's capital isn't much more than a big village, but it isn't devoid of interesting sights either. Home to the vast majority of the accommodations on Bonaire, Kralendijk is right smack in the middle of the island, making it the perfect base to explore the rest. A really nice promenade follows the ocean for the main part of downtown and a bit further north, and is the best place to enjoy sunsets (and with some luck, see a famed green flash). Great house reefs provide excellent diving right outside the hotels and dive shops, and good restaurants and cafés abound. So the town might not be THE place to party in the Caribbean, but you'll most likely have a great time while you're there.
Cienfuegos is a cool harbour town. Though it is semi famous for its French architecture, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it doesn't have the cuteness of Trinidad or the grandeur of Havana. Luckily this means the tourist hordes skip this easy going town, letting those who are interested in the "real Cuba" explore the place in peace. The back streets behind the historical centre of Parque José Martí have real character and charm. Here people hang out and gather on their front steps and porches and there are small shops selling, well, not much. The beautiful waterside setting can be enjoyed along the Malecón, which leads on to the spacious neighbourhood of Punta Gorda. Come here to savor Cuba and Cubans.
You probably have some cliche idea of how Havana should be: Decayed colonial buildings, grand old American cars cruising down tree lined broad boulevards, old fat cigar smoking men resting in the shade, young beautiful Latinos chilling on balconies with salsa music pumping in the background. And yes, it is just like that - and more. The old historical centre, La Habana Vieja, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been done up finely to the delight of the many tour groups. Away from the tourist pleasing historical centre, every street looks - and feels - like a movie set. Dilapidated houses with old American car (wrecks) parked out front, kids playing baseball outside empty-shelved government shops, a complete lack of billboard adverts but, in their place, worn walls painted with colourful revolutionary slogans (Socialismo o muerte = Socialism or die) and images of national heroes like Che Guevara and José Martí. Funnily enough, you hardly ever see a picture of the Castro brothers.
Tiny Trinidad defines charm. Cobblestoned streets, pretty pastel-coloured colonial houses, and a cute palm fringed town square; it is no wonder Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and every traveller's darling. Some past sugar baron villas have been restored and turned into museums, while the streets leading up to Plaza Mayor are filled with small restaurants, art galleries and casa particulares. At the outskirts of town, green hills arise and the warm Caribbean ocean is only a bicycle ride away. Despite the bus loads of tourists visiting every day being dragged around the few central squares with the accompanying town touts in tow, the atmosphere remains relaxed and slow. The further you venture from the historical centre, the more potholed the cobblestoned streets become and the more lively the street scene gets. Here the houses remain prettily pastel coloured but they are more derelict and with plenty of old folks hanging out simply watching the world go by.
Viñales town is not much more than a small square and a main street with a few rows of houses on each side. You can easily walk from one end to the other, meaning it is not so important where you are going to stay. Hardened local farmers on either bicycle or ox cart come to town for a bit of shopping and mingling with the tourists that come for Viñales' real attraction, the surrounding gorgeous countryside Valle de Viñales.
The capital of Curaçao is the biggest (if only) city in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Its four historical neighbourhoods are rather unusual in the Caribbean: their typical Dutch architecture has earned them a UNESCO World Heritage status. Yet the city hasn't fully tapped into this renowned status. In any of these neighbourhoods, perfectly well restored houses sit next to crumbling buildings. But this is far from being disappointing, it just illustrates Curaçao's economical situation and prevents the feeling of being in an artificial, tourist-perfect world. Each neighbourhood has its on personality: the hyper touristic Punda, the quickly gentrifying Dutch hipster ghetto of Pietermaai, the lively Otrobanda and historic Scharloo. Outside these neighbourhoods, Willemstad is more a mix of suburbs, oil plant and unremarkable beaches. The overall vibe, however, is one of cool attitude and fun.
The fishing villages of Calibishie is beautiful located on the north coast. Here houses are built all the way down to the water front, leaving not much of a beach. Even the local church get splashed by the waves at high tide. But Calibishie also doubles as Dominica's only holiday spots with a growing selection of hotels and beachfront restaurants. This is as close as you get to a holiday vibe in Dominica.