Better Than Ever Caribbean & Bahamas

by Chelle Koster Walton

Hot-pink trousers sheathed his 6-foot-long legs. Crowned with a straw hat, the stilt-walker strutted the plaza in downtown Puerto Plata. Artists painted canvases with local scenes. Local artisans displayed larimar jewelry and vendors sold green coconuts. And the “bird man” fed a flock of pigeons in the shadow of a historic cathedral.

Two weeks after the fall storms had departed the Caribbean, sunny skies and a festive spirit prevailed on the Dominican Republic’s north shores. Amber Cove, the cruise port we sailed into, bustled with the energy of shoppers and shore excursions. We had selected a city tour, which included a heady visit to a rum distillery, exploring the plaza and stopping at a colonial waterfront fort. It effectively regaled us with the indomitable character of the vast and diverse destination that is the Caribbean.

This is the Caribbean I fell in love with decades ago. In past months, I’ve also revisited Nassau and nearby Bahamian islands, as well as Ocho Rios in Jamaica. All appeared unscathed. At least 70 percent of the Caribbean’s 1 million square miles, in fact, ducked September’s storms completely, including St. Lucia — with its show-off verdant landscape — and Grenada, known as “The Spice Island.”

When our ship arrived in Ocho Rios, we chose a popular excursion: the exhilarating climb up Dunn’s River Falls. What a rush! Our favorite activity in Nassau was an easy walk from port to Fish Fry. There, we caught up with musician Jason Burrows for a rum punch and some Bahamian home-cooking at his Deep Creek restaurant.

On a separate Nassau visit, I traveled to Cable Beach and then on to the island groups of Exuma and Eleuthera, where the Bahamas’ patented brand of dreamlike, clear waters welcomed me.

The impacted U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, too, are now welcoming divers, sailors and other water lovers to their storied seas as the infrastructure recovers. Even the treasured beach bars on BVI’s tiny Jost Van Dyke island — Foxy’s Tamarind Bar and the Soggy Dollar — are back up and serving cocktails. Puerto Rico is also getting back on its feet, once again showing off its colonial splendor minutes from the cruise-ship port in courtly Old San Juan.

Based in Florida, Chelle Koster Walton is the author of Explorer’s Guide Bahamas and a frequent contributor to USA Today and the Miami Herald.

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Cover Photo: Turks & Caicos beach. Pixabay

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