Pack your bags and get ready to jet set to the rum and reggae capital of the world - an area of around 2,000 square miles that makes up the prime holiday destination of the Caribbean, where some of the planet's most beautiful powder-white beaches, shimmering turquoise waters, tropical rainforests, and blissful resorts beckon visitors from all over the globe.

Once a pirate hotspot and colonized by the British, Dutch, Spanish, and French, these stunning islands still boast historic remnants of European settlers that have both influenced and blended with native Caribbean cultures.

Today, with a whole host of relaxing, fascinating, and adrenaline-pumping attractions to suit every kind of traveler - perfect beaches, luxury resorts, and golf courses, tantalizing food, awesome watersports, and a laid-back vibe like nowhere else on Earth - it's no wonder that these postcard-perfect island nations attract paradise-craving guests time and time again.

11 Barbados

Barbados means "bearded men" in Portuguese, and was named by Portuguese explorers in the 1600s, who, upon landing on the palm-fringed beaches, strangely thought that the pal trees looked like unshaven men. This is the Caribbean's easternmost island and is very British in nature. The country is tiny but does offer something for most budgets.

The fanciest and most expensive resorts are located on the west coast, where legendary hotels like Sandy Lane call home. In contrast, the south coast hosts the most budget-friendly accommodation and still boasts the same perfect beaches. The northern coast showcases mighty rocky coastline and trails perfect for hiking and photography, while the east coast is a surfer's dream with its epic waves.

Bridgetown is the capital and features lots of fascinating architecture - much of which is colonial in style. Those interested in the island's history will appreciate Nidhe Israel Synagogue, which is one of the west's oldest and now serves as a museum. Also, Barbados's very own rum brand - Mount Gay - is a staple, and visitors can enjoy a fascinating guided tour of the factory where it's made and distributed all over the globe. Finally, another unique (and memorable so long as you don't drink too much!) way to explore the island is to jump on the Bajan Rum Bus for a tour of its rum shops.

Related: The Best Kept Secrets In Barbados

10 The British Virgin Islands

This British overseas territory consists of four islands: Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Tortola - the largest of the BVI and also the capital. Each island has its own unique attractions, but they're all equally as stunning with powder-white beaches and shimmering blue sea. Virgin Gorda is home to The Baths, which are one of the Caribbean's top attractions, while Anegada offers stunning volcanic landscapes perfect for nature photographers.

But what really brings travelers to these islands is boating - yachts abound in these tropical waters, where both yacht owners and renters come to enjoy supreme Caribbean weather and seas, as well as the very exclusive yacht clubs - such as the elite Bitter End Yacht Club.

Related: You Can See (And Hike) A Volcano IRL On These Caribbean Islands

9 Cayman Islands

Another British Overseas Territory, the Cayman Islands - popular for their scuba diving and deep-sea fishing escapades - are made up of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. Grand Cayman boasts outstanding resorts, sumptuous seafood restaurants, colorful marine life, and fantastic island hopping experiences. Plus, it's a shopaholic's dream with no shortage of duty-free high-end designer shops all selling elite brands at bargain prices.

The island is also home to some fascinating museums, including the famous Cayman Islands National Museum, and even has magnificent forests and parks full of flora, such as the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park and the National Trusts Majestic Trail. And let's not forget about the other two islands in the mix - fishing fanatics will be kept busy on Cayman Brac, while Little Cayman and its untouched natural landscapes and diverse wildlife are perfect for nature and photography lovers.

8 Aruba

Set on pristine white sands, Aruba's beaches are some of the Caribbean's most noteworthy - the most breathtaking of which is situated on the island's west coast. A favorite is Baby Beach, with its unique crescent shape lined with soft sands bathed by crystal clear water. The most expensive and luxurious resorts and hotels in Aruba are in the north, which is much more developed than the rest of the island. However, there are lots of smaller hotels within budget in other parts of the country.

Head to the east and you'll be rewarded with scenic views of the rugged landscape, where the ocean is more energetic and superb for waterports. There's also the intriguing Arikok National Park here, which is full of cacti and lizards and promises a great hiking or cycling day out. Furthermore, what makes Aruba even more attractive is that it's outside of the hurricane belt, so it's a great place to visit no matter the season.

Related: Every Reason Why Aruba Is Unlike Any Other Island On Earth

7 Antigua

Antigua gives the best of the Caribbean a run for its money and is the perfect destination for travelers who appreciate life's finer things. Home to some of the most stunning beaches and the most luxurious resorts and hotels in the Caribbean, this paradise island is a sweet honey pot for honeymooners and loved-up couples who demand the finest retreats.

Antigua is dotted by romantic hotels with opulent spas, fine dining restaurants, and serene beach barbeques, all of that promise the most indulgent and extravagant Caribbean getaway. It's not just about relaxation and quality couples time though - the island has some interesting historical attractions as well, such as Nelson's Dockyard - a prime feature that was awarded the elite UNESCO World Heritage Site status in recent years. Fort Barrington - the remnants of a centuries-old hilltop fort boasting stunning bay views - is also a must if you're charmed by history.

6 Bahamas

The Bahamas isn't technically in the Caribbean - it's in the Atlantic, however, it's often cited as one of the top Caribbean destinations and is included on loads of cruise itineraries. This gorgeous island nation of paradise beaches and the warm tropical sea is made up of around 700 islands, with only about 30 that are inhabited. Visitors often flock to Nassau, which is the capital of the Bahamas with roots that go deep into colonial history. Like much of the Caribbean, it was once settled by Europeans, and the city contains plenty of historic monuments and attractions that fascinate visitors.

In Nassau, pay a visit to Pompey House, a pretty 1790s building where the nation's African history is showcased, and for those who're pirates at heart, there's the British Colonial - a beautiful seafront hotel built on the grounds of where the infamous Black Beard lived. Other notable places to add to your to-see list include Fort Montagu and Fort Fincastle, along with the Queen's Staircase - a mesmerizing set of 66 stone stairs once carved for Queen Victoria by slaves, with each stair representing each year of her monarchy.

5 Jamaica

Jamaica is one of the most iconic and recognizable countries in the Caribbean and is the origin of Rastafarian culture and reggae music. Most of the hotels here are all-inclusive, with those on the higher-end nestled on the north and west coasts. People seeking to soak up history and culture will love Kingston - Jamaica's bustling capital brimming with bars, restaurants, hotels, and superb art galleries and museums. The towns of Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios are also popular tourist spots full of excellent bars and restaurants along with irresistible beaches.

The nation also offers some incredible scenery and outdoor adventures. Instagrammable beaches, lush green peaks, and towering waterfalls are all beckoning natural features perfect for photographers and nature enthusiasts. The Falls and Dunn's River Falls are definite must-sees, and if you're a little more daring, a heart-thumping rafting trip followed by a cold bottle of the local Jamaican beer - Red Stripe - will settle your adrenaline cravings. Throw in awesome watersports and boat trips, and this rum and reggae region is rightfully representative of an amazing Caribbean holiday.

Related: What Jamaica Has To Offer Tourists Besides Sun, Coffee, And Rum

4 Saint Kitts

This picturesque paradise island was once better suited to couples, but with the opening of many family-friendly hotels, it's now a great destination for all. The country is actually part of two nations - Saint Kitts and Nevis - and both are idyllic gems with a relaxed atmosphere and much quieter vibe than most other Caribbean islands. However, this is slowly changing since word of this peaceful and uncrowded paradise has spread far and wide.

For those that crave more than perfect palm-fringed beaches and brilliant blue sea, there's plenty of adventure to be had. Explorers will love the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while history buffs will appreciate the Saint Kitts Scenic Railway - the most authentic way to learn about the rich sugar cane history on the island.

3 Nevis

Saint Kitts's sister is another one of the Caribbean's most laid-back nations, where a relaxed lifestyle and slow-paced attitude is what this place is all about. The only time that hearts get pumping here is during the year-round festivals when visitors can enjoy the wonderful culture that comes alive on the island.

One of the favorite events is the yearly Mango and Food Festival, which happens every July and offers guests a true insight into the local way of life and culture here (along with some mouth-watering mango delights). Overall, despite being quiet, Nevis is a stunning island that remains relatively untouched, and travelers seeking peace, serenity, and tasty local food will really appreciate it.

Related: Caribbean Food Is Always Phenomenal, But Which Island Offers The Best?

2 St. Barthélemy

Part of the French West Indies, the teeny tiny Saint Barthélemy (often shortened to St. Barts), is a mere 21 square kilometers. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in pure bliss and alluring beauty at its 22 serene beaches. Known for being a paradisiac playground for the rich and famous, the island is home to stunning five-star luxury resorts that capture the hearts of even the most seasoned elite travelers.

However, don't let all this talk of elitism put you off - there are still plenty of lower-cost hotels available for those on a budget, particularly near Lorient Beach. If money's no objection, Baie de St. John is the place to be, where some of St. Barts' highest-end hotels and resorts are based, and is an incredible spot to indulge in some eye-opening people watching - even if you're not staying in this exclusive area.

Related: Looking For A Crowdless Caribbean Vacay? Consider These Islands For Future Trips

1 Saint Lucia

Finally, Saint Lucia has well-earned its place on the list of Caribbean must-visits. The island is blessed with beaming green foliage, impressive volcanic landscapes, lush sugar cane plantations, and impossibly perfect soft white beaches. Hotels are peppered all across the island, with the most exquisite and luxurious set on the southern side. The capital city of Castries should definitely be on the itinerary, where there are lots of shops and vibrant markets selling myriads of souvenirs, clothing, food, and trinkets.

What truly sets Saint Lucia aside from the rest are the Piton mountains, which are ripe for hiking and ideal for those who appreciate the great outdoors. There are also inviting sulfur springs to take a dip in, and if you can handle the smell, you'll definitely enjoy the waters' soothing properties that melt away any aches and pains from the day's tropical trekking adventures.

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