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help deciding.. first time in caribbean

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New York City, New...
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help deciding.. first time in caribbean

**reposting in individual island forums since the main caribbean forum doesnt seem to have many visitors.**

I know this question has been asked time and time again, but I've been researching for days and still can't figure out the main differences between each of the islands and which is best for us.

We're fairly inexperienced travelers from San Francisco, (we've done lots of Hawaii and then Bora Bora for our honeymoon) but we love the beach and exploring tropical locales. While beautiful beaches are a must, we're not looking to park our butts on the sand the whole time. Adventure (land and water), wildlife and local food are high on our list as well. We don't like feeling confined to the resort and would prefer somewhere it would be safe/easy to rent a car and do some exploring on our own (don't want to have to count on tours/excursions).

We don't need a private beach and we're okay with a little hustle and bustle, though we don't want somewhere thats overrrun with kids/families..

We also don't have a ton of time or money to spend. We're planning on spending 5 nights over Thanksgiving, and under $3k to spend on airfare/hotel/car, etc.

From what I've been able to gather, Punta Cana, Grand Cayman, St John and Anguilla tend to be favorites, but I can't seem to find what distinguishes them from one another or whether or not they'd be right for us.

Lastly, we've also been tossing around the idea of Kauai since we love Hawaii and havent been to that particular island yet, but feel like we should venture out beyond Hawaii since we've spent so much time on Oahu and Maui already. Not that I want to be talked out of going to the Caribbean, but just thought it might be useful info.

I'm obviously scattered, so any info/insight would be hugely appreciated!

N. Atlanta
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1. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

I honestly don't think Punta Cana is the place for you. It's definitely a stick your butt on the beautiful beach for a week kind of place, which we ADORE! Have you considered Puerto Rico? That's a beautiful place to get out and explore. Lots to see and do. Grand Cayman is awesome but you may find it expensive. Haven't been to Anguilla or St. John.

Also, for you that hasn't been from the Caribbean, have you considered a cruise? It can be like a sampler platter of the Caribbean and you can see where you want to go back to.

New York City, New...
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2. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

Thanks for your insight Sajaha!

I may have come across more adventurous than I intended to! I love parking my butt in the sand, but I also like to have the option to do other things like hikes, waterfalls, etc. That being said, one of my favorite things about Hawaii is going to all the different beaches and finding new ones to park my butt in for the day. Mostly, I just meant I didnt want to go somewhere where it's unsafe/unpleasant to go outside the resort.

I've considered a cruise, but don't think I'd love the confined nature of it. Definitely good info though, thanks so much!

La Ronge, Canada
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3. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

Welcome to the forum Sashax - I think you should try Punta Cana! You just may fall in love with this paradise island like most of us have! For the money you are looking to spend, I don't think you could pick a better place.

I've been to Maui and I perfer PC, mostly for the "feel" of the island. You just get a real Caribbean feel/vibe the minute you step off the plane. Although it's not as easy to venture off the resort as it is in Maui, or even Cuba for that matter, you can arrange a few tours ( and there are some very good ones to choose from )! If you decide that PC is worth a try, a day trip with Punta Cana Mike is an absolute MUST do... also a fishing trip with Mike's Marina is a great way to spend a day. That would leave you the rest of the time to "park your butt" in the sand... and OH what beautiful sand there is to park it in...LOL

Montreal, Canada
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4. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

PC is for sure the park you butt kind of place, on resort fun, off resort people watching but you can't easily rent a car and head off for the day. Figure the cost of taking an excursion around 100$ usd avg per person, some are more, some less. so that bumps up the overall cost a bit. PC is a great place to try when and if you want to mainly enjoy your resort. Now with that being said, resorts are made for this type of vacation. They all offer a wide variety of activities and nightly animation, offer a very wide selection of restaurant choices and most resorts have a range of "atmosphere" or "vibes" if that makes sense. There are quiet corners, pool bar areas, activity and quiet pools, quieter areas of the beach etc. If you pick a fairly well situated resort you can venture off the resort for some local dishes, some local watering holes, a couple discos, nightly hangouts or casinos. It is not Vegas or anything but some fun can be had. PC is very economical, and a great bang for your buck. the beaches are fantastic. the main goal is to pick a resort that will offer you the closest experience you would like, and then give it a try.

You might also like the Mayan Riviera south of Cancun in Mexico. There are ruins to visit, caves, eco parks, and it is quite easy to get around. If you pick a resort in or near the Playa del Carmen area, you might enjoy 5th avenue for off resort dining, shopping and people watching.

Toronto, Canada
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5. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

Mayan Riviera sounds exactly what you're looking for. Lots to explore, easy to get about on the local bus and plenty of good eating to try out. My daughter and I had a blast and never felt unsafe anywhere. Check out the Playa del Carmen forum.

North Wales...
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6. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

We will be visiting PC for the first time next week but last year went to Mayan Riviera, Playa Del Carmen area. There are so many excursions you can do or rent a car and drive to yourself. Check that forum to see if you are interested, it would be in your price range as well :) Have you considered Jamaica, that would be in your price range and there is the Dunn's River Falls trip that sounds perfect for your adventurous side!!

Good luck!

Breda, The...
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7. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

Riviera Maya area, so much things to do and you can go where you want, safe and lots of nice restaurants to go out for dinner.

Chelsea, Canada
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8. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

As stated by other Rivviera Maya seems to fit your bill a lot more than PC. Costa Rica is also very nice and safe to tour by yourself, but it's not know for its beaches (but does have a few nice ones).

Texas City, Texas
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9. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

St. John is our favorite island and you should be able to find a small house or bed & breakfast within your price range. STJ cannot be beaten in terms of beautiful beaches, awesome snorkeling, great hiking, overall good food, and renting a car is a must. It is very safe.

Mayan Riviera is also a good choice with tons to do.

Tortola or Virgin Gorda in the BVI are also great choices. Very laid back, very few people, not touristy, great vibe. Again, the BVI is in our top five.

Grand Cayman is too commercialized and scenery is not good at all. It does have gorgeous water and great diving and snorkeling. Food is good but very expensive.

Curacao is another one of our favorites. It is very different, though, and is a dry, arid, rugged island. It has amazing snorkeling and diving, great food, good hiking but hot, and the waterfront in the city is very interesting and scenic.

Anguilla is great but I do not think it is affordable at that time of year. We went in the off season in July and it was great, almost desserted.

Negril Jamaica is another good choice, but I would stay on the cliffs at a resort like The Rockhouse. It is beautiful and very unique.

York, Pennsylvania
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10. Re: help deciding.. first time in caribbean

I would also join on the Riviera Maya band wagon. Sounds a lot like what you are looking for. We just returned 2 weeks ago from the Playa del Carmen area. While it does not capture my heart the way Punta Cana does, it is a wonderful spot with much to offer.