Cruising the Caribbean

To celebrate the recent launch of Lonely Planet’s cruise ports guidebooks, we’re releasing a three-part series on what to do, see and eat in the best ports around the world. In part one, we cover the top three ports in the Caribbean: Nassau in the Bahamas, San Juan in Puerto Rico, and Philipsburg in Sint Maarten.

Nassau, Bahamas
Located in the centre of town, Prince George Wharf is where you’ll dock in Nassau – the only proper city in the Bahamas. Nassau is famed for its gritty, but funky vibe and has plenty to offer those stopping by. Explore the history of the city by doing a self-guided walking tour of the historic buildings and sights of interest, including the Nassau Straw Market, Government House and the Grayliff Cigar Co. Allow at least four hours to meander around, shop or have lunch at the market and puff on a cigar. For those wishing to sink their teeth into some local cuisine, Lonely Planet’s pick is Fish Fry – a lively and colourful gathering of bars, seafood restaurants and conch stands. If it’s a semi-decent (depending on your view) coffee you’re after, head to Starbucks right near the port and make the most of the free wifi while you caffeinate.

Fast Facts
Currency: Bahamian dollar, but US dollars widely accepted.
Language: English.
Visa: Not required for Australians.

San Juan, Puerto Rico
Like a grand old dame with a flair for merriment, San Juan is a fascinating mix of the historical and contemporary. Energy abounds in the various neighbourhoods that make up this port city, which dates back to 1521. San Juan is flanked at either end by two imposing fortresses, both of which have witnessed many a battle. At the west end of the town is the 16th century El Morro – a commanding fort that took almost 200 years to build. At the eastern end of San Juan you’ll find Fuerte San Cristóbal, which features a captivating museum, spectacular views and countless tunnels. Both of these forts are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in San Juan and well worth a visit. If time permits, hit the ground running in San Juan with a coffee at Café Cola’o and an amble around the ancient town; shadow the old city walls along Paseo de la Princesa; pause in the Cathedral de San Juan, and marvel at the Plaza de Armas, before heading out to El Morro. Enjoy classic Puerto Rican fare for lunch at Café Puerto Rico (aptly named) back in the Old Town, before spending the afternoon at Fuerte San Cristóbal. If hiking, wildlife-spotting and freshwater swimming is more your cup of tea, organise a tour to El Yunque National Forest – a 75 to 90-minute drive from San Juan – and let nature overtake you.

Fast Facts
Currency: US dollars.
Languages: Spanish, English.
Visa: Not required for Australians.

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
As Lonely Planet phrases it, Philipsburg is ‘more commercial than quaint’. That said, the beaches are stunning, the duty-free shopping is legendary, and the cold drinks seem to flow endlessly. The island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is divided into a French half and a Dutch half, with Philipsburg the main town in the Dutch part and the closest to the cruise port. Walk from the port to Great Bay Beach, a white-sand, palm-lined stretch, where you can lounge about at (another aptly named joint) Ocean Lounge Restaurant and Bar, cocktail in hand, not a care in the world. If you’d prefer fewer people per square metre of sand, hop on a taxi to Orient Beach (roughly 25 minutes) and laze, swim and snorkel as you fancy. For those feeling a bit more active, do your worst on Front Street at the duty-free shops, and then wander down to Guavaberry Emporium for a tipple of the island’s traditional liquor.

Fast Facts
Currency: Antilles guilder (NAf) in Sint Maarten, but US dollars widely accepted.
Languages: English, Dutch, French.
Visa: Not required for Australians.

For more information, check out Lonely Planet’s Cruise Ports Caribbean guidebook. Available at all good bookstores, RRP $29.99.

Have you visited any of the Caribbean cruise ports? What’s your favourite cruise port of all time?

Related articles:
Five destinations best visited by ship
Seven of the world’s best cruise ports
Cruising without the crowds

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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