San Juan, Puerto Rico at night
Destination Immersion

Best of the Caribbean and the Canary Islands

Thursday, August 19, 2021
By Azamara

Lush green forests, beautiful blue waters, endless white-sand beaches — the Caribbean and the Canary Islands are both mosaics of color. But, perhaps, more importantly, they're also mosaics of culture. An ocean apart, these archipelagos are home to a wealth of heritage, history, and stunning natural landscapes. Oh, and let's not forget the food! 

We haven't traveled to the Caribbean or the Canary Islands since 2019, and to say we're excited to return would be an understatement. On our upcoming cruises, we're looking forward to visiting new ports and old favorites alike, and we can't wait to show you the best of what these unique destinations have to offer. Here's a closer look at a few of the ports in the Caribbean and the Canary Islands we can't wait to visit when we cruise with you. 

Philipsburg, St. Maarten

The Methodist Church with a traditional street clock outside, Philipsburg, St Maarten, Caribbean.

St. Maarten holds an interesting claim to fame. Along with its northern neighbor (St-Martin), it is part of the world's smallest area of land divided into two different nations. The north is French, but the south — home to Philipsburg — is Dutch. That said, borders rarely stop the melding of cultures, and a visit here offers an eclectic mix of French, Dutch, and African heritage that permeates everything from dialect to cuisine. 

Another claim to fame for Philipsburg? It's where we'll be having our first Caribbean Destination Celebration! If you're not familiar, Destination Celebrations are our adaptation of AzAmazing Evenings, which will bring all the incredible culture and heritage of a destination to you — right onboard your boutique hotel at sea. In Philipsburg, you'll get your night started with St. Maarten's Steelpan Orchestra. This lively and lovely orchestra is directed by St. Maarten's local calypso legend, Isodore "Mighty Dow" York. 

After the orchestra, the music will continue with a performance by The Soul Sisters. Backed by St. Maarten's world-famous Mosaic Band, The Soul Sisters will delight you by performing classics from Etta James, James Brown, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, and other musical legends — all from the comfort of the pool deck! 

George Town, Grand Cayman

Beautiful coastal view of Georgetown on a clear day

Cosmopolitan, yet understated. Lively, yet easy to navigate. George Town is perched on the shores of Grand Cayman's legendary Seven Mile Beach — a must-visit destination for sun worshippers and sand lovers alike. Grand Cayman's financial hub, George Town is a playground for those who know how to live life to the fullest, and is home to a wide variety of people from a vast swath of cultures. 

Foodies are sure to love the dining options George Town has to offer. As you might expect, seafood is king throughout the Caribbean, and George Town is no exception. If you're feeling adventurous, we recommend settling in at a restaurant with Cayman-style lobster on the menu. Lobster has long been a delicacy in the Cayman Islands, and the secret to this signature dish is spice. Typically, lobster in the Cayman Islands is prepared with hot sauce and scotch bonnet peppers, resulting in a flavor that’s as fiery as it is fantastic. 

History buffs should make their way to the Cayman National Museum. Located in George Town's oldest building, the museum paints a rich picture of this island nation's heritage. You'll also learn a bit about the island's natural history — including exhibits on the animals that once called the region home. Similarly, art lovers are sure to enjoy the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. Small but memorable (much like Grand Cayman itself), this gallery hosts a mix of rotating exhibits and permanent pieces that showcase the talents of the Caymanian people.  

We recommend going beyond the beaches of George Town to the West Bay for those looking for something truly distinct. Here, a group of limestone formations rising up out of the ground have been given the name Hell. There are two theories as to why the formations have been coined so. Some say it has to do with the echoing sounds that pebbles make when thrown into the formation — it sounds like the stones are falling all the way down to you-know-where. Others embrace a more straightforward explanation — this impressive outcropping.   

Regardless of how this hot spot got its name, it's not to be missed when you visit George Town. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Buildings on the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico

The second-oldest European settlement in the Americas, San Juan holds a wealth of history behind its thick fortress walls. Much of the city is enclosed by towering walls dating back to the early 1500s. Ranging from 20 to 100-feet tall and nearly 50-feet thick at the base, these walls were constructed to thwart pirates and would-be invaders attempting to gain a stronghold in the Caribbean. Today, the walls remain San Juan's signature feature — even earning it the nickname La Ciudad Amurallada, or The Walled City. For a better look at the walls, take a stroll along El Paseo del Morro, a walking trail that runs to the harbor. Here, explore Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro for short), a towering fort where you can climb the ramparts for breathtaking views of the water and the city. 

Behind the city walls, you can explore San Juan's Old Town, where meticulously restored buildings dating back to the 16th-century line the blue-hued cobblestone streets. Visit the Bautista Cathedral while you're here. This is the church where the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon — the legendary Spanish explorer — is located. Old Town is also the perfect spot to grab a drink and listen to the pulsating samba rhythms that bring the city to life. 

San Juan is home to some absolutely incredible restaurants serving up unique Caribbean fusion dishes. Make your way to the SoFo district (the streets of South Fortaleza), where you'll be spoiled for choice by restaurants effortlessly combining the traditional dishes of Latin America with fabulous flavors from Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.

This mix of traditional and modern is, for many, what gives San Juan such an enduring appeal. Of course, there are excellent museums here, like Museo de las Américas and Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, which strive to highlight Puerto Rico's rich history. And then, there are neighborhoods like the vibrant Santurce, which prides itself on an ever-evolving landscape, where street art, salsa, and delicious dining tell the story of where Puerto Rico is now, and importantly, where it's going next.  

Basseterre, St. Kitts 

Port Zante in Basseterre town, St. Kitts And Nevis

You might not know it, but when you picture paradise on Earth, there's a good chance you're imagining St. Kitts. With its lush landscapes and shimmering waters, this island nation is the pleasure seekers' dream come true — and it all starts in Basseterre.

While some might see this capital city as a jumping-off point, we can't help but be enamored with its charms. The city's maze of winding streets is full of outdoor bars and shopping options, and everything comes together at The Circus. This is the main shopping area in Basseterre. Inspired by London's Piccadilly, this circus is watched over by the Victorian-style Berkeley Memorial Clock. If you're looking to relax, locals love to "lime" (unwind) in the grassy fields of Independence Square. At the same time, a visit to the National Museum in the Old Treasury Building will give you an excellent understanding of St. Kitts' history, culture, and road to independence. 

Of course, in our opinion, there's no better way to explore St. Kitts than by joining us on a shore excursion highlighting the country's history and beauty. The Best of St. Kitts excursion takes you through historical Basseterre before a motorcoach whisks you away for a tour of historical sites. You'll see where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic at Timothy Hill Lookout, the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Romney Manor. Here, on the estate grounds, you'll find the Saman tree, St. Kitts' largest living organism. Along the way, an expert guide will provide you with fascinating insights to make sure your St. Kitts experience is unforgettable.    

Or, if you prefer to travel by rail, join us on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway, where you'll enjoy a scenic journey around the island while enjoying refreshing drinks and expert commentary from a local guide. You'll see forested peaks, long-forgotten sugarcane plantations, and deep ghuts (canyons) from high atop steel bridges — all while sitting in the comfort of your air-conditioned car.

La Estaca, El Hierro Canary Island

Natural Stone Arch Charco Manso, El Hierro, Canary Islands

While we'll be returning to some of our favorite ports when cruising to the Caribbean and the Canary Islands, part of the joy of exploration is visiting somewhere new. That's why we're thrilled to call La Estaca, El Hierro Canary Island one of our 2021 Maiden Ports. El Hierro has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and it's easy to see why. It's remote, it's full of rugged beauty, and, before Columbus sailed beyond it in 1492, it was considered by many to be the end of the world! 

The second-smallest of the Canary Islands, don't let El Hierro's size fool you. This volcanic isle is home to some out-of-this-world sights (including the spectacular El Golfo), impressive hiking trails, and delicious (if unexpected) local cuisine. El Hierro's gastronomy scene is distinctly rural, with plenty of fresh cheese, meats, and seafood. Be sure to sample some champurrio, a popular stew made from seasonal ingredients. And, of course, pair your meal with a glass of El Hierro wine. That's right, there's a surprisingly robust winemaking tradition here — highlighted by older grape varieties like Vijariego and Bermejillo.

The tiny island that never ceases to surprise is truly a gift, so it's fitting we're visiting over the 2021 holiday season.    

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Candelaria town on Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

In addition to our maiden voyages to El Hierro during our 2021 holiday season in the Canary Islands, we'll also be returning to Tenerife. Perhaps the most well-known of Spain's Canary Islands, Tenerife is as beautiful as it is culturally diverse. And that culture will be on full display as part of our new Mamas & Tapas shore excursion. 

During this unique and exclusive experience, you'll visit the small towns on the northside of the island, where Canarian housewives will open their homes to you to share culture and cuisine. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity begins in La Laguna, Tenerife's ancient capital, where you can work up your appetite on a guided walking tour through the historical city center. From here, we'll drive along the northern highway to El Sauzal, a 16th-century town that pre-dates Spain's arrival in the Canary Islands. This is the perfect place to take in some of the spectacular views this region is known for.  

This is also where you'll meet the "Mamas" of this shore excursion! You'll be divided up into smaller groups and invited to lunch at their private homes. While each menu is the same, the mama's different cooking styles will offer you a unique take on the meal. In addition to a delicious dining experience, you'll also catch a glimpse of what daily life is like for Canarians who call this island home. This is a remarkable encounter you're sure to savor long after the meal with your mama is through. 

During our time in Tenerife, we'll also be enjoying a Destination Celebration! This time with an innovative show called PAGANINI that effortlessly blends some of the world's most-treasured musical pieces with comedy and physicality. This spectacular show features four musicians playing classical compositions, as well as more modern rock and folk selections. But they do more than simply play. They dance, jump, laugh, cry, and interact with you. In doing so, they also completely transform the compositions they're performing. Complex, charismatic, and unlike anything you've ever seen before, PAGANINI is the perfect way to cap off your time in Tenerife.

We're Ready to Explore Again

From old favorites to brand new destinations, we're so excited to cruise to the Caribbean and the Canary Islands again with you. 

Start planning your upcoming adventure today. Check out our cruises to the Caribbean here, and our cruises to the Canary Islands here.  

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