How to Plan an Island Hopping Trip in the Caribbean


June 24, 2024

How to Plan an Island Hopping Trip in the Caribbean

For those who hate cruises and want to explore each Caribbean island independently, here’s how I planned an island hopping trip in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean.

Traveling the Caribbean independently, without relying on cruises, is a unique adventure that involves a bit of planning and a love for logistics. It is not anymore about perfect beaches or fancy resorts. It’s more about the pure love of traveling and figuring out a puzzle that is in front of you.

With over 700 islands spread across 13 countries and 17 dependent territories, the Caribbean is a complex and diverse region. I’ve traveled different sections of the Caribbean a few times, but this time I wanted to plan the logistics of an island hopping adventure.

When I decided to plan this island-hopping journey, I realized there was a lack of detailed information online about how to do it without booking a cruise. As someone who prefers a more immersive and flexible travel experience, I wanted to explore each island at my own pace.

Here’s how you can plan a similar adventure.

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Read more: The Initiatives and Impact of Preserving Saint Lucia’s Rainforests

Beaches of Dominica
My last Caribbean adventure took me to 7 different Caribbean islands.

1. Understanding the Caribbean

The Caribbean is a diverse and expansive region, and based on my experience its islands can be categorized into three main groups:

  • Big Islands: Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. These islands are large, each with its unique culture and history. They involve a complete logistic on its own and my recommendation is that you visit them completely independently – you will have a lot to see.
  • Northern Lesser Antilles: This includes smaller islands such as Anguilla, St. Maarten, and everything over Guadaloupe. They are very well connected to the US, but the connectivity in between each other is quite tricky.
  • Southern Lesser Antilles and Barbados: Here you find beautiful islands like St. Lucia, Grenada, and Trinidad. These are better connected because of the ferry service (more on that later) and Trinidad being a big hub.

This division helped me plan my journey more efficiently, focusing on regional hubs and connections to make the most of my time.

Since  I was determined to avoid the all-too-common cruise ship routes. I decided to focus on the lower part of the Lesser Antilles. My journey took me from the USA to St. Lucia, then on to Martinique, Dominica, Trinidad, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and finally to Barbados. From Barbados, I flew back to Germany.

Read more: Visiting Acklins in the Bahamas – The most remote island of the Bahamas

Each island is so different. Landscapes in Dominica
Each island is so different. For this trip, I focused on small islands of the lesser Antilles due to their easy connectivty.

2. Selecting Your Route

When planning your route, consider both ferry and flight connections. Here, I will cover all boat and main air connections:

Traveling the Caribbean By Boat

One of the joys of island hopping in the Caribbean is traveling by boat. Unfortunately, only a few islands are connected by regular ferry services, and these connections can be the most scenic and enjoyable parts of your trip:

For the southern Lesser Islands:

Here there is only one ferry service, L’Express des Îles. With this company, you can easily travel between St. Lucia and Marie-Galante.

  • St. Lucia to Martinique: The ferry ride takes about 1.5 hours and costs around $75 (68 EUR) one way. Tickets can be booked on L’Express des Îles.
  • Martinique to Dominica: This trip takes roughly 2 hours and costs about $90 (82 EUR). Also available via L’Express des Îles.
  • Dominica to Guadeloupe: Another popular route with a travel time of approximately 2 hours, costing around $90 (82 EUR).
  • Guadeloupe to Marie-Galante: A short 45-minute trip costing about $40 (36 EUR).

NOTE: You don’t need to leave the ferry to get from St Lucia to Guadaloupe. It’s a single ferry with several stops.

For the northern Lesser Islands:

  • Anguilla to St. Maarten: A quick 20-minute ferry ride costing about $20 (18 EUR). You can find more information and book tickets on Voyager Ferry.
  • St. Maarten to Saba: A 90-minute ferry ride costing around $55 (50 EUR) one way.

Traveling the Caribbean By Air

Flying is often the most practical way to travel between Caribbean islands, especially for longer distances or when ferry services are not available. Several regional hubs offer extensive connections:

  • Trinidad (Piarco International Airport): Major hub with connections to Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, and other islands.
  • Barbados (Grantley Adams International Airport): Connects to many islands, including St. Vincent, Grenada, and Dominica.
  • St. Maarten (Princess Juliana International Airport): A key hub for flights to Anguilla, St. Barts, Saba, and more.

Main airlines serving the Caribbean:

  • LIAT: Covers many islands, including Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.
  • Caribbean Airlines: Provides extensive coverage, especially from Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Seaborne Airlines: Focuses on smaller, less frequented routes.

Read more: These are the best things to do in Nassau

Caribbean airports are small and only serve one or two airlines
Caribbean airports are small and only serve one or two airlines

3. Selecting Your Arrival and Departure Point

Choosing the right entry and exit points for your Caribbean adventure can significantly impact your trip’s efficiency and cost. Major hubs include:

  • Barbados: Well-connected with Europe, particularly London and Frankfurt, through airlines like British Airways and Condor.
  • St. Maarten: Another excellent hub with connections to Europe (KLM, Air France) and North America (JetBlue, American Airlines).
  • Martinique: Offers good connections to France via Air France and Corsair.

When planning my trip, I flew directly from the USA to St. Lucia and departed from Barbados to Frankfurt with Condor. These choices allowed me to create a seamless and efficient route through the Southern Caribbean.

Airlines Flying to the Caribbean

Many international airlines fly directly to the Caribbean, including:

  • British Airways: Serves several islands, including Barbados and St. Lucia.
  • Air France: Regular flights to Martinique and Guadeloupe.
  • American Airlines: Extensive network across the Caribbean.
  • Delta Air Lines: Connects major US cities with numerous Caribbean islands.

When booking, use tools like Google Flights and Skyscanner to compare prices and find the most affordable and convenient flights.

Read more: How to plan a road trip in Jamaica

St Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the most beautiful surprises of my trip.
St Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the most beautiful surprises of my trip.

4. Finding the Right Hub

Choosing the right hub for your island-hopping adventure is crucial. Some islands serve as major transportation hubs, providing extensive connections to other destinations:

  • Trinidad (Piarco International Airport): This is one of the most significant hubs in the Caribbean, with numerous flights to other islands. You can easily use it as a base to explore nearby destinations like Grenada, Barbados, and St. Lucia.

Using Trinidad as a hub allowed me to manage the complex web of flights and ferry rides required for my journey. It provided a central point to return to between exploring other islands.

Read more: How to get around Saint Lucia

Some landscapes were very dramatic. This is Dominica from the air
Some landscapes were very dramatic. This is Dominica from the air

5. Finding Long Distance Jumper Connections

Long-distance jumper connections are flights that serve multiple islands en route to or from Europe. These flights can be convenient and cost-effective for covering multiple destinations:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Offers flights from St. Vincent to Barbados, continuing to London. I took this flight and found it to be an efficient way to travel between islands.

Booking Tips

  • Google Flights: Excellent for comparing prices and routes.
  • Skyscanner: Another great tool for finding budget options and multi-stop flights.

Using these platforms, you can find flights that allow you to hop from one island to another, making the most of your time in the Caribbean.

Read more: Visiting Andros in the Bahamas – A backyard of biodiversity.

Dominica was my favorite island from all I visited.
Dominica was my favorite island from all I visited.

6. Combining Options to Find the Perfect Connection

To find the best connections, it’s crucial to mix and match ferry and flight options based on your desired route and budget. Here’s a snapshot of my route:

  • Arrival in St. Lucia: Direct flight from the USA.
  • St. Lucia to Martinique: Ferry with L’Express des Îles.
  • Martinique to Dominica: Ferry with L’Express des Îles.
  • Dominica to Trinidad: Flight with LIAT.
  • Trinidad to St. Vincent: Flight with Caribbean Airlines.
  • St. Vincent to Barbados: Flight with Virgin Atlantic.

By combining these options, I was able to navigate the Caribbean efficiently and enjoyably. Planning your route this way allows for flexibility and ensures you can visit multiple islands without backtracking.

Read more: How to do some island hopping in the Bahamas

Saint Lucia has the most beautful landscapes I saw in the Caribbean
Saint Lucia has the most beautful landscapes I saw in the Caribbean

7. Book as Much as You Can in Advance

Given the limited number of connections and the popularity of certain routes, prices can jump quickly, and flights or ferries may get fully booked. Here are some tips for booking in advance:

  • Plan Early: Start planning your trip several months ahead to secure the best prices and availability.
  • Use Reliable Platforms: Book your flights through platforms like Google Flights and Skyscanner. For ferries, use L’Express des Îles and Voyager Ferry.
  • Flexible Dates: If possible, be flexible with your travel dates to take advantage of lower fares and better availability.

Booking in advance not only helps secure your preferred travel dates and routes but also ensures a smoother and more enjoyable island-hopping adventure in the Caribbean.

Read more: Best Things to Do in Saint Lucia

Barbados has the best beaches I saw in this part of the Caribbean
Barbados has the best beaches I saw in this part of the Caribbean




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