Acapulco is situated around a horseshoe-shaped natural bay and backed by the Sierra Madre Mountains. There are several sweeping golden beaches, and at La Quebrada, the world-famous cliff divers who plunge 100 feet to the sea. Close by is the small fishing village of Pie de la Cue which if staying overnight, is worth visiting for its spectacular sunsets.
Oranjestad is Aruba's charming capital and easy to explore on foot, with palm-lined streets, brightly-painted Dutch colonial buildings, and plenty of shopping opportunities. Further afield are the cave drawings and petroglyphs of the north-coast caves, and at Arikok National Park the landscape is dotted with cacti, divi-divi trees and exotic flowers.
Basseterre is the capital of St Kitts, set against green hills and with many Georgian buildings, including a miniature version of Piccadilly, the Circus. The last narrow-gauge railway in the West Indies departs from Basseterre for a scenic journey around the island. The 17th-century fort of Brimstone Hill is nearby.
Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a monarchy on the Caribbean coast of Central America. More than 40% of its area is protected by wildlife sanctuaries and marine reserves, conserving reefs, medicinal flora, birdlife and the habitat of the jaguar. There are several Mayan sites nearby, including Altun Ha and Lamanai. St. John's Cathedral in Belize City is the oldest Anglican Church in Central America.
Bequia belongs to the Windward Islands and is the second-largest of the chain. It is famous for its open-backed taxis which take visitors on island tours. Beyond Port Elizabeth are small fishing villages, green meadows and quiet beaches. Attractions include Hamilton Fort, the Spring Plantation and its ruined sugar mill, and the OldHegg Turtle Sanctuary at Park Beach.
Pink flamingos, divi-divi trees, Papiamento and good diving are some of Bonaire's attractions, where large areas come under the protection of its Marine Park. The white salt flats of Bonaire are populated by pink flamingos feasting on the orange brine shrimp that gives them their unmistakable colour. In town, find jewellery, silver, ceramics and leather shops along Kaya Grandi, or sample Creole cuisine.
Bridgetown has a British flavour and its sights include the Parliament Buildings which sit on what was once known as Trafalgar Square, and a huge baobab tree said to have come from Guinea in the 1730s. St Nicholas Abbey in St Peter and Drax Hall in St George are Jacobean buildings with Dutch gables and coral-stone finials. For beaches, bars, restaurants and clubs, make for the south or the Gold Coast to the west.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas sits at the tip of the long peninsula of Baja California where the Pacific merges with the Sea of Cortez. On the coast, sea lions can be seen at the El Arco rock formation, or for a taste of old Mexico and boutiques, travel to nearby San Jose del Cabo, founded in 1730. The main square has boutiques, art galleries and excellent restaurants, sometimes offering live Latin music.
Cartagena has many buildings and fortifications dating from the early 1600s. Horse-drawn carriages frequently pass by carrying sightseers from the up-market area of Bocagrande and the old walled city. Sights include the Palacio de la Inquisicion, the dungeons of Las Bevedas, and Plaza de Santo Domingo where local artisans sell their wares.
Castries is the capital of St Lucia, and its port, Pointe Seraphine, is the main entry point cruise ships, offering excellent duty-free shopping facilities. Overlooking Castries is the Government House and gardens, museum and Four Apostles Battery of Morne Fortune. Nearby is Marigot Bay, once a wartime base and now a picturesque yachting harbour, and the fishing villages of Anse-le-Ray and Canaires, where fishermen still use dug-out canoes.
The Caymans consist of three small islands which are well-known for banking and beach holidays. George Town on Grand Cayman is the capital, where snorkelling above the reef at Eden is a popular activity. Cayman Turtle Farm operates a breeding programme for green sea turtles. There are excellent shops in the charming downtown, with prestigious design houses and quirky gifts. The other islands are less busy ' Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the US Virgin Islands and is situated on the island of St Thomas. There are several places of interest, including Blackbeard's Castle, built by the Danes in the 17th century as a watchtower, and named after the infamous English pirate. Fort Christian is the oldest structure in the US Virgin Islands, now a museum, and St Thomas Synagogue has an 11th-century Spanish menorah ' a seven-branched candelabrum- and an unusual sand floor.
Colon sits at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal and was founded by the Americans in 1850 as the Atlantic terminus of the Panama Railroad. The main attraction in Colon is the vast Duty Free Zone, spread over 600 acres. Further afield is Portobelo National Park, where there are lagoons, reefs and beaches, and San Lorenzo Fort, built by the Spanish in the 16th century. Tours may be available to the Panama Canal's impressive Gatun Locks.
Costa Meya is a purpose-built port constructed to resemble a Mayan city, and includes a shopping mall, beach club, saltwater pools and a plaza. It encompasses the small villages of Mahahual and Xcalak on the Mexican coast, with a coral reef offshore and plenty of facilities for diving. The little-visited Mayan ruins of Chacchoben and Kohunlich are nearby
The Mexican island of Cozumel has been a centre for scuba diving and snorkelling since the discovery of the island's Palancar Reef by Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s. It is also known for the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio, situated in the centre of the island, and for watersports, including kite-surfing and a tourist submarine.
Willemstad is the capital of Curacao and has some fine 17th and 18th-century colonial Dutch architecture, brightly-coloured here in the Caribbean; see the gables and steep-pitched roofed buildings along narrow alleys in the Otrobanda district. The island has old plantation houses, good beaches and numerous forts, including Fort Nassau, built in 1797 and now an international restaurant.
El Guamache is the cruise port for Venezuelan Margherita Island, where there are numerous stalls selling jewellery and handicrafts. The main shopping areas are Sambil Mall and Rattan Plaza, and popular activities include swimming with dolphins at the sea aquarium in El Guamache and seeing the flamingos and numerous bird species at Lagoon La Restinga.
Falmouth is Jamaica's newest cruise port, surrounded by sugar plantations and grazing land, and has many historic Georgian buildings which are currently being preserved. Greenwood Great House was once owned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's family and now holds a collection of rare musical instruments, and offshore is the Luminous Lagoon, where microscopic organisms give off phosphorescent light.
Fort-de-France is the sophisticated capital of Martinique, and has narrow lanes and Savane Park. Clement House is an old plantation with a rum factory in the grounds offering tastings. For people-watching, take coffee along the capital's Boulevard Allegre, and for good views, go to the Caravelle Peninsula, the site of a ruined chateau.
George Town is the capital of the Cayman Islands and is their banking and administrative centre. The Paseo is the main street, housing shops and restaurants, and Camana Bay is a venue for farmers markets and street theatre. North of George Town is the famous Seven Mile Beach, and beyond is Hell, formations of black limestone spread across several acres.
Grand Bahama Island (Bahamas)
Grand Bahama lies 55 miles off the Florida coast, and its cruise port is Freeport, a Free Trade Zone. It is also well-known for its casinos and the resort of Lucaya where there are several watersports on offer. There are boat trips through Lucayan National Park's underwater cave system, one of the longest in the world, where artefacts belonging to Grand Bahama's earliest inhabitants have been found.
Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands)
One of the Caribbean's most affluent islands, Grand Cayman's capital, Georgetown, is easy to explore on foot. Get a taste of the island's history at Fort George, built in 1790, or go snorkelling to see exotically-coloured fish, coral reefs and spectacular underwater mountains.
Cockburn Town on Grand Turk has been the capital of the Turks and Caicos islands since 1766. Duke and Font Streets are lined with pastel-coloured colonial buildings, including the Turks and Caicos National Museum which was built using timber from shipwrecks. town has several old inns. The island is six miles long and one mile wide, easily explored on foot and fringed with sandy beaches
The 'Spice Island' of Grenada has rainforests, waterfalls and a mountainous interior dotted with cocoa and banana plantations. The shore is a winding series of white and black sand beaches edged with rich vegetation. Carenage is the old harbour area of St George's where you can see the casting of the famous 'Christ of the Deep' statue and watch wooden schooners unload their cargo. For shopping, make for Grand Anse. St George's has narrow lanes, a busy marketplace and two hill-top forts.
Guadeloupe consists of two main islands, but also encompasses the Iles des Saintes to the south. The two islands are connected by a mangrove swamp, and there are surfing schools and beach bars along the coastline, plus the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve at Bouillante and Pigeon Islands. French in character, there are numerous good restaurants on Guadeloupe.
Gustavia is the elegant little capital of St Barts, an upmarket town with sophisticated boutiques offering Duty Free shopping and good French restaurants. Outside the town there are plenty of sheltered golden beaches edged with reefs perfect for snorkelling.
Labadee is situated on Haiti’s north coast, and is a private, self-contained resort run by Royal Caribbean International. It is still in operation following the earthquake of 2010, and is a security-controlled area with a flea market, beaches and watersports catering solely for tourists.
Hamilton is the capital of Bermuda, and its port runs alongside the town's main street, Front Street. There are restaurants along the harbour, and the town has many Georgian buildings, the best known being the elegant Sessions House. The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute offers simulated dives, and above the harbour is 19th-century Fort Hamilton. Crystal Caves are a series of underground pools with spectacular stalactite formations, beside Palm Garden.
Bahias de Huatulco is a resort area spread across nine picturesque bays and numerous small coves in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It falls inside the jungle and coastal area of Parque Nacional Huatulco and the coast has some of the best coral reefs in Mexico. Inland, the unspoilt surroundings are perfect for hiking and birdwatching.
Key West is the most southerly of the Florida Keys. Ernest Hemingway's house is now a museum, and was a location for the Bond film, 'Licence to Kill'and Sloppy Joe's Bar which was often frequented by Hemingway can be found on Duval Street. Fort Zachary Taylor was built in the Civil War, and was used by Harry Truman as his Winter White House during his presidency. There are several bays and beaches within easy walking distance of the town centre.
Labadee is situated on Haiti's north coast, and is a private, self-contained resort run by Royal Caribbean International. It is still in operation following the earthquake of 2010, and is a security-controlled area with a flea market, beaches and watersports catering solely for tourists.
Only 25 miles north of Venezuela, Isla Margarita is the getaway for Cariocans. The island was once the centre for harvesting egg-size pearls. Porlamar, though founded in 1536, is a modern shopping mecca with duty free status, and Pampatar is the oldest settlement with a 17th-century fort at its heart. World-class windsurfers gather on the Playa El Yaque beach, but those in search of quieter pleasures can explore the mangrove-lined Lagoon La Restinga to see flamingos and 100 other resident bird species.
St Martin's territory is shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands. Marigot is the capital of the French portion, and has smart duty-free boutiques and gourmet restaurants, overlooked by 18th-century Fort St Louis.
Marigot Bay is on the island of St Lucia, famous for the spectacular twin peaks of the Pitons. Marigot bay’s marina is full of glamorous yachts, boutiques, bars and restaurants, and the area of Soufrière has sulphur springs created by the nearby volcano, and beautiful Anse Chastanet beach.
Mayreau is a small tropical island situated in the Grenadines between Canouan and Union Islands, with an area of just one and a quarter square miles. The island is used by large cruise lines for beach barbecues and day visits, sometimes offering a boat trip around the island to see its reef. There is a pretty Catholic Church with views of Tobago Cays and a sandy beach at Saltwhistle Bay.
Montego Bay is a lively beach resort and area of mangrove wetlands offering a mixture of bird watching, watersports, golf and river excursions. Rose Hall Great House us a restored 19th-century mansion with period furnishings and gardens, and rum can be sampled at the Appleton Estate, one of Jamaica's most famous sugar plantations.
The capital of the Bahamas stretches across much of New Providence Island and its neighbour, Paradise Island, where you will find the Atlantis Resort and Casino, dedicated to the lost city and housing a water park. There are several colonial buildings in its old quarter, and a sandstone stairway carved by slaves in 1794 leads to Fort Fincastle. Nassau is primarily a large resort catering to mass tourism.
Ocho Rios has grown from a small fishing village to a popular beach resort, which was shot on location for the Bond film, 'Dr No'. Dunn's River Falls can be visited by climbing the 600-foot rocky staircase from the town. There are other activities on offer, including kayaking at Laughing Waters Lagoon, sailing, and horse-riding at Chukka Cove Beach. Restaurants and nightclubs can be found in the Margaritaville district.
Panama Canal (Panama)
The Panama Canal was built in the early 1900s, carved through the jungles of Panama to link the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and so avoiding a hazardous passage around Cape Horn. It is 50 miles long and vessels negotiate 6 locks passing from Balboa to Colon; the Miraflores and the larger Gatun Locks, which elevate vessels 85 feet to Gatun Lake.
St Martin's territory is shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands. The capital of the Netherland Antilles region is Philipsburg, which has a warren of narrow streets, courtyard caf's, and traditional West Indian 'gingerbread' houses at Wathey Square. St Maarten also offers the 12-metre America's Cup Challenge aboard America's Cup Race Boats.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is situated on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, south of Cancun and west of Cozumel. Cave divers come to dive in the sinkholes, and there is reef diving offshore on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The main thoroughfare is the bustling Quinta Avenida, which is lined with shops, bars and restaurants. South of the town is Xcaret and the Mexican-themed eco-archaeological park.
Situated on Jamaica's north-east coast, Port Antonio is an important trading port for bananas and coconuts. In town is lively Musgrave Market, and a gondola to Somerset Falls where there is a bar and restaurant. The Blue Lagoon is a cove made famous by the film of the same name, which plunges over 200 feet and is a favourite haunt of divers and swimmers.
Port of Spain
This is the capital of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago, situated on the island of Trinidad. It has several impressive buildings, including the Red House, the seat of the nation's parliament; the Romanesque-style Archbishop's House and the National Museum and Art Gallery which houses Ameri-Indian artefacts. Trinidad has some interesting cave networks ' nocturnal birds live in the Aripo Caves in the northern mountains
Progreso is in the Mexican state of Yucatan. On its lovely beaches you will find small restaurants serving up grilled fish. Nearby is the city of Merida, built on the ruins of a Mayan city and rich in colonial and 16th-century architecture, and the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun and Xcambo. Also close by is the ecological reserve and mangroves of El Corchito, which can be reached by local boat.
This Nicaraguan port is on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. Beaches stretch along the Costa Azul, which overlooks uninhabited islands in the bay, including Isla El Cardon which can be reached by local boat. In town are small shops and churches, and further afield is the former capital, Leon, which has a fine cathedral and a large, imposing square.
Puerto Quetzal's restaurants and shops cater for the many tourists who arrive by cruise ship to visit Guatemala City and the ruined Mayan city of Tikal. Guatemala City has a mixture of colonial and high-rise buildings, and the Museum of Popol Vuh which houses a wide collection of Mayan artefacts. The interesting ruins of Tikalin the rainforest of Guatemala span 1300 years, the most impressive being the pyramid temples
Until John Huston filmed 'Night of the Iguana' in Puerto Vallarta, it was a small fishing village, but has since grown into an international resort, overlooked by the Sierra Madre Mountains. Playa de Oro is the main beach, backed by hotels, and quieter bays include Conchas Chinas. Swimming with dolphins in Nuevo Vallarta, tours of the tropical forest and admiring the colonial villas of Gringo Gulch are popular tourist activities.
Puntarenas is the Central Pacific's largest city and the gateway to a multitude of forest habitats and tropical landscapes. Close by is the cloud forest area surrounding La Paz Waterfalls, the wildlife-rich Tarcoles River, white-sand coastline and National Parks. There is a Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary in Puntarenas.
Cruise ships visiting this Honduran island arrive at the new Mahogany Cruise Centre, where there is a chair-lift over tree tops to the resort of Mahogany Beach. The chief draw for visitors to Roatan is the rich marine life and coral of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef offshore. Inland is the Gumbalimba Preservation Park, home to scarlet macaws and Botanical Garden, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Copan, an extensive Mayan citadel.
Rodney Bay is in the north-west of St Lucia and has a beautiful beach, Reduit, and several restaurants and bars. The brig Unicorn which was used in the film 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is moored in the bay, and whales are often seen off the coast. Nearby is Pigeon Island, connected to St Lucia by a causeway and a good place for walks. It also has the remains of an 18th-century British fort.
Dominica is rich in natural beauty, with waterfalls, rivers, tropical rainforest and numerous rare plants and wildlife. Some of the most popular sights include Emerald Pool, Trafalgar Falls and the World Heritage Site of Morne Trois Pitons Park, a volcanic region with some of the world's largest boiling mud ponds. Offshore, nature lovers might spot up to six species of dolphin, and perhaps killer or humpback whales.
The port and region of Samana is situated on a peninsula in the north-east of the Dominican Republic, an area of great natural beauty which has recently been connected by road to more populated areas. Los Haitises National Park is a sanctuary for exotic birds, spread across mangrove forest and numerous small islands, and between January and March, humpback whales come coastal Samana to mate. Samana town has shops, restaurants, banks and market.
Santo Domingo is an impressive blend of old and new. The 1980s Columbus Lighthouse was built in the shape of huge cross, and emits a 44-mile cross of light into the sky which can be seen from Puerto Rico. In the Colonial Zone is Santa Maria La Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Alcazar de Colon, built by Columbus' son, and the 16th-century Ozama Fortress. The MegaCentro is the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean.
San Juan is Puerto Rico's capital and main port, one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Old San Juan has cobbled streets with hanging balconies, historic plazas, and two fortresses; El Morro and the World Heritage Site of Castillo de San Cristobal. The modern quarter has beaches backed by high-rise buildings and the upmarket shopping area of Condada. The mountainous El Yunque National Forest is close by, and has spectacular aerial walkways.
Scarborough is the capital and main port of Tobago, and is dominated by 18th-century Fort King George which houses an archaeology museum. The market is opposite the port, selling fruit, vegetables and local crafts. This relaxed and pretty island is a place to do very little, apart from swimming, scuba diving or perhaps visiting Kimme Museum, displaying works by a local sculptress.
St Barts (St Barts)
Also known as St Barthelemy, St Barts is picturesque, elegant and sophisticated. This volcanic island is rocky and edged with reefs and golden beaches. In the small capital of Gustavia, there is a French ambience, with upmarket boutiques, good French restaurants and duty-free shopping. For swimming, go to the white sand bay of Flamands shaded by lantier palms.
The port of St George's on Grenada is considered to be one of the Caribbean's prettiest. The Carenage is the old harbour where schooners unload their cargo and where you can see a casting of the well-known 'Christ of the Deep' statue. Enjoy views of the Caribbean from Fort George, built in the early 1700s. Grand Etang National Park sits in the crater of an extinct volcano, with walking trails and waterfalls.
St John's is Antigua's main port and capital, and is one of the Lesser Antilles' most developed cities. It is well-known for its malls and boutiques, and the Antigua Rum Distillery, the only one on the island. At the entrance to the harbour is Fort James, built by the British in the 18th century. Within reach is the historic Nelson's Dockyard at Falmouth Harbour, where he served as a captain aboard HMS Boreas in his youth.
Visitors to St Thomas in the US Virgin islands will arrive at the main port of Charlotte Amalie, where there are duty-free markets selling local crafts and international goods. There are plenty of opportunities for good views of the island; the Skyline Drive is a road which follows the mountain ridge running the length of the island, and the Paradise Point Tramway takes travellers to an observation point and bar.
St Tomas de Castilla
The busy port of Santo Tomas de Castilla in southern Guatemala is next to a Free Trade Zone, and stalls selling local crafts. Visitors come to see Mayan sites, the closest being Quirigua which has interesting statues, hieroglyphic carvings and the tallest standing stone in the New World. Other attractions include the 16th-century fort of San Felipe on Lake Izabal, - where freshwater manatees can be seen - and the town of Livingston.
St Vincent is a good place to spot humpback and sperm whales and schools of dolphins. For a dip, Owia Salt Pond on the north-eastern coast is sheltered by volcanic rocks. Places of interest include the Vermont Nature Trail, winding past exotic flora through rainforest. The island has a 1200-meter-high volcano, La Soufriere, and lush botanical gardens in Kingstown which have a descendant of the breadfruit tree planted by Captain Bligh.
Cruise ships visiting Tobago will arrive at Scarborough, which is dominated by 18th-century Fort George and has a market opposite the port. The island is more relaxed and less developed than its sister, Trinidad, with attractions including Buccoo Reef and Little Tobago Seabird Sanctuary, and the pretty village of Castara, where the picturesque beach is backed by forest and palms
Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands and its port is Road Town, spread around a horseshoe bay. The focus of activity on Tortola is relaxation, and places of interest include the attractive yachting harbour of Soper's Hole, where Blackbeard lived in the 1700s; the rainforest of Mount Sage National Park, and the Callwod Rum Distillery. The interior is crossed by rugged mountains, and there are numerous beaches.
Trinidad is the birthplace of steel pan and calypso music, and Port of Spain is the capital and chief port of Trinidad and Tobago. The city has some impressive buildings, among them the Magnificent Seven, grand colonial houses built in the early 20th century. Nature lovers can seek out the conical mud volcanoes, and Asa Wright Nature Centre where from an elegant balcony, hummingbirds, squirrel cuckoos and toucans can be spotted flying by.
The 'Baths' are Virgin Gorda's unique water grottos formed long ago by ancient lava flows. Huge boulders lie scattered around the natural pools, popular for swimming or soaking. Virgin Gorda is also home to Little Dix Bay, the Bitter End Yacht Club and some excellent beaches.
On the Dutch island of Curacao, Willemstad is a town full of brightly-painted Dutch colonial buildings, the best along the narrow alleys of the Otrobanda district. Willemstad stands alongside St Anna Bay and its floating market selling mangos and papayas. The island has a scattering of elegant old plantation houses and forts, including 18th-century Fort Nassau, now a restaurant.