The beautiful Caribbean region is seen as the epitome of sun-kissed island life the world over, thanks to its alluring collection of over 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays. This is the place you dream of when you’re scraping the ice off your car in the morning or peering out the window at a grey, drizzly English sky – an exotic, tropical destination that offers that winning combination of sun, sea, sand and that famously easy-going Caribbean culture.
However, despite the fact that we refer to the umbrella term of Caribbean culture, each island actually offers a unique and distinct personality which has been shaped by the early rule of European colonialists, the African slave trade and the indigenous tribes of the region. Popular Barbados and Aruba have retained enough of their British heritage to be considered particularly westernised whilst Jamaica relies heavily on its pre-colonial roots. The U.S. Virgin Islands appear a lot more Americanised with a slight influence left over from their years under Dutch rule. Puerto Rico mingles its American influences with a hefty dose of Spanish, and Guadeloupe’s customs are inherently intertwined with that of the French.
As you can see, the region is something of a living museum. It’s no wonder that this vibrant melting pot results in holidaymakers returning to their favourite islands year after year. We’ve put together a brief guide to help you get acquainted with Caribbean culture, though be warned: travel to this region can prove addictive.
What’s cooking in the Caribbean?
Let’s get to the part that will be of interest to just about everyone: the cuisine of the region.
Food plays a key role in the culture of the Caribbean people and the dishes are a true reflection of the multi-cultural aspect of the islands. Expect to see recipes laced with the influence of the Chinese, Indian, Dutch, French, Spanish and British whilst putting the native ingredients and spices of the region to excellent use.
Those who feel that a meal just isn’t complete without a portion of meat will be perfectly at home in this part of the world. Spicy jerk chicken and goat curry or stew are two of the most iconic dishes of the Caribbean menu whilst the close proximity of the wide open sea means that the selection of seafood dishes are second-to-none – you might find yourself dining on crab, conch or even flying fish, dependent on the specialities of the island you visit.
Many dishes will come with rice and beans (referred to as rice and peas) whilst exotic fruit and vegetables such as papaya, plantain and okra feature heavily on the Caribbean menu.
Festivals of note
In the unlikely event you grow tired of lazing on sugar-spun shores and paddling through crystalline waters, rest assured that vibrant festivals are an integral part of Caribbean culture and parties filled with music, dancing and revelry are always just around the corner if you time your visit just right.
Amongst the most popular is the flamboyant carnival of Trinidad, held in February and celebrated as one of the biggest events in the Caribbean. Parades, street parties, delicious food stalls and incredible costumes are par for the course when carnival fever hits the town. New Year’s Eve is always an event, particularly in the British Virgin Islands where the wealthy yacht-set party the night away on the beaches and around the harbour of Jost Van Dyke. Another iconic Caribbean festival is the renowned Junkanoo, a rip-roaring celebration of African culture, held in the Bahamas and an assortment of former British colonies.
The languages of the Caribbean are numerous, but as tourism is hugely important for the region, English is widely spoken throughout the islands. Dependent on your destination, you could also hear locals conversing in Spanish, Dutch and French – a few of the official languages – as well as the exotic lilt of patois, a mix of African languages and English. Patois is the widest-spoken dialect in the Caribbean and is one that’s highly associated with the tropical region’s culture.
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