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11 Best Southern Caribbean Cruise Ports

Antigua is known for 365 beaches. Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons license
Antigua is known for 365 beaches. Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons license

Southern Caribbean cruise ports offer warm temperatures to northerners who want to escape cold winters.

The Caribbean Sea is more than 1 million square miles and 1,000 miles from the northern tip to the southern tip. For that reason, temperatures in the southern destinations are often warmer than in the north. They matter to cruise and resort visitors who want to spend time on beaches and in the seawater.

Daytime temperatures average in the mid 80s Fahrenheit or mid 20s Celsius during the winter and into the low 90s Fahrenheit or low 30s Celsius during the summer. Rainfall is low in the winter, spring and early summer. It jumps in the fall during the annual Caribbean hurricane season.

A large number of seven-day cruises to southern Caribbean ports of call leave from San Juan, Puerto Rico, in order to reach the largest number of islands in the shortest period of time.

Southern Caribbean cruises often include ports that are listed on eastern Caribbean cruises.

Southern cruises often visit four or five ports. They include some combination of Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Dominica, San Juan, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. They sometimes include the U.S. Virgin Islands for longer cruises that depart from Florida ports.


Ships dock at the capital city of St. John’s. The island is known for having 365 beaches or one for every day of the year. A decent one close to the cruise docks is Fort James Beach. A taxi is the best way to get there; be sure to negotiate the rate before getting into the cab.

Antigua has one of the most important naval bases in the Caribbean’s colonial history at English Harbour. The nearby Shirley Heights has military fortifications and an overlook of English Harbour.


Aruba is one of the smaller southern Caribbean islands. It also is one of the most arid. Aruba is known for Palm Beach, one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. It also is known for scuba diving among sunken ships. Aruba is one of the Dutch ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, which lie quite near each other off the coast of Venezuela.


Barbados is commercialized, but it also has good beaches. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The island is one of the more commercial destinations in the Caribbean. But cruise visitors will find plenty of the usual island attractions plus a few that are unusual.

One of the best is swimming with sea turtles, a popular excursion just off the coast where the turtles gather. Harrison’s Cave has underground streams and a 40-foot waterfall.


Bonaire is the smallest, least populated and least visited southern Caribbean port. It has the same Dutch cultural flavors as Aruba and Curacao but not much of the commercialization. It is mainly known for snorkeling and scuba diving.


The cruise port of Willemstad is famous for the colorful harborfront street of Handelskade. This historic UNESCO World Heritage Site is among the most photographed sites in the Caribbean. Just beyond Handelskade is Punda, the city’s main commercial district. Cruise visitors will find plenty to see and do. It is not as well known for beaches as Aruba.


Dominica is promoting itself as an ecotourism vacation and with good reason. It is one of the better hiking experiences in the Caribbean because of rainforests, mountains and waterfalls. But it is not a beach destination. The island has some of the highest rainfalls in the Caribbean.

San Juan

San Juan is a common departure port for southern Caribbean cruises. Tourists who fly into San Juan and have time to explore should consider going to Old San Juan, which is close to the cruise docks.

Old San Juan has two famous forts, cobblestone streets and a variety of historical and architectural attractions. It can easily fill anywhere from two hours to six hours of time before or after a cruise.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts beach
St. Kitts beach. © St. Kitts Tourism Authority

St. Kitts had promoted itself as an ecotourism destination because it was quiet and undeveloped compared to some bigger islands.

It has taken a step up in recent years with a new cruise mall filled with shops, restaurants and entertainment. Visitors walk right off the docks and into the open-air mall.

The St. Kitts Scenic Railway is unique in the Caribbean. Guests can take a 30-mile route around the island and encircle the 3,800-foot Mount Liamuiga.

St. Lucia

St. Lucia has a pretty cruise port and even prettier landscape in the interior of the island. We fondly remember an ATV excursion along the rugged coastline.

St. Lucia Pitons
Piton mountains. © St. Lucia Tourist Board

The most famous landmark is the Pitons, a pair of mountains that stand 2,000 feet over the island. Visitors there can hike, photograph and take volcanic mud baths. The views in the more remote part of the island are among the best in the Caribbean.

St. Maarten

This small but beautiful island has fewer attractions, although visitors are more likely to go because of cruises and for quiet overnight vacations.

Perhaps the best attraction on the island is the cruise port of Philipsburg. It is one of the best in the Caribbean because of its size and atmosphere. It is packed with shops and restaurants.

Other attractions include the famous (and clothing optional) Orient Bay beach and the French towns of Marigot and Grand Case, which have the best restaurants on the island. I recommend the panoramic views atop Fort Louis and taking an excursion to the nearby St. Barth or Anguilla.

St. Thomas

St. Thomas isn’t technically a southern Caribbean island, but southern Caribbean cruises often stop there on their way from San Juan to the south.

Any list of attractions starts with shopping in Havensight Mall at the cruise port as well as in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. Buck Island is one of the few fully protected marine parks in the United States.

Virgin Islands National Park includes an underwater reserve that makes up 5,650 acres. For these reasons, the U.S. Virgin Islands abound with snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
March 02, 2024

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