Jamaicans know how to live. Visit Jamaica and you'll see for yourself: this is a big, beautiful tropical island full of the most incredible scenery and alluring beaches, with a great big smile on its collective face. Think of soft white sand, bright turquoise seas, the sound of a steel band, abundant tropical fruits and sunshine, and you've got it about right. It will assault your senses.

In Montego Bay, Jamaica pulls no punches. This most popular of holiday destinations has it all and pulls in the crowds for the reggae beat of its nightlife, its laid-back sense of fun and its spicy jerk cooking. This is the second largest city in Jamaica, and the surrounding coast has plenty of fine beaches. The famous Doctors Cave is a broad, pure white sandy beach – just the place to relax and recoup your energy after the night before; or there's Cornwall Beach — more upbeat and lively, where you go to party, play volleyball or indulge in some water sports.

If you can get away from the beach, Jamaica's mountainous interior is well worth exploring, and you can catch that reggae beat with a visit to Bob Marley's birthplace in Kingston and then visit his childhood home of Nine Mile in the mountains of St Ann.

The size of the island makes seeing all of it a difficult challenge for one holiday, but Negril Beach at the far western tip of the island is one not to miss. This is the ultimate tropical paradise, a seven mile-long beach of white sand backed by palm trees and forest that almost hides the all-inclusive beach hotels and the distant view of untouched hills. At sunset, both the sky and sea seem to catch fire.

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Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic's long and varied coastline defines it as a holiday destination: from its palm fringed beaches, fishing villages and exclusive resorts, to its small towns and its grand capital of Santo Domingo, the sea is ever present and the tropical heat makes those beaches so inviting. What could be better than lying on that pristine sand with the palm trees blowing gently in the cooling breeze? What hits you is the glorious colour — not only the intense blue of the sea and sky, the purity of the white sand and the lush greens of the interior rainforest, but the exuberant, brightly-coloured clothes of the people and their cheerfully painted homes.

In a country so rich in beautiful beaches, you would be hard pressed to pick one that was outstanding without neglecting others that shouldn't be missed, but for those looking for a tropical paradise, a good candidate would be Bahia de las Aguilas in the far south west. This has seven miles of pure white sand backed by untouched countryside with not a building in sight, and is acknowledged as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. For the best all inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic, you might pick Puerto Plata or Punta Cana. Both have wonderful beaches and plenty to do outside the resorts.

Wherever you go, there will be fabulous hotels, water sports, offshore reefs and idyllic little islets to explore. Take a boat trip into your own desert island fantasy, go whale watching or scuba diving; visit the Jarabacoa waterfalls, go hiking or horse riding in the hills, or explore some of the historic colonial towns such as Santiago or San Cristóbal. This is an island you won't forget.

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Barbados is the jewel of the Caribbean, a small coral island of pristine beauty that is friendly and welcoming and just waiting to be explored. The island has over 70 miles of glorious palm-fringed, coral beaches - all open to the public — and whether you are staying in one of the all inclusive resorts or on a budget holiday, the sun always shines and the sea is always the bluest blue.

On the east and south coasts the Atlantic trade winds create some big surf. Huge waves crash against the rocky shores. These beaches are ideal for surfing, walking or sunbathing. At East Coast Road beach the waves breaking on the reefs create a constant salty and refreshing mist in the air. The famous Soup Bowl beach is the best surfing spot on the island, which draws surfers from around the world.

The west coast, often called the Platinum Coast, offers a more relaxed experience, with crystal clear waters gently lapping the white sandy beaches, making this an ideal area for a family holiday. Sandy Lane, Paynes Bay, Brandons Beach, Batts Rock — these and many more give you a wide choice to explore, where the swimming is perfect and the coral sands, the palms and the tropical sunshine guarantees a holiday to remember. Go snorkelling off the beach, swim with sea turtles or try your hand at some water sports such as jet skiing or scuba diving.

Visit Bridgetown, the island’s lovely capital, and sample the nightlife; or take off and discover the island’s interior – hire a car or book a trip and explore the hills and the small inland towns, the Barbados Wildlife Reserve or Harrison’s Cave with its underground streams and waterfalls, or spend some leisurely hours on one of the island’s world class golf courses.

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Antigua, the larger island of the Antigua and Barbuda twin-island nation, is one of the most stunning in the Caribbean, where you can relax amidst lush tropical palms, sun-soaked white sand beaches and pure blue seas. Because it is surrounded by an unbroken protective coral reef, the sea gently laps the coast, making the island ideal for a peaceful family beach holiday. The reef also makes it popular amongst divers and snorkelers, who come from around the world to enjoy this tropical underwater paradise. Other popular water sports include wind-surfing, kayaking and kite-surfing — head to Fort James, a particularly popular spot for getting out on the water; or go to Gallery Bay, which is favoured by joggers and surfers.

The island has hundreds of years of history as a safe refuge for shipping, and what once made this an important outpost for the Royal Navy in the days of sail now makes it perfect for yachting. There are many harbours giving good shelter from the prevailing trade winds, and the island is the venue for several annual yacht shows and regattas.

The capital of St John's is a lively little town that retains much of its colonial buildings as well as a very British air alongside its relaxed and friendly Caribbean character. The white baroque cathedral of St John dominates the town, rising above the cheerfully rainbow coloured local architecture. Discover more about the island's colonial past with a visit to the historic sugar cane plantations, and wind down in the evening to the cheerful calypso beat in the many little beach bars, taste some of the wonderful seafood and watch the sun set while downing some of the local rum, which is not to be missed.

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St Lucia

St Lucia is that ideal Caribbean island: a small, unspoilt tropical delight that is still relatively undiscovered by the crowds. It is dominated by the twin peaks of the Piton Mountains, which rise dramatically from the sea, soaring to a height of 2000 feet. Dominated by lush rain forest, St Lucia has sometimes been called a South Sea paradise island transported to the Caribbean, and it is true that it seems very different to most of the Caribbean islands. Its culture is as diverse as its landscape, showing British, Spanish, French, African and Indian influences, as well as being thoroughly Caribbean. St Lucia hotels range from the all-inclusive resorts and boutique hotels, to couples only retreats or affordable three star hotels.

The deep inshore waters and coral reefs make this a perfect destination for scuba divers and snorkelers. The forested, mountainous interior is perfect for hiking. Not to forget the beaches, such as Reduit, Pigeon Island, Anse des Pitons and Anse Chastenet — an embarrassment of unspoilt riches, with white sand lapped by azure seas. All are open to the public and are safe for swimming. You'll find plenty of shade, whether under the coconut palms or the palm-thatched beach umbrellas, and there are bars and restaurants where you can have anything from a soft drink to a cocktail, a salad to a jerk chicken or grilled local fish.

St Lucia is ideal for anyone looking for more than a beach holiday. Visit the St Lucia Rum Distillery, learn its colourful history and buy a bottle at factory prices; go horse riding at the National Riding Academy; or go jungle biking, or visit the historic garrison ruins of Pigeon Island. Wherever you go, the dramatic landscape dominates, set off by broad views or enticing glimpses of the sea.

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Water and sky seem to merge in one vision of the purest blue, on which the lush green islands and white sands of the Bahamas stand out like a vision of paradise. These are the clearest seas in the world, and this beautiful archipelago comprising 700 islands spread over 10,000 square miles is the most stylish holiday destination in the Caribbean. It's also an extremely friendly place, full of history and culture and with a rich heritage of hospitality.

With so many different islands, ranging from the largest, Grand Bahama Island, the small island of Bimini just 60 miles from Miami, and New Providence, the most populous, to the many tiny unpopulated islands, there are naturally a wide range of resorts and activities for the holidaymaker. Nowhere in the entire archipelago is higher than about 20 metres above sea level, so water sports and beach life predominate. As the "sailing capital of the world", boarding a yacht to explore the smaller islands and deserted beaches is almost second nature here.

The capital, Nassau, on the north coast of New Providence, is a lively and modern metropolitan city. The port is sheltered and protected by Paradise Island, which has been developed as the prime resort area of the Bahamas, with many hotels, restaurants, shops, a golf course and other places of entertainment. Freeport, the capital of Grand Bahama, is a free trade area with duty free shopping and all the best in the way of holiday amenities and nightlife. Whether you spend your time here or exploring the rest of the islands — by boat, cruise ship or helicopter — there is something for everyone. Families with children, seekers of history and culture, gourmets, stylish couples or fun loving singles — they all come home wishing they could soon return.

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Trinidad and Tobago

Two glorious islands like jewels set in the bluest of tropical seas: holidays to Trinidad and Tobago are sure to please even the most experienced traveller. The colour and excitement will grab you as soon as you get off the plane. These are the most southerly Caribbean islands, just 20 kilometres from the coast of Venezuela and wonderfully warm all year round. The sheer exuberance of the landscape and climate is reflected in the people and their culture, which is a rich combination of French, Spanish, British and African influences.

For the perfect beach holiday, there is a wide choice — from family resort hotels in the capital of Trinidad, Port of Spain, to the prime surfing coast on the north of the island, and secluded, white sandy beaches on Tobago. As a rule, Trinidad is the livelier of the two islands, where you can immerse yourself in the local life and culture, whereas Tobago, the smaller island, is quieter and more suited to a holiday based around the beach and the sea, although Scarborough, the capital, is still a bustling, lively town. It is small enough to cover on foot, and you can spend a pleasant day away from the beach browsing in the shops and markets, or checking out the bars, restaurants and historical sites such as the 18th century Fort King George or the Tobago Museum. There are also pretty little fishing villages, and the island's beautiful, lush interior just invites you to explore.

At sunset, the Caribbean comes alive. Trinidad and Tobago are no exceptions. This is the birthplace of calypso and steel bands, which are the sounds of the night in these islands, a joyful accompaniment to the wonderful local cuisine — and a shot of rum to finish, of course.

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