6 cultural experiences you're missing out on

Who says that cultural discoveries and beach relaxation don’t mix? We think the two are a perfect pair, so we’ve rounded up six of our favourite cultural experiences in the tropics that can be combined with some sunbathing. From discovering ancient cave paintings and colonial citadels to savouring authentic cuisine and soaking up local music vibes, this list will get you planning your next trip differently.

Historical statue in the middle of a colonial square
Explore the oldest city of the Americas

It may be known for its beaches, but the Dominican Republic has another claim to fame, it’s home to the oldest city in the Americas. Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher Columbus’ brother, colonized the island’s capital, Santo Domingo, in 1492. There are numerous tours available that let you admire its well-preserved baroque cathedral that was commissioned by Columbus himself and colonial old quarter. There are also some excellent museums where you can learn more about the island’s heritage . Plus, you can wander through a typical Dominican market where you are sure to hear some of island merengue tunes being played.

Where to stay: If you want to be close to all the major historical attractions, Hodelpa Nicolas De Ovando is an ideal option. Designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, this impressive building that was transformed into a hotel is located in the heart of colonial Santo Domingo, near its cafes, bars and restaurants. For some beach time, Be Live Experience Hamaca Beach features a lovely beachfront location near Santo Domingo. Plus, a world-class spa and lots of included activities beach volleyball, basketball, kayaking, snorkelling and more.

Jamaican hill-covered countryside at sunset
Relaxed vibes in the birthplace of reggae

There’s a reason Jamaica is called the ‘home of all right’, the island’s inimitable blend of friendly people, legendary music traditions and authentic jerk cuisine brings back travellers every year. The birthplace of reggae also features a rich heritage and beautiful tropical settings in which to soak up its rich and colourful culture. Sway to some reggae beats and learn about the legend himself, Bob Marley, as you explore his hometown of Nine Mile Village before enjoying a delicious Jamaican lunch. You can also visit a working plantation nestled in the foothills of the Catadupa Mountains, where you can sample exotic fruits and try some sweet sugarcane while your guide explains the secrets of coffee cultivation and processing. Plus, you can continue to treat your taste buds to a world of flavours by taking advantage of cooking tours and rum tastings.

Where to stay: If you can’t get enough of the delicious food like jerk chicken, Royalton White Sands has its own authentic Jerk Hut where you can enjoy those rich and spicy flavours as much as you like, together with varied gourmet and specialty restaurants to enjoy. Plus, the resort features its own water park, daily program of activities and is also fairly close to Montego Bay’s favourite attractions like Dunn’s River Falls.

Classic American car driving past colonial buildings in Havana
Step into a living museum

Did you know that Cuba is home to the more UNESCO sites than any other Caribbean island? With 10 World Heritage Sites, 257 national monuments and 332 museums to choose from, your options for learning Cuba’s history and experiencing its culture are endless. Start your experience by touring its capital, Havana. While you wander the streets you can admire the classic vintage American cars that are puttering around. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll also appreciate the Hemingway Tours available, where you can track Hemingway’s footsteps through Havana, visit his house from 1949 and see his boat that he called ‘Pilar’ in honour Pilar Beach, which inspired his famous novel The Old Man and the Sea. And of course, a visit to Cuba would be incomplete without visiting a cigar or rum factory.

Where to stay: Get right in the middle of all the action while staying at Hotel Habana Riviera by Iberostar. This iconic hotel from the 1950’s puts you right at the famous Malecon seafront and within walking distance to great attractions and clubs like the Havana Café. For a solid blend of city attractions and beach bliss, Grand Memories Varadero is located on one of the best beach spots in the area, offers lots of family-friendly activities like snorkelling and is still close enough to the downtown attractions of Varadero.

People climbing the steep ruins of a Mayan ruin
Learn how the Mayans lived

The birthplace of Mayan civilization, Riviera Maya in Mexico is home to archaeological sites that tell the story of how the ancient Mayan civilization once lived. In this destination, there’s so many fascinating things to discover that you’ll be hard-pressed to fit it all in one vacation. To narrow things down for you, the ancient Mayan port city of Tulum is a must-do excursion as you’ll find some of the most well-preserved Mayan ruins along the Yucatan coast. You can also learn about traditional Mayan ceremonies, or visit hidden gems like the Ek-Balam Mayan Cenote. Regardless of the tour, you’ll have an expert guide there to show you around and share lots of fascinating facts about the structures and artifacts you’re seeing.

Where to stay: Continue the Mayan experience while staying Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, which hosts its own Xcalacoco Events that teach guests about ancient Mayan life and regional history, culture and nature. What’s more, this family-friendly resort also offers an on-site water park with 29 exciting slides for all ages to enjoy endless splash-worthy fun, as well as a beautiful white-sand beach that’s perfect for an afternoon of reading.

Steps leading up to a colonial-era mansion with Bahamian flags out front
Glamour meets history

At first glance, Nassau in the Bahamas is an exciting vacation destination that entertains travellers with casinos, water parks and all sorts of other attractions. However beyond the black-jack tables, you’ll find this beautiful tropical oasis also has a rich heritage and history. You can embark on tours where you’ll learn about Nassau’s historical sites and attractions, such as 18th century Fort Charlotte and Fort Fincastle which were built to protect Nassau from invasion and buccaneers. You’ll also climb up the Queen's Staircase, made up of 65 steps in honour of Queen Victoria's efforts to end slavery and climb up the Water Tower to see stunning panoramic views of the island.

Where to stay: A popular option for adults is Riu Palace Paradise Island, an adults only resort that’s recently been remodelled. It’s located on a picturesque beachfront and is just minutes away from historic sites and great attractions of Nassau.

Woman wearing a backpack overlooking lush landscapes
Go beyond the Panama Canal

Panama may be famous for its canal, but it also has a fascinating indigenous heritage that can be discovered in the village of El Valle in Anton Valley. This villages lies in a prehistoric volcanic crater where there is excellent hiking. On Sundays, this normally quiet town’s marketplace comes alive with vendors selling fresh fruit and artisanal crafts, you can also visit the zoo “El Nispero” and the Orchid Center. Or, you can wander a bit further to La Piedra Pintada, a massive boulder adorned with pre-Columbian carvings. If you’re interested in discovering more about Panama’s indigenous history, you can also visit Chagres National Park to meet the indigenous community of Embera and learn their traditions and customs.

Where to stay: To explore both the mountain and sea, opt for Riu Playa Blanca which combines a golden-sand beachfront location from where you can enjoy sweeping views from any of its three panoramic swimming pools.

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