View from Belair, Carriacou

These crowd-free islands offer striking scenery, culture-rich attractions and plenty of seclusion. (Getty Images)

It's that time of year when we seek an island cure – an escape to a sunny, sandy retreat far away from cooler locales. But which isle should you pick? If you're looking to avoid the crowds and commercialism, forget the big-box Caribbean islands this season. While lesser-visited destinations may be trickier to reach, with unspoiled beaches, natural beauty and cultural attractions, they're well worth the extra effort. Best of all, at these underappreciated destinations, you'll have plenty of opportunities to interact with local islanders, delight in authentic cuisine and enjoy a little peace and quiet.

Andros Island, Bahamas

The largest of the Bahamas' 700 major islands and cays, Andros remains one of the least explored, with the exception of in-the-know divers and fishermen. You need not cast one line or blow one bubble, however, to enjoy its unique geographic, natural and cultural features. And thanks to its proximity to Florida and larger Bahamian islands like Nassau, Andros is easy to reach despite its seclusion. Accommodations here range from an all-inclusive private island resort (on Kamalame Cay) to rustic diving spots like Small Hope Bay Lodge and fishing-focused lodges at Cargill Creek. During your visit, don't miss browsing the handicrafts at the Andros Batik Factory or the basket-weaving Red Bays community. And make sure to hit the beach shacks of Nicholls Town and any of the island's dazzling inland blue holes. Just make sure to watch out for the legendary chickcharnie (a mythical and mischievous creature that visitors are advised to treat benevolently for good fortune).

Middle Caicos, Turks & Caicos

A 30-minute boat ride from well-trodden Providenciales in Turks & Caicos, Middle Caicos demonstrates the flipside of Provo beach resorts. Here you can experience time-honored island customs and experiences as you listen to ripsaw music, eat dried conch and grits and pick up tightly weaved fenner grass baskets. And when you're ready to explore the island's natural sights, check out Flamingo Pond, explore a bat cave and marvel at the gorgeous cliff-lined Mudjin Harbour beach. Grab a bite to eat at the beachside restaurant and bar or spend the night at Blue Horizon Resort, where humpback whale-watchers come to stay in the winter. Stop in at Daniel's Café By the Sea to greet the friendly who owners serve dried conch and grits – once a staple but a rare occasion at island restaurants nowadays.

Nevis

Reaching Nevis's small, homey island requires only a flight to St. Kitts and a 45-minute ferry shuttle. And once you arrive, you'll find plenty of pristine natural attractions to hold your interest, from botanical gardens to unspoiled beaches. Plus, the island holds tight to its roots as a sugar-growing destination and fishing island. Most of the islanders work at the island's Four Seasons Resort Nevis, which honors the island's rich heritage and traditions, including sea turtle-tracking adventures in the summer months. Other popular accommodation options include sprawling estates, like Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Golden Rock Inn, Hermitage Plantation and Montpelier Plantation & Beach. For a true island experience, sip a signature killer bee rum punch at Sunshine's, a bar and grill on the beach near the Four Seasons.

Dominica

Thanks to its abundance of natural attractions and its remote location, far removed from popular U.S. ports, Dominica feels far, far away from heavy tourist crowds. And though the island recently suffered hurricane damage last summer, its winding roads have been restored and the island is back in business. Here, eco-friendly visitors can check out striking natural features, including dramatic falls, trails and forests. Beyond the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, the 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail and opportunities for bubbly snorkeling at Champagne Reef, Dominica boasts a rich heritage rooted in the ancient civilization of Carib natives. Here, visitors can learn about Kalinago (the indigenous people of the island) and their culture. And if you want environmentally-friendly lodging, check into Rosalie Bay Resort, where sea turtles come to nest.

Carriacou

A short flight or 90-minute boat ride from sister island Grenada brings you to Carriacou, an island known for its laid-back vibe and colorful cottages. On this seemingly untouched island, locals dry their corn on their rooftops and rum shops abound. During your visit, make sure to carve out plenty of time for exploring superlative reefs and sunbathing at the beach at Tyrell Bay. And thanks to its long boat-building history, Carriacou's annual sailing regatta headlines the island's annual calendar. Plus, if you plan a trip in April, you can watch time-honored African traditions at the annual Maroon and String Band Music Festival, which includes singing, drumming and a lively parade.

Tags: travel, vacations


Chelle Koster Walton has authored thousands of travel and food articles and more than a dozen guidebooks, including Fodor’s guides; Sarasota, Sanibel Island & Naples; The Bahamas Explorer’s Guide; and DK Eyewitness Florida Family Guide. She is the Naples, Fla., and Caribbean expert for USA Today’s 10Best.com and Florida correspondent for FamilyVacationCritic.com. Check out her blog at ChellesTripNDineFL.com and connect with her on Twitter @SanibelChelle and Instagram @SanibelChelle395.

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