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The Southern Caribbean harbors the lion's share of the region's islands. But, because many are smaller and less developed than more easily accessible northerly ones, they tend to be less traveled. And that's a big plus for been-there, done-that cruisers eager to experience new ports of call. The region, which includes islands lying east and south of St. Maarten/St. Martin, has always been a bit more exotic than its Western and Eastern Caribbean counterparts. That's due, in part, to strong colonial influences that endure. Indeed, Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Barts are part of the Republic of France; Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire are part of the Netherlands; Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda retain a British colonial legacy; and farthest south, just off the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago exude Latin flair. These influences guarantee an interesting mix of natural beauty and culture. Aruba and Antigua are regarded for their soft, sandy beaches. Martinique, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe wow visitors with spectacular scenics, from rainforests to volcanoes. Dutch-influenced Curacao and its sibling, Bonaire, host great snorkeling and scuba diving spots. St. Barts is so French, you'll swear you're in the Mediterranean while sipping a glass of something at a sidewalk cafe. Martinique and Guadalupe also harbor both French and West Indian trappings. Grenada, relatively undeveloped, is laidback and exudes a genuine small town vibe. Opportunities to go (quite literally) off the beaten path abound on islands such as Dominica, where the countryside is so lush, the foliage is in and of itself, an attraction. In contrast, the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) are arid and sandy, but have their own stark beauty. With its cultural diversity and geographic variation, the region is bound to appeal to all types of travelers.
If you're cruising the Southern Caribbean, it's time to get excited about diving and snorkeling. Some of the region's best spots for the sport -- Bonaire and Grenada spring to mind -- are there, as well as lesser-known Scuba spots like St. Lucia and Aruba. If you plan on diving more than once or