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The Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino includes a private island.

Of all the sunny, sandy spots explored by millions of winter-weary Canadians each year, the islands of the Caribbean may well be the hottest – and not just in terms of temperature.

According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Canadian visitor growth in the region outperformed that of all other nationalities in 2018, with the 3.9 million visits representing a 5.7-per-cent jump over the previous year. (Visits by Americans, by way of comparison, fell 6.3 per cent.)

The CTO attributed this growth to Canada’s strong economy and an increase in the number of flights to the Caribbean. Indeed, by the start of 2020, there will be direct air links from Canada to 17 of the organization’s 22 island members, as well as to non-members Aruba, Bonaire, Cuba and Guadeloupe.

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How to find the one that’s right for you? Consider this your cheat sheet: Here’s what to expect from every island nation you can reach by a direct flight from a major Canadian city.

Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua Bay as seen from Shirley Heights, Antigua.

ROBERT ZEHETMAYER/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The lowdown: This Commonwealth country’s two namesake islands are ringed by hundreds of sandy coves and bays that once sheltered buccaneers and British colonial frigates. Sun worshippers, yachties and honeymooners predominate on Antigua these days, with the glamorous town of English Harbour being home to Nelson’s Dockyard, a Georgian-style collection of naval buildings that became a World Heritage Site in 2016. Barbuda, meanwhile, is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Where to stay: Antigua’s plentiful accommodations range from luxurious all-inclusive resorts – many of them adults-only – to quaint inns and inexpensive guest houses. On Barbuda, the upscale Barbuda Belle boutique hotel reopened in late 2018.

New and notable: The country’s tourism authority recently unveiled an online honeymoon registry, which allows visiting newlyweds to request wedding gifts such as resort stays, spa treatments and romantic excursions.

Aruba

Arikok National Park is just one of the attractions that has made Aruba the most visited island in the southern Caribbean.

The lowdown: White-sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts galore and the ornate Dutch colonial architecture of Oranjestad have helped make Aruba the most visited island in the southern Caribbean. Shipwrecks draw scuba divers, steady breezes do likewise with windsurfers and kiteboarders, and dune-buggy drivers race through Arikok National Park.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

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Where to stay: Luxurious private villas, dozens of all-inclusives and resorts from upscale brands such as Ritz-Carlton and Hyatt all vie for the attention of well-heeled travellers.

New and notable: The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino recently introduced a “Lover’s Island Overnight” package that combines a stay on the resort’s private island with various culinary indulgences.

Bahamas

While Hurricane Dorian has hammered some of the northernmost islands of the Bahamas, areas such as the Exuma cays, above, were unaffected.

The lowdown: While this archipelago of more than 700 islands is spread over some 260,000 square kilometres, most of the vacation action takes place on Nassau, where mega-resorts such as Atlantis and Baha Mar offer everything from water parks to craft daiquiris. Hop on a smaller plane out of Nassau, however, and more adventurous and esoteric diversions await: diving into the blue holes of Andros, for instance, or kayaking among the 365 Exuma cays.

With regards to Hurricane Dorian, the CTO has stated that the greatest impact “is being felt in the northernmost islands of the Abacos and Grand Bahama” and that “most of the nation has been mostly unaffected.” According to the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, post-Dorian closures include all Bahamas Ferries sailings, Grand Bahama International Airport, the Abacos’ Leonard Thompson International Airport, all hotels and resorts on the Abacos and Grand Bahama, and Grand Bahama’s Freeport Harbour. Visitors are advised to contact properties and services directly for more information.

Direct flights: Out of Calgary, Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: Just about every conceivable type of lodging is available across the Bahamas. Of recent note is the multimillion-dollar renovation of the Coral Sands Hotel on Harbour Island and the new, 30,000-square-foot Beach Club at the Grand Isle Resort & Spa on Great Exuma.

New and notable: The Royal Caribbean cruise line recently opened the first phase of “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” a $250-million private island with what’s said to be the tallest water slide in North America and the Caribbean’s largest wave pool, among other superlative diversions.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The lowdown: Comprised of its eponymous main island and 32 smaller ones in the Grenadines chain, this West Indies nation is less visited than its nearest neighbours despite an abundance of white-sand beaches, picturesque waterfalls, scenic volcano hikes and Pirates of the Caribbean filming locations.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson

Where to stay: Set on its namesake isle, the Palm Island Resort & Spa is the sole all-inclusive option. There are plenty of inns, boutique hotels and villas, as well as the recently rebranded and decidedly upscale Mandarin Oriental Canouan.

New and notable: The luxurious Liming resort opened on the island of Bequia last year. Nine villas and suites feature private infinity pools or hot tubs, while the Gingerlily Mansion House is home to five ensuite bedrooms with private plunge pools.

Barbados

Sandals Royal Barbados is among the new lodging options to have opened in the past two years in Barbados.

Sandals Resorts

The lowdown: The Platinum Coast’s powdery beaches and turquoise waters meet afternoon tea and cricket in this wealthy Commonwealth country in the eastern Caribbean. The capital, Bridgetown, is also home to World Heritage-listed British colonial architecture and plenty of pulsating nightlife.

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Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: Sandals Royal Barbados, ECO Lifestyle + Lodge, and the Abidah by Accra have all opened within the past two years. Major renos have also taken place at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion, Sea Breeze Beach House, and both the House and Treasure Beach by Elegant Hotels.

New and notable: On Friday evenings, the Pelican Craft Center in Bridgetown has started hosting a night market featuring street vendors and live entertainment.

Bonaire

Buddy Dive Resort Bonaire.

Handout

The lowdown: With its desert island feel, this Halifax-sized Dutch dependency is renowned for its world-class scuba diving and snorkelling, as well as excellent windsurfing on Lac Bay and kayaking among mangroves.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: There are dozens of resorts, rental apartments, boutique hotels and private villas on Bonaire. None of them are all-inclusive.

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New and notable: In 2017, the Buddy Dive Resort Bonaire became the first dive centre in the Caribbean to offer Global Underwater Explorers courses.

Cayman Islands

Grand Cayman is where the action is, with new boutique properties including Beach Suites to entice visitors.

Handout

The lowdown: This western Caribbean British overseas territory comprises three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. The first is a major cruise ship port and resort destination, with Seven Mile Beach being its most famous stretch of sand and Stingray City renowned for its namesake marine life. The pace slows down considerably on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, both of which are reachable via Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: There are few all-inclusives, with two new boutique properties – Beach Suites and Locale – continuing the trend on tony Grand Cayman.

New and notable: None other than Prince Charles reopened Owen Roberts International Airport’s terminal building in late February after a multimillion-dollar expansion.

Cuba

The lowdown: One of the most popular winter destinations among Canadians – and still mostly off-limits to Americans – the Caribbean’s largest island is also its most culturally, naturally and geographically diverse. Indeed, there’s more to Cuba than historic Havana and the resort-lined sands of Varadero, Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa Maria and other beach-blessed regions, what with the country’s nine World Heritage Sites comprising almost half of the Caribbean’s total.

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Direct flights: Available out of every international airport in Canada except Victoria.

Where to stay: Cuban lodging options seem to multiply and diversify by the week, with everything from all-inclusive resorts to rental apartments on offer. The latest openings include the upscale Iberostar Grand Hotel Packard and SO/ Paseo del Prado La Habana, both in Havana.

New and notable: Two Cayo Santa Maria resorts, La Salina Noreste and La Salina Suroeste, are slated to open in 2020.

Curacao

The beaches of Curacao are just part of the mix. The capital of Willemstad is famous for its World Heritage-listed colonial architecture.

The lowdown: Alphabetically the third member of the southern Caribbean’s so-called “ABC Islands” – the other two being Aruba and Bonaire – Curacao offers an appealing mix of World Heritage-listed Dutch colonial architecture, top-notch diving and understated beaches.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: All-inclusives are the exception, not the rule, in Curaçao, where the former Hilton hotel is in the midst of a US$15-million renovation and is slated to reopen in December as the Dreams Curacao Resort, Spa & Casino.

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New and notable: In February, the Curaçao Tourism Development Foundation renewed an agreement with Airbnb to promote the island, which is home to more than 1,900 Airbnb listings.

Dominican Republic

The most visited destination in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is rich in both beaches and all-inclusive resorts.

valio84sl/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The lowdown: With plentiful year-round golf, myriad beach-rich regions and the New World’s first cathedral, castle, monastery and fortress all located in capital Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone – a World Heritage Site – it’s hardly surprising that the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola has become the Caribbean’s most visited destination.

Direct flights: Available out of every international airport in Canada except Victoria, Gander, Nfld, and St. John’s.

Where to stay: The Dominican leads the Caribbean charge when it comes to all-inclusives, which have proliferated in areas such as Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, Samana and La Romana.

New and notable: The US$100-million Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda, the French all-inclusive resort chain’s largest Caribbean project in more than 40 years, is slated to open in late November on the country’s relatively undeveloped northeast coast.

Guadeloupe

Recent Guadeloupean resort renovationss include La Toubana Hotel and Spa on the south coast of Grande-Terre.

Aurélien BRUSINI/Handout

The lowdown: This overseas region of France, consisting of six inhabited islands, is a veritable idyll of sandy beaches, verdant peaks and gushing waterfalls. Shaped like butterfly wings, the country’s two main islands, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, are very different. The former, home to the glamorous capital, Pointe-à-Pitre, and its international airport, is ringed by resorts. The latter, home to the country’s eponymous national park, is capped by the iconic Soufrière volcano.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau.

Where to stay: All-inclusive resorts are relatively rare here, with one notable exception: the recently renovated Club Med La Caravelle. Likewise, chain resorts are relatively few and far between, with smaller independent properties dominating the scene.

New and notable: Other recent Guadeloupean resort renos include La Toubana Hotel and Spa and the Arawak Beach Resort, both on the south coast of Grande-Terre.

Grenada

The lowdown: The country known as the “Spice Island” actually consists of Grenada and six smaller islands in the Lesser Antilles. Resorts and water sports abound around the capital, St. George, which is home to the famous Grand Anse Beach, a cruise ship pier and an esplanade. More rural parishes, such as Saint David and Saint John, are given over to laid-back pursuits such as hiking and tours of nutmeg plantations.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: Grenada offers a pleasing mix of all-inclusives and à la carte accommodations, with new additions including the Silversands Grenada, the True Blue Bay Boutique Resort and the Mount Hartman Bay Estate.

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New and notable: The 300-room, eight-restaurant Royalton Grenada is slated to open in December.

Haiti

The lowdown: For Canadians who choose to pursue non-essential travel to Haiti – contrary to government advisories – the rewards of gorgeous beaches, picturesque waterfalls, verdant mountains and a lively, resilient culture may be worth the risks.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau.

Where to stay: All-inclusive resorts line the sandy coast north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, which itself is home to upscale properties such as the Occidental Royal Oasis and the Marriott Port-au-Prince. Luxury lodgings are also available in coastal areas such as Les Cayes, Cap-Haïtien and Jacmel.

New and notable: The National Historic Park and historic centre of Cap-Haïtien, a World Heritage Site, is reportedly benefiting from a $45-million grant from the International Development Association.

Jamaica

Jamaica's Blue Mountain offers the kind of hiking opportunities other Caribbean destinations may not have.

Nandeno Parkinson/Getty Images

The lowdown: From spicy jerk cuisine and reggae music to endless beach-resort indulgences and hikes in Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park – now a World Heritage Site – the third-largest island in the Greater Antilles is incredibly varied, vibrant and easy on the eyes.

It should be noted that the Canadian government recommends visitors to Jamaica “exercise a high degree of caution due to the high level of violent crime.”

Direct flights: Available out of every international airport in Canada except Victoria, Gander and Quebec City.

Where to stay: All-inclusives abound in major destinations such as Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, with the latter being notable for its clifftop boutique properties. Inland, you’ll find smaller boutique properties and family-run lodgings.

New and notable: Montego Bay’s 120-room S Hotel Jamaica offers stylish suites, the scenic Sky Bar Lounge and a glass-enclosed infinity pool.

Martinique

Put Martinique – and its 1,397-metre Mont Pelée – in the rugged-yet-sophisticated category of tourism draws.

Steve Geer/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The lowdown: One more Gallic member of the Lesser Antilles, rugged-yet-sophisticated Martinique is renowned for its beaches, hiking, cuisine and rich French-influenced culture. Then there’s the literal capper: Mont Pelée, the 1,397-metre dormant volcano that most recently erupted in 1932.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

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Where to stay: Another eschewer of all-inclusives – save for the opulent Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek – Martinique’s lodgings are mostly independent and upscale.

New and notable: The Diamant Les Bains boutique hotel, which first opened in 1945, is slated to reopen in 2019 after a complete overhaul.

Puerto Rico

The lowdown: This unincorporated territory of the United States has bounced back from 2017’s Hurricane Irma in impressive fashion. After all, not even a catastrophic storm can tarnish the appeal of shimmering white-sand beaches, dazzling coral reefs, the El Yunque tropical rain forest and atmospheric Old San Juan, which is home to both a National Historic Site and World Heritage Site.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: Accommodations tend to reflect Puerto Rico’s Spanish and American influences, ranging from major hotel and resort chains to the “paradores” network of family-owned inns.

New and notable: The O: LV Fifty Five hotel has added 26 stylish suites, two restaurants and a two-level rooftop infinity pool to San Juan’s lively Condado district.

St. Kitts and Nevis

St. Kitts and Nevis.

The lowdown: Unlike those Caribbean countries with far-flung islands, a short and scenic ferry ride is all that separates St. Kitts from Nevis. That said, the two islands are breeds apart from each other: St. Kitts is home to an enormous cruise terminal and the lively beach bars and resorts of Frigate Bay. Nevis, meanwhile, is a more tranquil option, with its highly walkable volcanic peak rising over lovely beaches and the country’s compact colonial capital, Charlestown.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: While all-inclusive options are not unknown, the most enticing has to be the former sugar plantations that have been converted into luxurious hotels, such as Ottley’s Plantation Inn and Relais & Chateaux’s Montpelier Plantation & Beach.

New and notable: Air Canada recently added non-stop Tuesday flights to its Saturday service out of Toronto Pearson.

Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia's Twin Pitons lit by the sunset. The quality of the views here are what lodging prices tend to be based on.

The lowdown: Home to what is arguably the most iconic sight in the Caribbean – the dual volcanic spires known as the Pitons – Mother Nature has favoured Saint Lucia is many other ways. There’s Sulphur Springs, said to be “the world’s only drive-in volcano," gorgeous Sault Falls, lush rain forests – the list goes on. Man-made options aren’t too shabby either, with many lavish resorts making the most of scenery that’s shared with hundreds of thousands of cruise visitors each year.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

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Where to stay: All-inclusives and à la carte resorts exist in similar abundance, with the costs of rooms typically depending more on the calibre of views than on beach access.

New and notable: A world-class horse-racing track is slated to open in the town of Vieux Fort this December.

St. Maarten/St. Martin

The lowdown: Half-French and half-Dutch, this West Indies gem is home to dozens of white-sand beaches hosting water sports ranging from snorkelling and scuba diving to jet-skiing and parasailing. Inland adventures include hiking and treetop zip-lining, while urban pursuits range from gourmet dining to browsing the markets frequented by many of the million-plus cruise ship passengers who visit the island each year.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: The Dutch side of the island is home to dozens of all-inclusives, while the French side tends to offer more independent boutique properties.

New and notable: Slated to open on Feb. 1, 2020, the adults-only, 350-room Secrets St. Martin Resort & Spa will include swim-out suites and what is said to be the largest swimming pool in the Caribbean.

Trinidad and Tobago

While different in many respects, one thing Trinidad and Tobago share is an abundance of gorgeous waterfall hikes.

DEBRALEE WISEBERG/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The lowdown: The Caribbean’s southernmost island country, Trinidad and Tobago are vastly different in some ways and pleasingly similar in others. Much-larger Trinidad is covered with mangrove swamps and hilly rain forest – along with more than its share of unsightly heavy industry – while Tobago offers white sands, palm trees and other typically Caribbean trappings. What the two islands share, however, seals the deal: World-class birdwatching and diving, gorgeous waterfall hikes, buzzing nightlife and mouth-watering curries.

Direct flights: Out of Toronto Pearson.

Where to stay: All-inclusive options are reserved for Tobago, with Trinidad offering chain options such as Crowne Plaza, Hyatt and Hilton. Smaller guest houses are also widely available on both islands.

New and notable: Tobago’s reefs are home to dozens of coral species, with one spot off Speyside said to include the world’s largest brain coral.

Turks and Caicos Islands

Recent additions to the high-end lodging scene on the island they call Provo include the new Shore Club.

Shore Club

The lowdown: Most Canadian visitors to this British overseas territory in the northern West Indies arrive on the small, but bustling island of Providenciales (a.k.a. Provo). This should please many of them, as Provo is home to Grace Bay, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s best beaches. Sands as sublime as these deserve digs to match, and thankfully, Provo delivers.

Direct flights: Out of Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto Pearson.

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Where to stay: All-inclusive resorts are the exception across the Turks and Caicos, where intimate boutique hotels and resorts provide both upscale accommodations and delicious in-house restaurants that on Provo can be toured via shuttle bus.

New and notable: Recent additions to Provo’s high-end lodging scene include the Beach Enclave North Shore and the Shore Club. Over on less-travelled South Caicos, the Sailrock Resort opened its doors in January.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article did not include information on direct flights from Pearson to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This version has been updated.

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