6 Off-the-Beaten-Path Caribbean Ports

View of Admiralty Bay on Bequia Island

If you've cruised into the same old Caribbean ports so many times you know the straw market vendors by name, it might be time to broaden your horizons -- which means seeking out a cruise itinerary that ventures to less-traveled islands.

True, cruise ships can't be accommodated everywhere in the islands. But some lines -- particularly those with smaller ships, including Star Clippers, SeaDream Yacht Club, Island Windjammers and Windstar -- call at some truly off-the-beaten-path Caribbean ports of call.

Here's a look at some lesser-known spots ripe for discovery.

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Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The main port on this hilly, quiet island is the town of Clifton Harbour, on the eastern side. It's a popular mooring center and has a number of surprisingly good restaurants, considering its small size. There's also a gourmet shop that caters to the yacht crowd.

An hour-long hike or a bone-jarring, 30-minute trip via four-wheel-drive vehicle leads to Chatham Bay on the island's west coast. There's a crescent of smooth white sand and several colorful beach shacks operated by welcoming locals. They'll cure what ails you with a Painkiller made with local Sparrow's rum, or throw a lobster, fresh from the trap, on the grill.

Commercial sailing ships including Star Clippers, Club Med 2, Island Windjammers and Windstar call here.

The Trafalgar waterfall of the caribbean island Dominica and amaryllis flower

Dominica (Dom-in-EEK-a)

Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, the Southern Caribbean island of Dominica is a nature-lover's dream come true. Its rugged volcanic mountains harbor lush rainforests, spectacular waterfalls, geothermal springs and inland rivers. It isn't highly regarded for its beaches, but the interior attractions more than make up for the lack of sugar-fine white sand.

Among the must-see attractions is Trafalgar Falls, twin falls with an upper "Father" cascade and a lower "Mother" waterfall. The 20-minute trail to the top is well-groomed and suitable for novice hikers, though less energetic sorts can stick to the lower falls, where natural pools -- one hot and one cold -- soothe and refresh. The falls are in the massive Morne Trois Pitons National Park, site of many otherworldly sites including Boiling Lake.

Small-ship lines including Azamara, Star Clippers and Windstar call at the island's capital of Roseau. But so do some larger lines, among them Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.

Bequia (BECK-way), St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The tiny (just 7 square miles) island of Bequia harks back to an era before tourism exploded in the Caribbean. It's quiet, low-rise and low-hustle.

The main town, Port Elizabeth, has a good array of restaurants, a few shops that cater to visitors (intricate handmade ship models are a specialty here), and a lively open-air food market.

Retail businesses line a path bordering Admiralty Bay. Stroll along it and you'll reach Princess Margaret Beach, about 30 minutes from the heart of town. A few restaurants and concessions are located on the pristine beach.

Other attractions include the Oldhegg Turtle Sanctuary, where hawksbill turtles are hatched and raised. The schooner Friendship Rose makes day trips to Mustique, another off-the-beaten-path Caribbean island.

Lines that call here include P&O Cruises, Seabourn, Island Windjammers, Windstar and Star Clippers.

Couple snorkeling in turquoise tropical water among a small boat

Buck Island, U.S. Virgin Islands

While not technically a port, this U.S Park Service-protected island lies just 1.5 miles off St. Croix's east end.

A number of operators offer half- and full-day trips to the 176-acre preserve. Turtle Beach, on its west end, gets rave reviews. And the surrounding waters harbor some of the best snorkeling in the islands.

Major cruise lines including Carnival and Royal Caribbean visit St. Croix.

Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

This eight-island archipelago of the French Antilles, about six miles off Guadeloupe, is an overseas department of France. Its inhabitants are mainly descendants of colonists from Brittany and Normandy, and speak Creole French.

Its most developed island (and the only one with overnight accommodations) is Terre-de-Haut; Fort Napoleon with its military museum is the island's sole tourist attraction. But most visitors come for the beaches and bays. Plage de Pompierre is a palm-shaded arc of sand on a beautiful bay, while the best bet for snorkeling is Plage Figuier. There's also a nude beach, Anse Crawen (though some sunbathers bare all on other beaches as well).

Among the small-ship lines that call here are Star Clippers, SeaDream, Island Windjammers, Hapag-Lloyd and Windstar.

Pinney's Beach at the foot of the Nevis Peak volcano

Nevis

This coin-shaped, eight-by-four-mile island lies just two miles across the channel from St. Kitts, its larger and more bustling sister island. Development is low-rise, and the attitude is laid-back.

The commercial hub of Charlestown is compact and walkable, lined with Georgian and Victorian buildings that date from its days as a British colony. A shrine to Nevis's most famous native son, Alexander Hamilton (he lived the first 17 years of his life here), is in the restored home where he was born. British admiral Horatio Nelson (of Battle of Trafalgar fame) also rates a museum.

Nevis's signature palm-shaded beach, Pinney's, is a 15-minute walk from town. Or consider hiring a cab to see other historic sites including Montpelier Estate, which houses the Botanical Gardens.

The Hermitage Plantation (now a hotel) claims fame as one of the oldest wooden buildings in the Caribbean. It's just one of a number of gracious historic inns, many of which have public bars and restaurants.

Among the small-ship lines that call here are Azamara, SeaDream, Island Windjammers and Star Clippers.

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