For most, the Caribbean conjures images of clear, turquoise waters, swaying palm trees, powder-white sand and travelers sipping fruity cocktails while swinging in their hammocks.
But there’s so much more to experience in this diverse region. From the caves of Aruba to the historic forts of Puerto Rico, archaeological and cultural sites, museums and art can be found all over these islands, a treat for all who visit.
Mexico’s resort town of Cancun is known for its many exceptional properties, but the archaeological sites from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization like El Rey, located in the Hotel Zone, remain a huge draw for visitors to the area, according to Rocio Gonzalez, meetings industry director, Cancun CVB.
Chichen Itza, the most famous complex of Mayan ruins in Mexico, is also popular for groups. The highlight is the famous El Castillo pyramid, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Gonzalez also suggests groups visit the Maya Cancun Museum and MUSA, the Underwater Museum of Art.
Long before it was a vacation destination, Nassau Paradise Island was a playground for pirates, explorers and entrepreneurs whose cultures mixed with those of the native Bahamian people.
“The combination of Spanish, West African and British influences has created a unique island culture found only in the Bahamas,” said Fred Lounsberry, CEO of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board. “As a result, Nassau Paradise Island is home to a variety of cultural experiences that offer visitors a glimpse into the early roots of the destination at places such as the Christ Church Cathedral and Bahamian Heritage Centre.”
One of Nassau’s most visited historical attractions is the Queen’s Staircase, made of 65 steps that were hand-carved from limestone by slaves in the 18th century. History buffs can also visit the Bahamas Historical Museum, Fort Charlotte and the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.
“Along with the historical venues are contemporary artists working at places like Doongalik Studio and Graycliff Heritage Village Artists’ Studios, where guests have the opportunity to shop local and actually interact with the artists,” Lounsberry said.
From historic forts to local artisans, there are plenty of opportunities to see art and culture first-hand in Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico’s rich cultural heritage has left a legacy of outstanding historical sites and locations incorporating our rich artistic offerings,” said Milton Segarra, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico. “These provide meeting planners with a remarkable array of venues for special events or theme parties. Whether a lavish reception or an outdoor garden party, Puerto Rico’s venues offer meeting attendees an unforgettable experience of the island.”
One spot, on the highest point of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is The Gallery Inn owned by artist Jan D’Esopo. Purchased with her husband in the ‘60s, the couple took this 23,000-square-foot, 18th century Spanish colonial mansion and converted it into a gallery, studio and boutique hotel.
Guests are treated to cocktail parties in the gallery among D’Esopo’s own watercolors and sculptures. The space is ideal for groups of up to 80 with sit-down dinners for up to 30. Attendees can also wander throughout the Orchid Garden and explore the inn, where it’s not uncommon to encounter an impromptu chamber music concert.
Tours of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, are popular for meeting groups, said Ramon Rijo, regional managing director, IVI DMC2.
A visit to the Diego Colon Viceroy Palace, built in 1510 and the epicenter of Spanish governance for 60 years, is a must, Rijo said. But to really get immersed in the culture and traditions of the island, Rijo advises excursions to the countryside.
“Here you will discover another beautiful part of the island aboard a safari truck, visiting the Dominican countryside, looping through mountains and rivers covered with luxuriant jungle vegetation,” he said.