If you like to mix a healthy dose of history into your all-inclusive vacation, these destinations will keep you happy for quite a few days…
The Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico is arguably the best spot for exploring archaeological sites within easy reach of a Caribbean coastline. Whether you stay in Cancun or Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or Puerto Aventuras, you’ll always be in day-trip range of some magnificent Mayan ruins. These include the walled city of Tulum (see image above), the temple pyramids of Coba and the huge complex at Ek’ Balam. And then, of course, there’s Chichen Itza (see featured image at top of post), one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. Chichen Itza is further inland than the other sites, but is still reachable as a day-trip from the Riviera Maya and other all-inclusive destinations along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Notable all-inclusives that offer tours to Chichen Itza and other sites include Beach Palace Cancun, Moon Palace Cancun and the Grand Bahia Principe Tulum.
The island of Hispaniola was the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, founded by Christopher Columbus during his voyages of the 1490s. Today, the island is split between two nations: Haiti to the west and the Dominican Republic to the east. The Dominican Republic is now an all-inclusive hotspot, especially around Punta Cana. And while white sand beaches, water sports and general relaxation are front and center, history buffs will also have plenty to explore.
The nation’s capital, Santo Domingo (above), sits on the island’s southern coast. Founded in 1496, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas. The city’s Colonial Zone was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. If you prefer pre-Columbian history, you can also visit archaeological sites dating back to the island’s native inhabitants, the Taino. These include cave paintings and petroglyphs at sites like Chacuey, and more than 3,000 artifacts are housed at the excellent Altos de Chavón Regional Museum of Archaeology in La Romana. All inclusive options on the island are varied. You could try the Hard Rock or Meliá Caribe Tropical in Punta Cana, or the excellent Casa de Campo, which offers historic excursions.
U.S. Virgin Islands
An all-inclusive vacation on the U.S. Virgin Islands might well involve a few days windsurfing and a couple of nights in the casino. But you can also find some rich cultural experiences, including plenty of historic sites and museums. The islands are home to five officially-designated United States National Historic Landmarks. Two of these are forts: Fort Frederik and Fort Christian, both built during the island’s Dano-Norwegian period, to fend off pirates and other threats.
The watchtower of Skytsborg, also known as Blackbeard’s Castle, is one of the most popular historic sites. Located on top of Government Hill, it helped Danish soldiers spot incoming enemies. St. Thomas Synagogue, built in 1833, is another important landmark, as is the Columbus Landing Site, located inside the Salt River Bay National Historical Park. The landing site is the only known location in which members of a Columbus expedition set foot on what is now United States territory. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive in the U.S. Virgin Islands, consider Divi Carina Bay and Bitter End Yacht Club.
Puerto Rico has seen the rise and fall of various cultures over the last few millennia. There were the Ortoiroid people between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, followed later by the Saladoid and Arawak Indians, and then, at the time Columbus arrived in the New World, the Tainos. Ancient sites include cave paintings and petroglyphs, such as those found at Cueva de Los Indios. The Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Center, meanwhile, contains one of the most important archaeological sites in the West Indies: the Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts, where the Taino played their favorite sport. Impressive colonial-era sites include La Fortaleza (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and other forts, and the historic town of Utuado. For all-inclusive resorts, try the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort or El Conquistador Resort.
Despite current and potential political complications with travel, Cuba has to make an appearance on this list. No island nation in the Caribbean has more UNESCO World Heritage sites, and few have had such a significant part to play in the history of the region. Sites include Old Havana and its fortifications; San Pedro de la Roca Castle; the Historic Center of Cienfuegos; 19th century coffee plantations; and the beautiful multi-ethnic Viñales Valley (pictured above). Recommended all-inclusives include Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, Paradisus Rio De Oro and Meliá Cayo Coco.
Historic sites might not be the first thing that spring to mind when you think of Antigua. But if you’re into naval history, you’ll be happy. Antigua is home to just one UNESCO World Heritage site, which is actually a series of locations known collectively as the “Antigua Naval Dockyard and Related Archaeological Sites.” It contains various Georgian-style naval buildings, built by the British navy beginning in the 1740s, using slave labor brought in from nearby plantations. There are plenty of all-inclusives to choose from in Antigua, including Nonsuch Bay, Curtain Bluff, Jumby Bay and Hermitage Bay.