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Caribbean Ferries


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Ferries in the Caribbean

By Nigel Tisdall

If you want to feel part of real life in the Caribbean, take the ferry. Flying is too costly for many islanders so a sea voyage is invariably the preferred method for residents who want to go shopping, visit relatives or have a holiday. It's an excellent way to meet both local people and fellow travellers, and the atmosphere on board can be surprisingly entertaining as you ride the waves to a soundtrack of gospel, rap or soca munching spicy patties and banana cake. Some vessels have sun-decks, and the gradual approach to your next island usually means good photo opportunities and the chance to spot birds, turtles, dolphins and in winter whales. The best routes offer the equivalent of a free scenic tour of the coast, with warm breezes and a spectacular sunset sometimes thrown in.

On the flip side, ferry schedules can be erratic and the crossings rough, with delays caused by everything from fussy customs officials to the skipper's monumental hangover. The general rule is don't take the ferry if you are in a mad hurry or have a tight connection to make. Bear in mind that immigration rules, luggage limits and departure taxes may apply to your voyage, and you may only be able to pay for your ticket in cash.

Some ferry routes are ideal for a day trip, particularly as departures tend to be early in the morning. One favourite is the 45-minute crossing linking the sister islands of St Kitts and Nevis, and another is the hour-long voyage between St Vincent and Bequia in the Grenadines. Others offer a significant financial saving, for example in Puerto Rico it costs around $110 to fly from San Juan to the island of Vieques but only $2 if you take the ferry from Fajardo. If you are a poor flier, or worried about the scary landings required to reach small islands such as St Barths and Saba, the ferry option will seem a godsend. Divers may also prefer to take the ferry as it allows you more time underwater before the customary 24-hour interval required prior to flying. If you fancy a holiday touring around principally by ferry, consider island-hopping in the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands or St Vincent and the Grenadines.