Although most travel is experiential travel (why would anyone visit Rome or the Grand Canyon and not look around?), the Caribbean used to be the exception. Many people went to resorts where the focus was on sun, sea, and sand, not the destination. Today, though, visitors are also interested in the local culture, especially its food. So here’s a look at how even mainstream resorts and tour operators are now putting the spotlight on island cuisine.
Room rates below are for one couple staying a week in August, including taxes and surcharges. Commissions may not include taxes and services.
Hermitage Bay can arrange for guests to gather cockles the island way and then learn how to cook them. Deon, a local from a rural family, takes participants to a mangrove pond where they wade into thigh-high water, wiggle their toes in the mud until they feel the cockles, and pick them up with their feet. Later, the chef shows the foragers how to cook these shellfish, and guests can use that recipe back home with other mollusks. Rooms from $7,718. hermitagebay.com
In late 2017 Atlantis Paradise Island debuted new food options that are more authentically Bahamian. Three are outposts of local favorites: Mckenzie’s Conch Shack (conch, prepared various ways, is the national dish); Frankie Gone Bananas, which serves classics such as coconut-and-kalik soup, fresh lobster tail, and Bahama Mamas; and Pirate Republic Brewery Taproom, arguably the best microbrewery in the region. Rates from $2,130. atlantisbahamas.com
In downtown Nassau, Tru Bahamian Food Tours’ Bites of Nassau Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour includes meetings with chefs; tastes of conch fritters, island macaroni and cheese, and rum cake; and a “Bites of Nassau Recipe Collection.” Price: $74.18 per adult. Tru’s Private Authentic Cooking Class and Lunch Experience teaches participants how to make a 3-course Bahamian meal. Rates vary with size of the group. trubahamianfoodtours.com
One of the most popular activities in Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia’s Bahia Scouts program is cooking and fruit-carving classes for children as young as 4 to 6. Moreover, all of Bahia Principe’s Punta Cana properties offer guests a half-day excursion to two working plantations. One grows sugar, tobacco, vanilla, and pineapples; at the other, participants learn how cacao is grown and converted into chocolate. Fantasia rooms start at $2,060. bahia-principe.com
On this island, “the spice of the Caribbean,” Grenada Culinary Tour offers a Savor Cooking Class in a Grenadian home. Participants learn how to make an authentic meal, including dessert, using local spices and other ingredients. The package costs $100 pp, minimum four, maximum 10. Commission for travel agents: 15 percent.
The Land of Alright has been such a force in Caribbean culture, from reggae to jerk to dreadlocks, that it’s no wonder so many tourism entities offer Jamaican cultural experiences. The four Couples Resorts showcase Jamaican cuisine in various ways. 8 Rivers at Couples Tower Isle serves “continental cuisine with a…Caribbean flair,” such as ackee-and-ricotta ravioli. Couples Swept Away’s Caribbean Egg Benedictine features smoked marlin and callaloo instead of ham and spinach. Couples Negril serves beef, chicken, and vegetable patties at its Beach Grill. Best of all, Bella Vista beachfront restaurant at Couples San Souci offers dishes like West Indian curried chicken, Escovitch red snapper, and jerk beef tenderloin. Couples Sans Souci from $2,364. couples.com
Half Moon, which is open during a $72 million renovation that will continue through November, arranges Stush in the Bush private excursions to a small farm where crops are grown the traditional way. The excursion includes a detailed look at what crops grow—and how—followed by a Rastafarian-style lunch. The tour price varies with the size of the group; rooms start at $2,076. Travel agents get up to 15 percent commission and are also offered rates up to 35 percent off with restrictions and blackout periods. halfmoon.com
Moon Palace Jamaica Grande has put in a jerk chicken shack and a live lobster tank, the only one at a Caribbean resort. These are local lobsters, not imports from Maine. “We can cook lobster traditional jerk, Jamaican style, with Jamaican spices: pimento [aka allspice], Scotch Bonnet pepper, and scallions,” says executive sous chef Emilio Benavides. From $4,046, including a $1,500 resort credit. moonpalace.com/jamaica/en-us
Nexus Tours’ Zimbali Hiking and Lunch package includes transportation from Negril resorts into the mountains, where a Rastafarian named Fire leads guests on a hike, a farm tour to see how tropical produce grows, and an Ital (vegetarian Rasta) lunch cooked over a wood fire ($75). The Zimbali Overnight and Hike includes a stay at Zimbali Retreats, a hand-built, tradition-honoring, TV-free lodge that serves authentic meals from crops grown on the property ($500). nexustours.com/jamaica/negril/tour/zimbali-hiking-lunch-tour
Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera, famous for its three-walled, luxury suites, predates the hotel and has long made the case for fine dining on Caribbean cuisine. Lucian chef Nigel Mitchell serves up dishes like sweet potato soup, Caribbean lamb salad, and plantain gratin with coconut rum sauce. His team offers cooking demonstrations and a market tour, too. Rates from $6,720. Optional meal plans include full board ($130 pp) and all-inclusive ($180) plus 20 percent. ladera.com
AMResorts operates so many properties —and brands —that we can’t cover them all, so here’s just a taste (ha!): Zoëtry Montego Bay boasts a Jamaican jerk hut that serves jerk chicken and pork with Jamaican Red Stripe beer. In the Dominican Republic, Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana’s casual Piragua restaurant offers international dishes whose primary nationality is the DR: e.g., Caribbean seafood chowder with coriander. Secrets St. James Montego Bay and Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay give cooking classes at the Barefoot Grill, a shared area for both resorts. The classes teach guests how to prepare traditional jerk dishes, and attendees get a recipe card so they can bring some Jamaica home to their own kitchens. Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana from $3,787; Secrets Wild Orchid from $4,130. amresorts.com
An early proponent of jerk shacks, Sandals Resorts now has seven: at Sandals Montego Bay, Ochi, Royal Caribbean, South Coast, Emerald Bay, Grande St. Lucian, and Royal Barbados. Furthermore, some of the Sandals have restaurants that offer fine dining on authentic Caribbean dishes such as Jamaican pepper pot and curry goat. Top restaurants for this cuisine: The Manor at Sandals Ochi, Spices at Royal Bahamian, Oleander Room at Montego Bay, and Eleanors at Grande Antigua. Rooms at Sandals Ochi start at about $3,600. sandals.com