Step away from the bar

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To really enrich your Caribbean vacation, you need to meet the people, not the American tourist at the resort bar. Here are some programs that bring visitors and locals together in a variety of settings.


People to People, 800-BAHAMAS, This Nassau/Paradise Island program connects visitors with volunteer hosts. Sample activities include sharing a home-cooked meal and meeting Bahamian children. Cost: $35.


Homestays Grenada, 473-444-5845, Opens the doors of locals' homes across the island, as well as on the sister islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Rates start at $30 a night.


Guest Enrichment Program, Radisson St. Martin Resort, Marina and Spa, 800-333-3333, Lets visitors embrace the French island's culture and people through such activities as a history lesson and French language instruction by locals. Most of the programs are free; for guests only. For a schedule:


EMBRACE Project, Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino, 011-297-586-1234, Guests can make friends while doing some good. The volunteer program launched in May with the cleanup of the Bushiribana gold smelter ruins; the second session was in August at the Balashi gold mine ruins. During the excursion, a local is on-site to teach the volunteers about the history and importance of the landmark. The program will continue through 2010, with sessions scheduled once a quarter. Open only to guests.


Maya Village Homestay program, 011-501-722-2470, or Offers the opportunity to live with a Maya family and learn the customs of the ancient culture, such as harvesting corn, making tortillas and doing laundry in the creek. More than 20 families scattered around three villages near Punta Gorda, in Belize's southern region, participate in the program. Cost: $6 per day, plus tax, in addition to a one-time $5 registration fee and $2 coordination fee.

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