¿Cómo estás tu español?
There are many reasons to take a family vacation to one of the magical Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean. Maybe your kids are learning Spanish in school and you want to encourage practice. Perhaps you simply want to dust off your own high school Spanish and take it out for a spin.
Whatever the reason, exposing your kids (and yourself!) to different cultures and languages is a great priority to have when traveling as a family. The earlier we help our kids to discover language, the more likely those foreign languages will stick.
If you head to a Spanish speaking Caribbean island, you can get that language exposure while also relaxing on the beach! It’s a win-win in our books.
Encourage your kids to pick up a few Spanish words or phrases before you head to these tropical destinations; if you do, practicing Spanish together can be a fun family activity on your next beach vacation.
Let’s take a look at the islands you might pick.
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Caribbean Family Travel Resources
Before we dive in, let’s be sure you have our best travel resources at your fingertips.
Did you know we have a whole collection of recommended family hotels in the Caribbean – including in many of these Spanish speaking countries? I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s sort of our pride and joy.
Wishing someone else would just handle the logistics for a change? We also offer bespoke Caribbean family travel planning services. Our specialty? Helping parents identify the best Caribbean destination and hotel for a top-notch family trip.
How many countries in the Caribbean speak Spanish?
There are 3 Caribbean islands that have Spanish as their official language: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. However, there are 15 Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean region if you include the countries on the coasts of South America and Central America that border the Caribbean Sea.
This count of 15 Spanish speaking Caribbean countries includes 10 countries in which Spanish is the official language (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela) and another 5 countries where some Spanish is spoken (Aruba, Curacao, Belize, U.S. Virgin Islands, Trinided and Tobago).
So how did we get to a count of 13? For safety concerns, we have at this time omitted Nicaragua and Venezuela from our list of Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean to visit with kids. The rest are covered below!
A quick note, before you get so excited that you book a plane ticket: Be aware that the Spanish spoken in these countries is different from the Castilian Spanish (sometimes known as Peninsular Spanish) that is taught at schools in the United States and Europe.
Be prepared to come across differences in pronunciation, grammar, and phrases – plus some local slang – in each of these Caribbean islands, and South and Central American nations.
¿Listo? Here are 13 Spanish speaking Caribbean countries where you can take the kids. ¡Vamos!
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8 Caribbean Countries That Speak Spanish As The Official Language
Let’s start with the Caribbean countries that speak Spanish as their official language. This is where you should head if Spanish is truly a priority for your trip. All 8 of the countries highlighted below, in our opinion, are great candidates for family travel destinations.
Colombia may not leap to the front of your mind as a Caribbean family destination. But with a Caribbean coastline stretching from Cabo Tiburón to Castilletes, it absolutely offers tropical Spanish-speaking vibes.
Bonus – and one reason this country tops our list: Colombian Spanish is one of the easiest to follow as a non-native speaker. Colombians are known for their natural chattiness – so teach your kids a few basic phrases and they’ll fly home bursting with pride if they can manage some basic conversational exchanges.
Within Colombia, we’re all about Cartagena for a family trip – it’s one of our all-time favorite kid-friendly destinations. We suggest spending half your vacation exploring the historic old town, and the other half enjoying some of the best Cartagena beaches on the nearby Baru Peninsula or Rosario Islands.
Where to stay in and around cartagena with kids
Cartagena is full of small boutique hotels offering a totally unique experience. Picture historic mansions turned cozy hotels, oozing colonial charm and comfort, with couryard pools peeking out from behind ivy-trimmed brick walls.
Read our full review of our favorite Cartagena hotel, Casa San Agustin, a luxury boutique hotel that’s the complete package—central location, delicious food, lush beds, and an inviting courtyard pool.
If that’s not the one for you, learn why we also recommend the following Cartagena hotels for families:
If you want to escape the city for some time at the beach, dont miss our detailed profile of Hotel Las Islas on Isla Baru, a beachfront island escape with thatched roof bungalows and touches of luxury throughout.
The Dominican Republic is one of the three Caribbean islands that speak Spanish as their official language. Dominican Spanish is pretty similar to the Spanish that we know in the US, but it’s more rhythmic with slightly different pronunciations of consonants – you’ll notice that Dominicans tend to drop the letter ‘s’.
Not to scare you off, but you should also know that Dominican Spanish is spoken at the speed of lighting! This is where nailing the sentence ¿Puede repetirlo más despacio? is going to treat you well
If you learn one word of Dominican Spanish, make it vaina. Locals use this word all the time, and it roughly translates to ‘thing’ or ‘stuff’ – anything, really! French and Haitian Creole are also spoken in the Dominican Republic, while English is not commonly heard beyond the tourist areas. So this is one of the Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean where you can absolutely zone in on the language.
The Dominican Republic is a longtime favorite for families, due to the abundance of beautiful beaches, snorkeling spots, natural attractions, and affordable all-inclusive resorts.
Where to stay in The Dominican Republic with kids
If you want to try something beyond the well-trodden tourist paths in Punta Cana, head to Santo Domingo and stay in an unspoiled beach town with kids. Whisk yourselves up to the pristine beaches of Samaná Bay.
Read our full profile of Sublime Samana, a 5-star hotel with spacious suites and casitas, a family-friendly pool (plus one just for adults), and activities for the whole group.
If you’re looking for something super easy and very high-end, and want to stay close to the Punta Cana airport, consider Eden Roc CapCana and Tortuga Bay, both small hotels with plenty of kid-focused amenities. For a more budget friendly option, you can’t go wrong with the Finest Punta Cana.
Cuban culture was heavily influenced by the immigration of Canary Islanders, and also has ties to Spain’s autonomous region of Andalusia. Thus, Cuban Spanish, or Cubano, may sound more familiar to you if you’ve visited either of these Spanish regions.
As in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican, you’ll soon see that Cubans who speakin Spanish will glaze over consonants and drop ‘s’ sounds left and right. This can make it trickier to follow, but Cubans are always happy to speak más despacio to help you out.
In place of ¡ay caramba! you’ll hear ¡ay que rico! in Cuba as a means of expressing delight; a lovely phrase to teach your kids.
Although Spanish as the official language, residents of Cuba also speak Haitian Creole, and those who work in tourism will often speak English.
Cuba is a vibrant destination that’ll stimulate the kids’ curiosity. Old Havana — teeming with colorful facades and vintage cars — deserves a place on every Caribbean bucket list. Older kids and teenagers can horseback ride in Vinales, take salsa classes in Havana, and explore the stalactites and stalagmites of the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. Take a taxi from Havana to Varadero to see Cuba’s most popular beach.
Our own exploratory trip to Cuba recently was derailed by a hurricane. That said, from the planning process we learned that it can be challenging for Americans to figure out where to stay in Cuba. We’ve done the legwork so reach out for help planning your own Cuba adventure!
Where to stay in havana, Cuba (as an American) with kids
American tourists are not permitted to stay at government-owned hotels. The U.S. State Department has a list of Cuba Prohibited Accomodations.
Your best bet as a US Citizen traveling to Cuba is to get a vacation rental through AirBNB or to book an independently owned boutique hotel. For families headed to Havana who want the boutique hotel experience, we would consider the following permitted hotels:
Puerto Rico ranks high on our list for family-friendly Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean. (In fact, it’s one of our favorite Caribbean islands for families, even if language is not the priority.) First of all, you don’t even need a passport to get to this U.S. island, making this an awesome choice for your first trip with younger kids as there’s less time spent waiting in line for customs.
Plus, flights to Puerto Rico are about as affordable as Caribbean flights get.
Puerto Rican Spanish is similar to that of the Dominican Republic – spoken with a distinct rhythm and a disregard for the consonants ‘d’ and ‘s.’
¿Cómo estás? sounds more like ¿cómo ehtah? Another difference is that ‘r’ is pronounced more like ‘l’. For example, Puerto Rico becomes Puelta Rico. One phrase you’ll hear here on the regular is ¡ay bendito! – similar to how we use ‘oh my gosh.’
If you struggle with wrapping your head around Puerto Rican Spanish, English is also widely spoken across the island, so you shouldn’t let that deter you.
Your trip to Puerto Rico can include anything from city to beach to tropical rainforest.
Viejo San Juan is a great place to introduce kids to beautiful architecture and forts. For beaches, you’ll want to go beyond the city to Fajardo on the East Coast, or west towards Isabela or Rincon. (You can also head to the stunning island of Vieques, but many families find the logistics of that trip on the challenging side.)
For a hiking adventure, El Yunque National Forest is truly hard to beat. Easily accessible from San Juan in just 45 minutes, you and your kids should not miss a day hiking through the rainforest.
Where to stay in Puerto Rico with kids
Consider spending a few days in Old San Juan to have the historic sights and colors at your fingertips. We recommend families book a suite at either Hotel El Convento or La Terraza de San Juan, both of which have rooftop plunge pools where kids can take a break from the heat. Book through us at no cost to you!
Then, leave San Juan and head to the sea. You have a few options.
Head east to Fajardo for a luxury resort stay at the Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve, St. Regis Bahia Bay, or El Conquistador. Puerto Rico’s Northeast corner is known for having the island’s best beaches.
Or, for if you prefer more exploration and a smaller hotel, head west towards Isabela for wide, less developed stretches of sand.
You could also make your way to the charming surfing town of Rincon on Puerto Rico’s west coast. While we generally prefer to stay at hotels when we travel, in Rincon apartment rentals through VRBO are the way to go. Rincon has a number of small beaches and restaurants great for exploring with kids.
Costa Rica is one of the best Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean for wildlife-loving families.
Surprisingly, English is more widely spoken than Spanish on the Caribbean coast. Still, you can expect to sharpen your Spanish as it’s the native tongue of most local residents. Costa Rican Spanish is also considered one of the clearest Spanish dialects.
The Caribbean coastline of Costa Rica is not the country’s main draw. Most tourists head to the Pacific side. But the Caribbean side of the country has less tourist infrastructure in place than the more frequented west coast, so you can get an off-the-beaten path experience here.
Where to stay on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast with kids
Costa Rica’s southern coastline, running from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo, has the best swimiming beaches on the Caribbean side. The region is dotted with vacation rentals and tiny hotels — many with less than 10 rooms — giving you lots of choice.
Our comprehensive hotel recommendations for Caribbean Costa Rica are coming soon. But based on our research, we are most excited to check out the following family friendly hotels:
Villas at Bungalows Punta Uva Inn
Panama (Bocas del Toro)
Panama gets mixed reviews when it comes to safety these days, and you should do your research carefully before heading to Panama wth kids.
That said, we know plenty of families who have taken amazing trips to Panama. So long as you stick to the road well traveled and main tourist areas, and stay vigilant, Panama should stay on your list of Spanish speaking Caribbean destinations to visit with kids. The country is hot on the heels of Costa Rica as an eco-tourism destination but is more affordable.
Language-wise, Panamanian Spanish has been shaped by Castilian Spanish as well as the country’s indigenous languages. Panamanians tend to soften the ‘ch’ to ‘sh’, with muchas gracias becoming mu-shas gracias. Looking for a friendly phrase to your your kids: Panamanians will say ¡buen provecho! before starting a meal.
The most family-friendly Caribbean destination in Panama is Bocas del Toro, a string of islands near the Costa Rican border. Here, you can immerse yourself in the pristine jungle and untouched beaches of Bastimentos and Cristobal. Keep your eyes peeled for wild sloths, monkeys, and dolphins as well as colorful birds. Our specific hotel recommendations are coming soon.
No list of Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean would be complete without Mexico. It’s most popular tourist area – stretching from Cancun down the Riviera Maya to Tulum, and out to the island of Cozumel – hugs the Caribbean Sea.
Many travelers to Mexico avoid speaking Spanish altogether. In the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ll find many bilingual locals due to the tourist economy. But if you make an effort, you can still brush up on your español, especially with Mexican Spanish being one of the easiest for non-native speakers.
Where to stay in Mexico with kids
The Riviera Maya – a slice of coastline that runs from Cancun to Tulum – is the most popular destination on Mexico’s Caribbean coast for families. It feels as though they are endless hotel options, though, and the choice can sometimes be overwhelming.
For an easy all-inclusive experience with kids near Cancun, we have a favorite. Go about things the Mango Tree way and learn why we love the Finest Playa Mujeres (and consider splurging on a private pool room). This low-rise all-inclusive resort offers a more peaceful vibe than many other Cancún properties, at a great price, and they’re especially accommodating for parents with babies and younger toddlers.
The sprawling resorts in the Mayakoba area, just south of Cancun, offer a great alternative, if at a higher price point. We haven’t done a full review yet, but we’re partial to the Fairmont Mayakoba, where your kids will enjoy getting around the property by golf cart, and you will enjoy the top-notch food.
If you’d prefer to have close access to the walkable city streets of Playa del Carmen, many families enjoy Mahekal Beach Front Resort & Spa.
Honduras Bay Islands
The Bay Islands off the coast of Spanish-speaking Honduras are a gem of the western Caribbean. Roatan in particular is an incredible destination for families.
Roatán is a down-to-earth island with outstanding snorkeling right off the shoreline. The list of kid-friendly things to do in Roatan is long.
Honduran Spanish shares similarities with other Central American countries, with Hondurans speaking at a fairly relaxed pace that isn’t too hard to keep up with. Unlike Caribbean Spanish dialects, consonants are rarely dropped.
Although Spanish is the official language of Honduras, most Bay Islanders do speak English. So you might have to go out of your way to find people to chat with in Spanish.
Add ¡Vaya pues! to your vocabulary. It’s a way of expressing agreement or saying goodbye. And a handy one for moms to learn – cipote/a and güirro/a are used when Honduran moms want to get their kids’ attention.
Where to stay in roatan with kids
Located halfway between West Bay (Roatán’s best beach) and West End (the coolest town), learn why the charming boutique hotel XBalanque Resort is Mango Tree Travel-approved for families.
For something a little more remote, with spacious villas for families and the best infinity pool in Roatan, read our profile of Las Verandas Hotel and Villas.
5 More Caribbean Islands That Speak Spanish
Spanish is not the official language of any of the below island nations — most of them are English speaking Caribbean countries. But a significant percentage of the population of each island does speak Spanish, so you’ll still stand a chance of putting your Spanish to use if you’re looking to do so.
Aruba and Curacao
Aruba and Curacao are the A and C of the ABC islands, rounded off with Bonaire. Papiamento and Dutch are the two official languages of Aruba and Curacao, with Papiamento being a blend of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and the indigenous tongues of South American and African countries. But Spanish is taught in schools and widely spoken.
Aruba and Curacao each have unique vibes and activities to offer families. Aruba is known for its powdery white sand beaches. But Curacao has more going culturally speaking, with amazing things to do in Curacao, such as exploring Willemstaad’s Little Amsterdam waterfront and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pietermaai.
Torn between which ABC island to visit first?
Our ABC island-picker guide will help with that, and recommend the best hotels in the Dutch Carribbean.
It might surprise you to learn that English is the official language of this Central American country. That said, Spanish is the native tongue of almost half the nation, making Belize somewhere you and your kids can practice your skills with a safety net. You might also hear snippets of Belizean Kriol.
Belize is a wonderful choice for beaches and water sports, snorkeling and diving in particular. The Belize Barrier Reef shines as a world-class snorkel spot where you’re likely to encounter turtles and nurse sharks.
Although the Great Blue Hole is only recommended to experienced divers, the Lighthouse Reef Atoll is ideal for teaching kids to snorkel.
Where to stay in Belize with kids
And for a snorkeling-focused trip with older kids who are confident swimmers, it would be hard to beat Off The Wall Dive Center and Resort, which sits on a private caye right on top of Glover’s Reef Atoll.
U.S. Virgin Islands
While English is the official language in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Spanish is spoken by about 20% of the population. As with Puerto Rico, the archipelago is easily accessible from U.S. soil and no passport is needed, making St. Thomas an attractive Caribbean destination for families.
The archipelago includes the three main islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas (plus the small Water Island which is a fantastic day trip). There are also around 50 minor islands and cays bobbing offshore.
Where to stay in the U.S. Virgin Islands with kids
St. Thomas is the homebase of choice for most families, with the largest international airport of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and easy ferry access to St. Croix and St. John. We suggest making Secret Harbour Beach Resort your homebase for a prime location near the Red Hook ferry and with spacious suites steps from one of our favorite beaches for kids.
If you’d prefer to stay on St. John, kids age 5+ are welcome at the popular Gallows Point Resort, which has snorkeling right on site and sits walking distance to the island’s best shops and beaches.
Finally, for a classic Caribbean beach resort on St. Croix, take the kids to The Buccaneer Beach & Golf Resort, family-owned-and-operated since 1947.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago is one final Caribbean country where you’ll come across Spanish speakers in rural areas, even though the official language is English. Many residents speak Trinidadian Creole among themselves.
The dual-island nation features calm beaches where kids can wade safely. These sister islands offer completely different experiences from one another, though. Beach lovers will be drawn to Tobago, while those in search of a more vibrant, energetic, and cultural experience may prefer the larger and more built up Trinidad. It’s a particularly great destination to consider for Caribbean off-season travel, as it sits outside the hurricane belt.
On either island, keep an ear open for Spanish speakers!
Where to stay in trinidad and tobago with kids
Our full collection of hotels in Trinidad and Tobago is coming in 2023. But for now, let us just say that we’re itching to stay at Castrara Retreats in Tobago, with hillside cabins and a stunning backdrop.
We’re also intrigued by the tiny Acajou Hotel in a fishing village on Trinidad’s northern coast that’s one of the largest nesting sites for Leatherback turtles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Are There Spanish Speaking Countries In The Caribbean?
Colonization of the Caribbean by Dutch, French, and Spanish people – combined with various African languages spoken by slaves – has resulted in the melting pot of languages and cultures in the Caribbean island.
Is Caribbean Spanish different?
Caribbean Spanish is different from Castilian Spanish (Peninsular Spanish). Dialects and pronunciation shift with each island, while the rhythms vary with each country putting its own stamp on the language. The same goes for Central and South American countries.
Should I learn Caribbean Spanish?
For a family vacation, there’s no need to learn Caribbean Spanish. Once you land on a destination, read up on what to expect from each country’s language and make a note of any key phrases.
What is the largest Spanish Speaking Caribbean Island?
Spanish is the official language if Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean.
Renting a Car In The Spanish Caribbean
Driving your family around a Caribbean island can be intimidating. But, having rented cars now in more than ten Caribbean destinations — including many of the islands discussed in this post! — we wholeheartedly believe that exploring on your own is often the best way to go in the region.
The good news for American travelers about the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands is that, in most of them, you can drive on the right side of the road — unlike many of the English speaking islands where driving is on the left.
We’re always available to chat about whether driving around a specific island makes sense, so don’t hestitate to reach out with questions. We recommend using Discover Cars to quickly compare your rental options and find the best deal.
Tip: Sixt often has the best prices in the Caribbean and we’ve had solid experiences going with that company. You can compare their rates with other companies on Discover Cars.
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