Before embarking on a trip, most of us will do our best to brush up on information about the destination we’re heading to, even if it’s just the basic currency tidbits, language essentials, and unmissable tourist hot spots. But there's a lot more to discover beyond that. Take the Caribbean, for example -- the vast, diverse region has plenty more to uncover aside from its pretty facade of sunny beaches, lush rainforests, and mountains. For instance, did you know that just two percent of the Caribbean islands are inhabited? Or that there are -- on average -- 340 days of sunshine per year? Whether you're considering a vacation to one of the islands or just want to impress friends and family at dinner parties, read on for some more fun, insider facts about the Caribbean.
1. Jamaica was the birthplace of James Bond.
After visiting Jamaica for a naval conference during WWII, Ian Fleming decided then and there that island life was going to be for him. Three years later, when the war was over, he kept his word and bought a house in Jamaica, where he decided to "swim in the sea and write books." From his home, which was called GoldenEye, Fleming penned the James Bond series that brought fame to both him and Jamaica. The first Bond film, "Dr. No," was also filmed on location there. Fleming’s house is now a boutique hotel that goes by the name GoldenEye Hotel & Resort, so you can return to the source of where it all started.
And while we’re on the subject of Jamaica, the island is also home to the greatest concentration of churches per square mile than anywhere in the world (it boasts 1,600 places of worship).
2. Saba has the shortest commercial aircraft runway on earth.
If you have a fear of flying, look away now because the runway on the Caribbean island of Saba is not a place you’ll like the sound (or sight) of, given that it's one of the world's most extreme places to take off and land. Officially the world’s shortest commercial runway, the strip is just 1,300 feet long. Flanked by water and rocky cliffs, a flight to Saba is the closest most will ever come to the feeling of landing on an aircraft carrier.
3. Tobago inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
If you’re relaxing on a beach, watching the crystal clear waves roll in on the small island of Tobago, and think that it might not be so bad to be stranded there forever, then know that you’re in good company. Tobago, the sister island of Trinidad, was the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s "Robinson Crusoe," the novel in which a shipwrecked sailor washes up on a tropical island where he encounters cannibals, mutineers, and captives. These days, you’ll just find great snorkeling, amazing waterfalls, and remote beaches at the destination.
4. One of the world’s hottest chili grows naturally in Trinidad.
If you’ve ever watched the television show "Man v. Food," then you know that chilis are a big deal. And when it comes to chilis, the biggest deal of all is the moruga scorpion chili, which is native to Trinidad. Although the Carolina Reaper is currently the hottest chili pepper in the world, the moruga scorpion chili comes in at a close second (it also once held the title as the hottest in the world). And that's not surprising, given that it has a heat of more than two million Scoville heat units (SHUs).
5. Barbados was George Washington’s only foreign trip.
Americans might be the second most well-traveled people in the world, but only one in five travel abroad, which means that the majority of the country has something in common with George Washington. Not one to globe-trot, Barbados was the only foreign destination that former president George Washington ever visited. Not a bad place to choose, if you ask us.
6. St. Lucia has a drive-in volcano.
While the U.S. has its famous drive-through trees, St. Lucia has something even wilder for tourists to take their cars to and through: a volcano. Known locally as Sulphur Springs, the volcano last erupted in the late 18th century, which means the natural phenomenon is now considered dormant. However, while lava and molten rock eruptions might be a thing of the past, the bubbling, boiling mud and steaming sulphur of the volcano's hot springs keep things interesting for tourists.
7. You can ride an ostrich in Curacao.
While some Caribbean fantasies might involve riding a majestic white horse along a deserted sandy beach, on the island country of Curacao, you can swap the horse for an ostrich. The Curacao Ostrich Farm is a popular family attraction, where folks can pet the animals, test the strength of their eggs by standing on them, and climb on and ride an ostrich -- provided you weigh less than 80 kilograms.
8. Aruba has submarine reef tours.
Why bother with PADI scuba courses when you can stay dry below the surface in a submarine? Atlantis Submarines offers tours that allow you to witness the reef life off Aruba. Dropping to depths of 130 feet below the Caribbean Sea, the submarine tour is the ultimate tourist trip on the island, offering unique views of the ocean life that you might not see otherwise.
9. The Cayman Islands has more businesses than people.
In addition to representing a cosmopolitan mix of tropical paradise and developed luxury, the Cayman Islands hold claim to being one of the few places in the world that hosts more businesses than people. And while Grand Cayman is a thriving, wealthy imitation of South Florida, don’t expect to find all those businesses among the island’s malls and upmarket strips -- most of the businesses are there for the tax laws above all else.
10. Planes pass just 100 feet above the beach on St. Maarten.
The sight of a commercial jumbo jet swooping in and passing just 100 feet above the beach is one of the most iconic Caribbean images. And while you're not likely to spot a KLM Boeing 747 flying overhead these days, St. Maarten is still home to one of the most epic sights in aviation. Maho Beach even attracts a mix of sunbathers and plane buffs to watch its amazing display.