From a grog-fueled pirate haven to a pink-umbrellaed paradise, there’s one Caribbean constant that spans the centuries: Cocktails. And in my opinion, the only activity on par with scoring some extended beach time is capping off the day with a classic Caribbean concoction. Almost every island boasts it’s own brand of witches’ brew, and a great signature drink can make or break a vacation. If you want a taste of the good stuff, consider my guide to the five best Caribbean cocktails from across the region—and my favorite spots to sip ‘em.
1. Painkiller, BVI
Often imitated, rarely duplicated, the Pusser’s Painkiller was born of Royal Navy hooch in a remote outpost of the British Virgin Islands. This heady mix of orange, coconut and pineapple, laced with nutmeg and spiked with intensely flavored Pusser’s rum, is the hallmark of the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost van Dyke’s White Bay. With no pier in sight, sailors must drop the hook and swim to shore to administer this anesthetic in its native habitat.
2. Cadushy, Bonaire
What do you do when life gives you cactus? If you’re Eric and Jolande Gietman, you make Cadushy. The electric green-color of Bonaire’s local spirit—and its sweet, citrusy flavor—makes it an ideal base from tropical concoctions like the Green Bonaire, a Cosmo-inspired cocktail served up in a martini glass. Divers can drive out to Rincon to taste Cadushy straight from the source, but it tastes just as good with salt on your cheeks at Karel’s Beach Bar.
3. Rum Runner, Key West
The Rum Runner is the unofficial drink—and its namesake the unofficial mascot—of the Florida Keys. Traditionally it comprises a heady mix of fruit juices, light and dark rums, and a float of 151, but watch out for the sickeningly sweet, test tube-topped slushes that haunt Key West’s Duval Street. Get a Rum Runner done right—or just a hit of good rum, neat—from the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn, once the base of operations for storied island bootlegger Raul Vasquez.
4. Margarita, Cozumel
Some originals are so good—like sipping a fresh lime margarita—there’s no need to mess with them. And any vacationer worth her salt-rimmed glass knows Cozumel is the place to go when you need Mexican libations served with some of the best watersports this side of the Rio Grande. Road trip to the east side and sip the limey goodness from the cliff-top overlook at Coconuts. Or for an end-of-the-day unwinding, hit La Choza to pair simple, fresh ‘ritas with intoxicating Yucatecan food.
5. Sky Juice, Nassau
After a day on the water, Caribbean travelers need a drink with a few more teeth than the usual Bahama Mama brings to the party. Enter Sky Juice, a local favorite on New Providence island in the Bahamas—made from coconut water, condensed milk and gin—that sounds just crazy enough to be delicious. Ground zero for the “juice” is Arawak Cay, where island-style walk-up counters like Goldie’s serve them alongside fried fish and fresh conch salad.