Caribbean visitors might think they would play golf, sail and snorkel all the time if they lived in the islands, but Caribbean residents themselves have a much broader range of interests when it comes to sports. If it's true that the way people play says a lot about how they live, then visitors can learn a lot (and have a great time, too) by joining the crowd at these popular Caribbean pastimes.
Cricket is a very big deal throughout the former British colonies (and current members of the Commonwealth) in the Caribbean. In Trinidad, for example, Brian Lara -- who holds the individual cricket scoring record with 501 runs in a match -- is a national hero. In Bermuda, the biggest holiday of the year is not the Queen's birthday but rather Cup Match, a two-day midsummer festival where the entire island shuts down for the match between the Somerset Cricket Club and the St. George's Cricket Club.
Baseball is played with a fiery passion in the Dominican Republic, which has sent dozens of players to the major leagues and plays host to a popular Winter League that features both established and up-and-coming stars. Baseball also is huge in Cuba, and visitors can attend festive Cuba National League games in cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, and Holguin. The Curacao Little League is a perennial international powerhouse, and this small island has sent a number of players to the major leagues, including Andruw Jones and Xander Boegerts of the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox. MLB Winter League baseball also is played in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Venezuela.
As is true the world over, soccer is among the most popular sports in the Caribbean, and most of the nations in the region field teams as part of FIFA's CONCACAF federation and compete in the annual CONCACAF Champions League (the U.S. also is part of CONCACAF and plays road games in the Caribbean each year). Regional teams also challenge for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in a biannual tournament, and the Digicel Caribbean Cup is another popular tournament. Teams like the Soca Warriors of Trinidad & Tobago and the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica compete before huge crowds and for national pride year-round under the sunny Caribbean skies.
Horse racing isn't automatically associated with the Caribbean, but the "sport of kings" is popular on islands like Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Nevis, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Croix (which also has dog racing), and Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps the most famous (and tourist friendly) are the Barbados Turf Club races at Garrison Savannah, just outside Bridgetown. The Turf Club runs three annual meets with thoroughbred racing, parimutuel gambling, and an upscale atmosphere tinged with Caribbean flavor and British charm. The Nevis Turf and Jockey Club holds monthly meets at the Indian Castle Race Track -- a combination of racing, BBQ, and Carnival -- while the action in Martinique is at the Hippodrome de Carrère in Lamentin.
Polo doesn't have the mass appeal of cricket or even horse racing, but the sport is popular in Barbados, where the Barbados Polo Club hosts public matches at Holders in St. James and other venues on the island. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic also field teams, and the Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic has three polo fields.
Aruba is a quirky place -- many visitors are taken aback when they notice the island's drive-in movie theater in Oranjestad, for example -- so if there is anywhere in the Caribbean where a drag strip wouldn't seem out of place, this is it. The Aruba International Raceway Park features drag racing, street-legal races, motorcycle races, and more. The racetrack is located in St. Nicholas.
Curacao also is a racing hotspot and home to the Curacao International Raceway, which hosts an international drag-racing festival each spring.
You can also find drag racing, albeit in a less formal setting, at the former Pearls airstrip in Grenada and Waller Field in Trinidad.
Tobago's Buccoo village is home to a uniquely Trini tradition and a poor-man's alternative to horse racing: goat races. Since 1925, goats and their "jockeys" have been competing on a 100-yard track during the Buccoo Goat Race Festival. The competition, held on the Tuesday after Easter, includes jockeys who run barefoot behind their goats and use twigs to whip them into motion. There's plenty of drinking and gambling, with all of the trappings of a "real" race course, including stables, trainers, and even a post parade. Buccoo is also home to another great local competition: crab racing, in which blue crabs are guided with string and bamboo poles towards the finish line in a event that's both more serious and more fun than it might sound.
Though controversial, cockfighting is part of the local culture in some parts of the Caribbean, notably Puerto Rico, where the sport remains extremely popular and generates hundreds of millions of dollar in betting annually. If you want a taste of the passion and excitement surrounding this sport -- in which two roosters fight, sometimes to the death -- the best place to do so is in San Juan, where you can walk to the (relatively tourist-friendly) Club Gallistico de Puerto Rico from the resorts in Isla Verde. Vieques has well-regarded "gayelles," or cockfighting pits, as well. Cockfighting is also popular in the Dominican Republic, home to 1,500 certified cockfighting venues, and Cuba, and Haiti.
The Spanish tried without much success to introduce bullfighting in their Caribbean colonies, including Cuba, but the only place in the region you'll find this sport is in Mexico. In the Mexican Caribbean, Cancun is home to a small bullring, the Plaza de Toros, where bullfights take place on Wednesday afternoons Jan.-April. Expect to see traditional dancers perform, followed by a riding exhibition by Mexican charros (cowboys) and finally a a bullfight. The bullring is located near the end of the Cancun hotel zone; a cab can get you there.
TripSavvy trusts its readers to make their own decisions on the ethics of bullfighting as an attraction.