Western Caribbean cruises reach the shores of Jamaica, Grand Cayman and the eastern coasts of Mexico and Central America, allowing visitors to experience a variety of cultures.

Jamaica’s heritage is showcased in its art, music and food. Local potters, painters, woodcarvers and sculptors draw inspiration from the lush Blue Mountains and turquoise seas, as well as the island’s early European and African influences. Reggae music provides lighthearted, infectious rhythms and often serves as a vehicle for social and political commentary. The “jerk” style of cooking born here is now found in restaurants worldwide. It calls for a blend of spices and seasonings like allspice, hot peppers, garlic and onion that’s used to marinate chicken, pork, fish or beef.

Jerk cooking also is found in the Cayman Islands, along with Caribbean staples like cassava, breadfruit, ackee fruit and johnny cake (a round, flat bread). For a sweet treat, pick up a Tortuga Rum cake, sold in many Grand Cayman stores. It’s made from an old family recipe that’s a closely guarded secret.

Caymanians have a long, strong relationship with the sea, and their reputation as fine sailors and fishermen grew in the 20th century. Today, fishing boats haul in fresh catches like red snapper, wahoo and tuna, which may end up on your plate in a local restaurant. Religion is an important aspect of Cayman culture, and many businesses are closed on Sundays.

Much of the modern-day rural population of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is descended from the Mayans. At ports like Costa Maya, Cancun and Cozumel, cruise passengers can venture to Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Chacchoben and Tulum and explore the roots of this centuries-old Mesoamerican culture. Visitors can get a taste of Mayan flavors in local dishes like cochinita pibil, a slow-cooked dish of pork marinated in sour orange juice and achiote spice.

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