While pulling together our recent guide to the Caribbean, AFAR staffers shared the ways the often misunderstood archipelago surprised them. Here, a few of our favorite stories.

“In college I went on a geology trip to the Bahamas and we went night snorkeling in search of sharks. My light went out so I found myself floating alone in the dark in the middle of the ocean. It was terrifying.” —Jen Murphy, hotels editor

“While spending a week at Rockhouse in Jamaica we were invited to the birthday party of Chef’s 10 year old daughter at their home in Negril. Hanging with their friends and family gave me an inside look at how Jamaicans like to party. Yah mon!” —Joe Diaz, co-founder

“On our honeymoon to the Dominican Republic, we stayed in a beautifully restored and chill 16th-century convent, El Beaterio, in Santo Domingo. I hadn’t realized the country’s capital was one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean until that point.” —Nick Rowlands, guides editor

“I lived and worked at a children’s school for the deaf in Granville, Jamaica. I spent a week sprucing up their campus, playing soccer with the students at sunset, learning sign language, and eating plenty of swordfish with ackee.” —Juliette San Fillipo, associate marketing manager

“When I was in Havana, Cuba in April of this year, my cousin and I serendipitously came across an international dance festival in the streets of Old Havana. Dancers flew in from all over the world—Peru, Mexico, Africa, etc.—to perform. We danced and drank in the street with locals and enjoyed a very authentic and unexpected night with new friends. —Michaela Trimble, brand manager

“On a recent trip to the Virgin Islands, my friends and I made a music video, chartered a yacht to explore all of the Islands, lost a pair of ray ban sunglasses in the ocean (and found them again)—it was memorable to say the least.” —Erin Jeffery, marketing coordinator