With larger-than-life characters
Porcelain sands, azure seas and swaying palms. Say ‘Caribbean’ and it’s easy to picture the beaches that have graced the covers of travel brochures for decades. But there’s a downside. Some castaway islands have become crowded. Mega resorts seem to pop up left, right and centre. Quiet bays are now cruise ship stop-offs. Don’t despair – there is hope on the horizon with these five lesser-visited gems and their luxury Caribbean hotels.
1. Best for foodies: Anguilla
Anguilla doesn’t boast the dramatic hills of St Lucia – and that suits the spirit of this small isle that’s so laid-back it’s almost horizontal. Yes you may see the odd celebrity superyacht moored in the turquoise sea and Shoal Bay is often dubbed the best beach in the world, but Anguilla still feels undiscovered. Plus with over 100 places to eat on an island that’s just over 90km2, it’s a gastronomic paradise.
Fine dining in boutique hotels let you eat like a jet-setter one night, while food trucks mean you can tuck into local fare for lunch the next day. Try The Valley on weekends or People’s Market stalls Monday to Friday. At the beach, look for shacks made from colourful clapperboards and tell-tale smoke that signals BBQ chicken, blackened mahi-mahi and fresh-from-the-sea crayfish cooking in old oil drums. You might come across the odd French-style bakery, such as Le Bon Pain in Island Harbour and Geraud’s in Lower South Hill, where classic pastries get the Caribbean (coconut) twist. And a boat trip to Sandy Island will take you to fresh lobster with sunsets on the side.
Rest your head in The Reef by CuisinArt.
2. Best for mermaids in the making: Bonaire
With many dive sites only reachable by boat, Bonaire has its own underground underwater playground. If you decide to captain your own ship, look for sunshine-yellow rocks that act as marker points for key dive sites – and for ‘things to watch out for’.
Tiny offshore Klein Bonaire is a top scuba spot with some of the best reefs. It’s uninhabited and unsheltered, so remember to bring plenty of sun protection before hopping aboard a water taxi.
1000 Steps involves a bit of a walk to get to the shore, as the name suggests, but once in the water divers often find themselves flipper-to-flipper with turtles. Seahorses dart around the colourful coral and underwater pillars of Salt Pier. While eerie Hilma Hooker lets you swim around a shipwreck.
Make Harbour Village Beach Club your base.
3. Best for lovers of the great outdoors: Martinique
Avoid the capital, Fort-de-France if you’re looking for pockets of serenity on Martinique. Instead, the northern and eastern edges of the island are best for get-away-from-it-all landscapes. The top place to see them in all their tropical glory is from the lighthouse on Presqu’île de la Caravelle that juts out to the east of mainland Martinique. Adventurous types can hike still-active Mont Pelée.
Relax in French Coco.
4. Best for feeling très chic: St Barthélemy
Dropping anchor in tiny St Barts means you’re following the compass of Christopher Columbus. Nowadays, celebrity yachts have replaced old sailing ships and Gallic couture meets haute cuisine. So pack a few designer labels in your luggage.
Many restaurants here are sister eateries to celebrated names in the US and Europe – try L’Esprit or L’Isola.
If Prada and Valentino are more your bag, browse the boutiques of Gustavia, making a beeline for Quai de la République.
Keep up the style stakes in Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa where Michelin-starred Guy Martin heads up the French-inspired kitchen.
5. Best for indecisive types: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Channel your inner Jack Sparrow (or British royal) and hop between the 30+ tiny islands collectively known as St. Vincent and the Grenadines. You’ve probably heard of Mustique. But pint-sized Bequia, tricky-to-reach Palm Island and private Petit St. Vincent may be less familiar. Total tranquillity is on the cards, wherever you go. So if you like mixing up lazy days by the beach with lively nights, these aren’t the islands for you.