The best places to sleep, eat, shop, relax, and get away from it all—right on the water's edge
There are thousands of islands in the Caribbean. But even if you're a regular to the region, some of its most secluded beaches and waterfront establishments might still remain secret. So we embarked on a fact-finding mission, combing every beach and islet from Anguilla to Tobago, and soliciting every style-savvy Caribbean expert we know. Here, our favorites: 50 must-see spots on your next island getaway.
Little Bay Beach, Anguilla To reach this remote cove, you'll need to hire a boat or climb down 66 feet on the fishnet ladder carefully tied to the bluff's top. The difficult approach is worth the work; you're rewarded with 80 yards of talcum sand, walled in by high cliffs on three sides.
Curtain Bluff, Antigua The wide, golden beach is fringed with palms and mangrove wetlands on one side, water clear enough to see your feet in on the other. The only way to set up camp under one of the private waterfront palapas, though, is to spend a night at the luxurious Curtain Bluff Hotel.
Dos Playa, Aruba Fronting a jagged, limestone coast that's perpetually awash in salty surf, this isolated sliver of sand has rolling dunes and Dr. Seuss—like cacti burrowed into the rocks. Leave your snorkel at the hotel—the waves are too wild for swimming—and watch the wind surfers from the safety of a picnic blanket.
Anegada, British Virgin Islands More than 300 ships have crashed into the sharp reefs surrounding this deceptively tiny islet. The part you see is only 15 miles around. But on the north end's Loblolly Bay, the reef is so close to the crescent-shaped shore that waves are reduced to lapping white foam.
La Sagesse, Grenada A nature preserve at the end of a one-mile, rock-studded road (note the grazing cows), this half-mile of sand curves along a cliff dense with coconut palms. Have lunch at the rustic seaside restaurant, then rummage through booksellers' stalls beneath the almond trees.
Honeymoon Beach, St. John One of seven beaches that make up Caneel Bay, Honeymoon Beach is part of the 5,000-acre Virgin Island National Park. There are no huts or cabanas, just empty stretches and neon-colored coral reefs. Lie on the endless white sand and watch the sailboats—and the world—go by.
Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia Reachable by water taxi (or by an hour's walk along a hilly dirt road from Soufrière), Anse Chastanet has some of the island's best snorkeling. A resort of the same name crawls up just behind the dark-sand beach, its whitewashed guest cottages peeking from the Day-Glo green hillside.
Manzanilla Beach, Trinidad The island's eastern coast is rough enough to deter development, and that keeps this beach free from the masses—well, almost. Roaming water buffalo, herons, and egrets regularly parade down the 17-mile strip of brown sugar—like sand, which is bordered by coconut and mangrove trees.
GREAT BEACHES FOR...
Baring it All Grande Saline Beach, St. Bart's
Diving Pink Beach, Bonaire
Horseback Riding Pinney's Beach, Nevis
Shelling Rendezvous Bay, Antigua
Snorkeling Underwater Marine Park, Curaçao
Surfing Bathsheba's Soup Bowl, Barbados
Water Sports Cabarete Beach, Dominican Republic
Windsurfing Hadicurari Beach, Aruba
NEW BEACHFRONT HOTELS
CocoBay, Antigua Forty-one Caribbean-style cottages (gingerbread fretwork, wooden shutters, private verandas, locally carved furniture) undulate down the lush hills toward the shore on the sunset side of the island. Between guided nature walks and lazy afternoons in hammocks on the porch, you can test the waters in the hotel's Sunfish or revive with a treatment in its Wellness Cottage spa. Cottages from $280; 800/816-7587 or 268/562-2400; www.cocobayresort.com
Jumby Bay Resort, Antigua Rosewood has just spent $6 million on a tropical-hued face-lift here, and it shows. The 50 villas at this 80-acre private-island resort off Antigua now showcase British colonial furnishings done up in powdery-pastel fabric, and garden baths with outdoor rain showers and pedestal tubs. There's rarely a reason to rush back from the island's three virgin beaches, but should you need a ride to the golf course or scuba center, bicycles are the only wheels you'll find. Cottages from $700; 888/767-3966 or 268/462-6000 www.jumbybayresort.com
Portofino, Belize Style has finally arrived in the diving haven of Ambergris Cay. Opened one year ago, Portofino's 11 thatched cabanas with Guatemalan textiles and glass walls flank one of the island's most striking beaches. At the oceanside restaurant, La Cuisine, mainland game—duck prepared à l'orange—is served along with herbs and vegetables from the hotel's organic garden. Doubles from $280 011-501/220-5096; www.portofinobelize.com
Laluna, Grenada Each of the resort's 16 cottages is as fashion-forward as the owners, an Italian fashion publicist (which explains why Zegna and Benetton are backers and Giorgio Armani has been a guest) and his Trinidadian wife. Indonesian sculptures and mahogany love seats are illuminated with raffia-grass sconces and protected from rain showers by elephant-grass roofs. The soft sands of Morne Rouge beach are only steps away, but there's much to distract from the sea: private plunge pools, outdoor daybeds, in-room massages. It's an ideal place to spend the holidays—which is exactly what Dave Stewart (from the Eurythmics) did last year. Doubles from $310 866/452-5862 or 473/439-0001; www.laluna.com
Bel Air Plantation, Grenada Next month, beach-lovers who prefer the intimacy of a private house but can't part with the convenience of a resort will be packing for Grenada. Susan Fisher left the world of luxury retail in the U.K. to create a dream resort modeled after her family's rice plantation in Guyana. Blooming gardens surround the 11 gingerbread cottages, which are scattered over 18 hillside acres and overlook a sailboat-filled cove. A spa, aviaries, butterfly houses, and an upscale boutique are in the plans for the future. Cottages from $295; St. George's 473/444-6305; www.belairplantation.com
Hotel Secreto, Isla Mujeres, Mexico The tiny island is in danger of becoming the next Cancún, making this small, stylish hideaway a welcome surprise. Hidden among the fishing shacks, the nine-room hotel, done up in glass and stucco, blends into the stark white of Half Moon Beach. It lives up to its name: secret yourself away in one of the hotel's suites—which have grand outdoor living rooms. Doubles from $165, including breakfast 011-52-998/877-1039; www.hotelsecreto.com
Rendezvous Bay Hotel & Villas, Anguilla Anguilla's oldest beach resort bought up the island's quietest sandy stretch when it opened 40 years ago. Whitewashed walls and cathedral ceilings contribute to the airiness of the 17 large guest rooms, but it's the azure views from the enormous balconies and patios that will lure you back. Doubles from $120 800/274-4893 or 264/497-6549; www.rendezvousbay.com
True Blue Bay Resort, Grenada Tucked away on a bluff on the island's southwest corner, the great house of this former indigo plantation has 26 rooms; last year they were renovated and brightened up with blue-framed French doors and clay-tiled balconies—softly lit by the sun's rays filtering in. Doubles from $130 473/443-8783; www.truebluebay.com
Blue Waters Inn, Tobago The island has largely banned building on its shores, so Blue Waters is one of the few resorts right on the sand. The newly redone rooms and bungalows are generic Caribbean—but come for the seclusion, diving, and prime bird-watching on Little Tobago, a jungly nature preserve accessible by motorboat. Doubles from $160; 800/742-4276 or 868/660-4341; www.bluewatersinn.com
Hemingways at the Hyatt, Grand Cayman New Zealand—born chef Justin Mayall gives Caribbean cuisine an international spin at the Caymans' top beachfront restaurant. Tuna comes crusted in coconut and peppercorn and laid atop pad thai; sea bass is blackened and set on a plantain-potato cake. And that's just lunch. Lunch for two $48, dinner for two $75 345/949-1234 or 800/832-2302; www.hyatt.com
Aquarium Restaurant & Beach Club, Grenada This thatched-roof restaurant has one side open to the sea; the other is a sheer rock face, glistening beneath a waterfall. Crepes and freshwater crayfish are doused in Creole spices every evening, but the best night is Sunday, when lobster is barbecued in an open pit. dinner for two $75 Point Salines, St. George's; 473/444-1410; www.aquarium-grenada.com
Norma's Restaurant on the Beach, Jamaica Norma Shirley is Jamaica's Mario Batali, and her new place, on a wooden deck with steps right down to a seven-mile white beach, is the most exciting culinary development on the island's north coast. Norma is famous for her sauces: smoked pork loin is marinated in Red Stripe beer and caramelized fruits; roast chicken comes in creamy coconut sauce. Dinner for two $60 at the sea splash resort, Negril; 876/957-4041 www.seasplash.com
Blue Room, Puerto Rico Daniel-trained chef Aaron Wratten's bistro fare is genuinely unpretentious: lobster over mashed potatoes, just-caught grilled fish with plantain fries. Guests are served in a small blue-tiled dining room or outside on a grassy terrace by the sea. After, they retire to the gazebo bar for digestifs. Dinner for two $100; at the Horned Dorset Primavera, Rincón 787/823-4030; www.horneddorset.com
Maya's, St. Bart's At the end of a winding road on the island's west side, this laid-back version of Morton's is the sort of place where Lee Radziwill—or women who want to be her—wash up. Sip a glass of champagne, watch the harbor lights twinkle, and finish off your Thai-French fusion meal with a sorbet. Dinner for two $150 near Gustavia; 590-590/27-75-73
Trou Au Diable Beach Restaurant, St. Lucia Sample Creole rotis with mango chutney, crab and toasted-corn salad with lime-ginger dressing, and pineapple poached in lemongrass, in a room overlooking a secluded beach. Twice a week, dinner is served in front of the restaurant on the white sand, illuminated by flambeau candles. Buffet dinner for two $90; At Anse Chastanet Resort; 758/459-7000 www.ansechastanet.com
Restaurant at La Samanna, St. Martin At this open-air restaurant, French-Creole is elevated to haute cuisine by new chef Erwan Louiasil, formerly of Daniel. Every ingredient that's not flown in daily from France or the United States is harvested on the island—from the dried hibiscus garnishes to the sea salt. Dinner for two $90 590-590/87-64-00; www.lasamanna.com
Mullins Beach Bar [Now known as Suga Suga], Barbados Come six o'clock, the wooden deck is crowded with hip Bajans who are there to drink Cockspur rum and watch the sun descend. By midnight, some even strip down to wade into the water. Mullins Bay, St. Peter 246/422-1878
Moskito Bar, Bequia Wooden seats swing on ropes beneath an awning. Each bartender has his own secret rum drink, but don't even bother asking for the recipe. At the Friendship Bay Hotel; 784/458-3222
Soggy Dollar Bar, British Virgin Islands This yacht on isolated White Bay got its name from the wet money of its patrons, who can reach the bar only by swimming out 100 feet. By the time they leave, their dollars are usually dry. Jost Van Dyke, off the Sandcastle hotel; 284/495-9888; www.sandcastle-bvi.com
Firefly Bar, Mustique Keep an eye out for minor royals and choose from one of 14 bug-themed concoctions—like the Firefly (banana liqueur and pineapple juice) or the Bumble Bee (cointreau and grapefruit juice). St. Vincent and the Grenadines; 784/456-3414 www.mustiquefirefly.com
First Historical Café & Bar, Tobago Inside a building made of bamboo pillars and crushed-coral bricks, owner Kenneth Washington serves Tobagonian beer and rum-based blends. Studley Park; 868/660-2233
Inn on the Blue Horizon, Vieques Set amid 20 acres of tall grass, mesquite trees, and bougainvillea sloping to the sea, this tin-roofed, open-sided bungalow, with a dizzying choice of cocktails, is the hottest scene on Vieques. Puerto Rico; 787/741-3318
Eye-opener, Jamaica Half Jamaican white rum, half cold water; drunk in one gulp
Nutmeg Colada, Grenada Coconut cream, fresh-grated nutmeg, and, of course, lots of rum
Painkiller, British Virgin Islands Pusser's dark rum, pineapple and orange juices, coconut cream, and nutmeg, mixed in the blender
Vanilla Rum, St. Bart's Locally distilled rum; drunk as a shot
Malliouhana Hotel & Spa, Anguilla Body treatments and facials take on a whole new significance when they happen in a spa suite facing turquoise Meads Bay. Contemplate the endless waves while being wrapped in oxygenating sea foam, or à deux during a couples massage. Doubles from $575; Treatments from $65; 800/835-0796 or 264/497-6111; www.malliouhana.com
Spa at Little Dix Bay, British Virgin Islands Teetering above Sir Francis Drake Channel, the new spa celebrates the natural elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Treatments incorporate natural island ingredients: Book a sugarcane-mango body glow or an aloe vera—mint facial, or kick off cocktail hour with a bay rum wrap. Then hang over the sea on the private relaxation patio and count the yachts sailing past. Doubles from $450; Treatments from $100; Virgin Gorda 888/767-3966 or 284/495-5555; www.littledixbay.com
Jackie's on the Reef, Jamaica Don't come here to be pampered. This healing spa—which offers past-life regressions, reflexology, and reiki in a cathedral-like great house—is a place where you can connect with your inner islander. Rooms from $150 per person, including breakfast, dinner, and yoga; Treatments from $58 Negril; 718/469-2785 or 876/957-4997; www.jackiesonthereef.com
Cotton House Spa, Mustique This white-on-white retreat on the sands of Endeavour Bay has just doubled in size. Wash away saltwater damage with a moisturizing pink-clay hair mask, then step out on the wraparound veranda and listen to the waves. Doubles from $750; Treatments from $70; 877/240-9945 or 784/456-4777; www.cottonhouse.net
Spa at Four Seasons Nevis Twelve treatment rooms make their debut this month in a chattel-style house—albeit an oversized one at 12,000 square feet. Treatment ingredients—mango, papaya, coconut milk, ginger—are blended right before application. Doubles from $495 Treatments from $70; 800/332-3443 or 869/469-1111; www.fourseasons.com
Journeys Spa At Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, St. Thomas Go tropical in outdoor massage cabanas and rain-forest showers above Magens Bay. Cool oversunned skin with a nori-and-algae gel wrap. Or just sink into a hydrotherapy "journey" bath. Doubles from $402, including all meals; Treatments from $60 800/996-3426; www.journeysspa.com
Green Island, Antigua On one of the four dreamy stretches of beach, you'll find few friends other than the small, shy, green iguanas. Walk through the brush to the 40-foot coral cliffs and spy on the fish-filled reefs below.
Sandy Spit, British Virgin Islands Used as a backdrop for countless movies, Sandy Spit satisfies every version of the shipwreck fantasy. Once you've acted them all out, breeze over to the south side and snorkel along the reef.
Monkey Island, Jamaica Swim over sandy channels from tranquil San San Beach to this island outpost. Once ashore, climb 100 feet up via well-positioned tree roots to take in views over the green hills of Jamaica all the way to Cuba.
Holetown, Barbados Alongside multimillion-dollar houses and the posh Sandy Lane hotel, Heather Harrington Jones (246/432-6318; www.heatherharringtonjones.com) sells jewelry crafted by West Indian and European artisans. At Lazy Days (246/435-8115), the island's jeunesse dorée shops for bikinis from Brazil and clothing from everywhere else.
Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands You won't find "no shoes, no service" signs here. Kick off your flip-flops and browse for a sassy new pair in the cottage shops fronting Great Harbour. Then wander down the beach to The Foxhole Boutique (284/495-9275), where the owner himself will serenade you on his guitar as you look for brightly dyed sarongs and beach bags in the bar's gift shop.
Villa Créole, St. Bart's Villa Créole is the Caribbean's hottest strip of shopping near the beach. Peruse couture and other international imports at boutiques such as Raffia (590-590/27-78-39), Morgan (590-590/27-57-22; www.morgandetoi.com), and Bleu Marine (590-590/27-56-00). At Mia Zia (590-590/27-55-48; www.miazia.com), everything—from the slip-on shoes and fabric bangle bracelets to vibrant tasseled towels—is made by hand in Morocco.
Cotton House Spa
Jackie's on the Reef
Jackie’s on the Reef is a small holistic spa and guesthouse overlooking a coral reef in the west end of Negril. Owned by Salt Lake City native Jackie Lewis, the resort emphasizes healing and rejuvenation. Each day begins with a yoga session in an open-air waterfront veranda, followed by a healthy, organic breakfast. Additional activities range from seaside massages to less traditional options like full moon ceremonies. There are four rooms in the stone guesthouse, as well as a private cottage and a stone geodesic dome; all are minimally decorated with handmade wooden beds, painted tile floors, and wicker tables.
Blue Waters Inn
True Blue Bay Resort
Portofino Beach Resort
The Belize Barrier Reef stretches out next to the isiand this resort calls home, Ambergris Caye, making Portofino a popular destination for vacationing divers and snorkelers. In 2001, Belgian owners Jan and Sandra Van Noord left their chilly homeland for Belize to found the all-inclusive location. Thatch-roofed beach cabanas and a selection of suites, including a Honeymoon suite with Jacuzzi, make up the accommodations, and the interiors incorporate local wood and art. Le Bsitro, the resort's main restaurant, uses regional ingredients to flavor European-inspired dishes such as Lobster à la Ritz (whiskey-flambéed lobster, shrimp, and linguini in a cream sauce) or lime and cilantro-marinated pork tenderloin served with grilled pineapple.
Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort
The recently redone Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, situated on a private 300-acre island 10 minutes by boat from Antigua, is still the standard-bearer of Caribbean luxury. Following a $28 million reconstruction, 28 new suites have ocean views and outdoor bathtubs in lush private courtyards. But the most exciting addition is the property’s first-ever spa, Sense, an open-air facility with a garden just 50 feet from the beach; book the Sense Hammock Massage treatment for two.
Bel Air Plantation
Located at Grenada’s remote Quarantine Point, Laluna, a 16-villa Caribbean hideaway within 60 steps of the sea, has both a well-regarded design pedigree (with a mix of Italian and Asian accents) and a wellness focus. The owner, former Prada consultant Bernardo Bertucci, worked with renowned Italian architect Gabriella Giuntoli to create the interiors: rooms feature four-poster Balinese beds and open-air bamboo bathrooms with Caribbean Sea views, plus Italian linens and bath products. The 10 secluded acres are dotted with private plunge pools, and during the day, guests meander between the open-air yoga pavilion, an Asian-inspired spa that offers Balinese Head Massages, and the Italian restaurant for Prosciutto di Parma or Parmiggiano Reggiano. Come afternoon, daybeds shaded by elephant-grass thatched roofs are perfect spots to enjoy a book from the library and a daiquiri with freshly picked limes.
Malliouhana, an Auberge Resort
Set on a beautiful bluff overlooking Meads Bay and the turquoise Caribbean Sea, Malliouhana, which is managed by Auberge Resorts, shines again as one Anguilla’s best beach resorts thanks to a recent top-to-bottom renovation. Designer Todd Avery Lenahan has brought a much-needed dose of style and glamour to the property, from the lobby’s glass-tiled floors to the 44 bright and airy guest rooms, which feature details like yellow-and-white-striped carpets and orange chaise lounges. And though Meads Bay is arguably one of the island’s best sandy stretches, no one would fault you if you never left the two-tiered infinity pool, a calm oasis at the heart of the property.
Custom built in 2001, the Hotel Secreto is not signposted, yet it is one of the best-known accommodations on the five-mile-long Isla Mujeres. The white cube-like hotel is laid out with just nine quiet guest suites, where luxury touches include day beds on the expansive balconies, floor-to-ceiling glass, and stone floors. All also include wireless Internet, air-conditioning, and a selection of bottled wines. The property also includes a fitness room, shaded patio (a perfect place for sipping cocktails), and sun loungers positioned around the 20-meter lap pool, which faces out toward the beach and ocean.