Caribbean for Less
$130* What Rendezvous Bay Hotel & Villas lacks in the flash or glamour of many Anguilla resorts, it makes up for in location—its 46 rooms sit directly on 50 palm-laden acres fronting a 1½-mile-long sugary sand beach. The recently renovated resort—white tile floors, simple rattan furnishings—is divided among a dozen low-rise buildings. Garden Standards are the least expensive, but lack air-conditioning; for that, you'll need to upgrade to a villa ($275). Guests spend their days swinging on a hammock or snorkeling. At night, they head to Cedar Grove, where grilled lobster and goat stew are prepared by Leonard "Smoke" Sharplis. Rendezvous Bay; 800/274-4893 or 264/497-6549 ; www.rendezvousbay.com
$295 From the same hotel group behind celebrity favorite Cap Juluca comes Kú, which means "sacred place" in the Arawak Indian language (it's located near one of the tribe's ceremonial sites, 20 minutes from its sister property). Opened this fall, the hotel's 27 suites overlook Shoal Bay East and are South Beach–chic, with minimalist white décor, air-conditioning, and full kitchens. The spa and pool might be on the small side, but the beachfront French-Caribbean restaurant—run by Cap Juluca's chef de cuisine—has the longest bar on the island. Shoal Bay East; 800/869-5827 or 264/497-2011; www.kuanguilla.com.
$240 You don't have to be on your honeymoon to enjoy Cocobay Resort, which is set on a hillside facing the Caribbean Sea. The idyllic hotel is made up of 47 Creole-style cottages in soft pastel hues with exposed beams and wood-slatted blinds. Activities abound, from Sunfish sailing to frangipani-scented aromatherapy massages in a thatched pavilion to guided hikes through the nature preserve led by a medicine man. Be sure to catch the sunset from an Adirondack chair on your room's balcony or at Sheer, the open-air restaurant atop a bluff on Ffryes Beach. Valley Church; 800/816-7587 or 268/562-2400; www.cocobayresort.com; all-inclusive.
$240 Conceived by Tracy Barry, whose mother was the first-ever Miss Bahamas, and her husband, Toby Tyler, a Sydney restaurateur, and decorated in plantation style by David Flint Wood and his wife, India Hicks, Queen Victoria's great-great-granddaughter, the Landing, a seven-room inn on Harbour Island, has a decidedly patrician vibe. There are no televisions, phones, or Internet connections to distract you—only the beach a few blocks away. For the best views of the harbor, book one of the bay-view rooms, which have crisp white linens, terraces, and four-poster beds. Harbour Island; 242/333-2707; www.harbourislandlanding.com.
$104 Never mind the silly name. The Sea-U Guest House, on the island's east coast, is the ultimate hideaway. From the front, it doesn't look like much, but out back is a two-story plantation-style hotel with seven simple rooms cooled by island breezes. Opened by friendly former travel writer Uschi Wetzels, this place isn't for everyone—there's no air-conditioning or television, guests share a single phone, and mosquito repellant can come in handy at sunset. But Sea-U's charms are what make it so appealing: easygoing Americans and Europeans get to know each other over family-style meals, and entertainment is provided by the wandering resident cat and monkeys playing in the trees. Tent Bay; 246/433-9450; www.seaubarbados.com.
$270 A collection of 16 restored 18th- and 19th-century Dutch Colonial buildings in Willemstad, the island's capital city, come together to form Kurá Hulanda. This eight-block mini village includes an anthropological museum, a casino, a cultural research center, and an 80-room hotel. Hand-carved Indonesian mahogany and teak antiques, embroidered linens from India, and walls painted by local artists all add an international flair to the laid-back Caribbean isle. So do the sophisticated courtyards connecting the buildings, each with its own sound track: herbs are grown in the Curaçao Garden to the beat of salsa, while merengue sets a backdrop for tandoori and sushi served by the Echo Pond Pool. 8 Langestraat, Willemstad; 877/264-3106 or 599-9/434-7700; www.kurahulanda.com.
$160 The lush north coast of the island has fast become a favorite destination for mellow windsurfers who enjoy the authentic vibe—and lack of tourists. At Natura Cabañas, just 10 minutes from the small bustling beach town of Cabarete, the 10 bungalows, with roofs made of palm fronds and stone-and-bamboo interiors, blend into the jungle-like environs. The earthy spa menu includes mud wraps and salt scrubs; the two restaurants prepare organic dishes, from ceviche to fish stir-fry. Activity-seekers can turn to the helpful staff, who will arrange scuba diving in Sosúa Bay and horseback riding through nearby villages. 5 Paseodel Sol, Cabarete; 809/571-1507; www.naturacabana.com; breakfast included.
$165 In Santo Domingo, the Sofitel Nicolas de Ovando, on the oldest cobblestoned street in the New World, is almost as educational as it is attractive. Five minutes from the sea and classified as a unesco World Heritage Site, the hotel's main building was built in 1502 as the residence of the first governor of the Americas. Today, the original Spanish colonial structure houses 104 guest rooms as well as a cigar bar, a restaurant, and a lounge with live jazz and bossa nova music. Calle Las Damas, Santo Domingo; 800/863-4835 or 809/685-9955; www.sofitel.com; breakfast included.
$135 A full year after Hurricane Ivan swept ashore, most of Grenada's hotels are back in action, among them the Petit Bacaye Cottage Hotel. A gem among gems, its two houses and five thatched-roof cabanas are set in banana fields that slope to the sea. Although its rooms vary in size—those in the Beach Houses tend to be the smallest—most have hardwood floors, a white-canopied four-poster bed, an outdoor shower, and a porch with a hammock. Radios and TV's aren't to be found, but there's a small massage cabana where guests can unwind with coconut- and nutmeg-oil rubs. Westerhall; 473/443-2902 or 44-1794/323-227; www.petitbacaye.com.
$236 A short boat ride across a translucent stretch of the Caribbean Sea brings guests onto Anthony's Key Resort: a 40-acre property including a private island, with a swimming pool, a clifftop restaurant and bar, a sunset viewing deck—even a school of playful resident dolphins. The 56 wooden cabanas keep it basic with huge windows and ceiling fans. The real action, though, is beneath the water's surface. More than 100 dive sites encircle the resort, allowing divers easy access to the shoals of tropical fish that call the 80-degree waters home. Sandy Bay, Roatán Island; 800/227-3483 or 954/929-0090; www.anthonyskey.com; all-inclusive, seven-night minimum during high season.
$160 Hidden among the all-inclusives crowding Negril's Seven-Mile Beach is the Country, Country hotel. The 14 gingerbread cottages—refreshed by Ann Hodges, the Jamaican architect best known for designing the island's ultra-posh resorts Goldeneye and Strawberry Hill—are decorated in colonial style and have wraparound balconies. Everything from jerk shacks to live reggae to Negril's famed Norma's on the Beach restaurant are located within walking distance, though the hotel's beachfront grill with Jamaican dishes will tempt you to stay in for the night. Norman Manley Blvd., Negril; 888/790-5264 or 876/957-4341; www.countrynegril.com; breakfast included.
$125 The Rockhouse may not be a new discovery, but it's hard to ignore this bohemian favorite immersed in tropical gardens two miles from the center of Negril. Its 34 island-flavored rooms, studios, and villas are clustered around jagged, rocky cliffs and grottoes, and there's no shortage of things to do on the property: a 60-foot infinity pool takes the place of a formal beach; yoga classes are held every morning in a newly built pavilion; and snorkelers climb down stepladders to the blue-green sea eight feet below. Trade up to one of seven stone-walled premium villas, which have outdoor showers and private cove settings—they're worth the extra $200 a night. West End Rd., Negril; 876/957-4373; www.rockhousehotel.com.
$201 Tulum's secluded Ana y José is the kind of place that no one talks about, for fear of letting the secret out. The family-run hotel on a palm-lined beach has 21 handcrafted wooden bungalows and garden suites with louvered windows and jungle-wood pillars. Guests start the day with an invigorating session in the yoga palapa before heading out to the pyramids four miles away. Awaiting their return: a crowd-free beach, native spa treatments incorporating papaya and volcanic clay, and an alfresco Mexican restaurant where dishes get spiced up with Yucatecan herbs. Carretera Cancún–Tulum Bocapaila,Tulum; 800/728-9098 or 52-998/887-5470; www.anayjose.com.
$158 The new Hotel Básico is yet another reason to love Playa del Carmen. The latest venture from the hip Micha brothers, who were behind the wildly popular Hotel Deseo, this 15-room hideaway one block from the beach forgoes the Deseo's soft, streamlined aesthetic for a rougher, industrial look. Rooms tend to be on the small side, but what they lack in size they make up for in style: exposed support beams, walls of cement and local sand, and floors covered with recycled tires. Stop by the Azotea bar for seafood ceviche or take a dip in one of the rooftop pools, which were designed to look like oil drums. Quinta Avda., Playa del Carmen; 800/337-4685 or 52-984/879-4448; www.hotelbasico.com.
$160 With its Frette linens and Philippe Starck designs, the Bravo Beach Hotel, hidden in a residential area on the isle of Vieques, feels like an urban boutique property—only at much lower prices. The nine rooms (most facing the ocean) and one two-bedroom cottage are a vision in white, accented by bamboo or mahogany pieces. Plus, there are all the modern perks: satellite television, PlayStations, and Wi-Fi access. But why stay indoors when the beach is just 30 feet away, e-mail can be checked poolside, and Caribbean-inspired tapas are served outdoors at the popular BBH?1 North Shore Rd., Vieques; 787/741-1128; www.bravobeachhotel.com; breakfast included.
$145 Built in 1939 by a native engineer enamored of a French cancan dancer he'd met on an ocean liner, the 173-room Normandie Hotel, on San Juan's beachfront, got a stem-to-stern face-lift last year. Now its retro Art Deco curves and Jazz Age detailing complement a 21st-century design (blond-wood bed frames, flat-panel TV's, ergonomic desk chairs). The swank N-Lounge has an outdoor terrace looking out onto the city streets, while Cru, with its own carpaccio bar—the only one on the island—puts a sophisticated spin on Italian seafood classics. 499 Avda. Muñoz Rivera, San Juan; 877/987-2929 or 787/729-2929; www.normandiepr.com.
$203 Staying at Le Manoir de Marie is like stepping back into 17th-century France. Two decades ago, the Manor House was transported here by boat. Now set amid fragrant lush gardens of mango, banana, papaya, and bougainvillea, the two rooms in the main building along with eight additional brown-and-white-striped cottages are all unique in their own way—canopied beds, oil paintings, traditional antiques. While there isn't a formal restaurant, guests can take custom-catered picnics (lobster, champagne) to the wooden deck by the pool, which has a natural stone waterfall, or to Lorient Beach, within walking distance of the hotel. Rte. de Salines, Lorient; 590-590/277-927; www.lemanoirstbarth.com.
$189 Typically an island of small-scale B&B's, tiny St. Kitts got a big shot of grandeur with the opening of the Angelus Resort last summer. With French glass doors that open up to panoramic views of Half Moon Bay or the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course, the 90 rooms—soon to be 144—are set among 15 tropical acres, which include a full spa and the all-organic Caribe restaurant. The fun never stops: every Monday night there's a bonfire after sunset and Thursday it's all Latin with live salsa, merengue, and mambo music. Don't want to leave?The resort's new luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments—each with a balcony and full kitchen—are now on the market, starting at $200,000. Frigate Bay; 869/466-6224; www.angelusstkitts.com; breakfast included.
$145 Native Creole tradition meets modern design at the newest venture from Caribbean guru and co-founder of the Island Outpost hotel group Allen Chastanet: Coco Palm, located in Rodney Bay Village. The 83 rooms are clean and simple, decked out in the usual island colors (yellow, blue, green) and detailed with native artwork, and—to satisfy techies—iPods and speakers. If you want to be close to all the outdoor action and don't mind a little extra noise, ask for one of the seven "swim-up rooms," where testing the waters means simply stepping from your terrace into the hotel's serpentine pool. Reduit Beach Ave., Rodney Bay Village; 758/ 456-2800; www.coco-resorts.com.
$250 Each year, more than 900 cruise ships dock in the duty-free hub Charlotte Amalie. What few realize is that St. Thomas's real treasures lie on its more rugged East End , where Pavilions & Pools, an all-villa hotel, sits just minutes from Sapphire Beach. Interiors can suffer from tropical-print overload, but each of the 25 airy guest suites has a kitchen, a spacious living room, and an outdoor garden shower. The biggest draw: private sundecks and swimming pools and an abundance of hibiscus and bougainvillea. Smith Bay; 800/524-2001 or 340/775-6110; www.pavilionsandpools.com; breakfast included.
Written by Richard Alleman, Laura Begley, Mark Ellwood, Jim Glab, Michael Gross, Gail Harrington, H. Scott Jolley, David Kaufman, Shane Mitchell, Anya Strzemien, and Elizabeth Woodson.
Finding a hotel is only half the battle. Here, some money-saving strategies that'll have you on the beach in no time. • Book on low-cost carriers. JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) already flies to Puerto Rico and recently added the Dominican Republic; Spirit Airlines (www.spiritair.com) now lands in Jamaica, the Bahamas, San Juan, and St. Thomas (and, soon, the Cayman Islands); and USA 3000 Airlines (www.usa3000airlines.com) connects several Caribbean points to the Northeast and upper Midwest. • Buy your tickets as part of an air-hotel package from Funjet Vacations (www.funjet.com) or Liberty Travel (www.libertytravel.com). • For multi-island trips, inquire about a regional air pass, like Air Jamaica's (www.airjamaica.com) Caribbean Hopper, which lets you visit three destinations in 30 days starting at $565.
Two things they know how to do in the Caribbean is eat and party. We've found the places to go from sunrise to sunset.
Anguilla Count Robert De Niro as one of the many fans of Trattoria Tramonto (Shoal Bay West; 264/497-8819; dinner for two $100), where Reggio Emilia native Walter Belli prepares the best tiramisù for miles. Stop by early or plan to stay late: lounge chairs are available for those who want to swim pre- or post-pasta.
Dominican Republic Though it's also open for breakfast and lunch, Lax Bar (Cabarete Beach; www.lax-cabarete.com) really comes to life once the sun goes down, when hip young locals and suntanned surfers congregate to drink caipirinhas and listen to a live music under the palapa.
Puerto Rico The rough-and-tumble Chez Shack (Hwy. 995, Vieques; 787/741-2175; dinner for two $50) may not be much to look at, but it serves some of the island's best Caribbean-fusion cuisine. Don't miss Monday evenings, when the Shack's usual freewheeling vibe shifts into full party mode for Grill Night: the day's fresh catch is tossed onto a huge brazier, tables are pushed back to make an impromptu dance floor, and a steel-drum band plays reggae long into the night.
St. Barts For authentic Creole fare, locals and villa owners rub elbows at the bare wood tables in La Gloriette (Cocoloba Beach, Grand Cul-de-Sac; 590-590/277-566; dinner for two $80), a sky-blue shack on Grand Cul-de-Sac Beach, where cool breezes make the votives dance as owner Albert Balaidin serves his crab farci and passion fruit–infused rum digestif.
St. Bart's Chilled Red Stripe beers are haute at Do Brazil (Shell Beach; 590-590/290-666; www.dobrazil.com), an Afro-Gallic fusion bar on Shell Beach, surrounded by rocky cliffs.
Jost Van Dyke The Soggy Dollar Bar (White Bay, Jost Van Dyke,; 284/495-9888; www.sandcastle-bvi.com) got its name because thirsty sailors like to swim ashore with drink money in their pockets; they order Painkillers, the potent house rum cocktail.
A misnomer, Shell Beach has, sadly, few shells. The sand itself (gray, rough) isn't top-quality, but the placid cove is ideal for kids. For a lunch of lemongrass shrimp, book a table on the second floor of the Asian-influenced Do Brazil.
The Normandie Hotel
Built in 1939 by a native engineer enamored of a French cancan dancer he'd met on an ocean liner, the 173-room hotel’s retro Art Deco curves and Jazz Age detailing complement a 21st-century design (blond-wood bed frames, flat-panel TV's, ergonomic desk chairs). The swank N-Lounge has an outdoor terrace looking out onto the city streets, while Cru, with its own carpaccio bar—the only one on the island—puts a sophisticated spin on Italian seafood classics.
The Soggy Dollar Bar
The Scene: Just steps from the water's edge, this simple shack has walls covered with quirky sandcastle murals and only 10 wooden stools at the bar. Wander a few feet down the beach and you'll find plenty of hammocks and beach chairs, where you can sip one of the Soggy Dollar Painkiller rum drinks, now a famous Caribbean cocktail. Dating to the early 70s, this watering hole is a favorite with sailors because until recently the only way you could get here was to swim ashore from a boat (the owners recently added a road).
Signature Drink: The Painkiller, dark rum, cream of coconut, and juices, sprinkled with fresh grated nutmeg; $6.
Don't Miss: Chilling out on a hammock before swimming back to your boat.
Beachside palm trees wrapped in red cloth and tiny white lights announce the presence of Lax Beach Bar along the Cabarete stretch. During the day, a youngish crowd gathers here to hang out in the weathered lounge chairs or swing in the hammocks while sipping potent mojitos, and at night the fire-breathing bartenders turn things up a notch. Visiting DJs enliven the weekend scene with beat-driven techno tunes that normally inspire a few model-caliber employees (bikini-clad, of course) to dance atop the wooden bar while the rowdy, casually-attired raises their collective glasses in salute.
Pavilions & Pools
What’s It’s Like: The French Creole-inspired 101-room resort has Wi-Fi service, yoga cruises, and “swim-up rooms” (at a higher cost), which open directly into the grand swimming pool and Caribbean bistro,which serves some of the best rum cocktails on St. Lucia, a sarong is as dressy as it gets for dinner. The hotel arranges trips through the 19,000-acre rain forest on the new zip line, and can book sunset catamaran cruises and day trips to Martinique or the Grenadines.
Why It’s a Bargain: Guests can make all manner of customized requests: type airport transfer, color of room, champagne and snack preferences.
Ana y José
Ana y Jose, named after its founding couple, has 24 spacious rooms placed throughout the lush property, which faces a quiet, white sand beach about four miles south of the fortressed Mayan ruins of Tulum. Renovations have shifted the ambience from rustic and functional to high-end luxury, incorporating elements such as native marble tiled floors and thatched palapa roofs. The well-maintained pool is set amidst thick but well-tended vegetation, creating the effect of swimming in a jungle. Staff tend the pristine beach, going so far as to remove washed-up seaweed by hand. Thatched huts on the beach are first-come, first-served. Guests are treated to a welcome cocktail and bowl of fruit in the room.
Anthony's Key Resort
Petit Bacaye Cottage Hotel
Hostal Nicolas de Ovando
In Santo Domingo’s beautifully preserved colonial zone, you’ll find this 16th-century hotel. The 104 spacious rooms channel old-world romance with high ceilings, solid wood beds topped by snowy white duvets, and shutters on the windows. At the hotel’s French-inspired restaurant, locals and visitors gather for duck breast with honey and ginger.
What’s It’s Like: Just 10 minutes from the small bustling beach town of Cabarete, the 10 bungalows, with roofs made of palm fronds and stone-and-bamboo interiors, blend into the jungle-like environs. The earthy spa menu includes mud wraps and salt scrubs; the two restaurants prepare organic dishes, from ceviche to fish stir-fry. Activity-seekers can turn to the helpful staff, who will arrange scuba diving in Sosúa Bay and horseback riding through nearby villages.
Why It’s a Bargain: The lush north coast of the island has fast become a favorite destination for windsurfers who enjoy the authentic vibe—and lack of tourists.
Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Beach Club
The 2002 property has the feel of a brightly colored Dutch village: rooms are set in restored row houses along hilly cobblestoned streets overlooking downtown Willemstad and the Caribbean Sea. Wander down to the 19th-century Fort Rif, which was recently revamped and now houses shops, cafés, and galleries.
From the hotel group behind celebrity favorite Cap Juluca comes Kú, which means “sacred place” in the Arawak Indian language. The name is appropriate, given that the hotel sits on the white-sand beach of Shoal Bay East near Fountain Cave, one of the tribe’s ceremonial sites. The urbane newcomer provides luxury for less, with South Beach–chic suites—white and pale-aqua walls, white-tiled floors, blond furnishings and fabrics. The suites are as airy as they are minimalist, with living/dining rooms, full kitchens, and ocean-view balconies. Kú’s spa and pool may be on the small side, but its 75-foot beachfront bar is the longest on the island. At the adjoining French-Caribbean restaurant, live music sets a laid-back vibe for barefoot dancing on the beach.
Located slightly off the beaten path in Vieques, Chez Shack is an eclectic, albeit wildly popular, restaurant housed in an unassuming pink shack. Owned by Hugh Duffy, who helped launch the career of 1960’s musical group the Mamas and the Papas, Chez Shack is known around the island for its grill night, held each Monday evening, when the atmosphere is enhanced by the addition of live reggae music. Most nights, specialties include chicken and beef dishes, as well as the restaurant’s famous baked crab cakes. Menu items are scrolled across a chalkboard for diners to review.
The 12-room Landing has a decidedly patrician vibe. The hotel was conceived by Tracy Barry (whose mother was the first-ever Miss Bahamas) and Toby Tyler, a Sydney restaurateur. India Hicks—daughter of the iconic 60’s designer David Hicks, great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and bridesmaid to Diana, Princess of Wales—spearheaded the interiors. Her childhood holidays on Eleuthera helped her hit just the right tone, with crisp Ralph Lauren linens and classic plantation-style beds designed by her partner, David Flint Wood. There are no televisions or phones to distract you, only the periodic docking of the ferry at the small pier across the street.
Sea-U Guest House
From the front, this hideaway on the island’s east coast doesn't look like much, but out back is a two-story plantation-style hotel. Opened by friendly former travel writer Uschi Wetzels, this place isn't for everyone—there's no air-conditioning in the Main House (it is available in the 3-room Cottage, however) or television, guests share a single phone, and mosquito repellent can come in handy at sunset. Easygoing Americans and Europeans get to know each other over family-style meals, and entertainment is provided by monkeys playing in the trees.
The whitewashed rooms are furnished with mahogany, bamboo, or teak beds, dark-wood floors, and large deck chairs for catching a glimpse of the scampering Barbadian green monkeys in the garden. Most of the rooms have shared balconies.
This ultrahip hangout takes its name from its cluster of thatched-roof bungalows built atop rock cliffs that jut just above an aquamarine cove. Most of the 34 so-called rock houses are outfitted with private patios or sundecks; a few have private ladders leading right down into the sea. With four-poster beds made of local timber and covered in the softest linens, soaring ceilings, and giant windows facing the sea or gardens, the rooms encourage ordering breakfast in bed before venturing out for snorkeling in the sheltered waters of the reef or an “On the Rocks” massage (ask for Joy or Maureen) in the new open-air, cliff-top spa. Your dollars do double duty; your vacation helps build and repair local schools and expand libraries. Since 2004, the Rockhouse Foundation has donated over $500,000 to its community.
The boutique property is the latest venture from the hip Micha brothers, who were behind the popular Hotel Deseo, also in bustling Playa del Carmen. This 15-room hideaway, just a block from the beach, forgoes the Deseo’s streamlined aesthetic for a rougher, more industrial look. Rooms tend to be on the small side, but what they lack in size they make up for in style: exposed support beams, walls made of cement and local sand, and floors covered with recycled tires.
Angelus Resort and Spa
Country Country is a "village" of 20 handmade cottages set in a tropical garden on the beach front of Seven Mile Beach in Negril. The cottages, each individually decorated, were designed in the neo-Creole style by renowned architect Ann Hodges. The clapboard, louvered windows, interior walls, and tin roofs are painted in muted gem colors and accented with gingerbread trim and cove moldings. On-the-beach dining is available at Country Peppa's, which serves Jamaican cuisine, and popular restaurants such as Margaritaville are a short walk away. For a break from the beachside fun, there are several scenic waterfalls in the area.
Le Manoir de Marie
Bravo Beach Hotel
Vieques's first design hotel, this superchic beachfront, adults-only property draws the same crowds who flock to the latest André Balazs and Ian Schrager properties. The formerly private villa now contains nine sleekly white guest rooms, which are kitted out with Frette linens and Philippe Starck fixtures, iPod docking stations, and yoga mats. Outside is a pool-area scene that rivals the Delano's on South Beach (complete with trendy tapas and sushi restaurants). If it all gets too overwhelmingly fabulous, take an ocean plunge on the private beach.
Pushcart Restaurant & Rumbar
Order a Red Stripe by the pool from affable barmen Adrian and John, followed by curry goat or jerk pork. Try the Cartini cocktail, with rum, mint, cucumber, and brown sugar.