A world of crystal-clear waters and sugar-white sand awaits…
Picture the perfect tropical paradise and you’ll likely conjure up images of the Caribbean’s countless islands – a gently swaying hammock set to a soundtrack of crashing waves and calypso beats. Nowhere does winter sun quite like the Caribbean – and with many of the islands now open to international travellers, it’s still possible to get your dose of vitamin sea, whether you island hop or fly-and-flop, when the temperatures start to drop. Here, we’ve handpicked ten of our favourite islands where you can while away the winter with a coconut rum punch in hand.
Barbados has some of the purest water in the world, and you can drink it straight from the tap in popular celebrity watering hole, St. James. Be that as it may, you’ll doubtless want to try the local rum while you’re here. Sip a cocktail at your luxury beach bar, or pop into one of the 1,500 rum shops around the island to mingle with locals. When it’s time to make a splash, you can do just about everything on this Lesser Antilles island, from scuba diving to swimming with turtles.
Where to stay: Choose between stylish St. James sister properties Coral Reef Club and The Sandpiper – both beachfront beauties are family-owned and set within wonderfully kept tropical gardens, sharing a sensational spa where therapy rooms come in the form of colonial-style cabanas which let the balmy Barbados breeze drift through.
An irrepressible energy seems to infuse every part of Jamaica – and we’re not just talking about reggae. From the captivating colours of the coast, with its white sands, turquoise waters and blue skies, to the intense flavours of the food (and potent rum cocktails). But away from the bustling shores around Kingston and Montego Bay, you’ll discover a more laid-back Jamaica. There’s tiny Bikini Beach, and the sheltered waters of Frenchman’s Cove further along the coast. Luxury resorts sit among rugged scenery and historic towns – rewarding those who step off the beaten path.
Where to stay: For a front row sun lounger to the famous Doctor’s Cave Beach, S Hotel boasts some of the finest coastal views Jamaica has to offer, while The Trident Hotel blends into a jungle backdrop, where crystalline lagoons and waterfalls wait hidden beneath the canopy.
3. Turks & Caicos
Once a hiding place for 18th-century pirates, the eight main islands of Turks & Caicos are now relaxing escapes. Hop your way round numerous rocky cays fringed by powder-soft sand, or explore the largest above-ground caves in the Caribbean – it’s easy to see what makes this Atlantic archipelago such a magical adventure. On South Caicos, roaming wild donkeys now outnumber humans, and wildlife has been left free to flourish across the island and in the surrounding coral reef. Watch a pink cloud of flamingos flock together on the pancake-flat salinas, and spy green turtles and lemon sharks basking in the mangrove channels.
Where to stay: Surrounded by an untouched landscape and a boat-ride away from a coral reef teeming with life, you’re never far from adventure at Sailrock Resort. Bliss out in a Beachfront Villa nestled among the trees and just a few sandy steps from the warm, shallow ocean.
4. Dominican Republic
Most travellers might not think of a Caribbean city break, but swap coconuts on the beach for culture in cobbled streets and you’ll uncover the real beauty of the Dominican Republic. You can get lost in little fishing villages, stumble across an ancient monastery, and spot humpback whales from the dramatic rock faces and spectacular beaches that surround the island. Head to Boca Chica for a calm, coral-filled lagoon and plenty of beachside restaurants, or wander UNESCO-listed Santo Domingo’s labyrinthine streets in the Colonial Zone for a slice of Spanish architecture.
Where to stay: Amidst the architectural treasure trove of Santo Domingo, you’ll find Casas del XVI – a colourful cluster of individually decorated 16th-century houses jam packed with local works of art and ancient Dominican artefacts. On the north-east coast, Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences is an exclusive selection of casitas and suites facing a pristine sandy beach, with floor-to-ceiling windows that make the most of the soul-stirring views. For an eco-friendly escape, the lodge at Casa Bonita is made from local thatch and native trees while the hotel restaurant serves local seafood and ingredients from the on-site organic garden, all wrapped up within the Dominican Republic’s only biosphere reserve.
5. Puerto Rico
Beneath the idyllic loveliness you’d expect from any Caribbean island, Puerto Rico beats to a lively Latin rhythm, and sizzles with sophisticated culture and cuisine. Follow in the footsteps of the conquistadors in Old San Juan where the New World began some 500 years ago, strolling the blue cobblestone streets lined with beautiful colonial buildings and hemmed in by historic forts. Adventure travellers can explore the orchid-rich rainforests dotted with waterfalls, while those looking to holiday at a more relaxed pace can find a spot beneath swaying palms on a crescent-shaped beach.
Where to stay: You’ll be welcomed with complimentary ‘Coquitos’ in the garden at Olive Boutique Hotel – a favourite local cocktail with Puerto Rican rum and coconut milk. This art-filled haven is influenced by the owner’s travels throughout Southern Europe, so you’ll find curated works of Tuscan and Provençal artisans throughout.
6. St Vincent & the Grenadines
Travellers can enjoy the best of both worlds with a trip to these exotic islands – St. Vincent is bustling with life and soul, while the Grenadines offer a perfectly tranquil atmosphere. Sailing enthusiasts should plan their visit for January to watch the world-famous yacht regatta, or simply island hop your way around on a private boat trip. For a true Robinson Crusoe experience, pack a picnic and head to the dinky, deserted islet of Morpion where you can drop anchor for the afternoon and swim amongst shoals of multicoloured fish.
Where to stay: Imagine what would happen if someone discovered an island and decided to turn it into an exclusive tropical hideaway, with all the amenities and features you could wish for. That’s Petit St. Vincent, a tiny gem of a barefoot beach resort in the beautiful Grenadine Islands which is all about unplugged luxury.
Blissful Bequia is one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets. Measuring just seven square miles, this castaway island is home to fewer than 5,000 inhabitants and boasts unspoiled golden sandy beaches, secret lagoons and some of the world’s clearest skies. For the best views on the island, ‘Mount Peggy’ is well worth a climb – trek through open pastures, dry scrub bush and dry tropical forest to reach the summit, which also happens to be the highest point on Bequia.
Where to stay: Made up of just thirteen private villas, The Liming is somewhere to relax and recharge in complete privacy with lush gardens, a private marina and views towards Canouan and Mayreau.
Martinique is a small island that’s brimming with ‘joie de vivre’ – a true melting pot of French and Caribbean cultures. On the one hand, you’ll find croissants and chic boutiques, colonial grandeur and fine French wines. On the other are Créole specialities and gorgeous beach retreats, lush jungle and divine spas. Renowned surf spot Tartane is a secluded town on the coast that’s perfectly located if you want to dive into the balmy waters of the Caribbean Sea, or simply enjoy some of the best beaches the world has to offer.
Where to stay: Just 300 metres from the most glorious sandy beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, French Coco is an all-suite hotel in Tartane, surrounded by a nature reserve on the Caravelle Peninsula. Barefoot luxury at its best, this intimate property has a restaurant serving delicious French- style, Creole-inspired cuisine, a deck by the pool and a lounge.
The scent of spice hangs in the air in Grenada, the southernmost island in the Antilles archipelago – where you might even be able to smell the intoxicating aromas of nutmeg and cloves from your luxury hotel. You could take a trip the Grand Etang National Park & Forest Reserve and sit at the edge of the lake beside an extinct volcano, or wander the winding streets of pretty St. George’s. You’ll find time slows down here, as locals get the most out of life and enjoy the views.
Where to stay: Made up of thirty-four beachfront, garden, and pool suites, each with their own terrace and private rock garden, Spice Island Beach Resort is the ultimate laid-back luxury retreat. Amble through lemon, almond and sea-grape trees with their heady aromas, then visit the resort’s spa and indulge in a revitalising herb and spice body wrap.
10. Antigua & Barbuda
With lively barbecues and toe-tapping local music, the Antiguans know how to have a good time. And when the party’s over, they’re experts at relaxing too. With tranquil azure seas and some of the best beaches in the world, it’s no wonder. Sample local fine dining, with glorious seafood and drinks like pineapple straight from the trees. English Harbour is a favourite with yachtsmen from across the world, while Nelson’s Dockyard is justly known as one of the world’s best examples of a Georgian naval port.
Where to stay: Each spacious room and suite at The Inn at English Harbour has a private veranda or terrace from which to take in the views of yachts and boats cruising along the bay. Recline on a sun lounger by the pool or pamper yourself with a soothing body wrap in the spa.