What’s another hour or two? Visitors who add a connecting flight or ferry can enjoy some of the Caribbean’s most idyllic and deserted islands. Jo Cooke reports.
After a nine-hour flight, clients can be understandably eager to get to their hotel and start enjoying their holiday. However, those willing to delay gratification for just another couple of hours can then spend their days languishing on some of the West Indies’ finest virgin-sand beaches.
“The more-accessible those sun-kissed shores, the more people find them,” says Helen Tabois, senior product and marketing manager at ITC Classics. “A few additional hours of transfer time is nothing in the grand scheme of a 10 or 14-night holiday, but yours can then be the only footprints on the sand and it can be just you and the marine life when you go snorkelling.”
ITC Classics reports a significant rise in demand over the past 18 months for destinations that require an additional flight. “As we all become better travelled, more clients wish to experience something different from what they – and their friends – have tried before,” says Tabois.
Here, we highlight five of the Caribbean’s most idyllic isles on which to lay your beach towel.
Hip Harbour Island
Where: In the Bahamas, 60 miles east of Nassau.
Getting there: Fly to Nassau, stay a night, then take a 45-minute flight to North Eleuthera followed by a 10-minute water taxi. Alternatively, the fast ferry from Paradise Island takes three hours.
What’s it like? Quirky, sleepy Harbour Island is just three-and-a-half miles long and a mile wide. It attracts artists, models and eccentrics and has an incredible, pink-sand beach that stretches almost the entire length of its east coast. The streets that crisscross the island are lined with pastel-coloured clap-board houses nestling in floral gardens. The hub of the action is the port, with its rustic waterfront eateries and shops selling arty knickknacks. You can explore the island by foot or nip about by golf cart. Harbour Island is ideal for clients seeking a laid-back, exclusive retreat without a hefty price tag.
Stay: Harbour Island has beach-side boutique hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. Coral Sands is particularly popular and offers cottages with private staircases down to Pink Sand Beach.
Do: Dive, fish, sail. Visit the ruins of a haunted house. And take a look at the world’s largest coconut.
Sample package: Bahamas Flavour offers six nights with breakfast at Coral Sands Hotel, and one night with breakfast at A Stone’s Throw Away, Nassau, from £1,625, for travel between January 31 and September 1, excluding August 1-31, including flights and connections to Harbour Island.
Movie star Mustique
Where: Part of the Grenadines archipelago that lies west of Barbados.
Getting there: Fly to Barbados, then board a 45-minute flight.
What’s it like? An exclusive, private island just three miles long and one mile wide, Mustique attracts celebrities and royalty, including Paul Newman, Mick Jagger and Prince Andrew. There are nine pristine beaches backed by tropical foliage, and coral reefs edge the shoreline. All guests are invited to the weekly cocktail party and to watch movies under the stars. Mustique suits clients who seek seclusion, those who want to see how the other half lives and those who wish to dine side-by-side with the world’s A-listers.
Stay: The island has 74 rental villas with staff, a guest house and the Cotton House hotel, a former 18th-century warehouse with 17 rooms, 11 with private pools.
Do: Snorkel, ride a horse, treat yourself to a spa treatment at the Cotton House or take a sailing trip to the Tobago Cays.
Sample package: ITC Classics offers seven nights with breakfast at the Cotton House from £1,799 including flights and private transfers. Book by March 31 for travel between April 28 and September 1.
Green queen Dominica
Where: Between Martinique and Guadeloupe, north of Saint Lucia.
Getting there: Fly to Antigua, then take a 45-minute flight to Dominica.
What’s it like? Dominica is a natural wonderland of cascading waterfalls, dense rainforest, craggy mountains and meandering rivers. It’s also home to the second-largest boiling lake in the world. This year sees the opening of a 115-mile hiking route across the island. This will be the Caribbean’s first long-distance walking trail. Dominica is also a great place to go whale watching between March and November. The island suits the adventurous, nature lovers, eco-warriors and those who want to island-hop.
Stay: Hotels on the island all have fewer than 70 rooms and are big on green credentials. Jungle Bay is an award-winning eco-resort with accommodation in stilted wooden huts edged by forest and overlooking the sea.
Do: Hike, watch birds or try zip-lining across gorges. Visitors can also travel by ferry to Guadeloupe, Martinique and Saint Lucia.
Sample package: Caribtours offers seven nights at Jungle Bay, Dominica, from £2,125 between May and October, including return scheduled flights, private transfers and use of a private lounge at Gatwick.
020 3131 0169
So French St Barts
Where: North of Antigua in the French West Indies.
Getting there: Fly to Antigua, then it’s a 45-minute flight.
What’s it like? The South of France comes to the West Indies in St Barts. The coastline is edged by 21 quintessentially Caribbean beaches, while the capital Gustavia is cosmopolitan and has a European feel. Red-roofed houses form a sweeping horseshoe around the harbour where multimillion-dollar yachts shimmer in the sunlight. Beyond the waterfront, exquisite gourmet restaurants neighbour exclusive boutiques and galleries. Measuring just eight square miles, St Barts suits clients with cash to splash, Francophiles seeking some winter sun and serious foodies.
Do: Hire a jeep and explore the mountainous interior, dive and snorkel in the marine park and people-watch from street cafes.
Stay: The island has pretty beach cottages and stylish boutique hotels. Eden Rock, perched on a clifftop, is a Relais & Chateaux property. It has 31 rooms and suites, including Villa Rockstar with its own recording studio, cars, cinema, gym, pool and spa.
Sample package: ITC Classics offers a seven-night Eden Bliss package at Eden Rock from £2,849 for travel between April 14 and November 14. The price includes flights, private transfers and extras such as back massages.
Where: Two miles southeast of St Kitts.
Getting there: Fly to St Kitts then take a 45-minute ferry ride.
What’s it like? Nevis is full of old-school, Caribbean charm. Great houses and stone sugar mills are tucked away among the rainforest and cane fields, which rise to meet Nevis Peak, the island’s dormant volcano. From the hillsides there are sweeping views of the island’s sugar-white sand beaches. Nevis is low-key, slow-paced and suits clients who enjoy gazing out at beautiful, tropical scenery and partaking in colonial traditions, such as afternoon tea on the veranda and croquet on the lawn.
Stay: Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is a plush former plantation house and the only original great house in the Caribbean set on a beach. The Four Seasons Resort boasts an extensive beach and numerous amenities.
Do: Visit the exotic Botanical Gardens, swot up on maritime history at the Horatio Nelson Museum, climb Nevis Peak and play a round of golf at the Robert Trent Jones II-designed course.
Sample package: Caribtours offers seven nights’ half-board at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Nevis, from £1,789, between May and October, including flights to St Kitts, water taxi transfers to Nevis and use of a private lounge at Gatwick.
020 3131 0169
New in the Caribbean for 2012
Virgin to Grenada
Virgin Atlantic has introduced another regular flight from Gatwick to Grenada, bringing the number of weekly services from the UK – including those of British Airways and Monarch Airlines – to the island to five.
Caribtours air transfer
Caribtours and The Private Travel Company offer clients a free chauffeur-driven airport transfer for Caribbean holidays taken before March 31. Agents can also earn a £50 Capital Bonds voucher for each booking made in January. To claim, email your booking reference to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 10.
A more frequent ferry service has been introduced to connect Dominica, Saint Lucia, Guadeloupe and Martinique daily throughout the year.
Aruba’s historic capital Oranjestad, a key part of the island’s Dutch heritage, is getting a facelift. The revamp includes the development of a £6 million National Historic Centre, restoration of the Court Building, Water Tower and other historic buildings, and improvements to the view seen by cruise ships from the harbour.
Kuoni adds hotels
Kuoni has added Caribbean properties in its 2012 brochure, including the Flamboyant Hotel & Villas in Grenada and the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort in Tobago, which opened in December and features an 18-hole championship golf course set on a 750-acre estate.