Caribbean Getaways: Something Old, Something New...
by Paris Permenter & John Bigley
For some lovers, a Caribbean getaway means a patch of chalky
white sand, a gentle lapping surf, and days spent luxuriating in each
other's company beneath a tall palm tree. For other couples, the Caribbean
might bring to mind days spent hiking verdant rainforests hand-in-hand,
scuba diving in waters as clear as white rum, or dancing the evening away
beneath a starlit tropical sky.
When a Caribbean vacation comes to mind, images of sun,
sand, and surf arise. While they may all share the powdery sand, the aquamarine
waters, and the near-perfect weather, Caribbean destinations can be as
different as the seashells found along their beaches. Some islands are
large and span hundreds of miles; others can be covered in an afternoon
bicycle excursion. Culturally, these islands vary from French to Dutch
to English; language and currency differ as well. Political structures
range from crown colonies to independent nations.
What these islands do have in common is that each offers
the ingredients for a romantic vacation. Lavish resorts. Vibrant scenery.
Sensuous sunsets. Smoldering evenings spend dancing to a tropical beat
or falling asleep to the sounds of a soothing surf.
the days when these islands were the home of the Arawak and the Carib
Indians, a period that lasted until the arrival of the 15th century Spanish
conquistadors, the beauty of the Caribbean has not changed. Although they
may now be dotted with resort hotels, the islands are still blessed with
weather that ranges from the upper 70s in the winter to the lower 80s
in the summer. Like a perpetual spring, days may be punctuated with brief
showers that usually clear before the two of you can leave the beach.
Those early conquistadors left their mark in the Caribbean
with fortresses and lookouts to guard their precious booty. In Puerto
Rico's Old San Juan, narrow, ancient streets are rich with the atmosphere
of Spanish explorers. Stroll hand-in-hand where lovers have literally
walked for centuries. Don't miss a visit to Fuerte San Felipe del Morro,
better known as El Morro. This fort, one of the most photographed spots
in the Caribbean, was built in 1539 to protect the entrance into San Juan
Harbor, a point from which the Spanish monitored their shipping between
the Caribbean and Europe. Today it's the perfect spot for lovers to look
out on the sea and enjoy the cooling tradewinds.
sugar plantations play an important role on the islands of St. Kitts and
Nevis, home to many plantation inns that operate as romantic bed-and-breakfasts.
Here couples can snuggle in antiques-filled rooms or cozy up in a property
shared only by a handful of other guests. In Nevis, stroll from an 18th
century greathouse to one of the island's best beaches along a quarter-mile
promenade lined with tall coconut palms. Nisbet Beach Club, once the home
of the bride of Britain's Admiral Horatio Nelson, is today a charming
inn. Guests stay in lemon-tinted bungalows scattered throughout the property
and spend their evenings dining by candlelight on the wide, screened veranda
of this two-story greathouse.
Or spend your days along a black volcanic sand beach at
the Golden Lemon in the shadow of St. Kitts' rainforest-draped Mt. Liamuiga.
Owned and managed by former House and Garden decorating editor Arthur
Leaman, this 17th century greathouse and contemporary seaside villas are
filled with West Indian antiques. For the ultimate in luxury, many of
the villas offer private plunge pools where the two of you can steal out
for a midnight swim.
Today many couples come to the Caribbean for a chance to
get away from more than just their everyday routines, they're ready to
escape the cares of budgets and billfolds as well. All-inclusive resorts
have sprung up across the Caribbean and offer their guests the opportunity
to vacation without keeping an eye on the pocketbook because, while they're
on the property, everything is theirs for the asking.
"Here all our guests are equally rich because you
can't spend money while you're here," says John Issa, the man who
began Couples, the first totally all-inclusive resort for couples. Today
Issa heads SuperClubs, a chain of elegant all-inclusives with properties
in Jamaica and the Bahamas.
SuperClubs and couples-only Sandals resorts are part of
the all-inclusive market that has blossomed like bougainvillea throughout
the Caribbean. Jamaica is home to the majority of the Caribbean's all-inclusive
resorts, places where requests are met with the promise of "no problem"
rather than a charge slip or bar tab.
Although all these island boast a rollicking Caribbean
spirit, their cultures also borrow heavily from their founding fathers.
On the exclusive island of St. Barts, a favorite getaway for celebrities
from around the globe, couples are enveloped in the atmosphere of French
élan. The two of you can hop aboard a rented Mini-Moke, similar
to a small dune buggy, and spend the day cruising the hilly streets of
Gustavia. Shop for baguettes and croissants to take back to your villa
or hotel that evening, or share a European brew or a glass of French wine
at a shady streetside café.
St. Barts' neighboring island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten
is a unique blend of two cultures on one island. Called "a little
bit European and a lot Caribbean," it's a fitting description of
a most unusual political situation. The smallest land mass on the globe
shared by two nations, it's a peaceful neighboring of French and Dutch
that offers vacationers twice the cultural experience. Travel is effortless
between the two nations, like crossing a county line back in the States.
No passports. No customs. No immigration. Although the border is almost
superficial, there are distinctions between the two countries. Mention
"St. Martin" and many visitors will immediately think of topless
bathing that's de rigeur on the Gallic beaches. On this portion of the
island, the atmosphere is definitely French, with plenty of bakeries to
enjoy a baguette or crepes. French is heard in the markets and there's
no mistaking that this is la partie francaise.The
Dutch influence is seen in the architecture on the island's southern reaches.
Many of those historic buildings now house some of the best duty-free
shopping in the Caribbean. Cameras, electronic goods, perfumes, and fine
jewelry are especially good buys in the boutiques of Philipsburg--or bring
home a special memento with Delft china from the Netherlands. During the
night hours, the Dutch side hops with activity in its glitzy casinos and
rocking nightclubs. An even stronger Dutch influence is found in the Southern
Caribbean on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and especially Curaçao.
Just the name Curaçao--derived from the Portuguese word for the
heart-- speaks of romance. Add to that an historic capital city with tiny
twinkling lights and picturesque European-style structures, fine cuisine
from around the globe, and both tranquil beaches and a rugged coastline,
and you have all the ingredients for a romantic getaway.
One of Curaçao's southern neighbors is the island
of Trinidad, a favorite with nature lovers. This anvil-shaped island bustles
with activity in Port of Spain, the capital city that's also a capital
in the world of Caribbean commerce. Here you'll hear accents from residents
who have relocated from around the world to work in this modern metropolis.
The Indian influence is stronger here than anywhere else in the Caribbean,
and is seen in the faces of islanders, the architecture, food, and religion
of the island, where nearly one quarter of all residents are Hindu.
At some resorts, an imported culture, exotic and alluring,
bring to vacationers an atmosphere from halfway around the globe. Wisps
of fragrant incense greet couples as they step into the open air lobby
of Sonesta Beach Resort Anguilla, a sparkling resort that's distinctly
Moroccan that lines a lanky white beach. The two of you will be saying
"Play it again, Sam" as you dine to the sounds of a piano in
an open-air restaurant decorated with hand-tiled Moorish mosaics and views
of the Caribbean framed by Moroccan arches.
The true island treasures that every Caribbean nation shares
are miles of beaches rimmed with clear, warm water. The activities in
these waters are endless: sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, the list
goes on and on.
For some couples, romance means setting their own course
for island bliss aboard a chartered yacht. While this may sound like the
"Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," many honeymooners find
that it's comparable in price to a stay at an island resort. "It
is one of the least known vacations out here," says Captain Don Chandler,
who with his wife and chef Susan operates the charter yacht S/V Sopris
out of St. Thomas. "It's an all-inclusive but basically the client
is in charge. Or look at it as a bed-and-breakfast with a different view
every morning." From St. Thomas as well as the British Virgin Islands
and Sint Maarten, many lovers charter yachts for a week spent mooring
off secluded beaches accessible only by boat.
If you want to venture beneath the waves, you'll find some
of the top dive destinations are the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos,
the Bahamas, and Bonaire. Divers can hand feed sharks on guided dives
in the Bahamas or pet sting rays in the Cayman Islands. Or if you're just
looking to snorkel hand-in-hand, coral reefs lie scattered just yards
from shore throughout this romantic region. Just off the coast of St.
Croix lies beautiful Buck Island, where an underwater snorkel trail winds
its way along colorful corals and brilliant marine life.
For other lovers, there's nothing more enjoyable than a
day spent lying along a stretch of toasty sand, listening to the gentle
murmur of the waves. Luscious beaches are found throughout the Caribbean
and the Bahamas. They range from secluded strips of sand where the two
of you will make the only footprints on islands like the Turks and Caicos
and Anguilla to hip-hopping beaches that are the most happening place
on the island, spots like Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica and Orient
Beach in St. Martin.
Orient Beach, like most beaches on the French islands,
is topless in the true European style. One stretch of this beach is also
clothing-optional, a place where the two of you can lose your swimsuits
and cares and swim like sleek dolphins in the surf. Jamaica is also home
to many resorts with nude beaches, some of which offer a relaxed, private
atmosphere, others that bustle with bacchanalian fun such as at Hedonism
II and III, where guests come to leave their inhibitions behind, seeking
pleasure in the form of buffets to tempt the most devoted calorie counters,
bars that remain open until 5 a.m., and nonstop adult fun.
For other couples, naturalist rather than naturist may
be the order of the day. There's no better place in the Caribbean to enjoy
beachside camping than the US Virgin Island of St. John, a tiny treasure
of just 28 square miles. This is the eco-tourism capital of the Caribbean,
a place where you and your lover can hike, snorkel, and tour an island
where two-thirds of the land is preserved as a national park. And when
it's time to take a dip in the Caribbean waters, a cozy cove that's just
right for you awaits: Honeymoon Beach.