Guadeloupe

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Photos courtesy of French Government Tourist Office

The island of Guadeloupe is the most French of all the French West Indies. Shaped like a butterfly, it really is two different islands in one – the east side, Grand Terre, is mostly flat and dry, with a great deal of agriculture; to the west, Basse-Terre is a volcanic mountain island. La Soufriere is an active volcano, which causes abundant annual rainfall. It is also the sight of a National Park, containing one of the most beautiful and best preserved tropical forests in the region. This Park has over 300 kilometers of hiking trails. Guadeloupe also has many museums of its history and culture, as well as beautiful beaches.

Club Med has renovated its Caravelle club on Grand Terre. Other attractive hotels there include the Auberge de la Vielle Tour, by Sofitel, at Gosier; the Hotel Eden Palm at St. Anne; and Le Jardin Malanga, a restored plantation house and cottages at Trois Rivieres on Basse-Terre. On the offshore island of Marie Galante, stay at the Hotel La Cohaba.

As a further enhancement, Guadeloupe administers a number of smaller islands, including Les Saintes; Petite Terre; Le Desirade; and Marie Galante, with excellent beaches. Each of these is different, and provides special small-island experiences.

On Guadeloupe, some knowledge of French is virtually mandatory.

Not To Be Missed – Charter a sailboat and cruise for days among beautiful islands.

Grenada

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Photos courtesy of Grenada Board of Tourism

A small, volcanic island at the extreme southern end of the Caribbean chain, Grenada offers lovely beaches and interesting ecotourism. Often called The Island of Spice, it has historically produced about 1/3 of the worlds nutmeg.

One year after Hurricane Ivan, Grenada has experienced remarkable improvements in its tourism industry. These were structured to ensure that arriving visitors will see it immediately and continuously.

With over a sixth of the island preserved as parks and natural wildlife habitat, Grenada is a leader in ecotourism. Hiking the hills and mountains of the interior is excellent, with spectacular views of the surrounding Caribbean Sea and smaller islands. Diving and snorkeling are outstanding here, with extensive reef formations and numerous wrecks, including a 600 foot former cruise ship, available to please any level of diver. And more than 40 beaches offer a vast array of choices of location for sunbathing and enjoying Grenadas beautiful blue waters. Grenada also offers excursions to neighboring Grenadine islands, including Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Not To Be Missed – In January, 2008, two major sporting events on Grenada occur back-to-back: the Spice Island Billfish Tournament, January 21-25; and the LaSource Grenada Sailing Festival, January 25-30.

Dominican Republic

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Photos courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism

One of the largest countries in the region, with the highest mountain and perhaps the largest resort, the Dominican Republic has 870 miles of coastline on three sides. It is rich in history, vivid in culture, and it possesses a wide variety of attractions for every taste and budget. The interior is punctuated with lakes and mountains, supporting a growing agriculture industry. Not to be confused with Dominica (see above), it shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, to the west.

The capital city, Santo Domingo, was established by Columbus during one of his voyages, making it as old as they get in this part of the world. UNESCO has designated the Colonial City of Santo Domingo as a World Heritage Site.

All that coastline means lots of beaches, and the Dominican Republic has them. Puerto Plata, La Romana, La Samana, and most recently, Punta Cana, all vie for attention.

Puerto Plata has about 40% of the country’s hotel rooms, nearly 20,000. The town is built around the base of Mt. Isabel de Torres, and it features a great many Victorian period buildings, painted in pastel colors, and holding shops, bars, offices, restaurants, and clubs. Also there is San Felipe Fort, in classic Spanish Colonial style.

West from Puerto Plata lie many smaller beach towns, most notably Playa Dorada, Sosua, Caberete (famous for windsurfing), and the Costa Verde area.

In the northeast lies the Samana peninsula with beaches, tiny tropical islets, the European beach town of Las Terrenas, and Los Haitises National Park.

Punta Cana is the newest resort development here, on the furthest east coast, and with its own international airport. With miles of spectacular beaches, Punta Cana has no town nearby, leaving it off by itself and very private feeling. But this means it offers very tranquil, low key vacation experiences, which many find ideal. The beach is the thing here, but day activities such as excursions, sailing trips, horseback riding, and golf are all available. Nightlife is limited to hotel variety shows, but the Barcelo Bavaro Casino has the leading Latin and Caribbean music production. And Club Med has one of its most popular properties here.

On the southeast coast you find the town of La Romana, famous for many years as the home of world-famous Casa de Campo, one of the largest and most full-service resorts in the world. La Romana has its own international airport, now no longer crossing the fairway of the golf course. Nearby are the islands of Bayahibe and Dominicus, with their exquisite beaches, and the National Park of the East.

Not To Be Missed – Climb to the top of Pico Duarte, the highest point in the Caribbean; watch humpback whales in Samana Bay, mid-January to March.

Dominica

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Photos courtesy of Dominica Division of Tourism

Volcanic, with active geothermal features, and an almost overpoweringly verdant jungle, Dominica excels in exciting hiking, swimming in waterfall pools, and adventure activities of all kinds. It’s also the home to the last surviving group of Caribe Indians, the region’s original inhabitants.

1n 1997, UNESCO enlisted Dominica’s Morne Trois Piton National Park as a World Heritage Site, the first of its kind in the entire Eastern Caribbean. More adventure activities include mountain biking and kayaking excursions. Hiking comes in Small, Medium, and Serious sizes, all rewarding. And numerous waterfalls provide pools with both hot and cold running water.

Hotels on Dominica include the Fort Young in Rosseau, the Papillotte Wilderness Retreat, the Evergreen, and the Layou River Hotel. The Beau Rive is truly exceptional.

Not To Be Missed – Morne Trois Piton National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Curacoa

Located in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica enjoys a standard of living, education, and healthcare that is the envy of all its neighbors. Combining tropical rain forests, volcanoes and geothermal activity, and beautiful beaches, it has attractions to rival any Caribbean island.

But what makes it truly distinctive is the fact that, with only 0.03% of the surface of the earth, Costa Rica contains nearly 6% of the planet’s biodiversity. This means that exploring the interior is not only a very special experience, it’s a truly world-class one. With ten National parks spread across the entire length and breadth of the country, Costa Rica has an enormous amount to offer.

Adventure travelers can choose snorkeling, kayaking, and sport fishing; bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, canopy tours, aerial trams through the rain forest, zip lining, and animal watching, with crocodiles, manatees, otters, and sea turtles in prominence.

Good quality infrastructure means most of the country is easily and quickly accessible. And accommodations are available at every level, in many locations and settings, with many very special jungle lodges in the interior in particular.

Guanacaste State, in the northwest, has some of the best and most accessible beaches, with direct flights into nearby Liberia. The Arenal volcano is in the north central area, and 1-week itineraries combining these two are popular. But many other resorts and hotels exist, along the entire Pacific coast and throughout the country, and many parts of the interior offer a plethora of recreation and activity options, enough to keep anyone busy for two weeks or more.

Not To Be Missed – Hot springs near the Arenal volcano; tree-top observation tours by canopy walks or aerial trams.

Cozumel

Mexico’s largest island, blessed with world-class reefs and other dive sites, has always featured diving as its first appeal. But beach hotels have also existed there, and as the entire Mexican Caribbean tourism industry has grown, so has Cozumel’s.

The island has its own unique personality, apart from everything you find on the mainland. Things are just a little bit different here.

Cozumel is reachable by air, by major U.S. carriers from Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta, and on local flights from Cancun; ferries sail from Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan coast.

Cozumel is also a popular cruise port of call, included in practically every Western Caribbean sailing currently offered, by almost every cruise line.

Hotel options on Cozumel include the Presidente InterContinental Resort; the Melia Cozumel all-inclusive; and the Hacienda San Miguel in the main town on the island.

Not To Be Missed – The Cozumel Golf Club was designed and built by the Jack Nicklaus folks, but being on this quiet island, tee times are generally much easier to get than on the mainland.
Imagine a sun drenched Mexican island where you can relax and enjoy life as time rolls by. That’s Cozumel! You can sun on the beach, explore the island in your jeep or on your scooter, eat, drink, snorkel, dive, and otherwise be merry here. Although not far away from the hustle and excitement of Cancun, Cozumel seems to be worlds away nonetheless.

Located off the Yucatan peninsula, Cozumel is known as a diver’s paradise for its great underwater visibility. Because of the current, most of the diving is drift diving – not really my favorite, but many diving enthusiasts prefer it.

The only town on Cozumel is San Miguel. San Miguel faces west, while the main road on the island runs north-south. Most of the hotels on Cozumel are along this road. In the center of San Miguel is a lovely plaza where you can eat, shop for souvenirs, or simply enjoy whatever activities are underway at the moment. This is quite a place to be at night – if you like to take in the local color – and should not be missed during your stay. Another fun activity is taking the ferry over to Playa del Carmen for an afternoon or evening of shopping and eating.

I traveled to Cozumel with my wife, Judy, her instructor, and a divemaster for Judy’s open water certification dives. If there ever was a testament to the the argument that “scuba is for everyone”, then it’s Judy. After some reluctance and anxiety about being under the water, she has fallen in love with scuba diving. She felt the sight of barracuda, rays, parrotfish, angelfish and more were truly awe-inspiring. Right now, she’s happy to be what I call a “35 foot diver”, but we’ll see after she gets a few more dives under her weight belt. If not, then that’s fine, too. We’re definitely not the macho types who want to prove that we are the next Jacques and Jane Cousteaus. Scuba is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone and is tailored to each person’s experience and comfort level.

For our dives, we were at Santa Rosa Reef (a great wall with some cool tunnels), Paradise Reef, Tormentos Reef and Chankanab. Of these, Tormentos offered the best visibility while we were there at over 100 feet and was our favorite after Santa Rosa.

ACCOMODATIONS

Hotel Presidente: We stayed at the Intercontinental Presidente. This hotel was the most luxurious property I visited. It’s just a few miles outside of San Miguel and is just minutes by car. The long drive circles to an open air lobby for check in. Beautifully maintained, the Presidente had two very good restaurants, a pool, a scuba shop, a pretty beach, a tour desk and more. If you are going to spend much time on the island and can afford a few more dollars, this is definitely the place to stay.

Hotel Fiesta Americana: Another beautiful property on Cozumel, the Fiesta American has recently undergone some extensive renovations. It is about 10 minutes further from San Miguel than the Presidente. The beach is across the road from one of its pools – which may be a little inconvenient. There is a pedestrian overpass to get to the beach. The property has three restaurants, a dive shop and various other shops. The rooms were very nice. Some toward the rear of the hotel and the casitas have magnificent views of the jungle which cover most of the island.

Fiesta Inn: A popular choice amongst divers, this hotel is just on the edge of San Miguel. It is not an oceanfront hotel. The beach is accessed by a pedestrian underpass. This is a more moderately priced property than the Presidente or Fiesta Americana. The rooms were adequate, but could have used some updating. The pool here is reputed to Cozumel’s largest – a claim I don’t doubt. There is a small restaurant on property reminiscent of a Denny’s. If you don’t mind a little hustle/bustle (which on Cozumel is not much anyway) and you plan to spend a lot of time diving or at the pool, and you want to save a few dollars during your stay, this property is certainly good enough.

Plaza las Glorias: Across from the Fiesta Inn, this property is very similar in class to the Fiesta Inn. It is an oceanfront hotel with views that make for some good chillin’ out time. However, there is no beach here and the surf is rough for swimming. You’ll be better off at their small pool. For the same money, I’d stay at the Fiesta Inn.

Reef Club Beach Resort: The Reef Club is an all inclusive (including alcoholic beverages) low rise complex outside of San Miguel located on a nice beach. There are two pools here. Both are very active during the daytime. This property also has a Kid’s Club for children 4 – 12 years of age – nice when parents and kids need an occasional break from one another. The staff here works on a show and is involved with the guests. The restaurant and menu on site seemed adequate, but not spectacular – which is pretty typical for Cozumel. If you are looking for a place where you can pay one price and not worry about much else, the Reef Club should be considered.

Cancun

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Photos courtesy of Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau

Cancun is the largest, most successful planned resort in Mexico and the Caribbean, unrivaled by anything, anywhere.

The beach area of Cancun, known as the Hotel Zone, is shaped like the number 7, with the Caribbean Sea to the east, the Bay of Mujeres to the north, and the Nichupte Lagoon to the west. It measures 14 miles of beachfront land, now almost fully developed, with many resort hotels in close proximity; shopping malls, restaurants, and recreational activities, are all close by, some literally at your doorstep.

Many hotels offer all-inclusive plans, but many are conventionally European Plan. Full service spas, meeting facilities, children’s programs, and a growing number of golf courses, are characteristic. Most hotels have beautiful pools, which are sometimes more attractive than the beach to some guests.

Major U.S. and international hotel chains are present, including Hyatt, Sheraton, Westin, Hilton, Marriott, InterContinental, and Ritz-Carlton. Prominent Mexican and Spanish companies include Fiesta Americana, Camino Real, Palace Resorts, Sol Melia Group, RIU resorts, and Occidental resorts. And Club Med’s Cancun property is almost always sold out, it’s so popular.

Cancun’s popularity is worldwide – guests come from Europe, Asia, and Australia, as well as from North America. There is no truly bad season to go, but winter continues to be the big draw, as is true elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Cancun International Airport lies just south of the Hotel Zone, and receives domestic, international, and charter flights daily, year round. Cancun is also the airport for the Mayan Riviera and Cozumel, just to the south.

Not To Be Missed – Visit Isla Mujeres, the most important offshore island; visit Mayan ruins, across the street from the Cancun Hilton; visit the Interactive Aquarium, within the Plaza La Isla shopping center.

British Virgin Islands

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Photos courtesy of British Virgin Islands Tourist Board

In its early years, the British Virgin Islands fairly swarmed with pirates, who hid in its coves and kept guard from hill-top lookouts. Today, the fine sailing and magnificent anchorages are just as prized by yachtsmen, both experienced and novice alike.

Most of the population of Tortola, the major island, live in or near Road Town, the capital. The other principal islands are Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost van Dyke, all accessible by small planes and inter-island ferries.

Everywhere in the BVI, beaches are splendid and beach bars exceptional. Scuba diving is popular around reefs and wrecks, most notably the RMS Rhone, reckoned to be the best wreck dive in the Western hemisphere. Gourmet cuisine can be found, along with steel pan and guitar music, in the evening.

The British Virgin Islands’ hotels are all small, mostly privately owned, with lots of character and charm; some of them are outstanding. These include Little Dix Bay, Biras Creek Resort, and the Bitter End Yacht Club, on Virgin Gorda; and Long Bay Resort and Villas, The Sugar Mill, and the Moorings Mariner Inn and Yacht Charters, on Tortola; and Peter Island Resort on Peter Island.

Not To Be Missed – BVI’s Regatta Sailing Festival and Spring runs from March 31 to April 6, 2008

Bonaire

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Photos courtesy of Tourism Corporation Bonaire

Bonaire is a small Dutch island in the far south of the Caribbean, famous for many years for its world-class diving. More recently, a few beach resorts have begun to offer traditional vacations as well, but it remains a quiet, out of the way place.

In addition to diving, water sports, and beach relaxation, Bonaire has a lot of ecotourism interest for such a small island. The resident flamingo flock is large and famous, and exploring the island is a great way to spend a day.

Some of the perennial favorite dive hotels are the Buddy Dive Resort and Captain Don’s Habitat. Beach resorts include the Harbour Village Beach Club and the Plaza Resort Bonaire.

Not To Be Missed – Dive Into Adventure Bonaire 2007 is a festival focusing on scuba diving and snorkeling, while incorporating popular eco-adventure activities into the program – June 1 – September 30.

Bermuda

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Photos courtesy of Bermuda Department of Tourism

Bermuda is actually a string of small islands, connected by bridges and ferries, offering pink sand beaches, a very relaxed and sophisticated British lifestyle, and quaint charm all its own. Famous for its many top golf courses, it has a full range of accommodations, from large, full service resorts, to cottage colonies, to apartments and guest houses. Bermuda is most popular in the summer, when the beaches are best, while the Caribbean is best in winter.

Bermuda is not only an attractive fly-in destination, but during the summer season no fewer than four cruise ships from three different lines, sail to Bermuda every week, from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Some of the hotel companies on Bermuda include Fairmont, with two, and Wyndham; among the top independent hotels is Cambridge Beaches, a classically Bermudian cottage colony; Ariel Sands; and Harmony Club, the island’s only all-inclusive.

Bermuda’s unique charm and sophistication make it very appealing to honeymooners, golfers, shoppers, and beach lovers, who all enjoy its pink sand beaches.

Not To Be Missed – Special Events in 2007
Bermuda Music Festival – October 3-6
PGA Grand Slam – October 15-17