United States Virgin Islands

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Photos courtesy of USVI Department of Tourism

St. Thomas is one of the busiest islands in the region, due to a unique American law which grants double duty free allowance to everyone who visits any of these islands. This has made St. Thomas one of the premier shopping destinations in the Caribbean. No small part of this success is due to its popularity as a cruise port of call – on some days, as many as five ships may be in port at Charlotte Amalie.

This is not to say that it has no other attractions. It has beautiful beaches, including world-class Magen’s Bay, and it has the good fortune to be a short ferry ride away from St. John, one of the other U. S. Virgin Islands.

St. Thomas has several popular American hotels, including Marriott, Wyndham, and Ritz-Carlton, as well as other locally owned resorts. It also has a large number of condominiums.

Taken together, St. Thomas is attractive and appealing, great for those who want to stay in the U. S. A., and it doesn’t require a passport for U. S. citizens.

St. John is a 20-minute ferry ride from Red Hook on St. Thomas, to Cruz Bay on St. John. More than two-thirds of the island is taken up by the Virgin Islands National Park; this park contains many of the islands best beaches, including Trunk Bay; a campground, and other typical National Park Service features. On the remaining level land, St. John offers just two beach hotels, the famous Caneel Bay and the luxurious Westin St. John. Cruz Bay has interesting small inns and restaurants, and Gallows Point offers very nice villas at the water’s edge. Unique in the region, Harmony Studios and Concordia Eco-Tents join Maho Bay Camps in providing perhaps the ultimate in eco-sensitive accommodations.

St. Croix is the last of the three U. S. Virgin Islands, and it is by far the most residential of them all. It preserves more of the original Danish feel of these islands, and Christiansted, the largest town on the island, works to preserve its history. Much of that history is tied up with sugar cane farming, and St. Croix has more abandoned sugar mill towers than any other island.

Buck Island is a favorite snorkeling and dive site, and the west end of the island is hillier and more rugged than the rest, inviting hikers and other ecotourists to explore. There are two golf courses, one at The Buccaneer Resort and the other at Carambola Beach Resort. Other notable properties include the Cormorant Beach Club, the Divi Carina Bay Beach Resort and Casino, and the Sugar Beach condominiums.

Not To Be Missed – Virgin Islands National Park on St. John; Magens Bay and duty-free shopping on St. Thomas; Buck Island Snorkeling Trail on St. Croix.

Turks & Caicos

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Photos courtesy of Turks & Caicos Tourist Board

Occupying 193 square miles of ocean, the Turks & Caicos Islands have the third largest coral reef system in the world, and the best beaches, in the world, making the country tops for travelers looking for romance, family vacations, ecotourism and adventure, both above and below the water. With 230 miles of beaches, the islands are desert, ranging from sand bars to low vegetation.

There are eight inhabited islands – Salt Cay, Grand Turk, South Caicos, Middle Caicos, North Caicos, Providenciales (Provo), Parrot Cay, and Pine Cay. Most resorts are on Provo, with its world famous Grace Bay and international airport. Development is controlled, but slowly expanding to other islands as opportunity and conditions permit. While several quaint hotels predate the arrival of jet aircraft, newer resorts are far grander, offering something for practically everyone, except jungle. Diving at Grace Bay and other locations is unsurpassed.

Some of the top resorts in the Turks and Caicos include Beaches Turks and Caicos, for families; Club Med Turkoise, for singles; Ocean Club Resorts; Point Grace; and Parrott Cay Resort and Shambala Retreat.

Not To Be Missed – Annual Conch Festival culinary competition – November 23-25, 2007; Underwater Photography Competition – June 1-September 30, 2007; Film Festival – October 16-23, 2007.

Trinidad & Tobago

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Photos courtesy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourist Office

Trinidad and Tobago are two independent islands, joined together for international purposes, but functioning separately for most others. Trinidad has an extremely rich and varied culture. Its economy is highly commercial, and its principal tourist attraction is its annual frenetic Carnival, in mid to late February each year. This is one thing that truly puts Trinidad on the world map. The other main source of fame and celebrity is the Asa Wright Nature Center, a world-class facility that draws scientists from every corner of the world to study its incredible flora and fauna. Tobago, the smaller of the two, is just 22 miles away, but almost entirely different in feel. Quieter and slower paced, it can be divided roughly into thirds – the southwest holds most of the population, the capital, the airport, and most of the resorts. The center is a strictly controlled nature reserve, dating from the 18th century; and the northeast is very lightly inhabited, but with many top dive spots.

Tobago resorts include the Coco Reef Resort, the Hilton Tobago Resort and Golf Club, and the Blue Haven Resort, as well as the unusual Kariwak Holistic Resort.

Not To Be Missed – Trinidad’s Carnival absolutely rocks the house, and the street, and the town; at the Asa Wright Nature Center, biologists come from all over the world to study. On Tobago, meet JoJo, the giant fish and friendly guide to the Scarlett Ibis wreck dive.

 

St. Vincent

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Photos courtesy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourist Office

Several Caribbean islands do not fit into the usual pattern of sun, sand, and shopping. St. Vincent is one of these – with relatively few attractive beaches (none to compare with neighboring islands), but with beautiful and exciting scenery and natural features, it is an island to be explored.

Far down in the south of the Caribbean chain, St. Vincent has been popular with sailors, who have enjoyed its many small coves for years. But until recently, it has been rather isolated – new flights have changed that, but flying times are still substantial.

From sailing to dolphin watching, to hiking trails and swimming in waterfall pools; from climbing to the top of the 4000 foot volcano, to exploring the underwater gardens, St. Vincent offers something for everyone. Numerous local tour operators offer excursions with insight.

St Vincent claims a tumultuous history, with wars and volcanic eruptions featuring large. A long-time cultural connection with the Garifunas of Belize and Honduras is finally being recognized.

St. Vincent offers small, pleasant, comfortable local hotels and resorts, some coastal, others in the hills. Nearby to St. Vincent is the chain of small islands called the Grenadines, with several popular private island resorts, such as Young Island and Palm Island.

Several of the Grenadine Islands offer more resort options – Mustique has world class villas and The Cotton House hotel, and Canouan has the Raffles Resort, a world-class property with its own 18-hole golf course.

Not To Be Missed – St. Vincent Blues Festival is the only one of its kind in the entire Caribbean – March 7-9, 2008. And for St. Vincent’s version of Carnival, visit between July 7-8, 2008.

St. Martin

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Photos courtesy of French St Martin Tourist Office and Dutch Ste Maarten Tourist Office

Since 1648, the Dutch and French have peacefully coexisted on St. Martin. Dutch “Sint Maarten” is smaller – only 17 square miles, much of it under water – on the south side. In the north, French “Ste-martin” is larger (20 square miles) and mostly land. There is no border to cross, though the languages, currencies, food, and culture are different.

On the Dutch side, Philipsburg is the capital, with more than 500 stores in clapboard Dutch-style buildings, both on and off Front Street. Great Bay offers docking for nearly every ship from every cruise line in the Caribbean, whose passengers can fill Front Street to bursting. Nightlife abounds, with 12 casinos offering every game and machine known to man; bands play in clubs and bars; and discos overflow with dancers ’til dawn. In short, Dutch St. Martin rocks big time.

On the French side, life is slower, more sophisticated, and more Gallic, with the characteristic emphasis on “haute” fashion and outstanding cuisine. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Marigot, the French capital, fills with stalls selling local art, crafts, and food. Grand Case, a small town just up the coast, is famous for the quality and variety of its restaurants. Orient Bay is one of the best beaches on the island, though top-less and bottom-less bathing is permitted.

Fantastically French, Delightfully Dutch, St Martin is truly a jewel.

Not To Be Missed – On the French side of the St. Martin, the restaurants at Grand Case offer some of the Caribbean’s best cuisine; on the Dutch side, learn to race an America’s Cup yacht on Great Bay, right at Philipsburg.

St. Lucia

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Photos courtesy of St. Lucia Tourist Board

St. Lucia is one of the several volcanic islands in the Caribbean chain, near the southern end between Martinique and Grenada. This volcanic nature gives St. Lucia its very unique and entirely appealing appearance and personality.

At the north end of the island, the topography is only hilly, with some land for golf courses, and numerous beaches for all kinds of interesting hotels and resorts. Moving south, though, the terrain quickly becomes mountainous all the way to the southern end of the island. At the southern town of Soufriere, the landmark Pitons are picture postcard beautiful, the most famous features of St. Lucia; they tower over the town, and an exotic resort, Jalousie Plantation, lies just between them. The entire area around the Pitons has been designated the Pitons Management Area and granted World Heritage Site status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

This means there are many opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, and general ecotourism. St. Lucia boasts the only “drive in” volcano in the Caribbean, and the botanical garden at Soufriere dates back to the time of Napoleon.

St. Lucia changed hands thirteen times during the French and British wars for control of the Caribbean, and while the British ended up with possession, France actually held the island longer over the years, and St. Lucia is very happy to have a strong cultural attachment to both France and Britain to this day.

Resorts include several very special places, including the aforementioned Jalousie Plantation; Windjammer Landing Villa Resort; Ladera Resort, high on the mountainside over the Pitons; and Anse Chastenet, hillside cottages overlooking one of the best dive sites on the island. Others include three of Sandals’ all-inclusive resorts; The Body Holiday at LeSport, for deluxe spa retreats; Rendezvous deluxe all-inclusive for couples; and the Rex St. Lucian, Royal St. Lucian, and Papillon all-inclusive resorts.

Not To Be Missed – The Friday night street party at Gros Islet, at the extreme north end of the island, has been recognized by UNESCO as a truly unique World Cultural Heritage Event.

Click here to read an extended report about St.Lucia…

I didn‘t find any restaurant which I could say were much better than average, with two exceptions. One was the Mango Tree, at Windjammer Landing and the other was the Coal Pot in Castries – and, I want to rave about the food and atmosphere at the Coal Pot.

They offer a good selection of fresh fish daily (try the barracuda) along with your choice of sauces. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially in season. The Coal Pot is owned by chef Xavier Ribot and his wife, Michelle Elliott.

Ms. Elliotts is an accomplished artist whose works exude the color and beauty of the locale and her husband’s native France. Her work is available for purchase, so if you are looking for a superb meal to enjoy for the moment and some artwork to enjoy for life the Coal Pot is a must.

ACCOMMODATIONS Anse Chastenet: Located on the southern part of the island, this is a very intimate property perfect for honeymooners or those looking for a relaxing time away from it all. Accessible from Soufriere only by water taxi (or by road if you have a half hour and bones which cannot be rattled), this is a small property which offers some of the best vistas imaginable anywhere. If you are here, you must reserve on of the hillside rooms. These are open on one side and offer views which are incredibly beautiful. The premium hillside rooms have views of the Pitons which you’ll will never forget. The property is owned by the architect who designed it and the rooms are beautifully done up. Each has its own artwork which along with the wooden floors and treatments give them an intimate feeling of home. There is a short walk down to the restaurant and beach where you can partake in some of the best snorkeling and diving on the island. If fact, Anse Chastenet is a marine park and is a must dive site even if you do not stay here.

Ladera: Another small property on the southern part of the island, Ladera offers views which rival Anse Chastenet’s. Ladera is higher in the hills and it is necessary to take a taxi or one of the twice daily shuttles to the beach. However, if you are looking for some time alone to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery this property deserves serious consideration. There are a little over 20 rooms here where you can relax in your Jacuzzi which overlooks the hills of St. Lucia. There are some villas here which offer multiple bedrooms which are ideal for families or friends traveling together. Instead of going to the beach, you can enjoy the pool which overlooks the Pitons and take in the seclusion.

Jalousie: Hilton has reopened this full service spa in the southern part of St. Lucia and this is the perfect place to go to be pampered. Situated on the beach and between the Pitons, Jalousie offers some of the creature comforts one would expect from a Hilton property. There is a restaurant, pool, water sports and a kid’s club on the beach area. The rooms are done up in a Caribbean motif and some share a small plunge pool. This is a property to visit which offers a great mix of the beauty of St. Lucia and the comfort of a resort.

St. Barthelemy

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Photos courtesy of St Barthelemy Tourism Office

St. Barth is historically rich. Discovered by Columbus in 1493, and named for his brother, Bartolomeo, it was first owned by Sweden, then and now by France, and it embodies both cultures. Tiny by most people’s standards, it is popular with those who don’t mind spending money to get privacy and anonymity.

Narrow roads wind along the mountainous terrain, offering dramatic views of spectacular beaches and the sea. Lazing in the sunshine on one of St. Barth’s 22 beaches is almost unavoidable. Its quaint towns and outstanding cuisine beckon, and shopping in Gustavia, the capital, is tres chic. No matter where you look or go, you’ll feel relaxed and rejuvenated by this beautiful Caribbean island.

St. Barth is also a very popular day trip from St. Martin or Anguilla.

Top hotels here include the Hotel Carl Gustaf; the Hotel St. Barth Isle de France; the Hotel Le Toiny; the Hotel Guanahani and Spa; and the Sofitel Christopher.

Puerto Rico

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Photos courtesy of Puerto Rico Tourism Company

Many people who visit Puerto Rico only know about San Juan, or even the Isla Verde area right around San Juan International Airport, particularly if they have only been boarding a cruise ship. But the entire island of Puerto Rico is indeed rich in many vacation options, it’s difficult to know where to begin to list them.

Most Caribbean islands have lovely beaches, but Puerto Rico has 262 miles of them, 4 of them blue flagged, from fully developed Balnearios (beach parks) to almost completely secluded coves on its offshore islands.

Puerto Rico’s interior offers ecotourism activities, from the most congenial to the most demanding. Puerto Rico’s culture is vivid, its history is long and memorable. And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, so no passports are required.

San Juan, the capital city, has a unique history, and it has many, many colonial period buildings, of which it is very proud. In fact, UNESCO has designated La Forteleza and San Juan Historic Site as a World Heritage Site.

Puerto Rico has a large number of deluxe resorts – Caribe Hilton; El San Juan Hotel; Ritz-Carlton, San Juan; Westin Rio Mar; Paradisus; El Conquistador; and Hyatt Dorado; plus more. There are also several excellent 3-star resorts, including the Sheraton Four Points Candelero at Palmas Del Mar; Rincon-By-The-Sea and the Rincon Beach Hotel, in the newly named Porto del Sol on the west coast; and the Copamarina Resort on the south coast.

Puerto Rico is Hot! Puerto Rico is Cool! It’s busy with corporate activity, and relaxed with vacation options. It offers more of nearly everything to nearly everyone. In its own words, Puerto Rico is the Island of Enchantment.

Not To Be Missed – The offshore island of Vieques has a wonderful bioluminescent bay.

Oahu

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Photos courtesy of Oahu Visitors Bureau

Oahu has now established itself as an independent entity, apart from Waikiki and Honolulu. Now, by exploring all the many facets of Oahu, it’s possible to have the complete Hawaii experience on a single island.

Here’s what makes Oahu outstanding – This island has established a comprehensive list of attractions and features, including beaches, water sports locations, historical sightseeing, natural exploration, and cultural experiences, most of which can be done independently, or by tours offered by appointed local companies. Go to www.visit-oahu.com to learn more.

In addition to all this, Oahu has the only 5-star resorts in the state, three of them, in fact – The Halekulani in Waikiki; the Kahala Resort near Diamond Head; and the JW Marriott Ihilani. It has a large number of resort spas, golf courses, and many other attractions. In Waikiki, the Oahu Visitors Bureau has initiated a revitalization program, called The New Waikiki, with enhanced pedestrian services, seeking to recreate traditional Hawaiian values of hospitality and welcoming. Go to www.waikikibeachwalk.com for more on this exciting transformation.

Another item that makes Oahu special – Norwegian Cruise Line has positioned one of its newest ships in Hawaii for year-round sailings within the Hawaiian islands. These can be done as complete sailings of 7 days, or shorter itineraries combining only a few islands, if desired. These cruises sail from the historic pier in Honolulu, which has brought about major renovation and enhancements in the area. Dinner cruises are numerous, and there is a wider variety of accommodations here than on any other island.

Not To Be Missed – Mauka Makai Excursions offers morning, afternoon, and all-day tours of native Hawaiian historic sites, and a cultural awareness experience that is truly unique. This company is operated by native Hawaiians, who have a unique perspective on tourism here.

Nevis

St. Kitts & Nevis

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Photos courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority by Jim Stephens and the Nevis Tourism Authority

Columbus arrived on St. Kitts in 1493, but European colonization didn’t start until 1623, when the British introduced sugar plantations. Sugar cane remained a cultural force on the island for over 350 years, while much of it remains as it always was, wild and unspoiled, excellent for nature lovers. Mt. Liamuiga, a dormant volcano, towers over everything.

During the European colonial period, St. Kitts was a major bastion of British military activity. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, the ruins of the large and impressive fortification which gave the island the nickname, Gibraltar of the Caribbean, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St. Kitts’ plantation great houses have been turned into grand and comfortable county inns. Luxurious hotels and resorts enjoy excellent beaches and golf courses at Frigate Bay, with new developments pending all over the island. And the capital, Basseterre, offers colonial architecture and attractive shopping.

St. Kitts’ pace is relaxed and serene, but the calendar is filled with festivals and celebrations. For an even slower pace, the sister island of Nevis is just across a strait, and the two islands make an excellent pair for easy island hopping.

With only 36 square miles, Nevis is tiny, but proudly carries the name “The Queen of the Caribees.” At over 3,000 feet, Nevis Peak is the physical center of the island, and the capital of Charlestown is the social and commercial hub.

One of the islands idiosyncrasies has to do with horses – several times a year, racing is conducted along the beach on Nevis, with real thoroughbreds coming here from all over the region, and Mexico.

In its quiet, unassuming way, Nevis delights, and it’s not hard to see why so many like it so much.

The Four Seasons Nevis Resort is one of the very best in the entire Caribbean, with a deluxe 18-hole golf course. Other top hotels on St. Kitts and Nevis include the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino, The Golden Lemon, and Ottley’s Plantation on St. Kitts; and the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, Nisbet Plantation, and Mt. Nevis Hotel and Beach Club on Nevis.

Not To Be Missed – On St. Kitts, Brimstone Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Not To Be Missed – On Nevis, the Botanical Garden is recently designed and constructed by Americans to provide something truly beautiful on the island.