Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 3 of 3

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(photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation)

My husband has been sailing the deep, blue seas of the Caribbean for the past 30 years. He and his sailing friends have been to 95% of the islands…several times. So who better to ask, “Which are the best islands in the Caribbean?” Below is the third of three posts describing the Caribbean’s best…from one who knows!

Off the Beaten Path

  • Tobago–Beautiful beaches, locals and goat racing

The nation of Trinidad and Tobago is a tale of two islands: Trinidad has lots of oil industry and people; Tobago, on the other hand, is off the beaten path with far fewer locals and tourists. Tobago is out-of-a-movie pretty!

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Pigeon Point (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation)

Argyle Wasserfall; Tobago; Tobago & Trinidad; Karibik

Argyle Waterfall (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation)

A View from Speyside lookout

Vew of Little Tobago from the Speyside lookout (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation): some of the best coral reefs of Tobago are in this bay!

Tobago has white sand beaches, palm trees, a bird sanctuary, and gorgeous Buccoo Reef (bright blue/green water). Tobago has mountains, a tropical rain forest, and 18th-century ruins of Fort King George that houses the Tobago Museum. Tobago also has goat racing! But only at Easter.

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Buccoo Goat Race (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation)

Its hotels are small, pleasant, and clean, though not upscale. While I found nothing in my files on hotels, click here to see Tobago’s tourist bureau’s list of places to stay. It’ll get you started.

Fun Fact: T&T has produced more Miss Universes per capita than any country in the world! Why? When the British outlawed slavery in the 1800’s, they shipped indentured servants to Tobago from India to replace the black slaves they had brought over earlier. Today, T&T’s population is roughly 1/3 black, 1/3 Indian and 1/3 white, so you will meet black people whose last name is Singh and white people who speak Creole. This exotic mix produces T&T’s beautiful people.

  • Marie Galante–Ever heard of it? No? That’s a good thing!

Marie Galante is a step back in time, with palm trees, white beaches, 19th century windmills and ox-drawn carts transporting crops from the cane fields. Off the coast of Guadeloupe, unspoiled Marie Galante is often referred to as “la grand galette” (the big pancake) because it is round and flat, unlike most of the Caribbean islands, which are mountainous. Columbus arrived in 1493 and named the island after his flagship, Santa Maria La Galante. In the 19th century, Marie Galante became French and began to focus its economy on the cultivation of sugar cane. Today, sugar production remains as the principal industry, as does fishing. Because MG doesn’t get many tourists, her locals value them and are welcoming.

The hotels on Marie Galante are low key (no five starred resorts). CNTraveller.com advises staying at Chez Hajo (“A very pretty, quiet and rather chic French-run place on the sea. No hot water or air conditioning.” Capesterre 00 590 97 32 76) and Village de Menard (“Pretty little cottages with air conditioning, close to lovely Vieux Fort but quite cut off.”), whose most expensive room is 125 Euros. Le Grand Palm looks cheerful, clean and functional (in-room kitchens), based solely on its website.

  • Barbuda–If you want to get away from it all…

Barbuda boasts the longest (30 miles) beach in the Caribbean. The intriguing Frigate Bird Sanctuary, mildly interesting Highland House (18th-century home of colonial founding family) and the Indian Cave, which contains ancient Amerindian petroglyphs, are non-touristy Barbuda’s points of interest. That’s it! No cute little towns to explore here but perfect if you want to laze around your handsome hotel bungalow located on an exceptional white sand beach with beautiful water and some books. Barbuda’s one nice hotel, the  Barbuda Belle (NYT 2015 & Condé Nast Traveler 2016 both recommended it), has six luxurious bungalows on the beach. This could be you…

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your bungalow at “The Belle”

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your bedroom at the Barbuda Belle

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your book-reading station at the Barbuda Belle

Fun Fact: Barbuda’s main export is white sand. If you’re lying on a white sand beach in the Caribbean, that sand was probably imported from Barbuda because most of the islands are volcanic so do not have naturally white sand, if they have sand at all.

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Barbuda Belle’s reception, restaurant and bar

  • San Blas Islands, Panama–quintessential tropical islands of your dreams

Located off the northern Caribbean coast of Panama, the 365 islands that make up the San Blas Islands are stunning! After driving an hour and a half from Panama City, you stop at the border control where the Guna guard checks your passport. The Guna are the indigenous Panamanian Indians who legally control the San Blas Islands, where they live. You then drive another hour along mountainous roads steeper than those in the Swiss Alps! All around you see jungles and an occasional thatched-roof hut. Thrilling!

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Most of the San Blas Islands are approximately 2-acres, undeveloped, and inhabited by the gentle Guna locals.

In January of this year, Mimi’s Travel File chartered a captained catamaran through Susan Bruce Travel. She and her staff are good! Sailing among the San Blas islands was a spectacularly beautiful experience. I don’t know the names of any good hotels here, though I did see some charming huts on stilts off of an island or two that looked like they were for rent. Staying in one of them could be amazing! Ask Susan Bruce about them. If you would rather not sail, you may want to explore the region with a tour from Thread Caravan, recommended by Vogue magazine in 2016. 

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The Guna people mostly live on fish and coconuts and ply the waters in motorized dugout canoes (middle boat, above).

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the pristine water of the San Blas

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Guna woman: note her beaded legs and arms. Her attire is not just for the tourists. They really dress this way! The swirling motif on her blouse is a mola, made up of different colored cotton fabrics which she has pieced together and embroidered. You can buy mola on these islands and in some souvenir shops in Panama City. They make nice pillows or framed pictures!

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  • Nevis–lovely, old plantation hotels up in the mountains

One of the great beaches of the Caribbean, Nevis’ Pinney’s Beach is a former palm tree plantation. The Four Seasons sits on PB, as do a couple of wear-your-bathing-suit casual beach bars with picnic tables and homemade bar stools.  While the Four Seasons is perfectly nice, the plantation hotels up in the mountains have the most charm. “Nevis is unique for its many plantations that have been converted into luxury hotels. The Hermitage Plantation Inn is perhaps the most serene of them all, surrounded by gardens bursting with Bougainvillea, hibiscus, and breadfruit trees. Fifteen pastel cottages decorated with antiques…” says Travel+Leisure.

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The Hermitage Plantation Inn: From here, you can see the ocean.

The Hermitage Plantation’s bar, restaurant, library and sitting room are located in its Great House. The GH (circa 1670) is the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean!

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Hermitage Plantation Inn’s Great House (circa 1670)

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good, old fashioned bar in the Hermitage Plantation Inn’s Great House

When she visited Nevis in 1993, Princess Diana stayed up in the mountains, at the charming and refined Montpelier Plantation and Beach. Set on 60 acres, this Relais & Châteaux member is six miles from its own private beach. Montpelier dates back to 1687 when Sir Hans Sloane, secretary of the Royal Society of England, discovered the secluded location. This is of note because Sloane Square in London was named after him and Diana was sometimes referred to as a “Sloane Ranger” because she liked to shop in this stylish neighborhood.

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Montpelier Plantation and Beach

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Montpelier Plantation and Beach’s Tamarind Villa

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Namaste! (photo courtesy of Montpelier Plantation and Beach)

FAMOUS Artist Bruce Marden and his wife, Helen, opened the 11-room Golden Rock Inn Nevis, set on 100 acres with an alfresco restaurant. Vogue editor, Anna Wintour herself has slept here! The Mardens enlisted the help of architect Ed Tuttle, known for his designs for many of the stunning Aman hotels.

Trivia question: Which US Founding Father was born on Nevis??? That’s right: Alexander Hamilton! Tour the house where he was born, which is now a little museum.

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Nevis (photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation Inn)

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church on Nevis (photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation Inn)

Literary Traveling Companion: “Caribbean,” by James Michener

What Not to Wear: Black, as it absorbs heat. The only people in the Caribbean who wear black are maybe waiters at the more formal restaurants, of which there are few.

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