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)

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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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Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 2 of 3

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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(photo courtesy of The Cotton House, Mustique)

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Oh, so pretty!!!! (photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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 second of three posts describing the Caribbean’s best…from one who knows!

The Grenadines

The Grenadines are a chain of 32 islands, nine of which are inhabited.

  • MustiqueThe Sophisticate with little Retail or Restaurants

Mustique’s small, international airport is the prettiest I have ever seen: it is all bamboo! The island is dotted with some BIG, attractive rental “villas” scattered discreetly about, two really nice small hotels (the 15-room Cotton House and the Firefly, my fav with seven rooms), three tiny villages, and beaches with palm trees. No cars, just high-powered golf carts, called mules. Sooo relaxing! Click here for its history. Mustique became a jet-setter destination after Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, purchased it in 1958, began developing it, and then–cleverly–gave a 10-acre plot of land to Princess Margaret (QE2’s sister) as a wedding present, where she built a house, called Les Jolies Eaux. Let’s look at some pic’s of it:

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Les Jolies Eaux, from afar (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

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Les Jolies Eaux (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

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Les Jolies Eaux (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

Soon, QE2 came to visit. After that, word got out. Since then, Mick Jagger built a house on Mustique, as did Tommy Hilfiger and David Bowie. Kate and Wills vacation here, too. A must: Basil’s Bar on the beach.

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Cotton House on Mustique

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Cotton House’s veranda

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lovely bedroom open to the ocean at The Firefly

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Sit in these elegant, comfortable chairs and view the bright blue ocean from your bedroom at The Firefly

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We stayed in the Hummingbird bedroom. So lovely to gaze at the ocean from bed!

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view from The Firefly

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Magical entrance to The Firefly, a small, stylish hidden gem built into the side of the mountain, with big water views and twinkling lights. You expect Mick Jagger to walk in at any minute!

  • Bequia–Old-World Charm

Bequai is “Part of the Grenadine Island chain, 9 miles west of Mustique and just 7 sq. miles in size. With it’s warm climate and average temperature range of 75 to 85 degrees throughout the year, Bequia is the perfect small Caribbean Island we all dream of. Friendly and welcoming people, simple unhurried lifestyle, beautiful beaches…one of the few Caribbean Islands to have retained it’s original character and old world charm. ..There is no bad time to visit being far enough south to avoid hurricanes,” per the Firefly Plantation Hotel’s website.

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pool at The Firefly Plantation Hotel with the ocean beyond

Bequia’s waterfront has tremendous, small interesting restaurants, e.g. Frangiapani’s and Mac’s Pizza. The island has small guest houses and hotels but the Firefly Plantation Hotel is the best (4 attractive rooms, a two-bedroom cottage, and attractive restaurant with good food; the Firefly is up in the hills).

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Firefly Plantation bedroom: Great views from this hotel!

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restaurant at Firefly Plantation Hotel with bar in the background

The island’s ambience is laid back, relaxed and nice. Doris’ Fresh Food and Yacht Provisioning sells wonderful imported gourmet food (cheese,  pickles, teas, coffees, wine), though expensive but understandable, as this type of food is hard to find in this part of the world. Sailors love Bequai because of its great harbor with yachting services and calm anchorage. Bequai is an excellent place to go if you want to get away from it all.

  • Petit St. Vincent–Tiny, beautiful, rustic-chic 

Gorgeous location with a big reef off its coast. You can only reach this private island by boat, provided by Petit St. Vincent Private Island, the resort that owns the whole island. You can walk around this 115-acre island in less than an hour, if the tide is right. The rooms consist of 22 villas, dotted around the island. If you want anything, you raise a flag: flags of varying colors communicate your needs. Consistently good food here. Some nights, the hotel shows movies under the stars on the beach! Andrew Harper and National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World also like Petit St. Vincent. Petit St. Vincent is wonderful for those who want to be away from it all, as it’s quiet.

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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Love this dining room! (photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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Petit St. Vincent has a great beach bar!

  • Mayreau–Caribbean the way it was 30 years ago

Mayreau has beautiful beaches, no crime, no crowds (pop. 270) and is very, very rustic. Mayreau is the Caribbean before the onslaught of tourism. But, my husband does not recommend staying here because it is not set up for tourists: no hotels, just places with 2-3 rooms; no gourmet food though fish, chicken and goat dishes abound; no public drinking water; intermittent electricity; and no airport. Be sure to go to Dennis’ Hideaway: this bar/restaurant/hotel hotel is an institution (been there a long time) on the island, good place for lunch or dinner, with basic food. You can only get Mayreau by boat: day-trip from nearby Petit St. Vincent (the hotel will arrange transportation), Canouan (the Four Seasons hotel there will arrange transport), Little Palm Island and Union Island (water taxi). You will see a totally unspoiled island!

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

  • Tobago Keys–idyllic trio of small, uninhabited islands

The Tobago Keys are surrounded by a protective reef system that is part of St. Vincent National Park. It is truly worth a visit to see the water, snorkel the reef, walk on the beautiful beaches or climb the small hills on the islands. No accommodations but a water taxi will take you there from most of the surrounding islands. It is well worth the minimal effort!

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(photo courtesy of The Firefly)

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(photo courtesy of The Firefly)

Stay tuned for the Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 3 of 3!

Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 1 of 3

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St. Lucia (photo courtesy of Ladera Resort)

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Mustique (photo courtesy of The Firefly): Please note how undeveloped this is!

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?” By “best,” I mean no large cruise ships, no water slides, nothing resembling Cancun, no high-rise hotels, little-to-no pretense, relaxing and transporting. So here are the best, from one who knows!

Top Five, in no particular order

  • St. Barth’s—The Sophisticate with Retail and Restaurants

St. Barth’s charming small capital city, Gustavia, has narrow, old streets lined with sophisticated little boutiques, charming Caribbean cottage architecture, and nice little restaurants around the harbor. BUT St. Barth’s is mostly a wild, windswept island with some lovely hotels, beaches, and houses tucked here and there, i.e., not overly developed. St. Barth’s has some great restaurants (like Maya’s and Tamarin). St. Barth’s has it all…with just the tiniest bit of pretense here and there, but you really have to look for it.

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beach from Hotel Le Toiny

You can stay at a hotel or rent a “villa.” If you want to be in a town, check out Eden Rock-St. Barths (charming, fun; Conde Nast Traveler 2017 likes it, too). To get away from it all and experience St. Barth’s wild wonderfulness, go to Hotel Le Toiny St. Barth (in a beautiful natural setting and very stylish; 14 villas on 42 acres; Architectural Digest 2016 also endorses it). Hotel Le Toiny’s DR overlooks the pools which overlooks a big sweep of green on a big crescent of beach…

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Most restaurants on St. Barth’s are smaller and less formal than this dreamy one (photo courtesy of Hotel Le Toiny)

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Love the bar at Hotel Le Toiny!

If you’d prefer to rent a house, WIMCO will take good care of you. Below is Cap au Vent, the house we rented several times via WIMCO. Upon our arrival, the charming caretaker couple (they live on the property but stay to themselves at the far end) had made dinner for us and left it in the fridge to warm up at our convenience, along with a good bottle of champagne. In the morning before we woke up, they delivered just-made croissants from the local bakery…and left us alone for the  day. Houses w/out live-in caretakers are available, too, and WIMCO provides on-island help should you have questions about your “villa.”

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Cap au Vent (photo courtesy of WIMCO)

Note: Most houses and hotels on St. Barth’s are not on the beaches. They are in the hills where the views are spectacular and the breezes are cooling. This island is very small, so you are never far away from one of the beautiful, unspoiled beaches. You will need to rent car. The roads are narrow and steep but you will get the hand of it quickly.

  • St. LuciaMost Geographically Distinctive

Thanks to the Pitons, its twin-pointed mountain peaks, St. Lucia is the most geographically distinctive island in the Caribbean. This lush, jungle-y island has good scuba diving, beaches, hiking and some really nice hotels. Stay at Ladera! It is spectacularly situated in the saddle between the two Pitons (not on the beach but it has an arrangement with a beachfront hotel for use of its beach), with sweeping views down the verdant mountains to the beach. If you don’t stay here, definitely go for drinks and dinn. It’s the most dramatically beautiful place I’ve ever dined in the Caribbean…and, bonus, the food it good!

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The view from Ladera for sunset drinks and dinn!

If you would rather stay on the beach, book Anse Chastanet because it has a fun beach bar and cheery open cottages built up the mountain.

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Anse Chastenet guest room: Ignore the painting and focus on this VIEW!

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Anse Chastenet  on St. Lucia

  • SabaOld-Time Caribbean Loaded with Charm

Saba is the most unusual island in the Caribbean. The island is a dormant volcano sticking straight up out of the water. Saba’s small villages are in the caldera, not on the water because the island is too vertical. They are picture-perfect, neat, clean, and quaint. The only road is called “The Road” and Saba’s capital is called The Bottom because it sits in the bottom of the caldera. While its population is under 2,000 people, a world-class, respected medical school was established on small Saba in 1992 and has 250 students. Unusual, in the best way!

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Saba: Note the town in the caldera! (photo courtesy of Michael Walker at michaelwalkerphotos.com)

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Check out this charming government building in The Bottom! (photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourist Bureau)

Though Saba has no beaches, it has good diving!

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Dive from Saba’s harbor and the Saba Bank Reef (photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourism Bureau)

The hiking on Saba looks glorious: 14 trails through lush green forests with big ocean views, abundant wildlife, and fairly cool temp’s because everything here is up, up, up.

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(photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourist Bureau)

While not designer-chic like those on St. Barth’s, Saba’s hotels are small, clean and nice. I haven’t stayed at any of them but Saba’s tourism website will get you started (Queens Garden Resort and Haiku House look promising). Saba is simple living at its best, where you dive, hike, explore the villages, and laze by the pool. Ahhh….

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Queens Garden Resort (photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourist Bureau)

  • Iles des SaintesLaid Back, Authentic, Unspoiled…& Colorblind

Off the coast of Guadeloupe, the Saintes are a group of small islands, two of which are inhabited, Terre-de-Bas and Terre-de-Haute (referring to the winds). Take the 15-minute ferry from T-de-H to T-de-Bas, as it’s fun to explore them both. They are uncrowded, with lovely beaches and snorkeling, simple towns with charming little bars and cafes. Neither island has fancy restaurants or hotels. I recommend you stay at Auberge Les Petits Saints, as we stayed here and can report that it is perfectly nice and the best on the island (Conde Nast Traveler recommends it, too). The most unusual thing about the Saintes is that its small population (less than 4,000 people) is colorblind (no racial tension). The population is very mixed and it’s not unusual to see green-eyed, pale-skinned black French-speaking locals.

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(photo courtesy of Auberge Les Petits Saints)

“Terre-de-Haut is known for Pain de Sucre Beach’s coral-rich waters and palm-lined Les Saintes Bay. Overlooking the bay is 19th-century Fort Napoléon, with a museum and cactus garden. Trails cross the volcanic landscape of Terre-de-Bas Island, home to tranquil Grand Anse Beach,” per Wikipedia.

 

  • The Grenadines
    • See post to follow soon for the specific islands in the Grenadines!!!!!
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Lesser Antillean Hummingbird (photo courtesy of Anse Chastenet)

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Let’s drink to these beautiful islands! (photo courtesy of Hotel Le Toiny)

Cumberland Island Valentine

What better day to publish a post about a place I love than Valentine’s! I have been to Cumberland Island, Georgia four fabulous times and the following are 14 reasons I love it:

(1) The boat ride from Fernandina Beach, on mainland FL, to Cumberland Island, GA

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(2) The trees dripping with Spanish Moss on Cumberland Island

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(3) The Greyfield Inn, which is the only commercial establishment on the island. So lovely! So relaxing! Such gracious staff!

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(4) The Greyfield Inn’s front porch swing and rocking chairs

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(5) The Greyfield Inn’s living room, where cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served before dinner, in front of the big fireplace

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(photo courtesy of Peter Frank Edwards)

(6) The Greyfield Inn’s dining room, where delicious meals are served. They grow much of their own produce AND they are into it…and that enthusiasm shows. Once a week, the Inn has an oyster roast outside in front of the porch. So much fun!

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(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

(7) The GI’s 16 bedrooms

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This is the biggest bedroom but all the bedrooms are decorated in this old world style.(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

(8) The views of the marshes

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(photo courtesy of David Wright)

(9) The burnt remains of the 100-year-old Carnegie mansion

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(10) The wild horses that peacefully roam Cumberland Island

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(photo by David Wright)

(11) Biking and walking on the 17 miles of undeveloped beach…not a condo or house in sight! After breakfast each morning, go into the large kitchen to pick up your backpack filled with a sumptuous, portable lunch. You can eat it at the tables and chairs on the Inn’s big front lawn or on the beach or any old place you like.

(12) The path from the Greyfield Inn to the beach

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(13) Gogo’s jewelry–The only retail on Cumberland Island, besides the Inn’s tiny gift shop, is Gogo’s. Gogo creates jewelry and some candle sticks and purses in a workshop adjacent to her home and is only open when she is “in residence.” Such beautiful things! All of her creations are inspired by the nature around her. She designed the wedding rings of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette.

(14) The old slave church where John-John Kennedy married Carolyn Bessette.

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(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

Happy Valentine’s Day! xoxoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornwall, England: Three Magical Destinations

Cornwall is gorgeous! Stunning beaches, spectacular hiking, charming little towns and ancient history. Cornwall’s got it all. I highly recommend THREE magical DESTINATIONS in Cornwall–the Isles of Scilly, St. Mawes and Portloe–each different one from the other.

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Isles of Scilly (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

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Chun Quoit, a 2,500-year old chambered tomb (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

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(photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

ISLES OF SCILLY

There are 150 Isles of Scilly, of which five are inhabited by a grand total of 2,200 people. These Cornish islands are the westernmost part of England. They offer beaches, kayaking, sailing, birding, hiking, golf and biking. A lot of places offer these BUT what makes the Isles of Scilly magical? Their windswept wildness and natural beauty;  lack of commercialism, crowds and traffic;  wild horses gracefully meandering the heath-covered moors; children going to school by boat; and stumbling upon ancient stones while hiking its hills. Stay for at least three full days, but five would be so much nicer.

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(photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

Temp’s on the Isles of Scilly are above 50 degrees 360 days of the year, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Due to these temperatures, flower farming thrives here. Surprising flora and fauna (seals and puffins) live on the islands, due to their isolated location. It’s easy and fun to island hop by public boat service.

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Scilly puffin (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

Getting to the Isles of Scilly

  • FIRST take the Great Western Railway from London to Penzance (5.5 hours) “Rail hounds used to say the real name of the GWR was ‘God’s Wonderful Railway,’ and it’s easy to see why once the train leaves London and ventures into some truly iconic countryside. Castles, rivers, puffy clouds, thatched roofs, it’s all here. Sit on the left side” for best views. (Departures magazine, 2015)
  • NEXT take taxi or Isles of Scilly Travel Shuttle from Penzance (not particularly scenic) to Land’s End airport and catch the 20-minute helicopter flight west to St. Mary, one of the Isles of Scilly.
  • NOTE: Of course, if you want to be a party pooper, you can always fly from London to Land’s End.

STAY on the Isles of Scilly

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Hell Bay Hotel

  • Hell Bay Hotel (on the island of Bryher)—Bryher is two kilometers long by one kilometer wide, so the views from the hotel are of water and meandering wild horses on the surrounding moors. The hotel is very attractive (neutrals with enough splashes of color to add happy) with spacious bedrooms, a spa, heated swimming pool, bar, restaurant, large terrace for dining, and nice ambience. Bryher is traffic-free, w/ half a dozen houses, a bar, convenience store and deli. (25 suites, some with balconies, most w/sea views)
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Your room at Hell Bay Hotel

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View from your room at Hell Bay Hotel

SEE THE SIGHTS on the Isles of Scilly

  • Tresco Abbey Gardens–Outstanding! Tresco is the island closest to Bryher. These gardens are spectacular and feature highly unusual subtropical plants, thanks to the Gulf Stream effect and tall windbreaks constructed by the garden’s designers…all set in the ruins of a 12th century priory; five generations have built this garden over decades, collecting plants from all over the world specially for this garden. From its website: “Many of these tender floral gems would stand no chance on the Cornish mainland, less than 30 miles away. Yet even at the winter solstice more than 300 plants will be in flower. All in all, the tropical garden is home to species from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.” It’s heavenly!
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Tresco Abbey Gardens (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

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Tresco Abbey Gardens: Note the tropical succulents growing on that arch (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

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Tresco Abbey Garden (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

  • Bronze age and Celtic ruins
  • Spectacular beaches, like the one at the top of this post
  • Wild horses
  • Bird watching is big here!
  • Hiking and biking.
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(photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

ST. MAWES

Back on mainland England, St. Mawes is a charming small town on an idyllic small bay, approached by classic narrow Cornwall lanes. I recommend you stay at least three nights.

STAY in St. Mawes

Hotel Tresanton–This is a smallish and comfortably sophisticated hotel. It is quite perfect! All bedrooms, which are beautifully decorated, have views across the little bay to the St. Anthony Lighthouse. It has a restaurant, bar, and very attractive gift shop.  (30 rooms, some with a balcony or terrace)

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Lunch, anyone? Yeah, baby!  (photo courtesy of Hotel Tresanton)

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This photo captures the Hotel Tresanton’s style: beautifully decorated throughout!

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Hotel Tresanton’s bedrooms are individually decorated.

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Note the view from the Hotel Tresanton’s dining room. We saw a triple rainbow from here, and ran out onto the adjoining terrace to check it out.

SEE THE SIGHTS in St. Mawes

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Charter the Hotel Tresanton’s gorgeous 8-meter classic yacht, pictured above, from May-September

  • Just  back from St. Mawes, my cousin highly recommended the hike to see St. Just in Roseland’s church, as well as The Watch House restaurant in St. Mawes.
  • See the bottom of this post for more sights to see near St. Mawes, which is nearish Portloe.

PORTLOE

Portloe is a tiny village that looks just like Portwen, the fictitious fishing village featured in “Doc Martin,” a public TV hit show. Portloe is nestled in a charming cove and tiny harbor, surrounded by cliffs and headlands. When we were there several years ago, Portloe had only two commercial establishments: a nice pub (good fish pie) and The Lugger Hotel. It was great, so genuine! I suggest you stay at least three nights.

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Portloe (photo courtesy of The Lugger Hotel)

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Portloe (photo courtesy of The Lugger Hotel)

STAY in & near Portloe

  • The Lugger Hotel–Charming, updated 17th century inn located on the water, with an attractive restaurant. (22 rooms, some with a terrace, plus a 2-bedroom cottage available for rent)
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Your room at the Lugger Hotel: Can’t beat that view!

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breakfast room at The Lugger Hotel

& nearby…

  • The Nare Hotel–We walked along the spectacular Cornish Southwest Coast Path from Portloe to The Nare Hotel, stunningly located on a huge, undeveloped cove with huge, crescent-shaped beach. The NH has the cove all to itself! The Nare is not in a town but is self-contained with its own restaurant , bar and other amenities. (36 bedrooms and suites, some with balconies and terraces)
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The huge crescent beach in front of the Nare Hotel (above) is among the prettiest I have ever seen!

SEE THE SIGHTS in & around Portloe

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Cornish Southwest Coast Path (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

  • The Lost Gardens of Heligan
  • Tregothnan, the largest private botanical garden in Britain
  • St Just in Roseland (two miles north of St. Mawes)  is famous for its 13th-century “St Just’s Church, St Just in Roseland set in riverside gardens luxuriantly planted with semitropical shrubs and trees, many of which are species rare in England. The church perches on the edge of a tidal creek beside the Carrick Roads on the Fal Estuary just outside the main village. The path from the road to the church is lined with granite blocks carved with quotations and verses taken from the Bible,” per Wikipedia. My cousin just hiked from the  Hotel Tresanton to St. Just and reported that it was WELL WORTH the trek through some mud. She wished she had seen the Hotel Tresanton’s wellies, set aside for the use of its guests!
  • National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth
  • St. Michael’s Mount–This striking National Trust property  is the English equivalent of France’s Mont St. Michel.
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St. Michael’s Mount (photo by Mike Newman, courtesy of St. Michael’s Mount)

From the St. Michael’s Mount website: “By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, St Michael’s Mount had come into the possession of the monks of its sister isle, Mont St Michel in Normandy. In the 12th century it was their hands that built the church and priory that still lie at the heart of the castle today. From 1193 when the Mount was seized by Henry La Pomeray who disguised his men as pilgrims, through the Wars of the Roses in 1473 when the Mount was held by the Earl of Oxford, to the Civil War, when Royalists valiantly held back the forces of Oliver Cromwell – the Mount has weathered many times of battle. Gaze out across the rows of cannons which once drove a Napoleonic ship to its capture on Marazion beach or peer up to the top of the church tower where the first beacon was lit of the series that warned London of the approach of the Spanish Armada.”

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St. Michael’s Mount (photo by Claire Braithwaite courtesy of St. Michael’s Mount)

Literary Traveling Companions: “The Shell Seekers,” by Rosamunde Pilcher   and “Rebecca,” by Daphne du Maurier

DVD’s to Watch in Advance of Your Trip to Get You into the Cornwall Mood: “Doc Martin” PBS series

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Galapagos & Machu Picchu: Wahoo!

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blue-footed booby feet (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

If you’re going to the Galapagos Islands, you’re probably going to spend 2-3 nights in Quito, Ecuador. Do not resist going to Quito in the interest of saving time! Old, colonial Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site…a nice city with lots to see. Suggest two full days here

STAY in Quito, Ecuador

  • Villa Colonna–HIGHLY recommend! This is a B&B but VERY upscale: beautifully decorated 19th century mansion with Latin American antiques, plus a lovely interior courtyard, plus amazing breakfasts (linens, crystal, fresh flowers & wonderful food) and interesting, non-intrusive, informative hosts. Great location in the heart of old Quito. (6 rooms)
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view of Quito from Villa Colonna’s pretty rooftop terrace

  • Casa Gangotena–“the stateliest hotel in town” and “one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in the country,” according to Travel + Leisure, 2013. Andrew Harper and Departures magazine (2017) also like it. (31 rooms)
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Casa Gangotena: Looks like a pretty place to rest after a day of seeing the sights!

SEE THE SIGHTS in Quito

  • Independence Square–Independence Square has it all: City Hall, alfresco shoe shines for $3, the Presidential Palace, the HUGE national cathedral with its green-and-white-checked tiled domes, boutiques tucked in niches, and lots of museums nearby, beautiful flower-filled gardens w/a big fountain at its center and lots of people, mostly native Ecuadorian Indians…in native Indian dress, which is refreshing because it is genuine, i.e., not put on for the tourists.
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(photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

Fun and great eye candy!

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Independence Square

  • Jesuit Church of La Campania de Jesus–Decorated with seven tons of gold leaf, this is referred to as Quito’s Sistine Chapel.
  • San Francisco Square–A huge (the largest in S. America!) monastery built in the 16th century occupies one corner of the square
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San Francisco Square (photo courtesy of Casa Gangolena, which has a lovely elevated terrace overlooking the square)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Quito

Ask the sophisticated proprietors of Villa Colonna. They steered us to Zazu (in 2011), which we liked a lot.

GALAPAGOS!!!!!!

Blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, pink flamingos, snorkeling with giant turtles, sea lions, purple starfish, penguins…they’re all here, and more, plus stunning water, islands and silence.

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The water really is this blue and the wildlife really is this relaxed with humans. This sea lion can jump 5′ up into the air! (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

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You’ve heard of the famous blue-footed boobies, of course. (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

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But have you heard of the red-footed booby? You will see them in the Galapagos! (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

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Ever seen a Sally Lightfoot crab? You will in the Galapagos! (photo by Andy Coleman courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

The gorgeously colored animals were expected. The beauty of the various Galapagos Islands was unanticipated. For example…

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Bartolomeo Island (photo by Paul Schicke courtesy of QuasarExpeditons)

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sea lions taking a siesta (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

STAY in the Galapagos:

There are two ways to see the GI’s: Stay on a ship and cruise from island to island or stay at one of the few hotels on land and take day trips from it to the islands.

HOTEL/ship in the Galapagos

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The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

  • The Grace…as in, THAT Grace! Highly recommend this ship, built in 1928. Its one-time owner, “Ari” Onassis, gave it to Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier as a wedding present…a little bit of Hollywood glam in the Galapagos! Nice staff, highly knowledgeable naturalist guide, mediocre interior decor and food (but who cares, given the scenery and staff)…per my 2011 trip. (8 cabins)
  • Ecoventura‘s MV Origin…”The Origin is [Ecoventura’s] most luxurious vessel to date, with 10 staterooms for 20 passengers on the 142-foot yacht,” per Departures magazine (2017). I just looked at the MV Origin on Ecoventura’s website and think its public areas look a bit stiff and uncomfortable. The Grace is a much prettier ship.
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The Grace’s serene deck (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions): Don’t worry, we never saw as many other ships as are pictured here.

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breakfast aboard The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

The guide aboard The Grace was wonderfully knowledgeable, enthusiastic and fun.

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Yes, you CAN swim with the giant turtles in the Galapagos! They ignore you. (photo courtesy of Galapagos Safari Camp)

SIZE MATTERS: You want a small ship for two, key reasons: (1) It can get into smaller anchorages/coves than a big ship, so you can go more places; (2) You will not have to wait for a large number of fellow passengers to lumber off the ship into dinghies taking them to/fro the various islands. At 145-feet long, The Grace was the perfect size.

TIP: Higher is not better. The closer your room is to the top, the more it will sway when the wind blows the ship. Go low for a smoother trip.

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Suite on The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

SHOE TIP: From The Grace (or any ship), you will get into a dinghy that will take you to various Galapagos Islands. Some have a dock and some don’t, which means that you will sometimes have to step out of the dinghy into water a foot deep or less. So leave the Jimmy Choos at home and succumb to practical amphibious (read: ugly) shoes that will give you support for light, uphill hiking! You will thank me.

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The Grace and her dinghy (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

HOTEL/land

  • Pikaia Lodge–While I think its website is a bit cold, Pikaia Lodge is recommended by Departures magazine (2017) and travel aficionado Andrew Harper, who has rarely steered me wrong. PL is also a member of the Small Luxury Hotel group.
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Pikaia Lodge’s infinity pool

  • Galapagos Safari Camp–upscale, African-style tented camp, recommended by Andrew Harper, with a beautiful website!
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Galapagos Safari Camp

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This could be you  on your room’s deck a the Galapagos Safari Camp!

MACHU PICCHU

CUZCO, Peru

Cuzco is your jumping-off point for Machu Picchu and well worth a visit. But brace yourself: This former Incan capital is 11,000 feet above sea level. As in, LOTS of huffing and puffing while walking up its hilly streets. Hydrate!  Recommend 1-2 full days.

HOTELS in Cuzco

  • La Casona Inkaterra–Located on a lovely, quiet square, this former conquistador’s mansion is small, sophisticated, and beautifully decorated with colonial and Incan accents. Andrew Harper recommends it, as do I, as this was our base in Cusco. (11 rooms)
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La Casona Inkaterra

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La Casona Inkaterra

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La Casona Inkaterra

  • Belmond Hotel Monasterio–Converted from a 16th century monastery, this hotel has received a lot of mention in the travel media and is perfectly nice but lacking the charm of the Inkaterra. (122 rooms & suites)
  • Belmond Palacio Nazarenes–“Dating from the 16th century, this former convent is now a luxe hotel with 55 suites, the city’s first outdoor heated swimming pool, lush terraces…” (Elle Décor, 2015)

SEE THE SIGHTS in Cuzco

  • The Cathedral–baroque, 17th century
  • The Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)–a huge Dominican monastery built atop the ruins of a former Incan temple
  • People-watching–because MANY of the local Indians wear their colorful and beautifully woven shawls, hats, skirts, etc. Such a variety of hats!
  • Museum of Pre-Columbian Art–Located on the same square as La Casona and Hotel Monasterio, this is a beautiful building with a semi-interesting collection due to its uninformative descriptions next to each object
  • UNSAAC–Yale International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture (320 Calle Santa Catalina Ancha)–recommended by a 2012 Departures article
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Peruvian next to an ancient Incan wall in Cuzco (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

SHOP in Cuzco

  • Pedazo de Arte (Plateros 334B)–“The owner of this charming boutique, Miki Suzuki, has an eye for the best local handicrafts, which she sells for bargain prices…” (Elle Décor 2015)

MACHU PICCHU! (advise 1 night w/5 hours total of MP touring time)

FYI: Machu Picchu is an abandoned fortified town built by the Incans in the 15th-century, which is pretty amazing, when you consider how hard it must have been to construct without modern tools and atop a mountain ridge 7,970 ft above sea level! It is located in Peru, 50 miles northwest of Cuzco. Although known locally, it remained unknown to the outside world until Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911. Bingham, a Yale and Harvard man who later taught at Princeton, discovered Machu Picchu with the help of local farmers who led him to it through the remote mountain jungle.

IMPORTANT TIP #1: The typical transpo from Cuzco to MP is a crowded van-to-train-to-bus. However, who wants to be typical?! Advise you not to settle for that crowded van; instead, contact Inkaterra (upscale Peruvian travel agency and hotelier) to arrange for private transportation from Cuzco to the train. During the non-rainy season, you can get a train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. The train portion of the trip is wonderful because it is clean and travels through stunning, flowered-filled jungle scenery up to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of MP’s mountain. We saw wild impatiens, hydrangea, orchids and many more.

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(photo courtesy of Belmond)

IMPORTANT TIP #2: Do not travel to MP during the rainy season because sometimes the rain is so torrential that the train to MP is cancelled.

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We saw this bird! Machu Picchu is waaaay up high and in the middle of nowhere, hence its exotic birds and flowers. Such an unexpected treat!

IMPORTANT TIP #3: Upon disembarking from the train in Aguas Calientes, you have two options: hike up to MP (must be in good shape & have acclimated to the altitude, as it is steep…but possible) or take the bus up the switchbacks to MP.

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Machu Picchu is surrounded by nothing but VERY high mountains as far as the eye can see=seriously remote! (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

 HOTELS in Machu Picchu

  • Belmond Sanctuary Lodge–Do it! The BSL is the one and only hotel located on the mountaintop with Machu Picchu. Strongly recommend you spend the night, so you can see the grand and glorious MP after the day-trippers depart, as well as avoid long MP entrance ticket lines. Though the Lodge was nice when I was there in 2011, a 2012 article in “Departures” described it as “a bit down on its ear.”
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Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (photo courtesy of Belmond)

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View of MP from the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (photo courtesy of Belmond)

TIP: If the BSL is full and you can’t spend the night, I would not recommend spending the night in Aquas Calientes (the town at the base of MP’s mountain, from which you catch the bus up to MP), as it is dumpy.

I really wish I had known about this before going to Machu Picchu…

“Between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the geographically dramatic Sacred Valley abounds with views of the snow-capped Andes and largely unvisited Incan sites, including Moray, where agricultural terraces in concentric circles descend almost 150 feet.” (Departures 2012)

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Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in the Sacred Valley: Gorgeous Andes!

I also wish I had known about sophisticated, high-end Inkaterra, the Peruvian travel planner and hotelier that can arrange smooth, comfortable transport to/from Machu Picchu and other great areas of Peru, like the Sacred Valley. Look at Inkaterra’s beautiful hotel there…

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I could have stayed in this lovely room at Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba while touring remote, ancient Inca sites by day! I didn’t, so you will have to do it for me.

“Stop for lunch at Hacienda Huayoccari (51-8/425-4197) where the estate’s owner, José Ignacio Lambarri Orihuela…opens his home to a select few, showing off one of the most impressive private collections of pre-Colombian artifacts.” (Departures 2012)

Other hotels in the Sacred Valley include:

“In Urubamba, one of the valley’s largest towns, Tamba del Inka…a member of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, opened its 128 rooms…on the banks of the Urubamba River in 2010…The lovely Sol y Luna meanwhile, recently added 15 deluxe casitas to its 25 gardened acres…with private patios, fireplaces…” (per Departures 2012) The photos on Sol y Luna’s web site look beautiful…a bit like Colorado in the summertime. Sol y Luna is one hour from the airport and Cuzco.

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orchid near Machu Picchu (photo courtesy of Inkaterra)

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Machu Picchu flora and fauna (photo courtesy of Inkaterra)

Bermuda Bliss

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photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority

Going to Bermuda? Lucky you, because Bermuda is a happy, fun island, surrounded by bright blue/green water, and covered with hibiscus and lush jungle-green vegetation. Plus, Bermudians are all nice! I wonder if it’s because Bermuda’s population is only 60,000 people and the island is relatively small (22 square miles).

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Scooter around the island—It’s really fun! Plus, the speed limit for cars and scooters is only 20 m.p.h. (and everyone obeys it) so the likelihood of being run over is low.
  • Check out the island’s Bermuda National Trust gardens and historic properties. Elle Décor especially liked the Verdmont Museum (Collector’s Hill, Smith’s Parish), describing it as a “house museum treasure.”
  • Try out every beach: there are MANY, all gorgeous and uncrowded. They really are pink! That’s because tiny pieces of broken coral are interspersed with the sand.
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Stonehole Bay (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

Western Bermuda

  • One of the BEST beach walks–is from stunning Horseshoe Bay to the Swizzle Inn. It’s dotted with many gorgeous coves, including heavenly Jobson Cove. Timing: This walk should be done at low tide because it includes a series of beaches interrupted by rocky promontories, most of which can be walked around at low tide but not at high tide. Note: While the Swizzle Inn is not great, you can sit on its road-side terrace and try a Rum Swizzle, the island’s signature drink.
Horseshoe Bay Beach (photo credit Bermuda Tourism Authority)

Horseshoe Bay Beach (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • Gibbs Hill Lighthouse–built in 1844, this is the oldest cast iron lighthouse in the world…it also provides GREAT big views of the island, as it is on a hilltop; one can also dine here.
  • Somerset Bridge–if you are into Lilliputian draw bridges, this sight’s for you! I must admit, it’s pretty charming. Its’ opening is 18″, just wide enough for a sailboat to pass through.
  • Royal Naval Dockyard–19th century dockyard with an excellent museum and fort…and beautiful, high-up views of Bermuda, plus shops and restaurants
  • Take the ferry from the Royal Navy Dockyard to St. George’s–it’s efficient, clean, inexpensive, and a great way to see all of Bermuda’s southern coast from the water; also, it motors inside the reef (no exposure to rough seas) so is quite comfortable.

Mid-Island

  • Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital, is quietly attractive with pastel-painted buildings, but the main reasons to visit are the following……
    • Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute: so interesting!
    • Bermuda National Gallery (in City Hall, 17 Church St.)–lovely paintings of and by Bermudians and non Bermudians alike, like Winslow Homer
    • Royal Yacht Club (15 Pt. Pleasant Rd.)–is private but if you can get a letter of introduction, it’s worth it because it is old (built in 1844, one of the oldest royal yacht clubs in the world) and beautiful, w/a lovely terrace overlooking the very snazzy boats docked there
    • Fort Hamilton  (NE corner)— Civil War era fort that now features terraced gardens

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  • Bermuda Botanical Gardens (169 South Rd., Paget Parish)—36 acres of specimens. John Lennon named his “Double Fantasy” album after the Double Fantasy freesia he spotted here.

 Eastern Bermuda

  • Crystal Cave (8 Crystal Ca Rd.)–Floating pontoon pathways span a 55′ deep azure blue underground lake, beautifully lit up for tourists. Above the lake are gorgeous white stalactites, soda straws and helectite formations.
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Crystal Cave (photo courtesy of The Crystal Caves of Bermuda)

  • St. George’s–charming, historic town AND a UNESCO World Heritage Site; oldest continuously inhabited town of English origin in the New World, with fortifications built in 1612…lovely streets and houses with some decent shopping and waterside dining opp’s; be sure to visit!
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St. George (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • St. Peter’s Church –Located in St. George’s, this is the oldest Protestant church in continuous use in the New World, est. 1612
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St. Peter’s (courtesy of St. Peter’s)

  • Mid Ocean Club–This private club’s décor is cold, though location is dramatically pretty. A friend of mine, who has been going to Bermuda for years, told me the MOC has the best golf on the island.

Seasonal Sights Of Note

  • Every spring, the Garden Club of Bermuda sponsors the Open Houses and Gardens Tour. Wouldn’t that be glorious?! www.bermudatourism.com
  • At midnight every New Year’s Eve, they drop a giant Bermuda Onion in the town square at St. George’s…think a MUCH tamer version of NYC’s Time Square ball drop
  • The 35th Americas Cup will be hosted in Bermuda in June of 2017
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photo courtesy of Sander van der Borch

STAY

  • Coral Beach Club (on the south shore)–Pure heaven! BUT, this is a private club, so you can only stay there with a letter of intro from a reciprocal club. Beautiful uncrowded beach, good food, dining and dancing on the terrace several stories above the beach, nice staff and happy rooms, some with balconies. The Crow’s Nest cottage is the best! Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill, wrote “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Great God Brown” in the Crow’s Nest. Tennis, putting, and croquet. CAUTION: If you like the beige, no-rough-edges at all, faux-luxury of a Ritz-Carlton, the CBC is not for you. But if you like old-world elegance with one or two very small imperfections, beeline to the CBC! (40 rooms)
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view from Coral Beach Club

  • Cambridge Beaches (on western tip of the island)–lovely, refined, off on its own, croquet, pink cottages with white roofs, putt-putt, beautifully and cheerfully decorated (87 rooms, in the form of cottages, spread out over the property)
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photo courtesy of Cambridge Beaches

  • Rosedon Hotel (w/in walking distance of Hamilton)–recommended by Elle Décor; a former family estate, the RH is surrounded by gardens and a pool; looks really pretty on its website! (39 rooms)
  • Rosewood Tucker’s Point (in Hamilton Parish)–The web site looks a bit cold but Travel + Leisure (2014) and Andrew Harper recommended it (2015), and Mr. And Mrs. Smith Hotels give it 4 (out of 5) stars. It has golf, a spa and a beach club. (88 rooms)
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Rosewood (courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • Granaway Guest House (Warwick Parish)–recommended by Travel + Leisure (2014) and Trip Advisor describes it as a “great value”; no beach but pool (4 rooms)

While the following don’t appeal to me because I prefer small hotels, they are mentioned in every travel article:

  • Fairmont Hamilton Princess (76 Pitts Bay Road, Hamilton Parish)–overlooks the Hamilton harbor and a five-minute walk to Hamilton. Not on the beach but it has a beach club (157 rooms)
  • Fairmont Southampton Princess (101 S. Shore Rd., Southampton)–HUGE w/all the amenities you would expect from a biiiiig resort. (593 rooms)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Bermuda is not a foodie destination. In general, the restaurants serve mediocre, expensive food…and that is the ONLY imperfect thing about Bermuda. However, the island specialty is fish chowder, and it is mmmm, mmmm, good!

  • Marcus (Hamilton Princess Hotel)–I have not been here but plan to on my next trip because its chef, Marcus Samuelsson (of Red Rooster in Harlem, NY fame), is highly acclaimed!
  • The Dining Room (at the base of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse)–super spectacular views at night! The restaurant is small so be sure to make reservations.
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Coral Beach Club’s Dark n Stormy cocktail (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

 SHOP IT!

  • Hamilton is Bermuda’s shopping hub.
    • William Bluck (4 Front Street)–GORGEOUS crystal and china, in biz for 160+ years; in addition to all the usual high-end brands, they have a several lovely Bermuda-centric china patterns, such as Bermuda Reef Fish and Bermuda Flowers, both by Herend
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(photo courtesy of Bluck’s)

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(photo courtesy of Bluck’s)

  • Island Shop (3 Queen St.)–The IS sells informal serving dishes, linens, home décor items, and all things Bermuda and bright.
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(photo courtesy of the Island Shop)

  • The English Sports Shop (49 Front St.)—reasonably-priced, traditional men’s (& some ladies’) clothes. “Since 1918, the home of the original Bermuda shorts,” per its website.
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They really do wear Bermuda shorts with blazers, ties & high socks in Bermuda! (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • St. George’s
    • Lili Bermuda (5 Queen St.)–very sweet little perfume shop and adjacent tea room.
    • The English Sports Shop (30 Water St.)

WHEN TO GO

May to October is universally recommended but we also went for Easter & New Year’s Eve and had lovely weather.

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Bermuda is more formal than the US, so consider that when packing. That said, the only places I encountered a dress code were private clubs.

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(photo courtesy of Bermuda Travel Authority)

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(photo courtesy of the Bermuda Travel Authority)

Stonehole Bay Beach (credit Bermuda Tourism Authority)

Stonehole Bay Beach (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

-posted July 2016

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Panama: Hats Off!

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Sean Connery does the Panama hat

“Panama is an enchanting oasis, where easy island jaunts and mountain retreats are a way of life…

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(photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

“Until recently, it was known more as Central America’s economic center, but that booming economy is also paving the way for a rise in next generation designers, artists and chefs.” (Vogue 2016)

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(photo courtesy of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

Soooo, Panama has an economic center capital city with a charming old section; mountains filled with coffee plantations; and beaches that rival the best of the Caribbean islands…Let’s divide those up and explore the sights, shops, hotels and restaurants of South Carolina-size Panama. Are they worthy of a visit from us??

Panama City

The capital has 1.3 million people, is home to the fastest growing economy in Latin America, and a stable, democratically run government.

SEE THE SIGHTS

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Casco Viejo (photo courtesy of Casco Viejo Walking Tours)

  • Casco Viejo–“…the seductive, burgeoning arts district of Casco ViejoFilled with a continuous hum of Caribbean music and decorated with the paint-chipped facades of Spanish and French colonial buildings, Casco Viejo—the city’s UNESCO-designated historic district—is Panama City’s vibrant, bohemian hub.” (Vogue 2016) Casco Viejo “is where Panama City was relocated in 1673 after the original Pacific settlement was sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan…The 100-acre peninsula’s legacy of Spanish, French and American colonial, neoclassical and art nouveau architecture is unique.” (from Las Clementinas‘ web site)
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(photo courtesy of Casco Viejo Walking Tours)

  • Panama Canal“The first set of locks is a less than fifteen minutes drive from Casco Viejo. It is perfectly possible to see a vessel pass through the locks and be back at Casco Viejo in less than two hours.For those who are more curious about the Canal’s history and workings, visit the visitors center, called the Museum at Miraflores, or even do a half-day Canal transit.” (per Las Clementinas)
    • Mimi’s Travel File Tip: I just got back from Panama (January 2017). Two Tips: (1) The very best way to experience the PC is to do the half-day transit. (2) Our Panamanian friends said the Museo del Canal Interoceanic de Panama, located in Casco Viejo, is better that the Museum at Miraflores. We visited the Museo del Canal Interoceanic and, while it is a bit disorganized, it is informative and interesting.
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Panama Canal in the Azuleta (photo courtesy of Captain Rick’s Panama Sailing)

  • Biomuseo–Frank Gehry-designed (his wife is Panamanian) museum is a series of rain-forest-like gardens and biosphere galleries developed with the Smithsonian Institute, recommended by Travel+Leisure (2012). “The Amador Causeway is a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects Panama City with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal,” per visitpanama.com. The Biodiversity Museum is located on one of these.
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(photo courtesy of e-architect.com)

  •  Pollera Dancing–Not to be confused with pole dancing, pollera is a folkloric style of dancing in which the women wear elaborate and colorful traditional Panamanian costumes. Ask your hotel to recommend someplace to see a performance. It’s beautiful!
  • Soberanía National Park (near the Panama Canal)–“a pristine tropical rainforest noted for its remarkably diverse species,” per Andrew Harper. “Soberania National Park, one of the city’s largest green areas and home to lush flora and varied fauna (such as caimans, crocodiles and iguanas), as well as the starting point to many outstanding birding trails.” (visitpanama.com)
  • Abutting Soberania National Park is the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, a 50-acre reserve of untouched forest and famous for its abundance of bird species, on the eastern bank of the Panama Canal. Check out the view of the rain forest from its 40-meter observation tower!
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(photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

  • Barro Colorado Island–“Barro Colorado Island is home to the world’s most important tropical research station, with over 500 scientists conducting experiments at any given moment. The Smithsonian allows a very limited number of visitors to the island each year for 3/4-day educational hikes. Due to the popularity of these hikes, several months’  advance booking is suggested, though there are occasionally cancellations.” (from Las Clementinas website)
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(photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

  • Why all this focus on birds, you may be wondering?–“When the North American winter sets in, Panama is flooded with thousands of species of migratory birds–so much so that the Audubon Society routinely sets and resets its records for most species seen in a day in the jungle just on the edge of Panama City.” (per Las Clementinas website)

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  • Punta Pacifica is a skyscraper zone (bars, restaurants, malls, boutiques) in close proximity to the ocean. The much-lauded Trump Ocean Club International Tower & Hotel (one of only two hotels in Panama liked by Andrew Harper) is located here. However, I have read PP described as “soulless.”
  • Panama Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage site “where you can wander through grassy grounds, exotic trees and the 16th century ruins of the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. The cathedral is the best preserved among the stone remains. Climb up 72 feet in its bell tower for expansive views of Panama in all directions. It once served as a lookout post for pirates.” (Forbes 2015)
  • “Just a short one-hour sail from Panama City is the candy-colored Taboga Island, known locally as the Island of Flowers. You’ll find no cars on this island—this white-sand stretch of coastline is a remote paradise where nature trails and flower-lined walkways comprise the local infrastructure…
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    Azuleta (photo courtesy of Captain Rick’s Panama Sailing)

    “Skip the ferry lines and opt for a day aboard the Azuleta, which includes an entire day of sailing on a wooden sailboat. You’ll spend your day kayaking the clear open waters, diving from the highest rungs of the ship, and wandering the paths of quaint Taboga Island.” (Vogue 2016)

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Taboga Island (photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

STAY

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American Trade Hotel (photo courtesy of Vogue) in Casco Viejo

  • American Trade Hotel: “Stay to enjoy the relaxed tropical ethos of the rooms, but venture out to explore the open-air environment of the first floor communal spaces, where a mosaic-tiled floor makes every step an Instagram opportunity…” per Vogue 2016; Travel+Leisure, 2015, also approves; small swimming pool; 50 rooms, of which all but 13 have balconies. Be sure to get a room with a balcony!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Panama City’s culinary scene is on the rise. Casco Viejo is at the heart of Panama’s culinary revival…here you’ll find Panama’s best chefs and creative minds.” (Vogue 2016)

  • The American Trade Hotel’s Danilo’s Jazz Club–“where notable Panamanian jazz singers fill the hall with soulful tunes until the early morning hours. Before the night ends, cross the street to…
  • Grab a sunset drink at the rooftop bar, Casa Casco, directly across Plaza Herrera from the American Trade Hotel. Such dreamy pretty views of all of Panama City!
  • Las Clementinas –“Panamanian comfort food” (T+L 2012 and NY Times 2013)
  • Caliope –“…enjoy a farm-to-table feast with a menu designed to reflect local ingredients and culture.” (Vogue 2016) A Mimi’s Travel File favorite!
  • “After dinner, opt for a raucous night of dancing at Casa Jaguarin Casco Viejo (Vogue 2016)
  • ” If you still have energy, leave Casco Viejo for a nightcap at the recently opened Hooch Panama in the San Francisco neighborhood. Built in a speakeasy style…” (Vogue 2016)
  • Intimorecommended by the NY Times, 2015
  • Humo-“adapts American barbecue to Panamanian ingredients,” per NY Times 2014.
  • Maito-near Humo, Maito “has an organic garden of more than 1,000 square feet, growing culantro, ají chombo, ñame (a root vegetable) and micro sprouts. The restaurant offers 10-course-tasting menus ($50) reflecting the history of the canal, incorporating the different ethnicities involved in its creation and the plants and animals around it,” per NY Times 2014.
  • “The most eclectic menu can be found at La Trona on the second floor of the former residence of a queen of the traditional folkloric pollera costume, known for her over-the-top style…decorated with coffered ceilings, red curtains, wrought-iron windows and gaudy Renaissance-style oil paintings. In this two-year-old restaurant, the young chef Alfonso de la Espriella’s menu jumps around from the Mediterranean to South America.” (per the New York Times, 2014)
  • Riesenin a small space in El Cangrejo. There are fewer than a dozen plates driven by what he can get that day from local farmers and fishermen…” (per the NY Times, 2014)

SHOP

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Karavan Gallery

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Karavan Gallery: I want these pillows!

  • Papiro y Yo–“Accessories made using recycled papers”  (T+L 2012)

The Mountains of Western Panama: Boquette

“Shrouded beneath a canopy of clouds, Boquete is Panama’s mountainous refuge: Birds chatter symphonically and volcanic peaks yield to a flourishing landscape of bucolic coffee plantations.(Vogue 2016) “Boquete is a delightful small town 4,000 feet above sea level in the cool highlands of Chiriquí Province… Tucked away on the slopes of the dormant 11,000-foot Barú Volcano, Boquete is surrounded by the country’s richest agricultural land…a dense cloud forest that is teeming with plants and birds, including resplendent quetzals and toucans. We reached Boquete from Panama City via a 50-minute flight to the town of David on the Pacific, followed by a one-hour drive.” (per Andrew Harper)

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(photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

  •  Finca Lerida Coffee Plantation and Boutique HotelHere, every room comes with a hammock on its front porch—the perfect spot to sip the property’s own “Geisha” coffee, which happens to be one of the world’s most exclusive blends. If you can pull yourself out of the hammock, take a hike or a plantation tour.”-Vogue (2016)
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Finca Lerida in Boquette  (photo courtesy of Vogue 2016)

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Panamonte Inn & Spa

  • “The most venerable hotel in the area is the Panamonte Inn & Spa. All of the 25 rooms are set in a lovely garden, whose rolling lawns are punctuated by noble old trees and flowering bushes.The newest accommodations are the most desirable…Activities include birding, coffee plantation tours, whitewater rafting, hiking, horseback riding and golf; hot springs nearby.” (one of only two hotels in Panama recommended by Andrew Harper)

Beaches & Islands of Panama

  • Island-hopping escapades are just a short jaunt away . Located off the northern Caribbean coast of Panama, the 365 islands that make up the San Blas Islands (2.5 hour drive from Panama City) all seem to come standard with white-sand beaches, coconuts for purchase, and leaning palm trees that will make any city-dweller contemplate life off the grid. Explore the region with a tour from Thread Caravan—visit with the indigenous Guna people, learn the complexity of hand-embroidering mola textiles, and spend your days snorkeling and sailing the pristine ocean waters.” (Vogue 2016)
    • Mimi’s Travel File Tried and True Rec: Just back (Jan. 2017) from chartering a captained catamaran through Susan Bruce Travel. She and her staff are good!
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(photo courtesy of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

  • Portobelo (on the Caribbean, a 90-minute drive from Panama City)–The hotel here looks GREAT! In addition to being recommended by the Wall Street Journal (2013), InStyle (2012), and Condé Nast Traveler (2013), Mr. and Mrs. Smith love it: “Tucked away across a cerulean Caribbean bay from the historic port town of Portobelo, El Otro Lado hotel is a laid-back, yet luxurious, outpost of traditional Panamanian culture that’s right at home in the jungle-blanketed wild. With original artwork adorning every room, local woodworkers carving sculptures on site, creative Caribbean cuisine and an ambitious list of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, this jungle retreat is the ideal mix of art and adventure.

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El Otro Lado is perfectly positioned for history buffs curious about the lore-loaded colonial town of Portobelo…For a glimpse of life in one of Panama’s native tribes, journey to Charges National Park where you’ll travel up the Charges River by canoe to spend the day in an Embera village. Once there, you’ll listen to music, watch native dances and admire the highly detailed woven baskets and vibrant beaded necklaces created by the Embera.” (see Mr. and Mrs. Smith for more details) –7 rooms

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(photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

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(photo courtesy of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

TIP: December-April is the best time to visit.

 –posted July 2016