Bahamas? Been there. St. Barths? Done that. While dozens of notable islands in the Caribbean serve as winter playgrounds for the masses, several islands under the radar remain obscure due to scant tourism and nominal amenities offered — which, interestingly, is bumping up their popularity. From St. Martin’s sister island Saba, run by openly gay council members, to family-friendly Isla Mujeres in Mexico, there’s an island for everyone. We rounded up 6 islands to visit now before they’re completely taken over by crowds.
Known for a stomach-wrenching runway built into its cliffs, Saba is nothing like sister island St. Martin. There are only 1,800 residents, a small harbor, 4 villages and not much more. In fact, there are no beaches, shopping centers, casinos or, thankfully, mass tourism. The beauty of the volcanic island is its sprawling nature; no wonder it was nicknamed “Unspoiled Queen.” European travelers abound due to the Dutch commonwealth, and the island is becoming a favorite for the LGBT community.
The island’s commissioner, director of tourism and one member of the island council are all openly gay. Couples of all orientation like to shack up at Queen’s Resort (again, “queen” is a curious coincidence), a 12-suite property that is notorious for its timeless appeal, with suites averaging 1,200 square feet. Known mostly for hiking and diving, Saba is all about truly getting away and disappearing in the rolling green hills for much-needed R&R.
Grand Cul-de-Sac, St. Barts
One of many islands in the Caribbean Sea, St. Bart’s stands out with its pleasant blend of French chic and island relaxation. Combining beautiful secluded beaches, fine French cuisine and charming hotels, this tropical playground is a favorite among the beautiful and wealthy. The island is only 8 miles long, but is surrounded by nearly 20 beaches and dotted by many small coves, all of which welcome swimmers and sunbathers with sparkling water and white sand. Windsurfing is the sport of choice, and many of the hotels offer snorkeling trips around the island.
At night, the island’s numerous trendy restaurants fill up with folks settling in for a delectable meal and an evening of people watching. During the day, the town of Gustavia bustles with window-shoppers and those hoping to take a peek at the lines of glamorous yachts. This island is also a great place for romance. Spend an afternoon dining on a true French picnic of crusty French bread, aged cheese and a bottle of wine after hiking to Colombier Beach, once a favorite spot of the Rockefellers. However you choose to spend your stay, don’t be surprised to find the days slipping away – this island retreat is almost too good to be true.
Nearest Major International Airport: Most international flights fly into nearby St. Maarten’s Juliana Airport where passengers can either continue via commuter plane to St. Bart’s Aeroport de St-Jean or by boat.
Many hotels offer free shuttles to and from the airport. For those that don’t, taxis are readily available. Visitors planning to travel around the island during their stay may consider renting a motorbike or scooter, or the more popular form of transportation the minimoke, which is a small open-air car.
The busy season in the Caribbean is from December through April when the weather in the United States and Europe is generally at its worst. Hotel prices are highest during this time, but do drop after April. To dodge the crowds, it’s best to visit from late August through early November.
Hotel rooms are notoriously expensive on the beaches of St. Bart’s, but some offer all-inclusive packages that may save you a few bucks. The largest all-inclusive resort is the Guanahani noted for its brightly colored cottages that are scattered along paths edged with tropical flora. Slightly less expensive are the El Sereno Beach Hotel, popular with a younger crowd, and the St. Bart’s Beach Hotel. Both are located on the beach at Grand Cul-de-Sac. All of the hotels offer private beach access, a variety of activities from snorkeling to windsurfing, as well as fine dining. For those concerned about high prices, there are an abundance of houses and villas available for rent further away from the beach. A real steal are the rustic bungalows tucked away near Lorient Beach at the Le Manoir de St-Barthilemy.
Harbour Island, Bahamas
Harbour Island’s quiet charms seem countless, but none offer greater allure than the tiny island’s wondrous stretch of pink sand beach. These soft, coral sands bask under the warm Caribbean sun, and prove irresistible to locals and visitors alike. Harbour Island’s beachgoers are treated daily to postcard-perfect scenes as the beach’s palm trees sway in the gentle island breeze and the turquoise sea laps at the pale, pink sand shore.
Only 3 miles long and half a mile wide, Harbour Island – known as “Briland” to locals – sits just a mile off the better-known island of Eleuthera. Harbour Island’s hub, Dunmore Town, gained fame as the original capital of the Bahamas, and the island still retains a Georgian architecture, marked by pastel-colored buildings, white picket fences and bougainvillea-draped doorframes.
The island’s infectious laid-back atmosphere provides a quiet retreat from the hectic rituals of daily life. With only small handfuls of tourists visiting at any given time and less than 2,000 locals, Harbour Island is the perfect respite for families and folks hoping to relax by the beach, stroll quaint streets, pop into tiny shops or sip casual sunset cocktails.
There is no direct route to Harbour Island. From the United States fly into Nassau, Fort Lauderdale or Miami and take a connecting flight to North Eleuthera (ELH) airport on Eleuthera. From there, take a taxi to the dock and a water taxi to Harbour Island.
Taxis are available at the airport, and it’s a 10-minute cab ride to the boat dock. The water taxi ride to Harbour Island is also only 10 minutes.
December through April and major holidays are considered high seasons, and lodging rates are subsequently more expensive. Weather is best at this time, with temperatures in the mid-70s. Beware: Hurricane season arrives in the fall, and many hotels and shops close for the season.
Eleven hotels and one bed-and-breakfast can be found on Harbour Island, and cater to both luxury and budget travelers. While 4 hotels (Coral Sands, Pink Sands, Dunmore Beach Club and Runaway Hill Club) are directly on the beach, the island is so compact that other accommodations are never more than a short walk away. For more information on specific lodging types, visit: www.myharbourisland.com/hotels.htm.
Local fare on the island is generally casual and focuses on freshly caught seafood, in particular, conch. One restaurant, Queen Conch, even makes fresh conch salad at diners’ tables. Restaurants at finer hotels, such as the Coral Sands, feature excellent cuisine but can be pricey. Tiny shops like Arthur’s Bakery or Seaview Takeaway (try the conch burger) let visitors trying to gain a true “local” experience dive headfirst into the friendly island dining culture.
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