- British Virgin Islands,
- Harbour Island,
- Jost Van Dyke,
- Paradise Island,
- Puerto Rico,
- Virgin Gorda
Sandcastle, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
Tel: 284 495 9888
On many islands, they'd be bulldozing the brush of postcard-perfect White Bay to make way for a mega-resort. But this is the BVI's, which loyally cling to their low-key charm. And there's no beach resort quite as low-key as the Sandcastle. Four basic screened cottages and two small rooms step back from the bleached-coral sand into the shade of seagrape trees. The two beachfront cottages are the prime digs and best chance for steady breezes; the hotel rooms have AC, but lack the charm of the fan-cooled cottages with their outdoor showers. The mood floats from hammock-napping ecstasy to beach blanket bingo and back as the day progresses. Before 11 am and after about 3 pm, guests have the area to themselves. In between, the beach and its bars, including the famed Soggy Dollar, are invaded by yachties, cruise-shippers, and day-trippers from Tortola or the USVI. A boon for people watchers and social butterflies, the midday rush can be annoying for those banking on utter peace. Fortunately, White Bay is big enough that there's always an empty stretch of sand somewhere.
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Virgin Gorda, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
The Baths. The otherworldly granite formations here are some of the most photographed and celebrated sites in the Caribbean. Get there first thing in the morning or after three in order to miss the cruise crowds and day trippers. Explore the grottoes, hike the entire boulder path, and make sure to snorkel around the rocks if it's calm.
Mahoe Bay Beach. North of Savannah Bay on an isthmus and easily accessed by way of a long, landscaped driveway, this twin-reef sandy bay is nevertheless peaceful.
Trunk Bay. On the west coast there are many beautiful white-sand stretches, of which this is one of the nicest. Walk over from gorgeous, boulder-strewn Spring Bay.
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Jost Van Dyke, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay. You need a boat, but it's worth it for these two tiny dots that are practically all beach off the east coast of the island. Sandy Spit is the desert island you've seen in cartoons.
White Bay Beach. World-class palm-fringed sands, snorkeling reefs (you have to anchor offshore and swim in, so it doesn't work for tots), and beach bars are what this beach on the southern coast is known for.
Great Harbour Beach. Yes, it's the great beach at the main harbor on the southern coast of the island. Though not the most deserted, the big, sandy horseshoe has the best water sports and casual restaurants.
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Island Hopping in the British Virgin Islands
There's no other place in the Caribbean where traveling between such a diverse collection of islands is not only possible, but easy and fun. There are several ferry services that run between the populated islands (www.bviports.org), puddle jumpers fly to Anegada and Virgin Gorda (Air Sunshine, Fly BVI, Ltd.), and the most popular day trips include stops at nearby uninhabited isles. Going to the BVI and seeing only a one island would be like going to the Louvre and ignoring all but the Mona Lisa. Below are our favorite lesser-known islands.
Fallen Jerusalem. This national park southwest of Virgin Gorda has underwater caves and tunnels off the northwest coast for snorkeling and the great North Lee Bay Beach for lazing.
Prickly Pear. A national park in Virgin Gorda's North Sound, this has a hiking trail over cactus-covered hills and epic beaches on the north and east shores. Vixen Point has watersport equipment rentals and a beach bar/restaurant called the Sand Box.
Norman Island. A yachters' favorite just southwest of Peter Island, Norman's most visited spots are its Bight—home to the Willie T. and a good land-based bar/restaurant Pirates Bight—and The Caves, a snorkeling spot said to have been Robert Louis Stevenson's inspiration for Treasure Island. You can swim inside the caves amid shimmering schools of fish.
Dead Chest. Legend has it that this tiny, uninhabited national park next to Peter Island got its name when Blackbeard stranded 15 mutinous sailors here with only a bottle of rum for company. Hence Stevenson's "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest/Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum…" quote from Treasure Island.
Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay. You need a boat, but it's worth it for these two tiny dots that are practically all beach off the east coast of Jost Van Dyke. Sandy Spit is the real-life version of the desert island—water, sand and a sprinklng of palms.
Cooper Island. Home of a quiet little hotel with a good restaurant (some yachties moor here and swim ashore just for the conch fritters), Cooper is a nice place to stop after diving the nearby wrecks.
Anegada. While the rest of the major islands in the BVI are all green-hilled gumdrops created by volcanic action, Anegada is a Bahamian-style isle: flat, low, hot, and almost completely surrounded by white coral-sand beaches. It's also famous for its deep-water lobster, and in season, there's no better BVI afternoon than sitting at one of Anegada's beach bars like Cow Wreck, drinking rum and feasting on fresh lobster.
Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Tel: 888 528 7155 (toll-free), Tel: 242 363 3000
Representing the opposite of the barefoot Bahamas experience, this megaresort on Paradise Island belongs to South African billionaire developer Sol Kerzner, a man responsible in his youth for the egregious Sun City, South Africa, and now tending the meticulous and deluxe One&Only resorts—one of which lies down the beach from here. With Atlantis, Kerzner has spawned a unique creature, a veritable Vegas-on-the-Sea. Consisting of three massive towers as well as the Cove (a resort within the resort), Atlantis has 3,300 rooms and countless bars, clubs, and restaurants, such as Nobu. If you wrest your eyes upward from the slots and Caribbean stud poker in the huge casino, you'll see multimillion-dollar Dale Chihuly glass installations; if you get overheated walking from one end of the resort to the other (it takes a good ten minutes), take refuge underground, where vast vitrines reveal an aquarium theme walk with small sharks and large rays twisting in and out of chunks of the Lost City of Atlantis "excavation." If you tire of that, head to the gigantic beachside ziggurat, a collection of thrilling extreme "Mayan" waterslides. It's all completely tasteless in a rather fabulous way.
The Landing, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Dunmore Town, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Tel: 242 333 2707
This is the place that put Harbour Island in every single glossy mag on the planet, thanks in part to former shareholders India Hicks (the granddaughter of Queen Victoria's great-grandson, one of Princess Di's bridesmaids, and, crucially—for the sake of the linens and to explain the Bruce Weber shots in the parlor—former Ralph Lauren model) and her boyfriend, designer David Flint Wood, who were responsible for the elegant interiors. Given all that, further description seems redundant: There are all the crisp white linens on mahogany four-posters, waxed wood floors, white shutters, and colonial cane chairs you'd expect in the 7 bedrooms. There's also a fine contemporary restaurant with a chef from Sydney (try the roast lobster), a library, and a fine wine and spirits shop featuring specially selected rum from the Caribbean and Cuba and the best selection of Bordeaux in the Bahamas (as well as a house rum and wine label, called Afro Head). In case you're too tired to make the five-minute walk to the beach, there's also a palm-shaded lap pool for swimming and lounging outside in the garden.
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Beaches of the Bahamas
Harbour Island—at the northern tip of the Eleuthera island chain—has a famed pink-sand beach that's three miles or more from end to end and up to 100 feet at its widest point. Its pink hue comes from the foraminifera, microscopic shell animals from the offshore reef. Gaulding Cay Beach on Eleuthera Island may not be ideal for swimmers, but if you want to walk out to sea 150 feet or so through crystal-clear water and still not be in over your waist, this is the place. Morgan's Bluff, on North Andros Island, is where crowds gather every July to watch sailboats taking part in the All Andros Regatta. It's also where the locals congregate every October for the annual Seafood Splash Festival. Pleasant Bay Beach on New Providence Island hosts an annual Independence Festival on Independence Weekend in July, with artists gathering to show off works, such as masks and mini sailboats, all crafted from coconuts. It's hard to imagine when you're in the thick of things at Atlantis on Paradise Island, but walk just a hundred yards or so, and you'll come to an expanse of white sand so gorgeous you have to wonder about the person who first named the island Hog rather than Paradise.
Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas
, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Tel: 242 333 2030
Bravo Beach Hotel
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When the sun goes down—and before the moon comes up—head to Mosquito Bay, one of the world's brightest bioluminescent bays. When disturbed, billions of dinoflagellates (tiny, harmless organisms, more than 700,000 to the gallon) make the water sparkle. Dive in: You'll see your body outlined with a blue-green glow. Numerous island operators offer bio-tours. Island Adventures is one of the best, as its electrically powered double-pontoon boats don't pollute the water (787-741-0720).