(Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)
Unspoiled destinations exist, they just take extra effort to reach
Last Updated October 29, 2007
By Wallace Immen, CBC News
Unspoiled. Unique. A castaway's paradise.
Words and phrases like these have been abused lately in ads for chain resorts in the Caribbean that attract jumbo-jet-loads of tourists to mass-tourism islands.
Wouldn't you really rather have your very own place in the sun, where your footprints can be the only ones on the beach? Such places do still exist — but they take a little extra effort to get to them.
The real hideaways in the Caribbean don't have jetports. Most require a second flight in a small plane or a ferry ride to reach, but that's an advantage because the payoff is a vacation that really is unique and uncrowded.
This 20-kilometre long island north of St. Martin is serene, and those who know it like it that way.
You get to Anguilla by prop plane or private jet, or take a 20-minute ferry ride from the popular island destination of St. Martin. So you're close to the action and a major international airport, and yet far enough away that you may be the only one on the beach.
Anguilla has become a retreat for professional athletes and Hollywood types who can afford villas that cost up to $4,000 a night for the privilege of being able to beach comb without being pursued by autograph seekers.
But there are also many more moderately priced places that share the same beaches and let you pretend you are paparazzi bait. Guest homes are available from as little as $75 a night.
There are also special package deals and celebrations, including a sailing regatta and jazz festival this year to mark the 40th anniversary of Anguilla's "mouse that roared" succession from St. Kitts and Nevis that made it an independent British overseas territory. Four-night packages including breakfasts and some dinners are available from about $1,200 per couple at the Ku Resort, to about $3,000 at the high-end Cap Juluca (both represented in Canada by Resort to the Best.
This lush mountainous island south of St. Lucia that is the jumping off point for the Grenadine chain of islands has remained pristine because its rugged terrain has made it difficult to build a large airstrip.
A big new airport is reportedly on its way, though, with financial support pledged by Taiwan and Cuba along with a financing deal from Canada to cover a plan that will literally have to move mountains to clear the way. Meanwhile, it is well worth taking the commuter flight from St. Lucia or Barbados to visit the island before big hotels inevitably arrive.
Aside from beaches, the island is known for its rainforests that are home of colourful tropical birds, including rare parrots and a profusion of plants and flowers. Unique experiences include taking a jeep safari tour along the narrow mountain roads and through small villages, or visiting the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary where former seaman Orton King protects endangered Hawksbill turtles.
And a plus that even the tourist literature doesn't mention is that most of the produce on the island is organic. The volcanic soil doesn't need fertilizers or pesticides.
Bequia is in the Grenadine chain, south of St. Vincent, and it was until very recently known mostly by sailing types who anchored offshore and rowed or waded in to have rum punch and barbecue fresh fish on its white sand beaches.
The island has started doing its own tourism promotion and has an annual music festival and regatta planned. Accommmodations tend to be in intimate guest houses that harken back to colonial Caribbean days. In addition to fresh air and sunshine, attractions are 30 scuba diving sites and the tiny gingerbread-trimmed town of Admiralty Bay.
Its laid back market area includes relics of its whaling and ship repairing days as well as shops selling scale model ships. You may also recognize some of the locals who have been extras in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that were filmed in these parts.
The island of Saba is one of the toughest places to get to in all of the Caribbean. The volcanic island is like a steep-sided tooth rising out of the sea, and the deep water that surrounds it offers few places to anchor. Because of that, it has remained a time capsule of the past, which saw English, French, Spanish and Dutch rulers set up outposts.
While it's technically a colony the Netherlands — and Dutch is supposed to be the official language — everyone speaks English. And the island is almost Hawaiian in its abundance of lush tropical foliage and laid-back attitude toward time.
You arrive either by ferry from St. Maarten or by air on a commuter route and stay at one of a number of guest homes. A plus is that there are virtually no cars, so it's perfect for those who enjoy quiet walks along wilderness roads.
And for some an even bigger plus may be its isolation. The post office suggests it will take approximately two weeks for delivery of mail, even if it is marked Air Mail. That's remote.
The sister island of busy Antigua, Barbuda remains off the radar. Its lagoons and white-and-pink sand beaches are often deserted except for the shadows of passing frigate birds, who have a sanctuary on the island that they share with about 100 other species of birds.
Activities — when there are any — consist of fishing golf and tennis and snorkelling. And on weekends there is the occasional cricket match. Otherwise, there's plenty of room to catch the rays and do a little meditation.
Trinidad's tiny cousin near the Venezuelan coast is said to be the island Daniel Defoe wrote about in Robinson Crusoe. Whether or not that's true, Tobago is the relaxed version of Trinidad, with it main attractions being quiet beaches and the oldest protected rain forest in the Western Hemisphere.
The wildest and most active things about the island are the animals and tropical birds that have brought the nickname "the Galapagos of the West Indies."
Tobago's guest houses and small resorts start at about $100 a night, and many of the smaller places rent by word of mouth. The most elaborate romantic getaways that advertise in wedding magazines can go up to $400 a night, but thatís still reasonable as castaway islands go.
And finally, consider a place that is readily accessible by air from Canada and has been well known to bargain hunters, but is making a new pitch for tourists at the luxury end who want a retreat from all-calypso all the time.
Casa do Campo on a private estate in La Romana is fresh from extensive upgrading of its facilities and golf course and it is offering fall and winter golf vacation packages.
Meanwhile, coming soon are a new Ritz-Carlton resort at Cap Cana. There will be 220 rooms and 194 residence villas along more than kilometre of beach near Punta Cana.
Also coming near La Romana is the Four Seasons Casa de Campo Resort, which will have 200 rooms that range from one-bedrooms all the way to five-bedroom "super suites" with private pools and gyms that are priced at up to $10,000 per night.
Resorts on these islands are small and book up quickly for the high winter season. So plan ahead.
Air connections must also be nailed down at the same time you book the hotels. The routes to these islands are generally flown by small propeller planes that can be fully booked for weeks at a time.