A quieter Caribbean: six places you should try

By Jim Byers

The Caribbean is a delightful holiday spot this time of year; with endless sunshine, great beaches and tremendous resorts. But some destinations are a little too crowded in high season. Here are places where you can stretch out your towel without banging elbows with another visitor.

BEQUIA:

If you want to experience the Caribbean the way it was before mass tourism came along, this is one of the places you want to visit. Located a short ferry ride from St. Vincent (itself a relatively quiet destination with hardly any chain hotels), Bequia – it’s pronounced Beckway, by the way – is a true Caribbean gem. The main town, Port Elizabeth, is perhaps a couple of blocks long and features super-casual restaurants, fruit stands and inexpensive shops. Locals gather along the waterfront in the shade of tall trees to debate the island’s political issues. There’s a nice beach walk from Port Elizabeth to lovely Princess Margaret Beach, where you’ll find a cool restaurant called Jack’s Beach Bar. The Bequia Beach Hotel is a lovely property with a wide variety of units to choose from and views of other islands in the Grenadines chain.

Definitely a get-away-from-it-all destination.


TERRE-DES-HAUT, GUADELOUPE:

This small island is part of the Iles-des-Saintes in Guadeloupe, which is part of France, so expect to bone up on your Grade 10 French. You should be fine with English in most places you go, but it’s always nice to try. This is a pretty island with a small, colourful downtown featuring shops and restaurants with baguettes, crepes, ice cream and fine French linens in the window. Take a tour of Fort Napoleon, located high on a hill overlooking a series of deep blue, craggy bays. It’s only a short walk from the ferry terminal on the island over to beautiful Pompierre Beach. When I was there a small band of wild goats was wandering about underneath a set of palm trees, hoping to find an open picnic basket. Back in town, check out the pretty Catholic church and admire the brightly-coloured homes.

An ideal island for adventurous souls or anyone who wants to practice their French.


NEVIS:

This is another quiet Caribbean island that doesn’t get a lot of attention – but probably should. Most folks arrive here by taking a very short ferry ride from the south end of St. Kitts. You’ll find a throwback Caribbean island with hardly any traffic and only a handful of resorts. The best-known place to stay is probably the Four Seasons, nestled on a beautiful sandy beach on the tranquil west side of the island. The golf course is one of the best in the Caribbean, with up-and-down terrain, lovely vistas and a number of well-designed, challenging holes. Just south of the Four Seasons is a great seaside bar called Sunshines, which is home to a potent rum drink called the Killer Bee. You might even find a wild monkey crashing the party. On the northeast side of the island is the genteel Nisbet Plantation, a quiet and restful resort with great food and lovely cottages. Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, and you can visit his former home in the main city of Charlestown. Hikers will love climbing Mt. Nevis, which is a substantial 1,345 meters high.

A great island for folks who really want to relax and explore.


ST. JOHN, US VIRGIN ISLANDS:

The Virgin Islands National Park, made possible in part by the generous donations of the Rockefeller family, makes up roughly 60 per cent of the island of St. John. You’ll find wonderful hiking and some of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean, including stunning Trunk Bay. You’ll find fantastic views of perfect blue water, lush mountains and nearby islands from the Bordeaux Mountain View Point, along with fun shops and casual dining spots. Resort lovers can try the posh Westin St. John. The village of Cruz Bay is a quiet, laid-back Caribbean town that’s a short ferry ride – yet world away – from the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas. It’s also a quick trip over to the British Virgin Islands, where you’ll find what some consider to be the world’s best sailing.

With so much national park land, this is perhaps the best island in the Caribbean for hikers.


ANGUILLA:

Most Canadians don’t get past St. Martin, with its countless hotels and terrific beaches. There’s plenty of charm on St. Martin, but I find Anguilla to be a softer, gentler and more luxurious destination. It also has what I think are the best beaches in the Caribbean: long, pure white, soft sand beaches that seem to stretch on forever. CuisinArt is a marvellous resort with great food and a wonderful beach. A couple of great casual beach bars are very close to the resort: Sunshine Shack and Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve. The Four Seasons is great for luxury stays, as is the posh and sophisticated Zemi Beach Resort. Folks on a budget might want to check out the Shoal Bay Villas, which sit on a fantastic beach on the north shore of the island and are super-casual and filled with regulars who’ve been coming for years, if not decades. Just a short walk from there is a casual bar called Elodia’s, where I watched locals dance to a raucous band when I visited a couple years ago. Take a brief boat ride to Scilly Cay for a marvellous lunch of barbequed spiny lobster and rum punch.

Beach lovers, this is your Nirvana. You’ll find acres of pure white sand almost every direction you look.


JAMAICA:

What? Jamaica? Well, yes. But not Montego Bay or Ocho Rios or Negril. If you want to see Jamaica like it probably was 50 or 60 years ago, try exploring a new part of the island. On the quiet south shore, Jakes at Treasure Beach is an amazing property that features eclectic units decorated with bits of seashells and painted in a variety of wild colours. The beach isn’t amazing, but there’s a nice pool and a quiet spa. The owners helped make the reggae cult film The Harder They Come, and there’s a wonderful beach bar just a few feet away that celebrates the movie and the amazing soundtrack that just might be the best reggae collection ever made. Be sure to sail over to the rickety Pelican Bar, built on top of a coral reef several hundred yards from shore. It’s touristy, but tons of fun. The eastern tip of Jamaica is utterly fantastic, especially around Boston Bay. This is the original home of jerk cuisine, and you can find casual roadside stands quite close to the beach with perfect grilled chicken and fish, and eye-watering hot sauce. Dickie’s Best Kept Secret is a wild, rollicking, ramshackle building built on the side of a small cliff near Port Antonio. I didn’t get to try the food when I was there, but I loved the atmosphere. And the owner is a hoot-and-a-half.

The eastern end of Jamaica is probably what the rest of the island felt like 50 years ago.