February 29, 2016 Leave a comment
It’s that time of year for the island cure – an escape to somewhere sandy, sunny, and seaworthy: the Caribbean. But which island to pick out of the hundreds that punctuate the seas from the Bahamas to South America?
If you are looking to avoid the crowds and commercialism, forget the big-box islands this season. Under-the-radar islands may be a titch trickier to get to, but they make it worth the extra effort with unspoiled beaches, nature, and culture. Your likelihood of actually interacting with the islanders rises exponentially with the transportation difficulty factor.
This list starts with the least complicated escape routes while recommending how and where to meet the natives.
- Andros Island, Bahamas
Despite the fact it’s the largest of the Bahamas’ 700 major islands and cays, Andros remains one of the least explored, except for divers and bonefishermen in-the-know. You need not cast one line or blow one bubble, however, to enjoy the island – actually three islands – and its unique geographic, natural, and cultural features.
Not far offshore from Florida, Andros requires an easy puddlejumper connection from Nassau. Accommodations range from all-inclusive private island resort Kamalame Cay to the rustic and beachy Small Hope Bay Lodge diving mecca or the fishing obsessed lodges of Cargill Creek. Don’t miss the handicrafts at the Andros Batik Factory and basket-weaving Red Bays community. Hit the beach shacks of Nicholls Town and any of the island’s dazzling inland blue holes. But watch out for the legendary, mischievous chickcharnie.
- Middle/North Caicos
A 30-minute boat hop from more well-traveled Providenciales Island in the Turks & Caicos, the two connected islands demonstrate the flipside of “Provo” beach resorts and more Americanized style. Here you can experience old-island customs such as ripsaw music, dried conch and grits, and tightly weaved fenner grass baskets.
On the natural side of things, gaze upon the blur of pink from a hilltop overlooking Flamingo Pond, explore a bat cave (holy limestone, Robin!), and marvel at gorgeous cliff-lined Mudjin Harbour Beach. Have a bite to eat at the beach restaurant and bar or spend the night at Blue Horizons resort, where humpback whale-watchers come to stay in the winter. Stop in at Daniel’s Café By the Sea to see when the gregarious owners plan to serve dried conch and grits – once a staple but a rare restaurant find these days.
Arrival to the small, homey island of Nevis requires a flight to St. Kitts and a 45-minute ferry shuttle away from it all. It holds firm to its roots as a sugar-growing and fishing island. Most of the islanders work today at Four Seasons resort, which manages to honor old-island traditions despite its stature and size. (Ask about its summertime sea turtle-tracking adventure.)
Other accommodations dream you right into the past at plantation manors such as Nisbet, Golden Rock, Hermitage, and Montpelier. For a true island experience, sip (though you’ll be tempted to gulp) a signature Killerbee rum punch at Sunshine’s Bar & Grill on the beach near Four Seasons.
Nature and a good distance from U.S. ports (with no direct flights) keep Dominica safe from the madding crowds. You may have heard it suffered hurricane damage this past summer, but the twisty roads are back to functional and the island is open to the business of sharing its dramatic natural features with eco-friendly visitors.
Besides its Morne Trois Pitons National Park, 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail, hot springs, boiling lake, bubbly champagne reef snorkeling, and whale-watching to keep visitors fascinated, it claims a heritage rooted in the ancient civilization of Carib natives, now widely extinct throughout the Caribbean. Visitors can tour the Kalinago (as they’re known today in Dominica) territory and learn their culture. For an ecotourism lodging experience, book at Rosalie Bay Resort, where sea turtles come to nest.
A short flight or 90-minute boat ride from sister island Grenada, Carriacou takes you back in time to farming and fishing subsistence, an island where folks dry their corn and pigeon peas on their rooftops and rum shops number one for every 80 residents.
Most of the folks who visit the island spend bottom time on its superlative reefs or tanning time at Tyrell Bay Beach. With a long tradition of boat-building, its annual sailing regatta headlines the annual calendar. The island’s African ancestry becomes apparent during April’s Carriacou Maroon and String Band Music Festival.