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Best 'Swimming' Beaches in the Caribbean- from SFO

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Hey folks

This is our first trip, finally, to the Caribbean - after years of putting it off as it is so hard to reach there from San Francisco. I am looking for very clear, picture perfect, warm water for my son to enjoy swimming there, and am looking for suggestions of the islands that are best and least hassle to reach from SFO. We don't care about casinos, night life or shopping, though good food and restaurants would be great.

I know there are no non-stops to any Caribbean airport but we can at least get to Dominican Republic with one stop and the flight times are manageable. I looked into Anguilla but it's harder to reach there. Will still manage it if is worth it. We generally like place that are not too busy and don't have high-rise chain hotels, preferably with many locals (Zihuatanejo afforded this even when we stayed at Viceroy). Would be awesome if we can get cottage right on the beach!

Anyone familiar with Sublime Sabana, DR? We can also take day trips to other islands, if that's feasible, as we are likely to be there 5-6 days at least.

Would greatly appreciate any suggestions and help. Thanks

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    Safra1 - I saw your "plea" on the other thread.

    Anguilla has some of the whitest sand beaches in the Caribbean but as you already know getting there from SFO is a hassle - at least 3 flights (via San Juan Puerto Rico) or 2 flights and a ferry ride (assuming you can get to St. Martin in two flights). Schedules may require an overnight stay somewhere on route so I'd save that destination for when you had more travel time or planning a longer stay.

    I'm not a great fan of the Dominican Republic so I'd skip that island. Besides I doubt it will be what you are seeking.

    Given you are coming from SFO I'd concentrate on islands in the northern half of the Caribbean. Those in the southern half will take much longer to reach.

    Take a look at resorts on Grace Bay on Providenciales (Turks & Caicos). Fly there via Miami (less than 2 hour flight). The beach there is 11 miles of sugar white sand lapped by calm bright turquoise water. It's a quiet island but has it's share of good restaurants.

    Grand Cayman is another island you should consider. You can reach there non-stop in 1 1/2 hours from MIA and a bit longer from DFW, IAH and probably ATL. White sand beaches, calm bright turquoise waters, excellent snorkeling & diving and plenty of restaurants. Most people stay on Seven Mile beach but there are several others around the island that are equally nice.

    Barbados is a bit further away but meets your criteria of nice swimming beaches and good restaurants. You may be pushing the outside of the envelope though as far as travel time is concerned.

    Hope this helps.

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    Roamsaround, thank you so much for your kind reply! This is helpful as I am close to picking T&C. Just to give you a bit more context, my son has special needs and he likes to be in the water, so I like warm waters (hence southern ares better). We don't do snorkeling, though I'd love it myself but he won't. The only negative for T&C was that as some reviewers said, it is flat and there is no topography but the beaches. I personally prefer green and lush mountains as backgrounds (such is the case in Zihuatanejo, for example), but of course I realize you can't get everything you like. We are both foodies (and I would avoid All Inclsuive at all cost) so high quality and good selection of local food is important

    It will be good to get some center of activity, like a village or town center with pubs and clubs, etc. I don't mind driving or taking a cab. Also, since we are going to fly at least 10+ hours, a few more doesn't really matter. The more important thing for me is to be able to book a flight that doesn't start at ungodly hours or has long layovers.

    I have to admit that I also dislike build up places, which some on this forum have suggested Aruba is a case. I'd like to go to Barbados (always had since I saw The 'The Tamarind Seed', though that's only one reason!), but the Fodor Guide I bought listed its beaches as okay but not great (Vs. Anguilla, T&C, Dominican Republic and a few other as having 5 star beaches) This may be too simplistic, but I had to start someplace.

    Anyway, I just wanted to give you some more context, in caae something else comes to mind. I really appreciate you answering my plea!

    Regards

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    Oh boy! Simply put to get everything you want will require more travel time and that's a luxury that you probably don't really eat to exercise. Picking the right island isn't an exact science and generally involves making some concessions. Many items on most people's wish lists are sometimes mutually exclusive.

    Let's put a few things in perspective:

    1) Anguilla, Aruba, the Caymans, the T&C's, all of the Bahamas, Anegada and Barbuda (and any other limestone/coral based islands I may have overlooked) all have great beaches but they are all topographically the same - flat, scrubby and arid. So if you want lush vegetation and hills & mountains they are not the places for you.

    2) You are traveling from SFO - no matter how you look at it, its 5 hours flying time from SFO to the east coast and it's at least another 2 to 4 hours flying time to reach most of the northern Caribbean islands (forget the southern islands unless you want to spend more time in a plane). And, don't just look at the flight times. You have to also factor in travel time between your home and your departure airport, waiting time at that airport, any layover time between connecting flights (figure a minimum of 1 1/2 to 2 hours) and finally travel time between the arrival airport and your hotel. THAT'S A LOT OF TIME. Add to that airline schedules that may sometimes require overnight connections and you could easily be looking at 2 days travel in each direction if you are thinking of some of the smaller, harder to reach islands. If you want "reasonable travel time" you have limited destination choices. Stick to those islands you can reach non-stop from one of the US East Coast or Southern International Gateway Airports (DFW, IAH, ATL, or MIA) otherwise you are just going to loose valuable "beach time". Regardless, of your destination resign yourself to getting up at some "ungodly hour" if you want to reach an island in the Caribbean in one day. Most flights that you will be connecting with to reach the Caribbean from US Gateway airports depart in the morning (they return in the afternoon). So making those connections will require you to leave SFO at "OH DARK THIRTY" or perhaps even late the previous night. Sorry, but that's airline scheduling for you.

    3) You don't say when you are planning to travel so I can't accurately address your temperature concerns. Suffice to say, with the exception of the Bahamas that can be cool in winter, you'll find there's probably only a 5 degree F. difference in average daytime temperatures between the northern Caribbean Islands and the southern Caribbean island.

    4) Try not to get too caught up in "are the palm trees nicer, the sand whiter and the water bluer on the other island" syndrome. Truth is all of the major islands will look like "paradise" to first time visitors.

    5) You'll find clubs, beach bars and pubs as well as towns & villages on every island so don't get too concerned with those items

    Now, having said all that I'm still going to steer you toward Providenciales or Grand Cayman as they come very close to filling everything on your wish list but the mountains. You'll find enough "man-made landscaping" around the island to fill your desire for greenery.

    I'll make one other suggestion but it will entail additional travel time both in flying and taking a ferry. Look at St. John in the USVI's. You'll have to first make your way to St. Thomas (non-stops available from MIA and the US Gateway airports plus a short 30 minute or so ferry ride to the island. St. John has the lush mountains, beautiful golden sand beaches, multi-hued turquoise blue waters, small towns and villages you crave - 2/3's of the island is a national park, there are no high rise hotels or big cities, no big crowds. It's exactly what you describe on your wish list - getting there is your only concession.

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    Excellent feedback from RoamsAround above. If you are going between Dec and March I would go south of Puerto Rico which means avoid the Bahamas or Turks. If outside of those months Turks would be a good choice. I think Grand Cayman is also a great choice for a first time visitor. Ideal combination of nice beaches, restaurants (some of the best in the Caribbean) and activities. St John is lush and if you can afford Caneel Bay would be great as well except for the travel times.

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    Roamsaround, thanks again for such extensive and thoughtful reply. I get your points and I agree with them. I realize that all these islands will be great for us, though as I am a perfectionists, I want the best choice!

    Your suggestion of Grand Cayman was a great addition to our list. Basically, it has now come down to St. John, T&C and Grand Caymen. By the way, we are actually traveling this December (I know, we are very late in booking), but since I have flexibility, we are going to go the week before Christmas, which gives us much better availability and about half the price. So it seems like St. John is the lushest and more topographically diverse of the three, followed by GC and T&C. And it also seems that T&C is the quietest and the "beachiest" of the three.

    I think the choice for us is coming down to the resorts and the beaches they have. I only looked at the properties that were right on the beach, so as you know, there are only two in St. John, and I am not that impressed by Caneel, though clearly it has the much better beaches. Westin seems more interesting as it actually has villas right on the beach (Caneel only has small rooms on the beach which won't be enough for the three of us). On T&C, Palms seems to be okay, though it is too big a place for my taste. and on GC, Ritz is obviously nice but is even bigger property than I would have liked.

    In terms of travel, we will just stay one night in Miami, at least on our way there, so we can travel during the day from SFO and take a flight to the islands the next day. So travel is not a determining factor for the three.

    If you have any experience with these properties, let me know. Again, I am indebted to your attention and kind replies.

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    I've stayed at all 3-
    Westin is not on a good beach (when compared to the terrific beaches in St John) candles beaches are great, but The resort is ultra e pensive for being so Rustic. All the beaches in St John are coves, not long like the flat islands. Scenery is gorgeous.

    Caymans and Tci are similar in discription but different once there. Both are flat. Both once you are at the beach you forget a scrubby entirior. Caymans has cruise ships, shopping and is built up. Ritz feels big, and over towering it's much taller than any property in Tci.

    Tci beach is one of the best in the world, but it's all about the beach. Overall not really built up. Palms, and even Grace Bay Club are both smallish, and only 4 stories tall (as opposed to Ritz which I remember correctly is 12?). If you want boutique type, you can also check out

    Point Grace
    West Bay Club
    Beachhouse

    Caymans has places you can walk to (with crowds to go with it) Tci you need a car to get around for dinners. Not being built up like caymans means dark lots between many resorts. (GBC you can walk, and also PG, but eventually great restaurants are still car needed)

    Westin requires a car or taxi for everything, including better beaches. Westin is much larger than any resort in Tci except for Beaches Resort

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    Thank you, blamona, very helpful feedback. We are crossing off Caymans for this trip.

    mnag, I missed your reply earlier. Thanks for the pointer - we are going Dec. 15ish -Are you saying Turks will be too cold to swim comfortably? I am only concerned about water temperature.

    I think we have settled on the Palm at T&C - I thought about even splitting out time between two islands but there were no non-stops between say T&C and St. Thomas. So we'll just spend this time in T&C, which seems nice. Will try to make some day excursions to nearby islands, if possible (suggestions welcome).

    The one advantage we have is that we are flexible with dates (my son does home schooling, so we can take off any time), so we are avoiding the high season rates and crowds.

    Palm seems nice, certainly compared with Caneel. I hope that turns up to be right!

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    I don't agree with the Fodors assessment of the beaches in Barbados being just "ok", they are alot more than that. The best beaches are in St James, such as the one by Sandy Lane, Mullins Beach etc. Barbados is also pretty and green, with lots to do/see, great restaurants and hotels.

    We were going to T&C this year but because we could not see what there was to do apart from being on the beach, we skipped it. Car rental was expensive and we feared we would get bored. We will make it there hopefully next year as I am determined to go, despite my impressions and the beaches will be fabulous. I would not go during winter however as I already found out during a March trip to Negril that it was not warm enough for me and T&C is even further north.

    I like Grand Cayman & have been 3 times, the weather will be perfect, 7MB is stunning, you can walk to places to eat/shop etc, there is development but I liked it as this means there were many facilities.

    Antigua has wonderful beaches, so has Anguilla which has been suggested. The advantage of Anguilla is that it is so close to St Martin and easy to see it for a daytrip/dinner. Disadvantage is getting there (plus other islands) from SFO but places that require more effort to get to can be worth it IMO. Grenada has stunning beaches too (Grand Anse) and the Spice Island Hotel.

    Take heed of this, I totally agree with it:-
    Try not to get too caught up in "are the palm trees nicer, the sand whiter and the water bluer on the other island" syndrome. Truth is all of the major islands will look like "paradise" to first time visitors.
    All the islands have something to offer, even Aruba, which you've dismissed (but I liked very much).

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    I've stayed at Caneel and Palms. Palms won't disappoint. Caneel feels more "rustic", no TVs (unless requested) on the other hand not to throw you off, but sister property on Virgin Gorda, Little Dix Bay, I love more.

    Palms is stunning! I just went through there in October, and gets prettier and prettier every time. The architecture is stunning.

    Forgive me, I must disagree with Ogden about car rentals in T&C. Daily Toyota Corolla type is $39 daily. I've found this to be on par or much less on other islands. Actually much less than most (many islands average $70). Check out Grace Bay Car Rentals, excellent customer service. Forget taxi though, they are embarrassly expensive more than rental.

    T&C is mostly about the beach, but there are tons of excursions you can take and tons of water sports, and exploring you can do. It's a small island. Easy to get around. (But you need a rental at night because of dark areas, it's not built up like Caymans or Aruba)

    One of the nicest things about TCI is no vendors on the beach! Barbados and Antigua didn't stop. Even Aruba with timeshares. Even Anguilla is starting (but they're trying to control it). You have no idea how nice that is until you realize it didn't happen all day.

    As for clearest water, most turquoise. I agree if you see islands in certain orders, you'll find lovely strands on all. But I must warn too-- after Tci and out islands in Bahamas you'll be spoiled, it is the most turquoise, white sand beaches in the world! (Out ones like Exumas are mind boggling). In the world, only Maldives comes close (maybe out islands in Cooks). As gorgeous as Bora Bora is (there's nothing to do there) water still prettier in Tci!

    As for swimming, not only is the water clean and clear of rocks for miles, but you might even get a chance to see JoJo, the dolphin mascot. There are also areas where you can swim with turtles (naturally)

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