Looking for a beach all to yourself? Here's where to find solitude, comfort, and a little of that indescribable Caribbean magic.
Though you'll have to make more of an investment in the way of travel time and expense, these isolated island retreats are worth the effort. Expect extremely personalized service and exclusive beach access.
Parrot Caye, Turks & Caicos
Once said to be a hideout for pirate Calico Jack Rackham and his lady cohorts Mary Read and Anne Bonny, the 1,000-acre cay, between Fort George Cay and North Caicos, is now the site of an ultraexclusive hideaway resort.
Parrot Cay Resort. This private paradise—a favorite for celebrities and other jet-setters—comes with all the trimmings you'd expect for the substantial price. Elaborate oceanfront villas border the island, and their wooden, Asian feel contrasts with the rather bland hillside terracotta–and–stucco building that houses the spacious suites. Suite and villa interiors are a minimalist yet sumptuous mix of cool-white interiors, Indonesian furnishings, and four-poster beds. Expect sorbet, cold bottled water, and cold, lemon-scented refreshment towels around the beach and pool. Service is unmatched in its ability to anticipate and meet your needs. The villas are the ultimate indulgence, with heated lap pools, hot tubs, and butler service. The giant Como Shambhala Spa takes destination spas to a whole new level with Indonesian and Balinese therapists. www.parrotcay.como.bz
Canouan, St. Vincent
Halfway down the Grenadines chain, this tiny boot-shape island—just 3. mi (5.5 km) long and 1.25 mi (2 km) wide—has only about 1,200 residents. But don't let its historically slow pace and quiet ways fool you. Canouan (pronounced can-o-wan), which is the Carib word for "turtle," has a modern airport with an extended runway suitable for small to mid-size jets, and boasts one of the region's largest and most exquisite resorts, with a championship golf course, a world-class spa, and a casino! Canouan also claims four of the most pristine white-sand beaches in the Caribbean, and it's a busy port for yacht charters and diving expeditions to the Tobago Cays. Mount Royal, the highest point on the island at 900 feet, offers panoramic 360-degree views of St. Vincent, all the Grenadines, and even St. Lucia on a clear day.
Raffles Resort Canouan Island. The vast bulk of the guest accommodations at the region's premier resort are in 60 villa-style units sprinkled around 300 acres of the 1,200-acre resort in an amphitheater setting. Several private villas are perched on the 900-foot hillside, next to the golf course. Rooms are spectacularly huge (each no less than 600 square feet) and have superb decor, amenities, and views. Center stage is an 18th-century Anglican stone church (popular for resort weddings), along with the Galleria Complex—which houses reception, two restaurants, lounges, boutiques, a modern health club (with a boxing ring!), a hair salon, meeting rooms, and a golf pro shop to go with the Trump International Golf Club just outside. Looking for more action? Head for the Villa Monte Carlo, high on the mountainside, which houses the European-style Trump Club Privée casino, La Varenne French restaurant, and a ballroom for private functions. www.canouan.raffles.com
Peter Island, BVI
Although Peter Island is home to the resort of the same name, it's also a popular anchorage for charter boaters and a destination for Tortola vacationers. The scheduled ferry trip from Peter Island's shore-side base outside Road Town runs $15 round-trip for non-guests. The island is lush, with forested hillsides sloping seaward to meet white sandy beaches. There are no roads other than those at the resort, and there's nothing to do but relax at the lovely beach set aside for day-trippers. You're welcome to dine at the resort's restaurants.
Peter Island Resort. Total pampering and the prices to match are the ticket at this luxury resort. If you want to while away your days at the beach, enjoy a morning at the spa, stroll the lushly planted grounds, and relax over dinner with other like-minded guests—and you have the money to afford the steep rates—this is a good place to do it. For more active types, there are tennis courts and water sports galore. Peter Island is a half-hour ferry ride from Tortola, but once you arrive, you're in another world. The rooms are gorgeous, with thoughtful touches like showers with a view. Three villas sit above the hotel rooms. www.peterisland.com
Pine Cay, Turks & Caicos
Pine Cay's 2.5-mi-long (4-km-long) beach is among the most beautiful in the archipelago. The 800-acre private island is home to a secluded resort and around 37 private residences.
Meridian Club. You might feel unplugged when you step onto Pine Cay, since there is no TV, telephone, or traffic to be found on the tiny private island. The charm of this resort, which was built in the 1970s, is that it never changes; it prides itself on simplicity rather than celebrity. The simple beachfront cottages, most of the staff, and what is perhaps the world's smallest airport (in truth, a gazebo) have all stayed pretty much the same for years. On some nights, you can drive your golf cart to the runway for Drive-In Movie night. The 2.5-mi (4-km) stretch of beach is deserted, and instead of roads, you find nature trails and sun-dappled paths that crisscross the island, which can be explored by bike or on foot. Cuisine is excellent, with fresh seafood and delicious cakes and tarts served at lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea. Here you'll feel not isolated, but part of a small community. Guests are mostly overstressed executives, mature couples, and honeymooners; a large percentage of guests are repeat visitors. Children are welcome only in June and July. www.meridianclub.com
Guana Island, BVI
Guana Island sits off Tortola's northeast coast. Sailors often drop anchor at one of the island's bays for a day of snorkeling and sunning. The island is a designated wildlife sanctuary, and scientists often come here to study its flora and fauna. It's home to a back-to-nature resort that offers few activities other than relaxation. Unless you're a hotel guest or a sailor, there's no easy way to get here.
Guana Island Resort. Guana Island is a nature lover's paradise, and it's a good resort if you want to stroll the hillsides, snorkel around the reefs, and swim at its six beaches, and still enjoy some degree of comfort. Rooms are simple but charming, with rattan furniture and tile or painted concrete floors, and are open to the tropical breezes. Once you're here, you're here. You can spend your time dining and socializing with the other guests or immersed in that book you never got around to reading. You can rent the entire 15-room resort if you'd like to vacation with a group of your friends or family. The hotel's launch picks you up near Terrence B. Lettsome Airport on Beef Island (Tortola's airport) for the short hop across the water to the resort. www.guana.com
Mustique, St. Vincent
This upscale haven, 18 mi (29 km) southeast of St. Vincent, is 3 mi (5 km) by 1.25 mi (2 km) at its widest point. The island is hilly and has several green valleys, each with a sparkling white-sand beach facing an aquamarine sea. The permanent population is about 300. Britain's late Princess Margaret put this small, private island on the map after owner Colin Tennant (Lord Glenconner) presented her with a 10-acre plot of land as a wedding gift in 1960 (Tennant had purchased the entire 1,400-acre island in 1958 for $67,500). A pair of cotton-candy-color, gingerbread-style buildings, the centerpiece of the tiny village, houses a gift shop and clothing boutique. There's a delicatessen-grocery to stock yachts and supply residents with fresh Brie and MoÃ«t; an antiques shop is filled with fabulous objets d'art to decorate those extraordinary villas—or to bring home.
Cotton House. Mustique's grand hotel, the main building of which was once an 18th-century cotton warehouse, has oceanfront rooms and suites with private walkways leading to the beach, a quartet of elegant ocean-view suites, and three poolside cottages with sunken baths, king-size beds with gauzy netting, and terraces affording stunning views. Full unpacking and pressing services upon arrival are included in the rates, as is a weekly sunset cruise. The beachfront spa offers body treatments and has a fitness center on the ground floor. www.cottonhouse.net
Palm Island, St. Vincent
A private speck of land (only 135 acres), exquisite Palm Island used to be an uninhabited, mosquito-infested swamp called Prune Island. One intrepid family put heart and soul—as well as muscle and brawn—into taking the wrinkles out of the prune and rechristened it Palm Island. The family cleaned up the five surrounding beaches, built bungalows, planted palm trees, and irrigated the swamp with seawater to kill the mosquitoes. The rustic getaway existed for 25 years before Palm Island's current owners, Elite Island Resorts, dolled up the property, and now it's one of the finest resorts in the Caribbean. Other than the resort, the island is populated only by a handful of privately owned villas. Access is via Union Island, 1 mi (1.5 km) to the west and a 10-minute ride in the resort's launch.
Palm Island Resort. Perfect for a honeymoon, rendezvous, or luxurious escape, this palm-studded resort offers five dazzling white-sand beaches, a calm aquamarine sea for swimming and enjoying water sports, nature trails for quiet walks, a pool with waterfall, sophisticated dining, impeccable service, and exquisite accommodations. Picture-perfect Casuarina Beach runs the entire length of the western side of the island. Choose a room in a beachfront cottage, a palm-view room in the garden, a plantation suite (ideal for families), or a beachfront island loft that's set on stilts. All have wicker and bamboo furniture, rich fabrics, wooden louvered windows (with screens) on three walls to catch every breeze, and original artwork created by a resident artist, Dr. Patrick Chevalier. www.palmislandresortgrenadines.com
Though these properties are easier to get to than the islands listed above, they're still well off the beaten track.
Peninsula House. If you can afford it, a stay here will reset your thinking on what a small luxury property can be; this is one of the best bed-and-breakfasts in the Caribbean, if not the world. The gorgeous Victorian-style plantation house with wraparound verandahs overlooks miles of coconut palms down to the ocean. It's family run and showcases generations' worth of museum-quality sculptures, paintings, and objects d'art, many of which were acquired from the Far East and the Middle East. The art elevates the rooms and common areas to a fascinating visual experience. Dinner, available only to guests, takes place in the central open-air brick courtyard. Dishes, linens, even the stationery you'll find here is refined; to mention that rooms come with flat-screen TVs (the only ones on the SamanÃ¡ Peninsula at this writing) would be missing the point. No expense has been spared. For heaven's sake, the pool house has a world-class collection of African masks. Admittedly, more than $500 is a lot for a room, and it does not have full-fledged "resort" amenities, but we'd recommend that you consider saving now. In terms of international high-end travel, this is a real steal. The house opened in 2007, doesn't advertise, and the secretive entrance is unmarked from the road. www.thepeninsulahouse.com
Pirates Point Resort. Nestled between sea grape and casuarina pines on a sparkling sweep of palapa-dotted sand are 11 bungalow-style rooms, some air-conditioned, others swept by crosswinds through louvers. Walls duplicate the soft colors of a Caribbean dawn; floors and furnishings are immaculate. You'll likely become fast friends with effervescent owner, Gladys Howard, whose down-home welcome belies her upscale meals served with fine wines (not to mention heaping helpings of bon mots and bonhomie). Gladys trained with Julia Child, James Beard, and Jacques Pepin, as well as at the legendary Cordon Bleu in Paris, and still supervises everything with an eagle eye, while finding time to host weekly champagne parties on the verandah of her adjacent home and play dominoes after dinner. Somehow Gladys always wins, slamming tiles down with classic Caribbean vigor. www.piratespointresort.com
Strawberry Hill. A 45-minute drive from Kingston—but worlds apart in terms of atmosphere—this exclusive resort was developed by Chris Blackwell, former head of Island Records (the late Bob Marley's label). Perched in the Blue Mountains, it's where the rich and famous go to retreat and relax. The resort has an infinity pool, Aveda spa treatments, and pure relaxation in Georgian-style cottages. This is one Jamaican property not for beach buffs but for those in search of gourmet dining thanks to its onsite restaurant which, on a clear day, offers unbeatable views over the capital city. The cottages survey the Blue Mountains from expansive porches, most with an oversize hammock. www.islandoutpost.com