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phieaglefan Jul 10th, 2008 05:00 AM

Best island for beach bar hopping?
Hi all,

Mr. Fan & I will celebrate our 25th Anniversary next year and we're trying to decide on a destination. While my inquiry may seem like a poor reason to choose one island over another, we do enjoy exploring punctuated with (sometimes frequent) stops at scenic or interesting spots to enjoy an adult beverage.

We've never been to the Caribbean. The closest we've come are Nassau/Cable Beach about 8 years ago and Ambergris Caye off of Belize about 6 years ago. We didn't really love the 'big resort' feel of Cable Beach. We both absolutely adored the friendly and casual atmosphere of Ambergris.

We'll have approximately 10 or perhaps 12 days, most likely in August. I'm not considering Mexico, or anywhere in Central America for this trip as we are able to get to those destinations rather quickly, so I'll save them for shorter trips.

While pretty beaches are something we'd like to witness, we are not the type to just sit on the beach all day. We would most likely do a vacation rental for at least a week of the trip, rent a car and explore. That said, we also like to be within walking distance of some restaurants. We generally like to have a cocktail or two at dinner (is there a theme here?) and we prefer not to have to drive afterwards.

We are not foodies, but we do like to eat out. We generally will fix breakfast and an occasional lunch when we do a condo or rental, but then visit a restaurant for dinner.

As far as activities go, we are not divers, but we enjoy snorkeling. We’re in our late 40's and enjoy exploring new places. We’re not into all day hikes or extreme sports. We love boats. We’re not big shoppers, but we do like to do some shopping in local types of shops. We deninitely do not want total isolation.

We'll be using Delta FF miles for the bulk of the flights, but we're not adverse to taking an island hopper to get where we really want to go.

My initial thoughts, based on time of year, were southern Caribbean. Perhaps Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, or St. Lucia. But I am open to all suggestions since I will likely purchase trip insurance.
One thought would be to spend a week on one island, and get a three or four day taste of another island. So if you know of a perfect 'combo', that would be great.

Budget is another concern. We don't have unlimited funds, and good value is important to us. We don't need anything fancy, but we will pay extra for a great view or a perfect location.

I believe this is my first post on the Caribbean forum, although I've been active on the US and Europe boards for quite some time. I'm always impressed with the insightful knowledge of Fodorites. Thanks in advance for any and all help!


Callaloo Jul 10th, 2008 05:29 AM

If beach bar hopping is your interest, consider two places that didn't make your short list (but get insurance, of course!):

First of all, I think the Caribbean's best collection of beach bars can be found in the British Virgin Islands. Many of them are located on the island of Tortola, with many others scattered throughout the chain. A popular way to enjoy the BVI is by sailboat, which provides access to probably the best beach bar in the Caribbean (IMHO) -- The Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke. You don't have to be a sailor to enjoy this sort of vacation, as you can hire a captain to take you from place to place as you wish, while you live aboard. Beyond the bars, the beaches are lovely, there are some decent restaurants, water and land activities, etc.

If you are thinking about a combination of islands, consider St. Martin and Anguilla.
Fly to St. Martin, and then ferry over to Anguilla. Anguilla has a fantastic collection of beach bars -- second only to the BVI in my mind, but mostly accessible by land. And the beaches are legendary, with high-end superlative dining to boot. St. Martin offers a more cosmopolitan experience, and if you stay in Grand Case on the French side, you will have access (on foot) to the most amazing concentration of fabulous restaurants in the Caribbean -- imagine a tiny, slighly seedy village, with 20+ 4-star restaurants located on a couple of blocks, some of which are on the beach. High-end is only part of the picture, as there are lolos (cheap barbecue shacks) in Grand Case as well.

Of the places you mentioned, Grenada is my favorite, and I can wax poetic about that island endlessly -- beautiful beaches, friendly people, spectacular scenery, vibrant local cuisine, etc. Grenada is hard to reach, but worth the trouble.

I've got trip reports of these trips on my webpage here:

JeanH Jul 10th, 2008 06:27 AM

We went to Grenada several years ago, stayed on Grand Anse. A truly beautiful beach. It's a wonderful island, and we had a great vacation. But, we were disappointed in the lack of beach bars. We never did really find a place to 'hang'.

Although I've never been, but it's on my short list, you might look at Negril, Jamaica. Lots of small properties, sounds like tons of small, local restaurants/bars. Downer is the presence of places like Maragaritaville as well.

phieaglefan Jul 10th, 2008 07:00 AM

Thanks Callaloo and Jean for your replies.

Callaloo, I actually found an old post that referred to the BVIs as having the best beach bars, so I did a bit of checking on accomodations. It did not seem as if there were alot of choices in the reasonable range. For us, and a trip of this length, reasonable might be $175 or under per night.

I know that doesn't sound like much of a budget, but I've seen some decent looking vacation rentals that would keep us in that range. I just didn't see any in the BVIs. I also didn't look too hard at Anguilla as I've read it's very expensive.

I was very impressed with your website! I believe that will keep me in reading material for quite a while. Thanks for the link.

Jean, I think I've seen you post on the Latin America forum, and I believe I remember you've been to Ambergris. I realize we won't find the same thing in the Caribbean, but I'd really like to find something fairly casual.

I thought Grenada, and perhaps Bequia, might fit the bill. But I'm disappointed in your finding a lack of beach bars in Grenada.

I think one of the things that intrigued me was that some of the websites were in English and German. Are there alot of German tourists in Grenada? I'm fairly fluent and that would be fun.

Thanks again!

Jimmie Jul 10th, 2008 07:03 AM

I wa also thinking about the BVI -- maybe a split between Tortola (rent a villa for a week) and then 3 days at Sandcastle on JVD. There really isn't much to do on JVD besides hang out on a beautiful beach and bop around to the four of five beach bars there. Of course, that's also why it's so great. You can do some exploring, snorkeling, shopping on Tortola.

KVR Jul 10th, 2008 07:17 AM

We found a good variety of beach bars in Aruba on Palm Beach. We have been researching Curacao for awhile and found many beach bars there also.

Though not directly on the beach, 5th Street in Playa del Carmen is excellant for bar hopping. There are a few beach bars also about a block over.

Callaloo Jul 10th, 2008 07:37 AM

If you have any interest in the BVI, I can assure you that there are many places to stay within your budget, especially in the Cane Garden Bay area (particularly off-season). Visit's BVI forum for more advice.

Also, you'd be surprised how far your budget will take you in Anguilla in the summer. Don't give up that easily!! Choose your island first, and the rest will follow.

caribqueen Jul 10th, 2008 11:14 AM

We are headed to the BVI's in 6 days...we found accomodations within your budget. There are quite a few on Tortola, Rhymer's and Sebastian's to name a few. Cane Garden Bay (where Rhymer's is located) has bars lined up down the beach. We are then going to spend a few days on Jost and are staying at the Perfect Pineapple at $150/night. It is a few minutes walk to one of the most famous beach bars, the Soggy Dollar. If you end up in the BVI's, be sure a pick up "The Drinking Mans Guide to the BVI" has coupons in the back of the book that are more than worth the price of the book (can get it online prior to trip).

We enjoyed many beach bars in Grenada, Bequia and Carriacou...if you ask around, the locals will let you know where to go. It's just that the bars are not close to one another and you have to drive or have a taxi to get between them.

Curacao has Aquarium Beach that has a bunch of little bars lined up. Happy hour at each of the bars follows one another so you can see the group move from one bar to another as one happy hour ends and another starts. That was a great time...

I actually have a list of Caribbean Travel and Life magazines best beach bars on my refridgerator, I'm marking them off as I get to them. So many bars, so little time!

vinceygirl Jul 10th, 2008 05:27 PM

Love Grenada bars or no bars.
Bequia in St. Vincent Grenadines is great because of the number along the waterfront and those on the beach at Lower Bay.

phieaglefan Jul 11th, 2008 12:09 PM

Thanks everyone for your replies.

One thing that would be a plus is an island where we could rent a power boat for a day and go exploring.

I've seen references to boat rentals on BVI sites. But what about the other islands?

Also, are there any good resources to determine food and drink costs on the various islands?

Thanks again for all of the links and info.


ejcrowe Jul 11th, 2008 12:39 PM

My first reaction was the same as Callaloo's: the BVI are perfect for you. And since there's great ferry service running among them all, you wouldn't have to book interisland flights. Of the BVI that I've visited, I prefer Virgin Gorda, and there are quite a few places on that island that would fit your accommodation budget, but the one I'd particularly recommend is Guavaberry Spring Bay cottages--you'd get a small kitchen to prepare light meals, which sounds like it's your vacation style.

I wouldn't exclude Bequia/Carriacou/Grenada from your search, though, as that island combo would be my second recommendation for your criteria. There are tons of beach bars and rum shacks all over Grenada, and I've found that a friendly greeting and a smile are the only entree you need to be made to feel right at home. Bequia is basically just one small beach bar after another on Lower Bay, and the barhopping and restaurant hopping are also good in "town" at Port Elizabeth.

Your money will go a lot further on Grenada than in the BVI, and will go even further on Bequia & Carriacou. On Bequia, I can recommend the Frangipani in town or Dawn's Creole Cottage, which sits above Lower Bay. On Grenada, take a look at Flamboyant, Blue Horizons, Lanse Aux Epines Cottages, and the SpiceTree suites/villas. These are all in good locations in varying price ranges with varying ameneties, but I believe that all of them will fit well within your budget.

phieaglefan Jul 11th, 2008 04:14 PM

Thanks ejcrowe,

I believe I read one of your posts on Bequia and it piqued my interest.

Yes, the money thing does come into play, unfortunately. I think I'm still sensitive from a trip to Europe earlier this year. I swore, after we paid €11 for a beer, that my next destination would be more reasonable.

That said, the BVIs have always been on my list. And they look amazing. Also, much easier to get to, even taking the ferry into consideration.

Oh, this research is so grueling :)

Thanks again!

markrosy Jul 13th, 2008 12:28 PM

You love boats, snorkelling, beach bars - there is only one place - The Abacos.

I would agree from our experience Nassau is far from attractive but get out of the resorts and into the Outer Islands and the social landscape totally changes.

Renting cars in The Abacos is a non starter as there is pretty much one road to nowhere. Everyone rents boats of varying sizes and there are plenty good quality cottage rentals around. Its a great experience pulling up to dockside restaurants in your rental boats.

The snorkelling is great (although the reefs may not be the wrolds best) - you should get to see almost everything on most people's wish list (and almost nothing on their fear list). We had always thought that the Bahamas were the world's most shark infested but even
when you went looking for them they just were not around.

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