The temperature is 25c and it’s mid-January. The sky is clear and blue, and a soft breeze is ruffling the palms that fringe a white-sand beach, where crabs scuttle beside turquoise waters.
Nearby, a glittering green hummingbird flits between purple and orange blooms. Above, a vervet monkey looks down mischievously from a venerable mango tree, clearly envious of my spicy creole breakfast of saltfish, peppers and johnnycake.
‘Any plans for today?’ asks a genial waiter as he tops up my coconut water.
Whether you like to fly and flop, kick back on a catamaran with a rum punch, or hike through a towering rainforest, the charismatic Caribbean offers it all, says Nigel Tisdall
Well, yes — I’ll definitely have a swim in that bewitching ocean, and I might go and look at a historic plantation house, while tonight it has to be the grilled lobster BBQ under the stars.
These are the delights of a winter holiday in the Caribbean, which is not a new idea.
The first purpose-built resort opened here as early as 1778 — the Bath House on Nevis, which had a ballroom, Italian gardens and a thermal spa. In the late-19th century buttoned and be-hatted Victorians sailed to Barbados to enjoy its healthy air. Today, with ridiculous ease, we can jet direct from the UK to a dozen balmy islands, arriving just in time for tea or a sundowner. Every year, there are new, fun things to do and yet more fabulous hotels in which to relax.
The good news this winter is that two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria rampaged through almost a third of the islands, those affected have rebuilt and are looking better than ever. Even in the Bahamas, struck by Hurricane Dorian this August, 14 of its 16 main islands were untouched.
Whether you like to fly and flop, kick back on a catamaran with a rum punch, or hike through a towering rainforest, this charismatic region offers it all . . .
SCENIC SAINT LUCIA
With its glorious rainforest, variety of beaches and the emblematic twin peaks of the Pitons, Saint Lucia is the definitive Caribbean charmer.
To enjoy it to the full, go exploring by hire car. Marigot Bay, around half way up the west coast, is an ideal base, with a pretty, yacht-filled bay, stimulating walks and a peaceful, secluded atmosphere.
WHAT’S NEW? The Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club, a newly built horseracing venue near Vieux Fort, will hold its inaugural meeting on December 13, spearheaded by the Pitons Cup, with £116,000 in prize money. Race meetings continue on selected Sundays (rsltc.com).
BOOK IT: Best At Travel offers seven nights at the 124-suite Marigot Bay Resort, which has two infinity pools and a spa, from £2,219 pp including flights, transfers and breakfast (bestattravel.co.uk, 020 3811 6831).
GRENADA’S FAMILY VALUES
Tours to see Grenada’s plantations, tropical gardens and natural attractions are well-run and informative
Looking for a family trip for February half‑term? This mountainous ‘Spice Island’ feels more authentic than other commercialised ones and is a great place to mix a hassle-free beach holiday with a taste of Caribbean culture.
Tours to see its plantations, tropical gardens and natural attractions are well-run and informative.
WHAT’S NEW? Opening on March 1, 2020, the Royalton Grenada is a 269-room, all-inclusive resort with four restaurants, two beaches, a spa and kids’ club (royaltonresorts.com).
BOOK IT: Just Grenada has seven nights at the perfectly placed Radisson Grenada Beach Resort from £1,714 per adult and £1,330 per under-12, including flights, transfers and breakfast (justgrenada.co.uk, 01373 814214).
Jamaica plays a key role in No Time To Die, the latest James Bond adventure, to be released in April 2020. The movie opens with 007 enjoying a peaceful life there after leaving active service, but then an old CIA friend turns up . . .
Port Antonio, in the north-east — the main location for the Bond filming — remains blissfully free of mega-resorts, with easygoing beaches and coves nearby.
WHAT’S NEW? Expect the island to be in party mood on February 6, 2020, which would have been Jamaica-born Bob Marley’s 75th birthday.
BOOK IT: British Airways flies Gatwick to Kingston from £801 return (ba.com). Seven nights’ B&B at Hotel Mockingbird Hill, a short drive from Port Antonio, costs from £396 pp (i-escape.com, 0117 946 7072).
A sailing holiday is the best way to enjoy the 60 islands and cays of the British Virgin Islands
A sailing holiday is the best way to enjoy the 60 islands and cays of the British Virgin Islands, where many of its marinas, dive sites and castaway beach bars have reopened after Hurricane Irma.
Book a ‘by the cabin’ charter on a shared catamaran and you’ll get an ensuite cabin, a skipper and cook, plus ample time to sail, snorkel and visit remote bays.
WHAT’S NEW? Set beside a dream beach on Virgin Gorda, Rosewood Little Dix Bay will reopen in January 2020 after a four-year closure. Created in 1964 by conservationist Laurance Rockefeller, this legendary resort will have 80 deluxe rooms, including treehouses with a wraparound verandah (rosewoodhotels.com).
BOOK IT: Turquoise Holidays offers a seven-night, all-inclusive shared catamaran cruise from £2,399 pp, including flights via Antigua and transfers (turquoiseholidays.co.uk, 01494 678 400).
BEST OF BARBADOS
Never been to the Caribbean? Then start with this super-friendly island, where the churches, cricket pitches and ready humour will make you feel at home.
Barbados is Britain’s favourite Caribbean escape and, last winter, it attracted close to 115,000 of us. Stay on the west coast if you like things refined, or head south for beach fun and nightlife.
WHAT’S NEW? Cobblers Cove is a distinguished beach hotel that’s just had an elegant uplift by the interior designer Soane Britain. Its bar and restaurant are open to non-residents, so drop by for happy hour or the Friday ‘Island Night’ with live music (cobblerscove.com).
BOOK IT: Tropic Breeze offers seven nights at the Beach View hotel, where the 36 suites have self-catering facilities, from £1,350 pp including flights, transfers and breakfast (tropicbreeze.co.uk, 01752 880880).
Direct flights, plentiful beaches and resorts to suit all budgets make Antigua the smart choice for a stress-free escape to the sun
Direct flights, plentiful beaches and resorts to suit all budgets make Antigua the smart choice for a stress-free escape to the sun.
The island does a good line in beach bars, such as Rum Bus Beach in Crab Hill, built around two London buses, while the World Heritage-listed English Harbour has engaging Georgian naval buildings.
WHAT’S NEW? Opening on December 1, Hammock Cove Resort & Spa is a five-star, adults-only all-inclusive with 42 villas, each with its own private plunge pool (hammockcoveantigua.com).
BOOK IT: Tropical Sky offers seven nights at the resort from £2,879 pp including flights and transfers (tropicalsky.co.uk, 01342 886941).
CHIC SAINT BARTHS
Billionaires, music stars and fashion designers flock to this tiny French island every winter, and it’s easy to see why.
From the swift landing on a scarily short runway, to a crazy traffic of mokes, quad bikes and scooters, it’s a whirl of high-end resorts, gourmet cuisine and fabulous beaches.
WHAT’S NEW? Eden Rock — the hotel owned by Pippa Middleton’s in-laws, the Matthews — reopens next Wednesday following a two- year makeover.
Treats include new suites with private pools, menus by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a beach bar with frosé (frozen rosé) (oetkercollection.com).
BOOK IT: Elegant Resorts has seven nights at the hotel from £5,582 pp, including flights via Antigua, transfers and breakfast (elegantresorts.co.uk, 01244 897991).
PARTY ON IN CUBA
Head to Havana to lose yourself in a seductive world of salsa, cigars, vintage cars and memories of revolution
Donald Trump’s restrictions on U.S. citizens visiting this exotic isle means it’s easier to get into hotels, and there are fewer tour groups trawling its Spanish colonial cities.
Head to Havana to lose yourself in a seductive world of salsa, cigars, vintage cars and memories of revolution.
WHAT’S NEW? Music-lovers will enjoy the famous Havana Jazz Festival with its impromptu street jam sessions (January 12 to 20, 2020, jazzcuba.com).
BOOK IT: Virgin Holidays offers seven nights at the Iberostar Parque Central in Havana from £1,549 pp including flights, transfers and breakfast (virginholidays.co.uk, 0344 739 5789).
Grand Cayman is the lively gateway, while quieter Cayman Brac is a good choice if you like to hike and dive
Time to try somewhere new? Reached on direct flights from Heathrow, the Caymans, a tri-island British Overseas Territory, has superb beaches and a vibrant foodie scene. Grand Cayman is the lively gateway, while quieter Cayman Brac is a good choice if you like to hike and dive.
WHAT’S NEW? UK chef Clare Smyth MBE is part of the celebrity line-up at the Cayman Cookout, a culinary extravaganza including cook-offs and cocktail-making (January 15 to 19, 2020, cayman cookout.com).
BOOK IT: British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at the Sunshine Suites Resort on Grand Cayman from £1,675 pp room-only, including flights (ba.com/caymanislands, 0344 493 0120).
Bored by lazing around on beaches? A 40-minute flight south from Antigua gets you to this mighty, rainforest-cloaked island that will suit active travellers.
If you enjoy scenic mountain drives, challenging hiking, wild swimming, birdwatching or whalewatching, then look no further.
WHAT’S NEW? The recently opened Jungle Bay has 30 eco-villas set on a former lime plantation, with the emphasis on wellness and getting close to nature both above and below the water (junglebaydominica.com).
BOOK IT: Mot Mot Travel offers seven nights at Jungle Bay from £3,095 pp full-board, including flights via Antigua, activities such as yoga and hiking, and a daily 30-minute spa treatment (motmottravel.com, 01327 359622).