In a perfect world – i.e.) the crocuses are blooming by the end of March – there would be no need for an update of Caribbean beaches (see “Seven Must-do Caribbean Beaches”) in the same season.
But step outside for about, like, five seconds, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.
Forget spring. Winter’s never going to end. That’s why my bevy of Caribbean beaches – my selection of summery oases – is still timely, still topical, still a biological imperative.
So do a beach. Now. Pull the kids out of school, call in sick.
And get thee to a strand of sand: with the fam, with your significant other, with your own internal beach bum.
BRINGING THE FAM
If you’re a diver the Cayman Islands are probably at the top of your Caribbean bucket list. If you’re bringing the family for fun and frolics, the chief island of this tropical trio certainly should be.
Whether you’re talking Seven Mile Beach on the west coast of Grand Cayman or Rum Point, this island will make for very happy children (and you, by extension).
Seven Mile Beach’s location has two distinct advantages: crystal waters nuzzling a white beach with sand soft as a down quilt are almost always very calm, meaning the kids will enjoy swimming without battling surf. Second, if you somehow score a babysitter you can experience some of the Caribbean’s best sunsets with the other parent in your party. Some surprisingly good snorkeling you can access from the beach too, if your kids are a bit older.
A variety of accommodation beachside with a smattering of restaurants, but more important, there is a wealth of budget accommodation just across the road – think Comfort Suites. And there are all kinds of places to eat in those same locations – even a Burger King toward the beach’s south end.
There’s an excellent shaded playground with picnic tables under gazebos roughly halfway up the beach and, if your children ever tire of sand and sea, a turtle farm just north offers an experience that’s both fun and educational.
Then there’s Rum Point on the opposite side of Cayman Sound.
Great beach vibe, really shallow protected waters where you can walk way out and only be up to your waist, an enclosed swim area, and a rustic restaurant where they can get their fix on fast food while you sip a Caybrew Beer.
Grand Cayman should be at the top of your beach list in the event you can’t convince the in-laws to take the kids.
And it’s just as nice if it’s just the two of you too.
THE BRING-YOUR-TRUE-LOVE BEACH
A flight to Barbados then a bit of a layover. A puddle-jumper to Union Island in the Grenadines. A forty-minute boat ride over rollicking seas then a step down to a long wooden dock nuzzled by aquamarine waters where staff wait with rum punch with your names on them.
If you’re old enough to remember a television show called “Fantasy Island” you’ll feel like you just stepped onto the set. If you don’t remember it no matter. This is every Caribbean fantasy you ever dreamed off – Petit St. Vincent.
Spend a few days here and you’ll think Robinson Crusoe was a social butterfly.
We’ve got a room up a road from the main lodge then up a path from that road. All wood and stone, a massive balcony boasting chaise longues and a double hammock. And a sea view marred by nothing but a deserted sand beach far below.
You can stay at Petit St. Vincent (the resort spans the entire island) and never see another soul.
We sun on one beach. Just us. We snorkel off another beach. Ditto.
One night we book a beach dinner for two. It is us, a perfect sunset with the indigo heights of Union Island for foreground, and a gourmet meal on a table set right in the sand.
“We come back later with dessert,” says our waiter, climbing into a golf cart and taking off into the woods. “No hurry.”
No people either on this beach that’s built for two. The only thing missing is our person “Friday.”
A BEACH BUM’S BEACH
First time I went to Negril, Jamaica, I learned how to walk a beach the right way. I also learned how to adjust my clock to island time.
Negril has the stuff those other places do: rent a Sunfish, book a boat to go out to Booby Cay. Even go parasailing.
But that’s not what Negril Beach is about.
You can walk it – it’s ten kilometres long – but you won’t walk it very quickly.
A smattering of hotels here – lots with low-lying beachfront rooms where people sip Red Stripe beers for breakfast. Even more bars, sometimes no more than twenty or thirty metres apart, bars that seem constructed of driftwood – walls leaning lackadaisically against each other, picnic tables that slouch like some of the young guys sprawling in the shade of casuarina trees, surrounded by blue haze and very interesting aromas, bars where ex-pats lounge on crooked stools for hours at a time. Bars where people applaud the sunset every day.
Even the palm trees here seem lazy. Which makes for the perfect beach vibe.
First time I came to Negril was something like twenty years ago. Met a guy staying in the same rooming house. “I came for a week around the first of November,” he told me. It was Boxing Day. “Thinking about leaving pretty soon.”
The man was a paragon of beach bums, a true hero of sandy somnolence.
SOME SOMETHING-FOR-EVERYONE BEACHES
Antigua and Barbuda Tourism’s Erica Henry-Jackman looks at me and laughs, spouting the official party line like the truly converted. “The beaches,” she says, “are just the beginning.”
She’s laughing because she already knows that for me Antigua doesn’t need anything else. I’ve been there five times. I’ve got three or four favourite swaths of sand I’m not going to tell you about though be fair, during those visits I’ve also checked out some history, gone sailing, done a bit of shopping, felt my throat leap into my heart zip lining over a lush rainforest valley. Then I’ve done the beaches.
Then I did the beaches some more. For if you can’t make up your mind, if you can’t find a beach to suit every single member of your party here you might as well give up trying. You could do a different beach on Antigua every day for a year and never repeat yourself.
Head south to the sun-dappled waters of Turner’s where you can do lunch beachside from a table set just inside a white picket fence, laze under a rented umbrella or pick up some jewelry or a sarong from one of the vendors selling their wares from weather-beaten pastel-painted shacks. Join the cruise passengers who congregate here.
Go for the action on Dickenson Bay: hotels jostle each other like concertgoers before the doors are open, restaurants as insistent and ubiquitous. Parasail, book a banana boat ride, ride the surf on a jet ski.
Jabberwock is close to the highway but few people come here. Must-do if you want to learn kite boarding or windsurfing. Nice breezes but sheltered waters due to the reef that guards North Sound.
Take a boat tour to an out-island. Great Bird offers relative seclusion while Green Island (accessible only by boat) is a deserted postcard-picture of sand, sea and sun.
Or split the difference and try Deep Bay: nice restaurant, smattering of vendors, some interesting snorkeling and a hike to the ruins of a colonial fort if you ever tire of lazing.
Sure the beach might just be the beginning in Antigua. But just try leaving it.
- Do the Cayman Islands. But first log on to www.caymanislands.ky
- Good luck narrowing it down to seven. Antigua’s got a whole year’s worth. Check some out at www.antigua-barbuda.org
- The ultimate in seclusion? The resort for people who don’t like people? www.petitstvincent.com
- Jamaica was always my first love. Negril was a big reason why, though there’s more to this island than Negril. Check out the island’s other allures at www.visitjamaica.com