The best of Caribbean travel is almost impossible to narrow down. Though for 2021, a select few places, experiences and tasty treasures stand above the rest.
Best Foodie Destinations
Martinique should always be at, or near, the top of any respectable Best of Caribbean Travel Eats list. The steamy marriage of traditional French, Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Taino and Creole flavors that comprise Martinican cuisine yields a singular gastronomic experience unparalleled throughout the West Indies. The uncompromising commitment to excellence in food prep and presentation is prevalent everywhere and anywhere you can dine on the island. From the humblest roadside BBQ shack to gourmet beach bars like Le Petibonum (home to local celebrity chef Guy Ferdinand, aka Chef Hot Pants) and celebrated five-star restaurants like Le Zandoli, Martinique’s cuisine never disappoints.
French Saint Martin
A close second to Martinique that’s a lot more accessible to U.S. travelers, French Saint Martin is similarly devoted to the culinary arts. Fantastic French-Creole food is everywhere, and in particular, the seaside village of Grand Case is not to be missed. Local, rustic eateries here, known as Lolo’s, serve up the best of the island at nice prices.
If you like your culinary adventures with a more Latin flair, then Puerto Rico is your top choice. When it comes to the best of Caribbean travel, two areas, in particular, Piñones and Guavate, get your taste buds uniquely in tune with the local sabor. The collection of kiosks that line the beach in Piñones just east of San Juan is nothing short of street-food heaven. Guavate, located in the mountain town of Cayey, is ground zero for Puerto Rico’s famed lechoneras. These restaurants are purveyors of the most mouth-watering slow-cooked roast pork anywhere on the planet.
Best Places to Stay
The Waves at Cane Bay, Saint Croix
New, ever-larger and more impersonal megaresorts across the Caribbean continue to push the limits of sustainability. At the opposite end of the spectrum are updated or reimagined versions of previously existing hotels like the King Christian and The Waves at Cane Bay in St. Croix. Instead of completely tearing down the old structures, the new owners of both properties worked within the existing footprint of each structure, adding modern amenities and a fresh breath of style.
Saba Rock, British Virgin Islands
The new owners of Saba Rock weren’t as fortunate as their fellow hoteliers in St. Croix. A one-acre private-island resort enclave, Saba Rock, built in the 1960s, was once the most legendary scuba diving outpost. Hurricane Irma, though, flattened the place completely in 2017. The new Saba Rock, which opened in October 2021, is a complete (and more upscale) reimagining of the resort. Its greatest luxury is still its location in the heart of the British Virgin Islands.
Nevaeh Anguilla, Anguilla
Further up the posh scale, the many and varied private luxury villas across the Caribbean continue to elevate rooming options to new heights. Nevaeh Anguilla, in particular, is utterly amazing. The property’s nine uniquely-appointed rooms, expansive pool complete with grotto and Jacuzzi, tennis courts, movie theater, fitness center, huge gourmet kitchen and secluded beachfront address on the sands of Long Bay make for an unforgettable vacation spot. It’s the warm and attentive service provided by Winston Jones and the rest of Nevaeh’s staff, though, that truly made my September 2021 stay here priceless.
A major earthquake, a presidential assassination and prolonged political unrest combined to make 2021 a less-than-ideal time to visit Haiti. The once and future Pearl of the Antilles, though, still boasts the most incredible collection of attractions anywhere in the Caribbean. From the jaw-dropping impossibility that is the mountain fortress of The Citadelle to the bastion of Caribbean history, art and crown jewels inside the MUPANAH Museum, and otherworldly natural sites like Bassin Bleu and Grotte Marie Jeanne, Haiti’s wonders absolutely astound.
The islet of Terre-de-Haut in Les Saintes archipelago within the islands of Guadeloupe is definitively tiny. The few historic attractions here – Fort Napoléon chief among them – are interesting. The island is so small, though, that you can actually see them all in less than a day. That, however, leaves loads of time for the main attraction here: the beaches. More than ten different sublime stretches of sand encircle Terre-de-Haut’s scant 2.32 square miles, making this one of the smallest, yet most dynamic, beach paradises in the Caribbean.
For natural attractions, it’s hard to beat Costa Rica. That goes double in Tortuguero. The remote enclave, accessible solely by boat or very small plane, consists of more than 120 square miles of virgin rainforest set along the Caribbean coast. The protected area is home to scores of tropical bird and lizard species, three types of monkeys, sharks, manatees, crocodiles and even sloths. Hiking, kayaking and beachcombing here present next-level opportunities to get up close and personal with nature.
Best Spa Destinations
Bubble Beach Spa, Dominica
Natural is always best when it comes to relaxation and rejuvenation for me, so it’s no surprise that Dominica is my top spa destination. Thermal hot springs all across Nature Island, like Ti Kwen Glo Cho, provide a brand of natural healing that modern spas just can’t match. The quaint and kitschy Bubble Beach Spa is another uncommon option, adding natural soothing treatments to sun, sand and sea.
Saint Lucia Botanical Gardens, Saint Lucia
Two islands south of Dominica, Saint Lucia also satiates the needs of natural spa lovers. When it comes to the best of Caribbean travel, The “Drive-in Volcano” in Soufriere may draw the biggest crowds, but the public baths inside the Saint Lucia Botanical Gardens are equally rejuvenating, if less muddy.
Sol-Mer Spa, Jamaica
For an even cleaner (okay, entirely pristine) spa experience that still espouses the essence of the West Indies, check into Jamaica’s Sol-Mer Spa. Nestled within a lush and quiet corner of the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay, the Sol-Mer Spa features a full array of holistic, restorative services, including massage therapy, reflexology, waxing, scrubs, wraps, facials, manicure/pedicure and hairstyling. Uniquely Jamaican accents are woven into many of the treatments. The menu of massages, for instance, offers guests a choice of natural Jamaican oils. One option, a Jamaican bitter orange oil, is specially formulated to de-stress and relax muscles, while another, a Jamaican fever grass oil, works wonders on tension and anxiety – the icing on the cake of any Caribbean escape.