Be a Carribbean queen (or king!)
BOOKING a holiday in the Caribbean sounds simple but each island comes with its own unique personality. So which one would be ideal for you and your family? Here, SARAH TURNER picks seven hot favourites to tempt you into the sun… ANTIGUA
Best for: Those on tight budgets, honeymooners, young families, sailing fans.
Flights: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thomas Cook.
Why here? The British made Antigua their Caribbean hub in the 18th Century. These days the island’s gentle beaches are great for young families, but Antigua has serious honeymoon appeal too. Snorkelling is some of the best in the Caribbean, and Antigua’s string of harbours means sailing is popular.
Bargain style: The adults-only Pineapple Beach Resort sits on one of the best beaches and offers good value. Seven nights costs from €1,566pp all-inclusive, including flights and transfers with The Holiday Place (holidayplace.co.uk).
Blow the budget: At Carlisle Bay, a muted palette of colours in this family-friendly resort allows the setting – a crescent-shaped beach and ample palm trees – to take centre stage. The hotel spa is one of the island’s best. Seven nights costs from €2,351pp, including flights, transfers and B&B with Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com).
Don’t miss: English Harbour’s Georgian-era dockyard where Nelson was once stationed, hiking at Shirley Heights, and snorkelling around Cades Reef.
Eat: Head to Hemingway’s (hemingwayantigua.com) in St John for conch fritters. Sheer Rocks (sheer-rocks.com) has a laidback ethos to augment stellar sunsets and tapas-style food.
Best for: Nature-lovers, island-hoppers, fishing and James Bond fans. Flights: British Airways.
Why here? More than anywhere else in the Caribbean, the chain of islands that make up the Bahamas is about contrasts. You can mix and match the glitz and casinos of Nassau and Paradise Islands with deserted hideaways. Bargain style: Hope Town Inn on Abaco offers plenty of charm and simplicity, plus easy access to the famous swimming pigs on nearby No Name Cay. From $150 a night (about €130) room-only (hopetown marina. com). Blow the budget: When Daniel Craig took on 007’s mantle in Casino Royale, he headed to the Four Seasons Ocean Club to meet Judi Dench’s M. Seven nights roomonly costs from €2,500pp, including flights and transfers with Tropical
BAHAMAS HAVE THE BIGGEST JAMES BOND HERITAGE IN CARRIBBEAN
Don’t miss: Catch a ferry to pretty, picket-fenced Harbour Island with its famous pink sand. Heading to Exuma by a rigid inflatable boat gives you access to its beaches and those swimming pigs (exumaescapes-bahamas.trekksoft.com).
Serious anglers come to the Bahamas for bonefish but it’s also the Caribbean island with the biggest James Bond heritage. Snorkelling tours take you to locations featured in Thunderball and start at $79pp (€70) with Bahamas Divers (bahamadivers.com).
Eat: The Landing (harbourisland landing.com) on Harbour Island brings celebrities to the beachside table for its divine gingered lobster. Crabs & Ting on Junkanoo beach has great-value seafood.
Best for: Self-catering families, Alist glamour, surfing, cricket.
Flights: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thomas Cook, Tui.
Why here? It’s one of the Caribbean’s most placid islands. It’s not bland, though, even if the waters of the Platinum coast on the west barely cause a ripple. The island, where singer Ri hanna was born, is split into parishes, each of which has its own flavour. On the east coast, the waves are bigger and villages such as Bathsheba have strong surfer appeal.
Bargain style: On pretty Maxwell beach in the south, Bougainvillea has all the frills: two pools, bars and a beachside restaurant, and 100 rooms with kitchenettes. Not all Caribbean islands are set up for self-catering but the hotel lays on shuttles to a supermarket for its guests. Seven nights costs from €1,100pp, including flights, transfers and self-catering accommodation with Virgin Holidays (virginholidays.co.uk).
Blow the budget: With celebrities at every turn, Sandy Lane is the beating heart of the Platinum coast, from the entrance that looks out on to the beach to the hotel’s own golf courses, and one of the Caribbean’s best spas. Seven nights’ B&B costs from €4,300pp, including flights and transfers with Elegant Resorts (elegantresorts.co.uk).
Don’t miss: Cricket fans must visit the Kensington Oval – in January, England will play a Test match against the West Indies here. Historic plantation houses include St Nicholas Abbey (stnicholas abbey.com) and Mount Gay Rum distillery (mountgayrum.com).
Eat: Alive with music and street food, every Friday and Saturday the town of Oistins holds a Fish Fry. The Lone Star (thelonestar. com) on the beach attracts a solid Hollywood crowd – expect to pay about €34 for main dishes. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Best for: Those on tight budgets, resort-lovers, whale-watchers.
Flights: British Airways,Thomas Cook, Tui.
Why here? Once a byword for bargain-bucket Caribbean, the ‘Dom Rep’ has been moving upmarket for the past decade. In 2015, the smart Aman chain opened a hotel here.
Bargain style: The Now Larimar Punta Cana is big – there are 720 rooms with the facilities to match, including nine restaurants and ten bars, five swimming pools and kids’ clubs. Seven nights costs from €1,400pp, including flights, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation with C by Caribtours (cbycaribtours.co.uk).
Blow the budget: There is even more space at Zoetry Agua Punta Cana – 96 suites, four restaurants and a swimming pool that flows around the villas. Seven nights costs from €1,990pp, including flights, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation with BA Holidays (ba.com/dominicanrepublic).
Don’t miss: Holidays here are usually resort-based, but break out to visit the Unesco world heritage city of Santo Domingo, which has baroque cathedrals and a full quota of Spanish colonial charm, while the rainforests of Parque Nacional del Este have waterfalls and adrenaline-based activities. Cabarete has some of the Caribbean’s best surfing. Between January and March, humpback whales head to the Samana peninsula. Eat: Near Cabarete, Castle Club cooks locally caught fish with vegetables (castleclubonline.com). In the Bavara area of Punta Cana, visit Wacamole, for Mexican food and a non-resort feel.
Best for: Nightlife, foodies, those on tight budgets, music-lovers and walkers.
Flights: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Tui.
Why here? Jamaica is the island with everything – beaches, history, music, mountains and athlete Usain Bolt – and it’s big enough to produce a lot of its own food, which helps keep the cost down. On the downside, it has more than its fair share of crime. Resorts are generally well guarded but take advice about areas to avoid.
Bargain style: One of Jamaica’s most Instagrammable places is Jake’s – cottages and apartments, plus two restaurants and a spa, perched on Treasure Beach. Doubles cost from €80 a night on a room-only basis with i-escape (i-escape.com/jakes).
Blow the budget: Jamaica Inn is a gorgeous, romantic weather-board hotel on a bluff, packed with history – it’s where Marilyn Monroe spent her honeymoon with Arthur Miller and Meghan Markle married for the first time. Seven nights costs from €1,860pp, including flights, transfers and room-only accommodation with Inspiring Travel Company (inspiringtravel company.co.uk).
Don’t miss: Hiking in the Blue Mountains, whitewater rafting, visiting Bob Marley’s house (bob marleymuseum.com) and, by way of contrast, Noel Coward’s atmospheric getaway Firefly (fireflyjamaica.com). Negril’s sunsets are famous and Rick’s Bar is the perfect place from which to see them.
Eat: In Ocho Rios, Miss T’s Kitchen (misstskitchen.com) has all the jerk chicken and curried goat you could ever wish for.
Best for: Foodies, runners and naturelovers. Flights: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic (both via St Lucia).
Why here? Grenada is one of the most tantalising islands in the Caribbean. Enveloped by a tropical gentleness, mellow, safe and ringed with golden beaches, it’s worth hiring a car to explore small villages, a kaleidoscope of creole coloursand charm.
Don’t miss: Grenada is famous for its spices, especially nutmeg. Take a trip to Gouvage to see the spice exchange at work, while Belmont Estates (belmontestate.net) is an organic farm with a cocoa plantation – there are tours and a restaurant here. Runners should bring their kit with them – every weekend the Hash House Harriers (grenadahash.com) gathers tourists and
locals for a fun run that usually ends up at a rum distillery.
Bargain style: Built into a hillside, close to Grand Anse beach, the Blue Horizon Garden Resort hotel is simple but well run, with 32 rooms, all with kitchenettes. Seven nights costs from €1,330pp, including flights, transfers and room-only accommodation with Tropic Breeze (tropicbreeze.co.uk).
Blow the budget: Spice Island Resort on the same stretch of beach has offered low-key but luxurious breaks since the 1960s. The owners, the Hopkins family, keep everything polished and the restaurant is one of the island’s best. Seven nights costs from €3,250pp, including flights, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation with Best At Travel (bestattravel.co.uk).
Eat: The village of Gouyave has a Fish Fry each Friday, so grab some beers and relax. Barbecues are also big in this part of the world – there’s a particularly nice one on Hog Island on Sundays.
Best for: Active families, solo travellers, spa-lovers, nature-lovers.
Flights: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thomas Cook, Tui.
Why go: Compared to other Caribbean islands, St Lucia’s beaches aren’t particularly good (the sand is often quite dark) but the landscape wows at every turn. The Pitons, two mountains that rise from the rainforest, dominate everything.
Bargain style: St James’s Club Morgan Bay is a 344-room hotel on a neat beach that’s good for families. Seven nights costs from €1,600pp, including flights, transfers and allinclusive accommodation with First Choice (firstchoice.co.uk).
Blow the budget: The antithesis of a ‘fly-and-flop’, Bodyholiday is great for solo travellers – all-inclusive here means daily spa treatments, scuba-diving and classes in everything from Pilates to fencing. Seven nights costs from €3,950pp, including flights, transfers and allinclusive accommodation with Destinology (destinology.co.uk)
Don’t miss: Bathing in volcanic mud at Sulphur Springs, or ziplining, mountain-biking and climbing the Pitons. Things are gentler at the Diamond Falls botanic gardens (diamondstlucia.com), where you can soak in mineral baths built for French King Louis XVI and visit one of the Caribbean’s most spectacular waterfalls.
Eat: Perched between the Pitons, Dasheene, the restaurant for the Ladera resort (ladera.com), has a sophisticated take on Caribbean food. Near Sugar Beach, Martha’s Table (marthastables.com) is a roadside cafe serving wonderful fish.
ST LUCIA’S LANDSCAPE WOWS AT EVERY TURN...
DRAMATIC LANDSCAPE: Soufriere beach in St Lucia, with one of the famous Pitons in the background
UNSPOILT: The Samana area of the Dominican Republic, which is good for whalewatching. Right: The swimming pigs of the Bahamas.
PROUD JAMAICAN: Usain Bolt
BARBADOS DOLL: Singer Rihanna is from Barbados
SPICY: St George’s Harbour in Grenada. Below: A café sign in Jamaica