Top 10 Caribbean Jewels

Chris’ personal picks from places in the world that he has visited.

There have been many hunters for buried pirates’ treasure in the Caribbean…and yet the jewels are there for all to see: a string of sparkling islands strung across a turquoise sea, from Florida in the north to South America. I have travelled to most of these islands in the sun and these are my ten recommendations for small, but exquisite gems.

St Thomas: Though it’s only 80km2 in size, St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands has lots going on. Go shopping and sailing, snorkeling and sightseeing, or diving and dining. Enjoy the island’s world-renowned golf course, picture-perfect beaches and spectacular nightlife. Visit Coral World Ocean Park and experience the beauty and magic of life under and above the Caribbean Sea while gazing into the ocean from 15 feet beneath the waves in the Undersea Observatory. Or climb the famous 99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie for an incomparable view of the Caribbean.

Just 20kms from the coast of South America, this diminutive island of Dutch ancestry has it all…World famous Palm Beach, every water sport you can name (and a few you probably can’t!), the glitz and glamour of international resorts and casinos and great restaurants with a uniquely Dutch Caribbean flavour. But it also has the wild and rugged Arikok National Park, the iconic leaning divi-divi trees, arches and blowholes on a dramatic cliffed coastline and a mysterious gold mine in the desert-like interior.

Canouan: The island of Canouan in the Grenadines is largely given over to the luxurious Raffles Resort. Beautiful villas tucked into the hillside have stunning views. The spa is built over water, Polynesian-style, and you can lie face down on the massage table looking through a glass floor at the myriad colourful fish below. We stayed at the Tamarind Beach Hotel and Yacht Club which is under the same ownership as Raffles, where the beach front palms trees whispered sweet nothings to us on the trade wind breezes as we sat on our balcony.

Grand Cayman: You are never far from a natural wonder on this island. The best known is Stingray City: iIn the clear, shallow waters I kissed, cuddled and swam with these gentle giants who are like underwater birds as they glide around you. The Cayman Turtle Farm is an environmentally-driven turtle breeding establishment where you can interact with some of their 7,000 turtles. The blue iguana and Cayman parrot are fascinating examples of the unique island wildlife.

Nevis: The volcanic mass of Nevis Peak forms the centre of this island that is the smaller part of the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Though dormant now, this 3,000 foot sleeping giant still produces hot water springs and attracts the clouds that temper the climate and foster the green mantle that makes this island getaway so beautiful. Best of all are the surviving plantation houses, many of which have been converted into some of the most charming accommodations anywhere in the Caribbean.

Grenada: This island is sufficiently diminutive that it is possible to tour it in a day – although there’s lots to see along the way. Start in the prettiest town in the whole of the Caribbean: the national capital of St.George’s. The market hums with life: colourful, loud, pungent with spicy aromas and a great place to meet the locals. Grenada is a land of waterfalls as the rainforest rivers cascade their way down the steep mountainsides. Concord Falls are just as you would envision a tropical waterfall, complete with lush vegetation and a pool at the base perfect for a romantic shower under the cascade.

Dominica: The Green Island of the Caribbean – this is truly the emerald in the jewel box of these islands. It’s not easy to get to: there is no international airport on this island nation. But once on this mountainous, rainforest-cloaked gem of an island, it’s difficult to leave. Rampant vegetation is everywhere, glorious beaches punctuate a rugged coastline, one of the two largest hot springs in the world boils and steams, and tropical waterfalls in a National Park that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site complete this ecological paradise.

Bequia: The island of Bequia is a bracing 60 minute ferry ride south of St. Vincent. Here the languid pace of life on the main island seems almost frenzied by comparison. Everything is relative. Old forts, model boat craftsmen, barefoot beach restaurants, a colourful and fruity-pungent food market, flower-lined trails and a Hawksbill turtle sanctuary where Brother King entertains as a poacher turned born-again gamekeeper. His pet Hawksbill, BusyBody, swims over at his calling and expects to be petted…And time to drift away in a hammock beside the perfect beach at Bequia Beach Hotel.

Providenciales: This is the island in the Turks and Caicos in the northern Caribbean that most visitors come to – and they come here for the immaculate white sands of Grace Bay. This 8km long swathe of dazzling sand lapped by a turquoise sea is backed by a rugged, desert-like interior. Out to sea is a barrier coral reef, easily accessible from the shore that is an underwater wonderland of tropical marine life and brightly coloured corals. Here I communed face-to-beak with a curious dolphin as we floated together in our warm water playground.

Young Island: I cherish tiny island resorts: they appeal to the big kid in me as I play Robinson Crusoe by day, knowing there is good food and a soft pillow by night. The Grenadines are richly endowed in these rare and unique escape resorts. We stayed at Young Island Resort, just three minutes ferry ride from St Vincent but an ocean away from the real world, full of jungle paths, blissful pools and spectacular sunsets. Our hilltop villa overlooked the impressive rock of Fort Duvernette above crashing surf.