6 reasons to go to the Caribbean
A beach at St. John. Credit: U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
By Linda Perney
Special to amNewYork
Everyone knows why you go to the Caribbean: sun, sand, and surf. But there are other things that appeal too. Weve listed six irresistible places and what makes them special.
1.Go Green: St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
No casinos. No golf courses. No airport. But in the cool of a morning there are salt ponds to explore, with herons, sand pipers and pintail ducks.
There are bike or jeep rides up into the mountains that drop into the sea. There are shady groves and mangrove forests, and hikes that lead past petroglyphs rock carvings, evidence of the ancient civilization that thrived here before the European colonists arrived in the 17th century.Much of the island is now a national park, which protects the natural heritage all 140 species of birds; 302 of fish; 22 of mammals, not to mention its 740 species of plants. All of which make for a laid-back getaway far from the stresses of the city.
Where to stay: Maho Bay offers simple green living at two locations on St. John, and several choices of accommodations and price ranges. There are tent cottages as well as studio apartments; all have great views and outdoor space. $135-$250 per night. 800-392-9004; Maho.org
For more hotel choices go to: stjohnusvi.com
2. Follow in Columbuss footsteps: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Narrow streets wind through a neighborhood of ancient stone; from here, Cortez set off to colonize Mexico, and Ponce de Leon left to search for the fountain of youth in Florida.
This is the colonial zone of Santo Domingo, part of the oldest city in the New World, a fine place to discover the roots of the Americas.
Stop to roam through the loggias of The Alcazar de Colon on Calle La Atarazona, where Columbuss son Diego reigned as governor; today, its dozens of rooms show off the paintings, tapestries and furniture of the 16th century.
Elsewhere in the city are the ruins of the Monastery of San Francisco, destroyed by hurricanes and French guns during the battle for this island of Hispaniola. Santa Maria la Menor is the cathedral, on the Place de Colon, begun just 20 years or so after Columbus first sighted the island in 1492.
Walk the Calle des Damas, where the noble ladies of the Spanish court once strolled. At the Museo de las Casas Reales, also on Calle Las Damas, there are replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria; and out at the lighthouse, some say, the remains of the great explorer rest.
Where to stay: Sofitel runs two restored historic hotels right in the Colonial Zone: The Frances, where rooms go for $195 per night (809-685-9331); and the more elaborate Nicolas de Ovando, with a pool and several bars, $287 per night (809-685-9955). For more information, go to sofitel.com.
3. Hit the beach: Rincon Puerto Rico
This is surfer heaven particularly during February, but not bad in March, either. Still, you dont have to be a surfer to love the beach here.
Simple beachcombing is always an option, or soaking up the sun from a comfortable beach chair.
You can hike out to Spanish Wall Beach in fact, you have to hike; theres no other way to get there.
Once you do, you can try your luck with the waves or just do a little seashell collecting.
Domes Beach is one of the best surfing areas but its also a great place to do some whale watching; the season lasts through March.
If its diving you want, the best place is off Desecheo Island, a nature reserve closed to all but accredited scientists. However, sign up with one of the dive shops and head out into the waters around the island.
Rincons public beach is a fine place for swimming or collecting beach glass. Farther south, check out Almirante or Carrero Beach for palm trees and plenty of untenanted white sand.
And if you still want more water, how about a sail into the sunset with a couple of long, cool cocktails?
Where to stay: The Pineapple Inn is a small inn with a beach and swimming pool; rates range from $105-$150 per night; 787-823-1430. For more information, go to ThePineappleInn.net. For more hotel choices, check www.rincon.org.
4. Party in Montego Bay, Jamaica
Montego Bays Hip Strip is the place to go for clubs, restaurants, bars and shopping. But its certainly not the only game in town.
For golfers, theres Half Moon Bay the classic Robert Trent Jones course thats consistently rated among the top courses in the world 876-953-3105.
Or you can saddle up with up Chukka Caribbean Adventures (876- 979-6599; ChukkaCaribbean.com). to go for a horseback ride through a tropical rainforest then on out into the Jamaican countryside and along a cliff overlooking the coast.
If thats not enough adventure, try tangling with the White Witch at Rose Hall Great House. In the early 1800s, Annie Palmer was mistress of the sugar plantation here; during her reign of terror, slaves were mistreated and three of her husbands died at her hands.
She was finally murdered in 1831, but her reputation has long outlasted her: You can tour the restored house, with its antique furniture, gardens and walkways as well as a pub in the dungeon.
Later, raise your spirits with a little shopping: Rose Hall is also home to several boutiques and gift shops: DÃ©jÃ vu has upscale shoes, handbags and shawls; Tinas has local crafts.
Where to stay: Breezes Montego Bay is $1665 for a six-night stay for two, including drinks, meals, and transfers in April. For more info, go to: SuperClubs.com. For more hotel chopices, go to: www.montego-bay-jamaica.com.
Note: Air Jamaica offers daily nonstop flights to Montego Bay from JFK, and starting in May Jet Blue will begin nonstop service JFK to Montego Bay.
5. Get a taste of France in Martinique
Martinique is one of the prettiest islands of all.
Beaches are superb, with fine white sand; there is a lush rainforest, and in keeping with its nickname as The island of flowers, there are gardens where poinsettias, bougainvillea, and hibiscus.
The island also delivers on a promise of Gallic style: In the streets of Fort-de-France, youll hear more French than you will English. Spend some time strolling the streets, window shopping the upscale products on sale Chanel to Limoges porcelain and taking in the lovely old houses, with their elaborate iron grillwork.
Elsewhere on the island there are traces of Frances history both cultural and artistic. Just south of Fort-de-France is Les Trois Ilets, once the home of Napoleons Josephine, who reigned as empress of France for five years.
At the Musee de la Pagerie, there are scraps of her childhood such as her bed and the church where she was baptized, not to mention a love letter from her husband.
Carbet, a little village on the Caribbean coast, was once home to the painter Paul Gaugin; a museum there commemorates his four-month stay in 1887. Today, the town also has two remarkable gardens a onetime sugar plantation, Latouches Creek, overflowing with remarkable plantings among the ruins; and an ecologically correct butterfly garden.
Martinique also offers sophisticated cooking from chefs trained in the best restaurants of Paris. If youre planning a visit later in the spring, consider going during Sainte-Marie Culinary Week (May 18-24).
Held in the small northern coastal town of Sainte-Marie, this weeklong festival is a Gallic Iron Chef a cooking competition that pits local chefs against one another in preparing a meal using local ingredients. This years ingredients: coconut, sweet potatoes and dasheen.
Just as wine lovers tour the Route des Vins in France, when in Martinique, they follow the Route des Rhums, which wends its way around the island, stopping at the various award-winning distilleries for tours and tastings of the 17 varieties of rums du terroir.
Where to stay: The new $60 million Club Med Buccaneers Creek debuted last December. This sprawling property stretches along a 55-acre coconut palm grove complete with oceanside pool, Club Med Spa, fitness facilities and three restaurants. ($3,816 all inclusive weeklong stay for two, not including airfare; for more info, go to ClubMed.us). For more hotel choices, go to Martinique.org.
6. Life is a beach: Antiqua and Barbuda
Count them: 365 beaches on Antigua alone, which means you could visit
one each day for a year and never cross your own path. The sand is fine,
white and powdery, the water is clear. A perfect place for a beach lover,
whether you want to swim, snorkel, dive or just sunbathe.
You can also take a Pirates of Antigua sail, aboard a motorized pirate ship; kick back with a tasty rum drink, and take in the view.
If you want to stick to dry land, there is a Jeep tour, which roams around the island, giving you a look at the scenery as well as the remains of the areas historic sugar
By far, though, the islands biggest attraction is Nelsons
Dockyard National Park, in English Harbor. This was where the British navy
anchored during the Napoleonic wars; today, the dockyard museum recounts those
days of derring-do.
If youre after even more beach, theres the neighboring island of Barbuda, with its 17 miles of sand and snorkeling, too.
Where to Stay: Sandals Grand Antigua Resort Near one of Antiguas
top beaches, Dickenson Bay, the resort is all-inclusive, so your room rate
includes all food, drinks, and activities. $844 per night, per couple
in March. For more choices, go to Antigua-barbuda.org