Sunday, March 18, 2007
Earlier this month, in our special Island Finder issue, we set out to provide a Caribbean matchmaking service, listing travelers' favorite beachy things to do and then figuring out the best islands to do them on. But just in case we missed something, we also invited readers to tell us about their own favorite island destinations. Here are some of their recommendations, with tips on hotels, restaurants and activities.
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I feel that Santa Maria Beach on Long Island, Bahamas, should be included in the list of great beaches. This four-mile stretch of tree-lined white sand must rank among the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is quite unspoiled and usually totally deserted. At one end of the beach is the high-class Cape Santa Maria resort, with beach bungalows, but our favorite is the Stella Maris Resort Club ( http://www.stellamarisresort.com/), which we have visited five times. We can highly recommend this resort with its comfortable, well-appointed, spotlessly clean rooms, great service, excellent food and a management team dedicated to making each visitor's stay as enjoyable as possible. Visitors can scuba dive, snorkel, fly-fish, deep-sea fish or swim and enjoy the beautiful beach.
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You overlooked one absolute gem in the History and Culture category. The last remaining descendants of the Carib Indians (they call themselves the Kalinago) live in a reserve on the island of Dominica. They have a cultural center where they perform their music and dance, as well as demonstrate and sell native crafts. My wife and I visited in October, and I even got to dance on stage with the Kalinago.
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I would have loved to see information regarding what I'd call the "Hassle Factor." After visiting a few islands and having our vacation experience diminished by timeshare pitches, people selling trinkets along the beach and people touting booze cruises and watersports, my husband and I now choose our destination based not only on the quality of the beaches and food, but also on whether or not we're likely to be harassed and how safe we feel walking around at night.
We were hassled regularly in Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas, but were left undisturbed and felt safest in Aruba and St. Martin.
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I have been on two charter-yacht vacations to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and I am soon leaving for my third, scheduling my trips through Mark Daniher of Island Symphony ( http://www.islandsymphony.com/).
On a private-yacht vacation, you can work within your budget for the type of catamaran or yacht you choose. The yachts have a captain and a chef. Food and drinks are included in the price -- breakfast, snacks, lunch, appetizers and dinner. I am talking gourmet dining, better than the overpriced meals at resorts.
You decide the itinerary, the menu and your activities. On our trips, everyone got to pick what he or she wanted to do -- scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, shopping, nightlife, relaxing, etc. We visited natural attractions like the Baths (before the cruise-line people showed up) and tourist attractions like Foxy's. We went to beautiful isolated beaches and snorkeled where there weren't other people around. My favorite was stargazing from the catamaran's hammock.
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I want to add insight on one of my favorites, Tobago. Maybe now that Delta is starting service, more Americans will discover it. We were there seven days before we met any fellow Americans.
Stay at the Blue Haven Hotel, a small luxury beach resort with great ocean views and a friendly staff.
If you don't stay there, at least go for the weekly barbecue -- fresh fish and outstanding local soca bands. Favorite attractions are Argyll Falls, snorkeling Buccoo Reef, a catamaran trip on the Island Girl and eating the traditional dish of crab and dumpling.
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Aruba is definitely one of the finest islands; we have been there eight times. The weather is guaranteed sunny, with 82- to 88-degree days, rare rain and no hurricanes. It's safe and easy to get to and get around, and it has many casinos and great walkable beaches.
Best diving and snorkeling by far, as you stated, is Bonaire. Next is Grand Cayman, which has great snorkel trips, followed by Belize's Ambergris Cay.
One place, however, that I felt was not stressed enough was Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which we have visited five times. It is easy to get to, very affordable, has the most upscale resorts of any that we have seen and has the best beaches we have found. If you just want to rest, relax and be pampered, this is the place.
In both Mexico and Punta Cana, the Riu Palace resorts have the most plushness, offering great value for the money.
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My wife and I recently returned from Nevis. While there, we had dinner two nights in a row (not our usual habit) at Bananas, which we agreed was the most beautiful restaurant we had ever seen, anywhere, at any price.
To get to Bananas, one must leave the main island road and travel for about a half-mile on a twisting, rutted, thoroughly unpleasant road, past a few beautiful villas set high over the sea, past the upturned refrigerator used as a garbage can by an island family, until you come to a small hand-painted sign pointing you to the parking lot. A uniformed attendant parks what's left of your car.
The restaurant, which sits above the parking lot, is reached by a lantern-lighted, curving walkway up to a three-sided, candlelit, open veranda on which perhaps 25 tables are arranged. The veranda looks out on the sea to the west, making dining at sunset the ideal time.
Our meals were excellent both nights. The bill, including a bottle of wine, was about $50 per person each night.
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I have been to most of the islands in the Caribbean, and my favorite was Barbados. The people are very friendly and happy to see you.
My favorite place in the world is Cancun. I go to the Omni every November for our anniversary. No place else can compete with it. It doesn't matter whom you talk to, they are all helpful and friendly. I'm just a regular person and don't expect to be waited on. They make you feel like one big family.
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I was surprised that Nevis received no stars for nature or history. It has several historic sites, including the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton and the Lord Nelson Museum.
There are seven historic churches, one from the 1600s. In tiny uncommercial Charlestown, British colonial architecture meets Caribbean Victorian.
Perhaps the most authentic aspect of Nevis is that nothing has been torn down for "progress." The island's five sugar plantations, built of volcanic rock, have been transformed into hotels and provide visitors with a feeling of how life was conducted on Nevis when planters became rich from the work of slaves. A drive along the ring road that circles Nevis will take you back in time.
The trails on Mount Nevis are a rain-forest treat of plants and birds, particularly above the Golden Rock Estate. The Golden Rock is also the best place to spot the wild monkeys that were brought to Nevis long ago from West Africa. For some reason, monkeys are drawn to the lawns between the cottages at Golden Rock in the afternoons. They calmly forage for fruit and seeds as if it is their rightful teatime ritual.