Unforgettable Caribbean hideaways


By Harriet Cooper

Photo: Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort St Lucia

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January 2017

Time to banish those winter blues and top up on some Vitamin D. If you’re in need of a blast of sunshine to warm up your winter, look no further than the Caribbean – from St Lucia to the Dominican Republic there’s a destination for families and solo travellers alike

St Lucia

More than just a honeymooner’s paradise, St Lucia offers striking scenery, first-rate botanical gardens, whale-spotting and the world’s only drive-in volcano.

Visit Soufriere Volcano in St Lucia, considered the world’s only ‘drive-in volcano’ – a road goes straight through the crater, which emits steam and sulphur

Kid-free

You can’t fail to miss the Pitons, St Lucia’s two volcanic spires. Although Petit Piton is best left to professional climbers, Gros Piton is more straightforward to ascend. Or take a sunshine-filled history lesson at Pigeon Island (no need to go by boat, there’s now a sandy causeway). First used in the 1550s by pirates, the ‘island’ was fortified by the British two centuries later.

Check in: Sugar Beach, a Viceroy resort is often billed as one of the best hotels worldwide. Particularly impressive is the butler service in each room, the Rainforest Spa set in the treetops, and the resident ‘rummelier’. An all-inclusive option is available.

Kids in tow

St Lucia’s tropical rainforest is a gift for children. Jump on an open-air aerial tram and swing out over the treetops – you might even see St Lucia’s endangered amazon parrot. Capture little imaginations by visiting Soufriere Volcano, considered the world’s only ‘drive-in volcano’ (don’t worry, it’s now dormant). A road goes straight through the crater, which emits steam and sulphur – be prepared for the smell. Out at sea, take a whale and dolphin-spotting tour – there are over 30 species.

Check in: The all-inclusive Coconut Bay Resort & Spa. Mum and Dad will love the restaurants, bars and oceanfront spa, while little ones will spend their entire time in the five pools, at the onsite waterpark Cocoland or the paintball zone.

Find some winter sun in St Lucia >

  • With a rich heritage and kaleidoscopic marine life, Barbados has something for every kind of traveller © @saralindsay_b/Instgram

    Did you know… ?

    Barbados was once served by British Airways’ Concorde – the supersonic flight meant that passengers could fly from London to Bridgetown in three hours and 48 minutes. Nowadays, the retired aircraft resides at the international airport and is a part of an interactive exhibition.

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  • St Nicholas Abbey is one of Barbados’ oldest plantations and rum distilleries on the island

    Rum, sea and sand

    Barbados exports around BBD $57 million of rum each year. But if you really want to impress the locals, you should refer to it by its Barbadian nicknames, which include demon water, navy neaters, Nelson’s blood, and rumbullion.

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  • A bedroom at the adults-only Sandals, Barbados

    Something fishy

    Guests at Sandals Barbados can book a shuttle service to experience the institution that is Oistin’s Friday night fish fry. There is (of course) a bounty of fresh grilled seafood on offer, from marlin to lobster, plus plenty of rum and reggae. Arrive at 17:45 for a walk on the pier and some sunset snaps before the party starts at 19:00.

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Barbados

Beach time is mandatory on Barbados. But thanks to its rich heritage, verdant interior and exotic marine life, this tropical isle ticks every box for the discerning traveller.

Kid-free

If you’re keen to gen up on your surroundings, book a walking tour of the capital Bridgetown, a Unesco world heritage site. You’ll stroll past historical buildings including Parliament House, the Jewish Synagogue and St Michael’s Cathedral. If you prefer rum to ruins, visit St Nicholas Abbey, one of the oldest plantations on the island, which makes rum using the traditional distillation process.

Check in: A couples-only, all-inclusive resort, Sandals Barbados has a powder-soft beach, huge lagoon pool, luxe rooms, 11 restaurants offering everything from fresh seafood to Indian, and outstanding service.

  • Take a Segway tour to the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park in the Dominican Republic

    Wild thing

    The 1,500-acre private eco reserve is home to freshwater lagoons and forests that provides a habitat for 80 species of birds and 500 types of plants, as well as other local flora and fauna.

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Kids in tow

Take little ones on an underwater adventure aboard the Atlantis submarine to see exotic marine life and a sunken shipwreck. Back on land, picnic at the rugged beach in Bathsheba. Swimming isn’t allowed, but it’s an excellent spot for watching the surfers.

Check in: The family-friendly, all-inclusive Almond Beach Resort offers enough watersports to keep even the most energetic of children busy, plus six pools, a refurbed sports complex, mini-golf, and kids’ club.

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Dominican Republic

On the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana is a holiday hotspot thanks to its golden beaches, clear waters and lavish resorts. But there’s more to this region than meets the eye.

Kid-free

Punta Cana is a renowned golf destination, with a trio of impressive oceanside courses. A little more unusual is the Segway tour to the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park, which will see you glide along a scenic route to the eco reserve. Saona Island and its near neighbour Catalina Island are both worth a day trip, if only for the underwater fields of starfish.

Check in: A stay at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will guarantee you a good time. The rooms all have Jacuzzis, there’s a lavish spa, and it’s home to the largest casino in the Dominican Republic.

Kids in tow

Punta Cana is home to the longest ziplines in the country – soar through the sky between mountain ranges, above rainforest and Anamuya Lake. Another adrenalin rush can be found at Macao Surf Camp, where kids will learn not just how to ride the waves, but also about environmental responsibility.

Check in: Set on a palm-fringed beach, the all-inclusive Sunscape Bavaro Beach boasts kids and teens clubs, a theatre and disco, not to mention four pools and a splash park.

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  • Cancun is home to beautiful cenotes (natural swimming holes) © Pola Damonte/Getty Images

    Make a splash

    These magical subterranean holes are a much welcome relief on a hot Cancun day. The waters are mineral rich, impossibly clear and are often framed with giant tropical trees – so keep your camera at the ready.

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  • Cancun’s mesmerising underwater museum, MUSA

    Underwater love

    In 2009, artist Jason deCaires Taylor placed a series of sculptures – which range from a life-size Volkswagen Beetle to groups of people – underwater off the coast of Cancun. They have since developed into artificial coral reefs that are home to more than 50 species of marine life.

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  • The ancient ruins of Chichén Itzá on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula © Bryan Mullennix/Getty Images

    Did you know… ?

    During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the position of the sun over the great pyramid casts shadows that create illusions of a feathered snake slithering down its northwest staircase.

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Antigua

It has 365 beaches (one for each day of the year), and thanks to its colonial history – Horatio Nelson was stationed here – Creole cuisine and near unbroken coral reef, this sun-drenched island is as popular as ever.

Kid-free

Book a two-hour round island tour during which you’ll take in Nelsons Dockyard (the world’s only Georgian-era dockyard still in use), Clarence House, built for King William IV, and Shirley Heights. On Sunday nights this former military complex transforms into a party venue as locals and visitors gather for a barbecue. A lobster lunch cruise is a must. You’ll sail the northern coast of Antigua before dropping anchor at Bird Island for fresh lobster and rum punch.

Check in: The all-inclusive Sandals Grande Antigua is consistently voted ‘most romantic hotel in the world’. And no surprise: it has suites with butlers, world-class restaurants, an exclusive spa and exceptional facilities.

  • With a beach for every day of the year, you won’t get bored in Antigua © Michael Utech/Getty Images

    Let the sun shine

    Rainfall averages only 45 inches a year in Antigua, making it the sunniest of the eastern Caribbean islands. Book flights from London to Antigua, plus a seven-night hotel stay from:£684 pp

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Kids in tow

One of your first ports of call has to be Stingray City. A short speedboat ride will deliver you to a shallow pool surrounded by coral reef where the Southern rays call home. Stand or swim with your new friends – they’re very gentle. For another spectacle, take kids to Devil’s Bridge in Indian Town. Numerous geysers and blowholes surround this natural limestone bridge and it is fun to watch.

Check in: The Verandah Resort & Spa by Elite is all-inclusive, while accommodation is spacious (suites come with microwaves, a bonus if you’re travelling with babies), and there’s a kids’ club with pool, climbing area and activities.

Cancun

Cancun isn’t technically in the Caribbean, but it does sit by the Caribbean Sea. And with its pristine beaches, cenotes (natural swim holes) glittering nightlife and sophisticated resorts, this Mexican city is a serious contender in the luxury holiday stakes.

Kid-free

If you only do one thing make it Chichén Itzá, the ancient capital of the Mayan Empire. From the Pyramid of Kukulcan to the Temple of Warriors, you’ll be astounded. For something a little wilder, head to Coba where you’ll find the ruins under overgrown jungle.

Check in: Secrets Akumel, an exquisite, all-inclusive, adults-only resort, is the go-to place if you’re after unlimited luxury: 434 elegant suites, gourmet restaurants, 24-hour room service, nightly entertainment… the list goes on.

Kids in tow

MUSA takes culture to a whole new level – this contemporary museum of art is all underwater. The project consists of 500 life-size sculptures fixed to the seabed, which you can view from a glass-bottomed boat or on a ‘snorkel in the museum’ tour.

Check in: All-inclusive Occidental Grand Xcaret is surrounded by a verdant jungle and boasts a spa, a stunning private beach with a cove for safe snorkelling, and is in walking distance from Xcaret Park (book the Xcaret Park Experience package for unlimited entry to the eco-archaeological theme park). Kids will love snorkelling through the ancient caves and underwater gardens, as well as getting up close and personal with dolphins, tropical birds and colourful butterflies.