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No Man Is Just One Island; A Caribbean Planner
By Jayne Clark and Laura Bly
November 28, 2003
They may share sun, sea and sand, but that doesn't mean the islands of the Caribbean are a one-size-fits-all vacationland. Individual islands are endowed with distinctive characteristics that can make one as different from another as Boston is from Baltimore.
So as the Caribbean high season heats up, USA TODAY's Jayne Clark and Laura Bly targeted eight traveler personalities -- romantics, gourmets, adventurers, water lovers, beach bums, night owls, culture buffs and families -- and asked experts in each field to choose an ideal island and an ideal day.
See their picks on pages 2D and 3D.
Destination: A custom-fit Caribbean
Each Caribbean island has a distinct personality. Here, eight experts share their picks for destinations tailored to various vacation needs.
Adventure awaits you in hike-happy Dominica
Why: Mist-shrouded mountains, an impressive variety of plant and animal life, and some of the Caribbean's most challenging hiking
Ideal day: "Since a hot Caribbean sun can make any hike seem harder, plan an early start" at Morne Trois Pitons National Park, where options range from an easy half-hour walk to a five- or six- hour slog. But "if you're more eager to enjoy Dominica's beauty than to test your endurance, a hike to Freshwater and Boeri lakes (a leisurely four hours round trip for both) is the middle ground." The route begins and ends just outside the village of Laudat, where guests at the Papillote Inn can soak away their aches in warm sulfur pools and continue another 40 minutes to Titou Gorge (the start of a rigorous hike to Boiling Lake). You'll find a profusion of giant tree ferns, "the lovely song of the small, shy mountain whistler" and a landscape that "seems more like Switzerland than the tropics."
Insider's advice: Hiking shoes are a better bet than sneakers on the often-muddy and slippery trails.
Don't miss: Even couch potatoes can take advantage of the island's newest attraction, the Rainforest Aerial Tram near Laudat. The 70-minute ride on an open-air tram passes through and above the rain forest's lower canopy.
Information: 888-645-5637 or dominica.dm
Alternatives: Trinidad/Tobago, Jamaica
St. Martin: Life's a beach party
Island: St. Martin
Why: Sun and sand with a French accent -- and Dutch St. Maarten as a neighbor
Ideal day: Wake up at Grand Case Beach Club, an oceanfront hotel with its own private strand adjacent to the town's public beach. After an early-morning stroll on the sand, eat breakfast overlooking the ocean and neighboring Anguilla. Then pack up and head to Orient Bay, a long crescent of beach that has all the water sports, along with beachside shops and a great selection of bars and restaurants. If you want to pull an all-nighter, stretch out on Dawn Beach, just south of Oyster Pond on the Dutch side. "You can watch the sun come up over St. Barts and jump in the ocean for the island's best snorkeling out on the reef."
Insider advice: All the French beaches on the island are topless, but "you can give your dermatologist even more to worry about by going for an all-over tan at Orient Beach Club, a naturist resort at the south end of Orient Bay."
Don't miss: For the island's liveliest beachside happy hour, head to Sunset Beach Bar on the Dutch side. "The bar sits on a little bay at the end of the international airport's runway. You grab a drink and watch big jets roar across the beach so low you can almost touch the landing gear."
Information: 877-956-1234 or www.st-martin.org
Alternatives: Great Guana Cay (Bahamas), Salt Cay (Turks & Caicos)
St. Barts: An oasis of Gallic good taste
Island: St. Barts
Why: A taste of France in the Caribbean
Ideal day: Start the day with French pastries on the terrace at the Hotel St-Barth Isle de France. "If Flamands Bay and Beach were any closer, you'd have to breakfast in your bathing suit." For people-watching and midmorning coffee, drop by Le Bar de l'Oubli in Gustavia. "Everybody who's anybody passes through this cafe." Short- list suggestions for a wonderful seaside lunch include La Marine, L'Escale, Club Lafayette and the tony Le Toiny hotel. For dinner, try the harbor front La Route des Boucaniers in Gustavia. "Run by one of the foremost authorities on French West Indian cuisine, (it's) the perfect place to sample such authentic local specialties as accras (salt cod fritters), crabe farcie (chili and chive- stuffed land crab) and colombo (French West Indian curry).
Insider's tip: Buy a rotisserie chicken and crusty French baguette at Rotisserie, then stop at the AMC Supermarket for raw milk camembert and other cheeses for a picnic on Gouverneur Beach.
Don't miss: Cocktails at sunset on the terrace of the Carl Gustaf Hotel. "On a clear day, you can see the islands of Nevis and Saba."
Information: 011-590-590-27-8727; st-barthson line.com
Alternatives: Barbados, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique
St. Lucia: An idyllic setting for romantics
Island: St. Lucia
Why: Dramatic mountains, lush rainforests, good restaurants and plenty of places for togetherness
Ideal day: Wake up to breakfast on the balcony at the Sandals Regency St. Lucia, an all-inclusive golf resort with cliffside villas overlooking the sea. Then take a day sail south to Soufriere and visit Diamond Botanical Gardens and Waterfalls, a Garden of Eden setting where the mineral baths are said to enhance your love life. For a quiet lunch, try The Still Plantation, an off-the-beaten- track restaurant popular among locals for its Creole buffet. Then hit the beach at the Jalousie Hilton at the base of the island's signature twin volcanic cones, the Pitons. "Before you is a pure, white sandy cove and water that is a shade of turquoise so intense that it's hard to believe." Before sunset, head up the hill for dinner on the terrace of Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera Resort, with its spec- tacular view of the Pitons and sea.
Insider's tip: Attend a Friday night fish fry in the village of Anse La Raye. "It's like stepping back in time."
Don't miss: The Friday "jump up" (street party) in the village of Gros Islet. "It's a chance to party with the people on the island. It's so laid-back, and it's such a special experience."
Information: 800-456-3984; stlucia.org.
Alternatives: Anguilla, Virgin Gorda
Family fun on unspoiled St. John
Island: St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Why: Lovely beach coves with placid water, lodgings for a variety of budgets and unspoiled nature
Ideal day: Begin the morning with a hike on the Reef Bay Trail in Virgin Islands National Park, which covers two-thirds of St. John. The 2 1/2-mile trail takes in Taino Indian petroglyphs and a historic sugar plantation. Then cool off with a dip in Trunk Bay to explore its marked underwater coral trail. Although the site has suffered some damage from storms and heavy use, it "still has surprises for those new to snorkeling." Afterward, settle down to a leisurely picnic lunch on less crowded Honeymoon Beach, a couple of coves over. In the afternoon, explore the funky town of Cruz Bay. Don't miss Mongoose Junction, an open-air shopping complex where craftspeople sometimes demonstrate their work.
Insider's tip: Getting to St. John requires taking a ferry from one of two locations on St. Thomas. For a calmer, shorter transit, opt for the Red Hook ferry (not the one that departs from Charlotte Amalie).
Don't miss: Island-hopping. Take the ferry to St. Thomas for shopping and attractions. Or visit residential Water Island, known as the "fourth" U.S. Virgin Island, 10 minutes from St. Thomas.
Information: 800-372-8784; usvitourism.vi
Alternatives: Aruba for teens, and the Cayman Islands for families who dive
Test Anegada's peaceful waters
Island: Anegada, British Virgin Islands
Why: Pristine beaches, one of the world's largest coral reefs, and a blissful lack of crowds
Ideal day: Dubbed the "Drowned Island" because its highest point is only 28 feet above sea level, this remote, relatively undiscovered outpost (pop. 182) is a perfect antidote to the "petting zoo" ambience of many Caribbean dive spots. Most visitors arrive by private boat or on a day trip from Tortola or Virgin Gorda, but consider checking into the 20-room Anegada Reef Hotel, a "marvelous place to relax" between offshore forays. If the wind and waves cooperate, check with local authorities for a list of designated dive spots adjacent to Horseshoe Reef, a graveyard for more than 200 shipwrecks. After a morning of diving, head to the north shore's Loblolly Bay for lunch on the beach and an afternoon of snorkeling in the company of angelfish, yellow tail snapper and blue tang.
Insider's tip: Bring greenbacks. Many Anegada businesses don't accept credit cards, but the U.S. dollar is the official currency.
Don't miss: Lobster salad sandwiches at the Flash of Beauty beach bar on Loblolly Bay and rum smoothies at the Anegada Reef Hotel.
Contact: 800-835-8530 or bvitouristboard.com
Alternatives: Belize, Little Cayman Island
Puerto Rico's the place for night owls
Island: Puerto Rico
Why: San Juan's urban core pulses with history by day and music by night -- including Puerto Rico's trademark, compulsively danceable salsa.
Ideal day: "Get a head start on the evening by stopping for tapas and cocktails at El Picoteo" in Old San Juan's 352-year-old Hotel El Convento, a former Carmelite convent. For dinner, stroll a few blocks to South Fortaleza Street, where the Parrot Club features nuevo Latino fare in a "fun and boisterous" setting. (Seafood lovers looking for a quieter option should try La Ostra Cosa on Cristo Street.) For live music, Rumba on San Sebastian Street "has a real Latin party vibe, where you can dance the night away with a young and hip local crowd." A more eclectic choice is the Nuyorican Cafe on Calle San Francisco, "where the evening entertainment might include a play or poetry reading followed by groups playing Latin jazz or salsa."
Insider advice: Dress fashionably, but "don't be intimidated by the experts -- you don't have to know how to dance to enjoy San Juan's salsa scene."
Don't miss: The diverse selection of contemporary and traditional Latin American art at San Juan's Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.
Information: 800-866-7827 or gotopuertorico.com
Alternatives: St. Martin, Martinique
Soak up some culture, savor the 'true Jamaica'
Why: Art, reggae and a keen sense of history
Ideal day: Start in Ocho Rios with a breakfast of the national dish of ackee (a fruit) and saltfish. If it's Sunday, seek out a churchyard and listen to hymns wafting through the open shutters. Then head to nearby Prospect Plantation for a tractor-drawn jitney tour of a working farm. Also nearby is Coyaba River Garden and Museum, which traces the island's history from the Arawak Indians to independence. Five miles east of Ocho Rios, Harmony Hall, a 19th- century estate house turned art gallery, exhibits some of Jamaica's top artists. Its Italian restaurant makes an excellent lunch stop. In late afternoon, continue east toward Port Maria to Firefly, playwright Noel Coward's former retreat (and grave site) and "one of the most charming places on the island." Back in Ocho Rios, join locals for an informal dinner at the Ocho Rios Village Jerk Centre, where the jerk pork is spicy hot and the Red Stripe beer is icy cold.
Insider's tip: Go inland to the Blue Mountains for a glimpse of the "true Jamaica."
Don't miss: A tour of a plantation Great House "to learn about where the island's coming from." Keown's favorite is Greenwood near Montego Bay.
Information: 800-233-4582; visitjamaica.com
Alternatives: Barbados, Martinique, Puerto Rico