10 Caribbean Islands to Visit This Winter
Contribute to hurricane relief by visiting the Caribbean this winter, as both affected and unaffected islands need a tourism boost.
Photo By: Shutterstock/Dennis van de Water
Photo By: Eden Rock St. Barths Villa Rental Program
Photo By: Pink Sands Club
Photo By: Shutterstock/Joseph Thomas Photography
Photo By: Grand Hyatt Baha Mar
Photo By: Steve Simonsen, The Buccaneer
Photo By: Carlisle Bay
Photo By: Jewel Grande
Photo By: Frangipani Resort
Photo By: Saint Lucia Tourism Authority
Puerto Rico was one of the hardest hit islands, and many parts are still without water or electricity. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the entire island, and visitors can help by bringing needed supplies. San Juan is slowly getting back to business, and the following hotels are accepting reservations for December: La Concha Resort, Hotel El Convento, Condado Vanderbilt, Best Western Plus Condado Palm Inn & Suites, DoubleTree by Hilton San Juan and Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort. The Dreamcatcher, (which bills itself as San Juan’s only vegetarian hotel), is open with limited services, but is offering voluntourism programs, like rebuilding local farms and raising funds for Puerto Rico Rising. See Puerto Rico will list resources for voluntourism trips beyond San Juan. Travelers can help clean beaches or assist with water filtration through Local Guest and Waves for Water. Finally, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort near El Yunque will be ready for guests this winter, though the exact date is to be determined.
Though St. Barts in the French West Indies took a direct hit (along with Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos and Dominica), it’s ready for visitors again. For example, the annual Christmas Village in December will still happen, as will the St. Barts 2018 Music Festival in January. While the famed Eden Rock won’t be ready for prime time until 2018, its villas should be ready by mid-November. Many other hotels, villas and cottages will reopen by Thanksgiving. On track are the four-star Le Village St. Barth, boutique Tom Beach Hotel, the intimate Hotel Les Ondines and the suite-only Villa Lodge 4 Epices. Among the more affordable options set to reopen are Ti Morne and Sunset Hotel. Check Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.
Canouan Island, St. Vincent and The Grenadines
While those with deep pockets are waiting for St. Barts to fully recover, under-the-radar Canouan Island, one of nine inhabited islands in St. Vincent and The Grenadines, is a ready alternative. It recently added the five-star Pink Sands Club, Mandarin Oriental’s first foray into the Caribbean. (It will be renamed Mandarin Oriental Canouan next year if you happen to book at a later date.) The resort opened last year; since then, the new Glossy Bay Marina, one of the first in the region for superyachts, has joined it.
Besides remaining under-the-radar compared to other Caribbean islands, Dominica also took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. As it’s still recovering, it won’t be ready to welcome visitors until January at the earliest. As of now, only 32 of 73 properties are estimated to be ready by then, but voluntourism is another great option. Discover Dominica is currently compiling more information on voluntourism programs. Visit Discover Dominica for the latest updates, along with its Facebook and Twitter pages. Otherwise, the airport is open, and while the island’s largest property, Fort Young Hotel, is still repairing significant damage, it’s already accepting reservations for January. In the meantime, you can donate to help the staff on its fundraising page. Extreme Dominica, an adventure tour company specializing in canyoning and guided hikes, will resume in December. Finally, dive operations are slated to reopen in January. However, divers should be aware that due to reef damage, the daily number of dives will be limited for the time being.
The Bahamas escaped the hurricanes largely unscathed, which is good news for the long-awaited Baha Mar megaresort in Nassau. The first phase of the project, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, opened this past spring and encompasses 1,800 rooms, a 100,000-square-foot-casino, a destination spa and an 18-hole golf course. The second phase involves the higher-end SLS, opening in November, while the third phase will introduce the Rosewood as the highest-end option in 2018. All told, the finished product will offer more than 40 dining options (airstream food truck, conch shack, celeb chef restaurants, etc.), 30 upscale stores and 11 swimming pools. Speaking of megaresorts, Altantis will add more authentic Bahamian elements, such as the new Sip Sip restaurant set to open in November. For something quieter, French Leave Resort on the island of Eleuthera will add two new villas by year's end.
Although Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda, was 90 percent destroyed, Antigua sustained little damage by comparison. The Trade Winds Hotel, the five-star Carlisle Bay and Curtain Bluff resorts are all open for business. In fact, Curtain Bluff just completed a $13 million renovation and is raising funds to help Barbuda rebuild via the Old Road Fund. Galley Bay Resort and Spa was damaged, but is reopening on Dec. 15, while Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa is reopening on Dec. 17 after previously-scheduled maintenance.
Jamaica is among the islands that weren’t affected, and this year there are 3,000 new or renovated rooms available. This includes a spate of new hotel openings, many in Montego Bay, including the five-star Breathless Montego Bay Resort & Spa, the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach and the boutique Zoetry Montego Bay. Beachfront Jewel Grande is another Montego Bay newcomer and is offering 50 percent off for its grand opening — possibly putting butler service within reach. There’s also family-friendly Azul Sensatori, group-friendly Hideaway at Royalton Negril, and the nudist-friendly Grand Lido, all in Negril. Of course, smaller properties deserve love too, and the tourism board has made it easier to find them through a new site for inns and hotels. The board has also launched the Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Trail, a self-guided tour of the Blue Mountains that lists 15 places to stop for food and attractions, from the Old Tavern Coffee Estate to Holywell Recreational Park.
Anguilla, in the British West Indies, took a double whammy from Hurricanes Irma and Jose, but it’s not completely closed for business. Just keep in mind that electricity is still being restored to parts of the island, and cleanup and repairs will continue through 2018. Though badly damaged, the airport has resumed limited flights. The Anguilla Tourist Board is also working on a voluntourism program and will be posting updates on how to help. As for hotels, Carimar Beach Club will have its grand reopening on Dec. 21. It is accepting reservations sooner, for a discount, with the understanding that services will be limited and repairs will still be underway. Paradise Cove Resort and Fountain Anguilla have also reopened, while the high-end Frangipani Resort is targeting a soft opening in late December and officially reopening in January. Further out, the iconic Belmond Cap Juluca and the Four Seasons Resort & Residences Anguilla will be reopening in 2018. Check their sites for the latest updates.
Not only was St. Lucia not affected, but it’s also offering as much as 65 percent off hotel rooms through the end of the year. (Suite upgrades and resort credits are other options.) Plus, the island recently added two all-inclusives: Royalton Saint Lucia Resort and Serenity at Coconut Bay, each offering additional deals as well. Another all-inclusive, Bel Jou Hotel is set to reopen in November following major renovations. Meanwhile, Sandals Halcyon Beach added honeymoon butler suites, and yes, those qualify for the 65 percent off discount too. In addition to deals, many hotels are donating to the Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund. For example, Caille Blanc Villa is donating 15 percent of all bookings made through the end of year and matching individual donations with up to $50 in resort credit.