10 underrated Caribbean islands the jet set are flocking to

·14-min read
Anguilla, West Indies - Getty
Anguilla, West Indies - Getty

There are 31 islands and territories in the Caribbean, yet most British travellers only visit a few select favourites, in some cases year after year. That’s our loss, because this charismatic and diverse region has much more to offer than the fly-and-flop holidays in an all-inclusive resort the tour operators love to sell us. From uncrowded beach escapes to eco-friendly diving spots and mighty volcanoes that cry out to be climbed, there is a treasury of lesser-known islands where we can make new and stimulating discoveries while still enjoying the warmth, sunshine and reviving rum punches that we expect from a winter break in the tropics.

How do you venture beyond the obvious? One rule of thumb, followed with devotion by the Caribbean cognoscenti, is to go the extra mile. That means making use of the plentiful flights to popular islands like Barbados, Antigua and St Maarten but then pushing on by air or sea to a smaller and more exclusive destination. Connections are invariably smooth, having been honed over many seasons, and help can be sought from local tourist offices and specialist operators who love arranging tailor-made trips to forgotten corners.

Go hiking on Saba

Rising out of the sea like a shark’s fin, steep and mountainous Saba is a tranquil and majestic volcanic island 28 miles north of St Maarten that appeals to divers, hikers and escapists. Its heritage is Dutch with a twist of pirate, and the population a mere 1,900 souls. There is one main road, a handful of small hotels and no beaches. Travellers who make it here, at times braving hair-raising flights or choppy seas, are rewarded with magnificent scenery, underwater delights and the challenge of climbing 1,064 steps to its highest point, the aptly-named 2,877ft Mt Scenery.

Most visitors stay in lofty Windwardside, reached by driving the 19 mile trans-island “Impossible Highway” which took 20 years to construct. Check out the sweet white wooden cottages bookable through Juliana’s Hotel, and visit the tourist office for information on walking trails that include The Ladder, a coastal stairway that was the only way in and out of Saba until the 1970s.

The view of Saba - Getty
The view of Saba - Getty

How to do it: KLM flies to St Maarten via Amsterdam, from £498 return (klm.co.uk), and Winair has onward flights, from $202 return (fly-winair.sx). Saba’s airport has one of the shortest commercial runways in the world, so the faint-hearted should consider taking the Edge ferry, from $150 return (stmaarten-activities.com). Doubles at Juliana’s Hotel from $208, B&B (julianashotelsaba.com). See more at sabatourism.com.

Find beach heaven on Anguilla

This easygoing British Overseas Territory is ideal for a beach-focused winter sun holiday. The island boasts 33 of them and most conform to the brochure clichés: uncrowded soft white sands, warm turquoise waters, a hassle-free scene and small restaurants serving fresh local fish. Just 16 miles long, Anguilla has nothing you have to see, although the historical Heritage Collection Museum in East End is well worth an hour and it is also fun to get a car for a day or two to nose around. Golfers and active families will appreciate the rebranded Aurora Anguilla Resort with its Greg Norman championship course and 178 upscale suites (auroraanguilla.com), while Carimar Beach Club has one and two-bedroom villa suites beside the glorious beach at Meads Bay (carimar.com).

Meads Bay, Anguilla - Getty
Meads Bay, Anguilla - Getty

No visit to Anguilla is complete until you’ve taken a trip to an offshore cay for a boozy lobster lunch – Sandy Island, a short boat ride from Sandy Ground Beach, is just that (mysandyisland.com) while Tradition, a 40 year-old sloop, offers day sails to Prickly Pear Cay (tradition-sailing.com).

How to do it: Kenwood Travel (020 7749 9220; kenwoodtravel.co.uk) has seven nights at Carimar Beach Club from £2,645 per person, room only, departing January 14, 2022, including British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Antigua, inter-island flights and transfers (ivisitanguilla.com). For more inspiration on where to stay, read Telegraph Travel's guide to the best hotels in Anguila.

Dive and snorkel on Bonaire

If you believe the greatest joys of the Caribbean lie underwater, head for this arid, low-lying Dutch island north of Venezuela. Only 24 miles long, its entire shoreline has been protected to a depth of 200ft since 1979, ensuring pristine corals and vivid marine life that can be explored from 89 dive sites, including many where you simply walk out from the beach. Snorkellers will be ecstatic too, following the turtles that cruise Pink Beach and visiting the uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire, while Lac Bay has a serious kite and windsurfing scene.

Turtle swims on the white sand of Thousand Steps Reef in Bonaire - Getty
Turtle swims on the white sand of Thousand Steps Reef in Bonaire - Getty

On dry land, Slagbaai National Park fills a fifth of the island with hiking, biking and self-drive routes. The capital, Kralendijk, won’t detain you for long but is home to the boutique Hotel Islander Bonaire and inviting restaurants such as waterfront It Rains Fishes specialising in sustainably-sourced fish. Environmental concerns are to the fore, with visitors urged to drink tap water, dive without gloves and make a $45 contribution for use of its parks.

How to do it: KLM has flights via Amsterdam, from £492 return (klm.co.uk). Doubles at Hotel Islander Bonaire from $101, room only (hotelislanderbonaire.com). See more at tourismbonaire.com.

Barefoot luxury on Barbuda

Why not spice up a holiday to Antigua with a side trip to its smaller, low-lying sister isle? Barbuda Belle is a serene, French-owned luxury retreat only accessible by a boat ride across Codrington Lagoon. It sits beside a spellbindingly beautiful beach that catches the sunset with eight comfortable raised bungalows and a one-room spa.

Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel, Antigua & Barbuda - Getty
Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel, Antigua & Barbuda - Getty

A short boat trip away lies the second largest frigate bird colony in the world. From now to February is the best time to admire the males with their red throat-pouches that inflate like balloons in a desperately unsubtle attempt to attract a mate. Excursions reveal the back-story of an island that has suffered from slavery and hurricanes but has grand plans with new resorts and a golf course in the pipeline. This summer Robert de Niro discreetly opened a remote outpost of his Nobu restaurant collection on Princess Diana Beach where you can lunch on spicy crab and rum-roasted pineapple without the crowds (noburestaurants.com).

How to do it: British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Antigua, from £336 return (ba.com), and BMN Airways has onward flights, from £129 return (antigua-flights.com). Doubles at Barbuda Belle from $1,463, B&B, including transfers and two tours (barbudabelle.com). See more at visitantiguaandbarbuda.com. Read more: A complete guide to the best hotels in Antigua and Barbuda.

Live it up on Canouan

For over 50 years privately-owned Mustique has been the go-to Grenadines escape for rock stars, royalty and honeymooners. Now it has a rival – its close neighbour Canouan. While the first comes with impeccable villas, delightful beach picnics and a warm sense of community, the second is gaining a following thanks to its scenic golf course, smart new marina and private jet-friendly airport.

Canouan Island, Grenadines, West Indies - Getty
Canouan Island, Grenadines, West Indies - Getty

This summer Soho House opened a 40 room, members-only beach house in Grand Bay (sohohouse.com) while Dermot Desmond, co-owner of Sandy Lane in Barbados, has created the Sandy Lane Yacht Club in Glossy Bay with 17 suites and a restaurant offering hickory-smoked octopus and cheesecake in a glass (slycr.com). Anchoring all this is the 26 suite Mandarin Oriental, Canouan, bringing a touch of Asian sophistication to the mix. Canouan is only three-and-a-half-miles long so be sure to get out on the water, heading south to Tobago Cays to swim with turtles and kitesurf.

How to do it: Elegant Resorts (01244 897514; elegantresorts.co.uk) offers seven nights at Mandarin Oriental, Canouan, from £5,355 per person, B&B, departing 12 March, 2022, including British Airways flights from London Heathrow to Barbados, inter-island flights and transfers (discoversvg.com).

Hide away on Andros Island

Reaching The Bahamas has become easier – British Airways is now flying six days a week from London Heathrow to Nassau and last month Virgin Atlantic launched a twice-weekly service from the same airport. Unashamedly upmarket, this myriad collection of more than 3,000 low-lying, beach-fringed islands and cays is perfect for a romantic sunshine escape.

Andros Island in the Bahamas from a jet airplane window - Getty
Andros Island in the Bahamas from a jet airplane window - Getty

One of the most easily reached is Kamalame Cay, a private, three-mile long band of sand off the east coast of Andros (kamalamecay.com). Here there is a row of 27 detached bungalows and beach cottages, all raised up to max the ocean view with an outdoor tub and all-white interiors that are instantly calming. The welcome cocktail, a Sampson Special made with five different rums, heralds a superlative cuisine that slips confidently from flame-grilled avocado to lobster bisque served in a coconut shell. Add in an overwater spa, snorkelling or diving on the world’s third largest barrier reef, castaway picnics and sunset cruises, and it’s easy to see why A-listers like Justin Timberlake and Serena Williams retreat here.

How to do it: The most glamorous way to arrive is on the new seaplane service from Fly Coco (from $2,000 one-way for eight passengers, flycocobahama.com), but you can also get here by speedboat or flying into Andros Town. Caribtours (020 7751 0660; caribtours.co.uk) has seven nights at Kamalame Cay from £4,665 per person, B&B, departing March 9, 2022, including Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow, inter-island flights and transfers (bahamas.com).

Feast on lobster on Anegada

A trip to the British Virgin Islands is all about getting away from it all, whether it’s sailing on a yacht, holing up on a one-stop private island or finding underwater peace at its many impressive dive sites. To take this theme further, abscond to northernmost Anegada, a flat, 15 square mile coral atoll with less than 300 residents, not including the pink flamingos and iguanas.

The Caribbean island of Anegada, with a clear bright sky and tropical blue-green water - Getty
The Caribbean island of Anegada, with a clear bright sky and tropical blue-green water - Getty

White sand beaches are a given, including dazzling Cow Wreck Bay and Loblolly Bay Beach, while 18-mile Horseshoe Reef is the star attraction for snorkellers. Anegada is also spiny lobster central, which are best enjoyed grilled with garlic butter and some BVIs-brewed Tola beer. On the north coast, Anegada Beach Club has a mix of conventional hotel rooms and palapa retreats (thatched cottages on stilts) set on the dunes beside superb sands (anegadabeachclub.com). There’s also a kitesurfing and paddleboarding school along with kayaks, bikes and bonefishing trips.

How to do it: BVI Holidays (01279 871188; bviholidays.com) has seven nights from £2,305 per person departing January 12, 2022. This includes British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Antigua, inter-island flights, some transfers, one night on Tortola and six at Anegada Beach Club (bvitourism.com).

Relax on Nevis

Connoisseurs of the backwaters of the Caribbean have raved about Nevis for decades and this spectacular island, dominated by the 2,232ft Nevis Peak, has stayed persistently charming. One explanation is that it has only one large resort, the family-friendly Four Seasons Resort Nevis on Pinney’s Beach, and another is that it gets little attention from cruise ships. Nevis is also home to several small, family-run heritage hotels that have an old school, but not dated, style. Think elegant furnishings, no televisions, long-serving staff, a friendly dog padding around, mature tropical gardens and proper rum punches crowned with grated nutmeg.

Stunning Pinney's beach with Coconut Palms, and the Volcano in the distance, at Nevis. Caribbean - Getty
Stunning Pinney's beach with Coconut Palms, and the Volcano in the distance, at Nevis. Caribbean - Getty

The Hermitage in Figtree, with a main house dating from 1680 and cheerfully-painted wooden cottages, is the classic example, closely followed by Montpelier Plantation & Beach which has the better pool and access to a private beach. Split your time between these two, with some meals at the art-filled Golden Rock Inn, and you’ll see why Nevis always gets the thumbs up.

How to do it: Just St Kitts & Nevis (01373 814210; juststkittsnevis.co.uk) has seven nights from £1,950 per person, B&B, departing January 27, 2022. This combines four nights at The Hermitage with three at Montpelier Plantation and includes British Airways flights from London Gatwick to St Kitts and transfers (nevisisland.com). For a complete guide to where to stay, read Telegraph Travel's list of best hotels in Nevis.

Discover Montserrat

A volatile volcano, 1980s music and an unexpected Irish heritage are the chief draws on this super-friendly British Overseas Territory 27 miles south west of Antigua. The first is unmissable – Soufrière Hills, a 3,440ft troublemaker that erupted in 1997 to destroy the capital, Plymouth, and leave two thirds of the island out of bounds. Footage of this cataclysm can be viewed in the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and there are tours into an exclusion zone to see this ash-cloaked “Pompeii of the Caribbean”.

Montserrat, with fuming volcano in its prominent position - Getty
Montserrat, with fuming volcano in its prominent position - Getty

One of the sites damaged was AIR Studios Montserrat in Olveston, set up in 1979 by Beatles producer Sir George Martin. For a decade artists such as Elton John, Dire Straits and The Police came to record a string of hits, a fascinating tale of creativity in the tropics recounted in the recently-released documentary film Under the Volcano (underthevolcanomovie.com). Music fans should check into Olveston House, Martin’s former home, which is now a six room hotel adorned with photos by Linda McCartney. As for the Irish connection, that dates back to the 1630s when the island was settled by Catholics from that country. Both Emerald Isles share a love of music and partying, with St Patrick’s Day the best time to visit Montserrat for a heady cocktail of Guinness and soca music.

How to do it: British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Antigua, from £336 return (ba.com), and Fly Montserrat has onward flights, from $152 return (flymontserrat.com). Doubles at Olveston House from $139, room only (olvestonhouse.com) (visitmontserrat.com).

Slow down on Carriacou

Grenada is deservedly popular for its bountiful nature, abundant spices and well-kept, two-mile beach at Grande Anse, but it is only one part of a tri-island nation. When Grenadians need a break they jump on a ferry or short flight (the latter is more scenic and comfortable) to Carriacou, 18 miles north east. Tranquility is guaranteed here with the 22 room Mermaid Hotel in the capital, Hillsborough, a good base where you can arrange a taxi tour. One stop is the village of Windward, settled by Scottish boatbuilders in the 19th century, and the islanders have continued this tradition with sailing and regattas a popular pastime along with drumming. Activities include snorkelling off Sandy Island and hanging out on aptly-named Paradise Beach. To complete the trio, take a 20-minute ferry ride north to Petit Martinique, home to 900 islanders, where you can walk up the 750ft Piton for a view over the Grenadines.

Carriacou Airport, Grenada - Getty
Carriacou Airport, Grenada - Getty

How to do it: Just Grenada (01373 814214; justgrenada.co.uk) can arrange tailor-made packages with a window for independent travel. Ten nights combining four at Coyaba Beach Resort, B&B, three at La Sagesse, room only, and three with your own arrangements, costs from 1,695 per person departing January 14, 2022, including Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow and transfers. SVG Air flies to Carriacou, from $174 return (flysvgair.com). Doubles at Mermaid Hotel from $132, room only (mermaidhotelcarriacou.com). See more at puregrenada.com.

A useful planning resource is the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (caribbean.co.uk), while the internet makes it easy for the independent-minded to book flights and accommodation directly. If you spot a remote hotel you like the look of, drop it an email and they’ll most likely sort out your transfers and update you on the latest entry requirements. For more amazing places to stay, recommended by our experts, see Telegraph Travel's guide to the best hotels in the Caribbean.

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