17 reasons the Caribbean should be at the top of your travel itinerary
Here’s your cheat sheet for everything new to know about our favourite cluster of islands.
The promise of sunshine and sandy shores draws travelers to the Caribbean every winter, but this year there is a host of new and renovated properties launching just in time for the holidays.
While 70 per cent of the Caribbean islands were unaffected by 2018’s Hurricanes Maria and Irma, others were hit hard—and many of their hotels have spent the past year renovating. Properties that were older or already had updates in the works have taken the opportunity to fine-tune their offerings (read: to make them over-the-top). “Not only have hotels in the Caribbean recovered, but forced closings allowed for some major enhancements to many properties,” says Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, a Virtuoso agency. Virtuoso, which serves as a network for some of the top luxury-travel agencies in the world, estimates that 90 percent of the inventory in the impacted regions has reopened. By the end of next year, “luxury resorts will have spent over US$250 million to refurbish,” adds Ezon. “Some (existing ones) will be essentially brand new.”
All of this is good news both for the region’s economic and social well-being and, of course, for fans of eye-catching design, gourmet cuisine, and stellar service. From revived classics in Puerto Rico and a stylish rebranding in Anguilla to a reborn private-island hideaway from Sir Richard Branson, here are 17 Caribbean standouts that will be calling you to our favourite island getaways this season.
Belmond Cap Juluca
Opening: December 15
Ionic Moorish architecture at Belmond Cap Juluca
Photo: Courtesy of Belmond Cap Juluca
Acquired by Belmond in mid-2017, the iconic Cap Juluca on secluded Maundays Bay cove has spent the past year undergoing a top-to-toe redesign that is in keeping with Belmond’s recently revamped brand-wide art direction. The design firm Rottet Studio has infused the property’s spaces with beach-chic glamour and strengthened their connection to the natural environment. The Main House, for example, has been reimagined to better showcase the views (though its breezy white Moorish-style architecture remains untouched), and new additions include a sea-view infinity pool bordered by a botanical garden. Located just steps from the beach, all 108 guest rooms and suites boast large private balconies or verandas that frame the views. The focus on nature also extends to other aspects, from the kitchens—where executive chef Andrew Gaskin is introducing more vegan and healthy options, a nine-course Chef’s Table dinner, and a Chef’s Lab menu highlighting local ingredients—to the revamped Arawak Spa, which offers Anguillan-inspired treatments in three garden-set, ocean-view villas.
Malliouhana, Auberge Resorts Collection
A whimsical guest room at Malliohana, Auberge Collection Resorts
Photo: Leila Brewster
Overlooking the powdery white-sand beaches of Meads Bay and Turtle Cove, Malliouhana, a three-decades-old favourite, will soon welcome guests to a completely refreshed experience. In December, following nearly a year of work, the sophisticated 46-room resort will introduce a transformed restaurant and Sunset Bar (both with beach views), new amenities and experiences, and a restored two-tiered infinity pool—one of the property’s signature attractions. And in early 2019, additional debuts at the property will include 11 new beachfront suites, four garden-set suites, and a two-bedroom villa set right on Turtle Cove Beach, as well as a new Auberge Spa with six treatment rooms and a new ocean-view pool, ensuring there’s plenty to look forward to all winter.
Itz’ana Resort & Residences
Opening: Spring 2019
Itz’ana’s Great House and negative-edge pool.
Photo: Courtesy Itz’ana Resort & Residences
The first phase of the highly anticipated Itz’ana Resort & Residences—located in the breezy beach town of Placencia—launched in 2017 with a collection of deluxe suites, beachfront villas, and extras like a negative-edge pool and dedicated Rum Room. But next season, things will get kicked up a notch at the boutique property with the introduction of 50 more suites and 46 waterfront residences (the latter of which will be available for sale). Like the existing accommodations, the new options will feature bright, tropical-chic interiors by the New York–based designer Samuel Amoia, along with private outdoor space where guests can soak up the Caribbean views; the residences also have multiple bedrooms, plunge pools, and other posh perks. Guests enjoy resort amenities like the reef-to-table Limilia restaurant and the refreshing Ceviche Bar (or private meals can be arranged elsewhere on the scenic property) and adventures such as horseback riding, fly-fishing, or a sunset cruise to the otherworldly Blue Hole.
Opening: December 1
A peek inside a villa at Silversands.
Photo: Courtesy of Silversands Grenada/Magda Biernat
Just as the Itz’ana Resort is helping to put Belize on the luxury map, the opening of the design-forward Silversands—a new member of the Leading Hotels of the World—promises to make the under-the-radar destination of Grenada a little more high-profile. The first major resort to launch on lovely Grand Anse Beach in more than 25 years, Silversands features 44 rooms and suites and nine residential villas set around a 100-metre infinity pool—thought to be the longest in the Caribbean. The architecture and design firm AW², led by Reda Amalou and Stéphanie Ledoux, has created striking minimalist interiors that put the landscape center stage but still feature all the requisite perks (including deep-soaking tubs) and lots of standout art, much of it from the owner’s private collection. Enjoy fresh seafood and an excellent wine list at the Grenadian Grill, Asian-influenced dinners (and cooking classes) at Asiatique, a global selection of cigars and rum at Puro, and live music from local musicians nearly everywhere you look. The serene spa has a private pool, a hammam, a well-stocked gym, and four treatment rooms.
Belmond La Samanna
Opening: December 10
The beach at Belmond La Semanna
Photo: Courtesy of Belmond La Semanna/Joe Vaughn
Nestled on Saint Martin’s French side and overlooking the 1.6-kilometre beach at Baie Longue, the sophisticated Belmond La Samanna will reemerge from a post-hurricane closure with a refreshed look courtesy of the interior design firm Muza Lab, of London. Pastel blues, pinks, and greens, vibrant botanical prints, and furnishings adorned with shells and corals brighten the 83 rooms and public spaces, which include a reinvigorated Beach Bar and French-accented gourmet Trellis Restaurant. (The latter’s historic La Cave Wine Cellar remains the largest private wine cellar in the Caribbean, and it is available to host wine-pairing dinners.) And though you could spend all day lounging on that powdery white-sand beach, we suggest heading out for a scuba excursion, shopping the boutiques of Marigot, taking a tennis lesson with one of the resident pros, or venturing up to the hilltop La Samanna Spa for treatments that incorporate products by the French brands Sisley and Pure Altitude.
Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa
Opened: October 28
A new villa at Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa
Photo: Courtesy of Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa/Laurent Benoit
Two years to the day from its original opening, the sleek Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa relaunched post-Irma with completely restored and renovated spaces—and a few new surprises. Along with the 44 serene guest rooms, all of which have been brought back to their former glory, guests will now also find new facilities like the WTF Rooftop Bar (it stands for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), serving late-night drinks and DJ-spun tunes; an all-day beachside grill; and two luxury oceanfront villas, each with a 17-metre lap pool. The resort has also rededicated itself to celebrating wellness and well-being, so take advantage of beachside yoga sessions, the state-of-the-art fitness center, and the expanded Le Spa, featuring hydrotherapy areas, a tea salon, and La Mer treatments.
Opened: October 17
The beachfront pool at Christopher Hotel
Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Hotel
Surrounded by the upscale residences of the scenic Pointe Milou neighborhood, the Christopher Hotel—long an insider’s favourite—reopened in October following extensive post-hurricane renovations. The property, with its idyllic sunset views over St. Jean Bay, offers 23 rooms and 19 suites that have been restored with an understated elegance. The refreshed, organic-focused Christo restaurant reopened in time to participate in November’s annual Gourmet Festival, and the five-room, ocean-view Sisley Spa is launching new services (including a lomilomi massage designed to mimic the ocean’s waves). In January, the resort will roll out three new guest villas ideal for families.
Hotel Le Toiny
Opened: October 15
Hotel Le Toiny’s Spirit Suites
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Le Toiny
One year and US$2 million after Hurricane Irma, Hotel Le Toiny has reopened with a complete redo—and its first major expansion since opening in 1992. The original 14 stand-alone villa suites—each fully restored and updated with breezy-chic decor—are now joined by eight new freestanding villas, which include seven one- and two-story Spirit Suites with views of Toiny Bay, and the top-level La Villa, now the resort’s largest accommodation. All have goodies like soaking tubs, outdoor living spaces, and private infinity pools, as well as kitchens, high-end bedding, and Bamford bath products. A fresh aesthetic, accented by bright pops of colour, pervades the villas and public spaces, including the expanded Case Punch Bar (with its pink swivel chairs framing the oyster shell bar) and the Toiny Restaurant, where whimsical prints and mirrored accents set the scene for gastronomic menus by executive chef Jarad McCarroll, who recently earned a Michelin star in London.
Opening: December 1
Breezy villas at Le Sereno
Photo: Courtesy of Le Sereno
Following Hurricane Irma, the family that owns the stylish Le Sereno decided to demolish and completely rebuild a large part of the property—and to do so, they reassembled the same team that originally envisioned the place. The group has maintained the signature, design-driven look and spirit of the resort while redoing more than half of the rooms and all of the public spaces. The 39 accommodations include all-new Bungalow Piscine rooms (including an added Family Suite with private pool) and waterfront Grand Suite Plage Sud options—now complete with private gardens and outdoors tubs. For indulgences, there’s the new spa offering Valmont and Sothys treatments, and the redesigned restaurant with a new bar and beachfront extension. The hotel’s location on secluded Grand Cul-de-Sac, with its protected coral reef, remains ideal for those looking to embark on snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kayaking excursions directly from the white-sand beach.
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Opened: October 1
Restored foliage and sparkling pools at Dorado Beach
Photo: Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
For its next chapter, the beloved Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, has reemerged stronger than ever. All 114 beachfront rooms and suites have been redone with a fresh and thoughtful design, and they are surrounded by grounds that have been replanted with 300,000 new plant species to re-create the pre-hurricane landscape. Food has always been a big draw here, and that continues: Some dining outlets have new menus and highlights—the beachside Positivo Sandbar, for example, now has an Omakase & Ceviche Bar—while December will see the arrival of the hotly anticipated COA signature restaurant. (The stand-alone five-bedroom Su Casa villa will also reopen in December.) Spa junkies won’t be disappointed in the revitalized Spa Botanica, which has supplemented its menu with some new treatments and spa-cuisine offerings.
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico
Opening: December 11
Every inch of the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort—from its 139 rooms and suites to its Casa Grande main house and seaside pool—has been refreshed, thanks to a US$60 million post-hurricane renovation. The Puerto Rican designer Nono Maldonado and the San Francisco–based design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates have taken inspiration from the tropical setting for the accommodations’ new contemporary, residential-influenced decor. In the two-story main building, guests can gather in the new Paros restaurant for refined, contemporary Greek dining, and the St. Regis Bar for live music and the nightly Champagne sabering ritual. Soak up the sun at the redone pool deck, which now has a pizza oven, or along the two-mile stretch of private beach dotted with serviced cabanas. The resort’s 483 acres are also home to biking and running trails, water sports areas, and lots of lush foliage. An additional US$30 million resort expansion—with 60 more rooms—and a new US$85 million beachfront real estate component also have been announced.
Serafina Beach Hotel
Opened: March 2018
The slick Serafina Beach Hotel
Photo: Courtesy of Serafina Beach Hotel
The Serafina Beach Hotel—the first hotel from the owners of the New York–based Serafina Restaurant Group—made its splashy debut earlier this year, and already it has attracted a vibrant, design-savvy clientele. Located just five minutes from Old Town in San Juan’s Condado neighborhood, the waterside spot features contemporary-beach-style interiors; unique fare at Amare restaurant, where Italian seafood meets Puerto Rican flavours; and a lively scene around the infinity pool, which is ringed by oversize cabanas, a bar, and ocean views. Make use of the hotel’s “Experience the Island” concierge to set up island adventures, then retreat to one of the 96 rooms, each of which has floor-to-ceiling windows framing ocean or lagoon vistas.
El San Juan Hotel
Opening: December 14
The pool and beach at El San Juan Hotel
Photo: Courtesy of El San Juan Hotel
Originally opened in 1958—and once a hub for the island’s live music scene—the iconic El San Juan Hotel had completed a multimillion-dollar renovation just before the 2017 hurricane struck. Now, following an additional refresh and redesign, the Curio Collection property is ready for its next 60 years, with 388 bright guestrooms, two miles of pristine-again beach, four pools, and 16 restaurants and bars. Entertainment is still a signature attraction—there’s a cabaret spot for live music and a nightclub—and serenity-seekers can head to the Well & Being Spa for custom-designed treatments.
British Virgin Islands
Opened: October 2018
Richard Branson’s Necker Island from above.
Photo: Courtesy of Necker Island
Richard Branson’s Caribbean hideaway has taken its fair share of beatings in recent years, from a 2011 fire (which Branson and others escaped in the middle of the night) to a pounding from 2017’s Hurricane Irma (which Branson rode out on the property). But Necker Island has always reemerged, spirit intact. The 30-hectare private island, located not far from Virgin Gorda, welcomed guests back in October to the renovated and expanded Great House with 11 bedrooms (up from the previous nine), an extended pool and outdoor lounge at the Bali Hai complex, and watersports and dining outlets. More accommodations will open in 2019, including the individual Bali Houses, which are being rebuilt to include private plunge pools.
Opened: September 2018
Chablé Maroma’s earthy lobby.
Photo: Courtesy of Chablé Maroma
One of the newest members of the Leading Hotels of the World consortium, Chablé Maroma, sister property to the wellness-focused Chablé Resort in the Yucatán, injected a dose of “healing hospitality” to the Riviera Maya when it opened this fall. Spread out between tropical jungle and powdery beach are 70 luxe casitas that pay homage to Mayan history and the surrounding environment with retractable glass walls, private pools, indoor/outdoor showers, and decor featuring natural woods, stones, and artisan designs. As with the original outpost, the main anchors are the spa—here, a 1580-square-metre haven integrating ancient remedies with modern technology—and the three eateries, all overseen by chef Jorge Vallejo, of Mexico City’s famed Quintonil. Choose between a casual poolside spot, a raw bar showcasing fresh seafood, and the signature Bu’ul for contemporary Mexican fare. A 200-metre private beach, sea-view pool, yoga/meditation pavilion, and a wealth of outdoor activities provide further diversions.
Turks & Caicos
Beach Enclave Long Bay
Opened: November 1
One of Beach Enclave’s new Long Bay Villas
Photo: Courtesy of Beach Enclave Long Bay Villas
Following the successful 2016 opening of its nine villas on the island’s North Shore, the luxury rental/ownership company Beach Enclave launched phase two in November: a collection of three stunning rental villas overlooking Long Bay’s five kilometres of white sand beach. Two more villas in this area are also in the works, while a third phase of 10 villas on Grace Bay will open in 2019. Set on the protected east side of the bay, the new residences are spread out over nearly nearly 0.5 hectares of lush land each and range in size from five to seven bedrooms. Each has a beach deck, fire pits, summer kitchen, and outdoor shower, along with an infinity pool and lounging areas. Enjoy activities like kiteboarding, yoga, and paddleboarding, or relax at your rental under the care of a private chef, housekeeper, and butler/concierge.
Opened: November 1
The eco-chic Secret Bay resort
Photo: Courtesy of Secret Bay
Reopened this northern autumn on one of the hardest-hit Caribbean islands, the eco-luxe Secret Bay resort—tucked within a cliff-top rain forest—has emerged better than ever, with a host of new offerings. The resort’s existing six villas, each envisioned and sustainably built by noted architect Fruto Vivas, have been kicked up a notch with a new option: the two-story, treehouse-inspired Ti-Fey Villa, featuring a private pool and deck, gourmet kitchen, and al fresco dining area. Also new are the open-air, ocean-view Zing Zine restaurant, where the “no menu” format translates to an array of fresh, chef-prepared delights, and the Gommier Spa, a hideaway offering therapies using locally blended oils. As one of the Caribbean’s “hidden secrets,” Dominica has a lot to offer—chiefly its unspoiled nature, from forest reserves and sea caves to near-empty white sand beaches—and this lovely resort is the perfect base from which to explore it all, whether by car, foot, or kayak.