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The Caribbean probably isn’t currently at the top of your winter sun wishlist. As the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria continue to play out on our newsfeeds, it would be ignorant to downplay the destruction caused by the storms. The category five hurricanes were some of the worst recorded in the Atlantic, with Cuba, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands among those bearing the brunt of Irma. Just under two weeks later, Maria followed in the worst natural disaster to hit Dominica and leaving Puerto Rico declared an official disaster zone.
What follows is an arduous recovery process, much longer for some than others. But putting this in jeopardy is the likelihood of a tourism drought. With images of ruined communities and ravaged beaches comes the misconception that the Caribbean is closed for business. In fact, 70% of the region is still intact – though risk being forgotten about. Islands such as Barbados, Jamaica and St Lucia avoided the hurricanes, while St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and the Dominican Republic were back up and running again just days later. The notion of a troubled paradise overshadows the reality: this resilient region is largely unscathed, and it needs you now more than ever.
Choosing one of the unaffected islands as next year’s holiday destination is one of the best ways you can help the damaged islands to rebuild. As well as helping the economy, it allows the less badly hit to support those in need. Indeed, tourism businesses in the Caribbean have been some of the biggest fundraisers in the recovery process. The owner of travel agency Island Destinations, Maurice Bonham Carter, has donated $1 million, while the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association has launched a hotel initiative that sees a percentage from bookings go towards a fund.
Take this as a chance to explore some of the lesser-visited islands with a visit to one of these under-the-radar Caribbean escapes.
1. Martinique, Lesser Antilles
A mixture of French and Caribbean cultures makes Martinique a must for those looking to experience a glorious mishmash of tastes and traditions. The capital city of Fort-de-France has a bustling cosmopolitan scene; the north offers rugged terrain covered by wild rainforests, and the south is where to hit the beach.
La Maison de L’Ilet Oscar is a colonial-style guesthouse on its own island. Just a 15-minute boat ride from Martinique mainland, enjoy your solitude by browsing the house library then heading out to sunbathe on the private pontoon.
2. Cat Island, Bahamas
Hands down the best-kept secret in the Bahamas, this largely undeveloped island is all blush-pink beaches and glittering turquoise waters, which have somehow managed to evade the notice of tourists masses. Make like the Franciscan monks who built a monastery called “the hermitage” atop the island’s Mount Alvernia, and come here ready to disconnect and enjoy the simple life.
Rollezz’s beachfront villas offer a quaint and cosy stay, favouring familiarity over swanky suites (which you won’t find on the island). The best bit? An uninterrupted 12-mile stretch of sand right on your doorstep.
3. Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines
This tiny islet meets all the requirements of an archetypal tropical paradise; pristine beaches meet lush backdrops, flooded with sunshine and fringed by palms. But what really makes in-the-know sunseekers claim this as their favourite Caribbean island is its old-school charm. Crack open an icy Carib beer and let the West Indies vibes wash over you. A lack of all-inclusive resorts makes for a more genuine experience, and you’re likely to be the only person you know to have visited – so learn how to pronounce it (“bekway”).
Set on a coconut plantation and surrounded by acres of rainforest, Sugar Reef is a sprawling 18th-century estate where colonial antiques meet rustic beach interiors to create a home-from-home atmosphere.
Dubbed the “spice island” due to the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg that lingers in the air, Grenada is best known for laid-back vibes and cheerful locals. There’s plenty to do, with diverse hiking trails and an underwater sculpture gallery among the most popular. Don’t leave without trying oil down, the one-pot-wonder national dish comprising breadfruit, salted meat, bananas, spices, coconut milk and dumplings. This one’s starting to gain traction as the latest Caribbean hot spot, so best get move on.
La Sagesse is a millennial-pink manor house hidden by palm trees on the edge of a bay. Its clandestine location means you may want to consider hiring a car – or simply never leaving.
5. St Lucia
Dramatic landscapes, plantations and botanical gardens make St Lucia a tropical paradise. The Pitons make up the backdrop of the island, twin volcanic peaks that were made a World Heritage Site in 2005. There’s less of a beach scene here than the rest of the Caribbean but don’t let that deter you. With its wildlife and natural surroundings, this rural escape has much to explore.
Fond Doux offers separate cottages with interiors that are only outdone by the spectacular views outside. Surrounded by dense rainforest, the 250-year old plantation includes a cascading swimming pool and a “plantation to plate” dining experience.
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