Features

The Caribbean: Treasure islands

9 Jun 2024 by BusinessTraveller
Image courtesy of Secret Bay)

With a bounty of new properties and adventures, the Caribbean is entering a fresh golden age.

With the global pandemic firmly in its rear view mirror, the Caribbean is poised for an exciting new chapter. Splashy new mega-developments like the US Virgin Islands’ Frenchman’s Reef are redefining destinations full steam ahead, while under-the-radar spots like Dominica are making enormous infrastructure investments and jockeying for some much deserved time in the spotlight.

From the larger destinations to the lesser-known gems, the theme appears to be ‘transformation’. It feels like much of the region is undergoing a massive sea change, doing away with the dusty beach resorts of yore, adapting to the times and speaking to a new generation of traveller.

New hotels, food festivals and activities are making this region more attractive than ever and airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are adding more direct routes – making it easier to skip out on the colder months in search of tropical sunshine. So, if you’re looking for ways to extend your summer, there’s a whole new Caribbean waiting to welcome you.

Cancún

In its reinvention era?

Cancún might be more known for its hard-partying nightlife, budget-friendly all-inclusive resorts and rowdy spring-break scene, but the winds of change are sweeping through this Caribbean city. According to a recent Global Wellness Institute report, wellness tourism is projected to cross the US$1 trillion mark in 2024. Cancún is getting in on the action by cleaning up its act a little.

Around ten kilometres northeast of Cancún proper in the tranquil beach enclave of Costa Mujeres, world-renowned luxury wellness clinic SHA opened the doors of its Mexico outpost in January – the company’s second location and its first in the Americas. SHA has long been a favourite of the well-heeled wellness set, with a celebrity clientele including Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow. Packages don’t come cheap – they start from US$2,600 (£2,060) for a four-day protocol – but instead of (or perhaps after) some tequila-soaked beach days, a strict regimen of mushroom tea and steamed fish is exactly what the medico ordered.

For a less rigorous experience, check out some of the area’s newest resorts, offering a fresh, elevated take on the all-inclusive experience. After a year-long transformation, Marriott Cancún, Marriott International’s legacy property in the Yucatán for several decades, has reopened as a premium all-inclusive concept. The refresh includes newly designed rooms, suites and common areas, new restaurants, expansive pools and even a lazy river. Nearby, the recently renovated Hilton Cancun Mar Caribe offers spacious ocean-view rooms and beachfront suites.

For an elevated (read: adults-only) take on the all-inclusive, consider the Hotel Mousai Cancun. It’s the brand’s second location after its popular Puerto Vallarta flagship, and opened in May with 88 spacious suites, a dreamy rooftop infinity pool and the serene Spa Imagine, which will have you feeling worlds away from the partying throngs.

InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa - credit John Athimaritis

Dominica

An eco-tourism hotspot hits its stride

Tucked away between Guadeloupe and Martinique, the tiny island of Dominica has long felt like the Caribbean’s last bastion of unspoiled authenticity. What Dominica has lacked in luxury hotels and fine-dining restaurants it has long made up for with natural riches. It’s home to nine volcanoes, some of the greatest biodiversity of plants and animals in the Caribbean, and the largest remaining community of Kalinago people in the region. If you’re a hiker, a nature buff or a culture vulture, you’ve heard about Dominica.

Some hotel happenings are creating a new chapter of excitement for the Nature Island, however. Last year brought the debut of the InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa, hidden away in Cabrits National Park where guests can explore waterfalls, hike on an extinct volcano and visit a world-class spa. The island’s iconic all-inclusive Fort Young hotel is fresh off an US$18 million renovation, too. And the luxurious Secret Bay (a longtime favourite for honeymooners) recently unveiled new villas, to both rent and buy.

But as has always been the case with Dominica, the island itself is its greatest attraction. The newly completed Waitukubuli Sea Trail now offers 64 kilometres of hiking for those looking to traverse the island on a multi-day excursion. And this year, the island is set to open a cable car to Boiling Lake, the longest of its kind in the world. It will bring visitors up from the Roseau Valley to the Valley of Desolation – now making it possible for cruise passengers and those short on time to reach this eco-tourism hotspot in about 20 minutes (the journey previously took six hours).

Credit Six Senses La Sagesse

Grenada

The spice isle enters the spotlight

Well-known among Caribbean aficionados for its diving and spices, Grenada has long cruised under the radar. It’s so far out in the Lesser Antilles (scarcely 145 kilometres from the coast of Venezuela) that it doesn’t attract the same crew of weekend warriors and family holidays as, say, the Bahamas – but those who make the journey are rewarded with an authentic Caribbean experience that feels truly unspoiled.

Grenada sits worlds away from the Caribbean crowds, both literally and figuratively, and that’s why the island has recently attracted the attention of exclusive hotel brands, signalling a new chapter of luxury for the destination. Sustainability-centric brand Six Senses returns to the Americas with the new Six Senses La Sagesse, a stunning 15-hectare resort built dramatically into the cliff-side landscape between the ocean and a protected cove.

An all-suites-and-villas property where each key comes with its own private pool, the resort also offers a range of luxe wellness amenities including on-site personal trainers and Sleep With Six Senses programmes. To keep up with Grenada’s demand for luxury, Calabash just renovated all its suites, too.

In terms of connectivity from the UK, Virgin Atlantic added a third weekly service to Grenada last winter, while British Airways also flies from Gatwick via St Lucia.

US Virgin Islands

Major developments and plenty to offer

The Virgin Islands had a rough couple of years between the record-breaking 2017 hurricanes and the pandemic – but it feels like this gem is fully positioned to enter a new golden age. At the forefront of that new energy is Frenchman’s Reef, the sprawling, iconic mega-hotel complex that finally returned last year with not one but two new concepts: the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort and The Westin Beach Resort & Spa. Guests of either hotel are welcome to use the amenities at the other, making this a convenient no-brainer for families, groups, business travellers or anyone seeking the ease (and Marriott Bonvoy points incentives) of staying at a larger hotel.

Over on St Croix, the historic King Christian Hotel, which has welcomed guests for almost 300 years, just underwent a total renovation – and the same developer was also granted a 90-year lease to redevelop and operate Protestant Cay, a private island resort in Christiansted Harbor. Watch that space

It’s a great time to check out the Virgin Islands’ scene of smaller properties, too. The Pink Palm Hotel opened its doors in the heart of Charlotte Amalie’s historic district on St Thomas. It may not be on the beach, but its outdoor pool overlooks the whole town and offers sweeping views of the harbour. It’s a different approach to the Virgin Islands that will speak to those looking for a convenient yet boutique experience.

And for something decidedly more upscale, Lovango Resort & Beach Club (which occupies a private cay between St Thomas and St John) recently added four new cottages. The resort, which welcomes both overnight guests and day-pass visitors to enjoy its beach club, offered its second annual Taste of Lovango culinary festival at the end of May, attracting chefs from far and wide.

Amanyara - Credit Tanveer Badal Photography

Turks and Caicos

Reinventing the beach resort

Some of us travel to have off-resort experiences and to get to know the local culture – and the rest of us travel because we want to sit on a beach and completely unplug from reality. While not without plenty of things to please the former, it’s safe to say that Turks and Caicos excels at the latter. This archipelago continues to be the region’s standard setter for luxurious beach resorts that invite you to do absolutely nothing at all.

Winds of change are bringing fresh energy to many of Turks’ favourite resorts. Aman Resorts’ Amanyara, which opened in 2006, is fresh off a renovation of public spaces and select villas under the direction of Jean-Michel Gathy, the resort’s original designer. Ambergris Cay is ramping up its sustainability efforts with a new solar farm, water bottling plant and low-impact whale-watching excursions. And Grace Bay Resorts continues to adapt and enrich its portfolio: Grace Bay Club is close to completion of a multi-year, US$12 million renovation that will include a new beach club with cabanas, as well as some refreshes to the Private Villa Collection that continues to offer privacy and space for groups. The company also recently unveiled Rock House, the first luxury resort to build on Providenciales’ rocky north shore, once believed to be unmarketable to tourists.

And most exciting of all, Wymara Resort + Villas recently debuted the Caribbean’s first and only ocean pool. At 40 metres long and nine metres wide and inspired by the great ocean-fed pools of coastal Australia (Sydney’s Bondi Icebergs comes to mind), it’s a stunning architectural marvel and a reason to visit Turks and Caicos in itself.

Words: Todd Plummer

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The cover of the Business Traveller June 2024 edition
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