The Caribbean took a hard blow last autumn when two category five hurricanes passed through. While Irma and Maria are unlikely to be popular names for a new baby in the coming months, the devastation was limited.
According to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, more than 70 per cent of the region was unaffected, including such favorite winter sun escapes as Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia and Grenada. Most of this balmy region is not only open for business as usual – it’s thriving. Before the storms struck, several islands were reporting record visitor numbers, a boom reflected in the UK by the launch this season of additional flights by carriers such as Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook Airlines, along with a seductive array of new and upgraded resorts.
So where should you head to swap cold and grey Britain for the delights of white sand beaches, a bewitching turquoise sea, hit-the-spot rum cocktails and temperatures hovering blissfully around 79°F (26°C)? Here’s our 20 best reasons to fly west over the next three months, and a guide to those islands that are recovering fast.
Packages are based on two sharing and subject to availability; unless otherwise stated, flights depart from London Gatwick.
1. The perfect swimming retreat in Nevis
The warm waters off Nevis provide the alluring setting for an expert “swim retreat” led by British Olympians Keri-Anne Payne and David Carry. Held at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, the seven-night package departing March 21 with Tropic Breeze (01752 880880; tropicbreeze.co.uk) costs from £2,405 per person including British Airways flights to and from St Kitts, transfers, breakfast, a Champion’s Welcome Dinner and tuition.
Places are limited to 20 swimmers of all abilities and there’s an option to join the annual Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim (nevistostkittscrosschannelswim.com). Book by January 31 2018.
2. See Cuba before the crowds
President Trump’s new restrictions on US travelers has taken Cuba “back to the Nineties”, says Johnny Considine from expert concierge service Cuba Private Travel (07793 451652; cubaprivatetravel.com). This makes it a perfect time to visit the island’s romantic and still crowd-free capital.
A four-night long weekend departing February 15 including Virgin Atlantic flights, visas, transfers, guides and a suite at Havana’s hottest boutique hotel, Malecón 663, costs from £1,490 per person. You also get to ride out to Ernest Hemingway’s home in an open-top classic car, tour the city’s trendiest art galleries, hang out on the beach and enjoy top tables at the best bars and restaurants
3. Whale watching in the Dominican Republic
Every year thousands of humpback whales visit the northern waters of the Dominican Republic to mate and give birth. January to March are peak viewing months with day-trips available from Samaná Bay – the number of vessels is strictly limited and it’s best to pick a large one in case the sea is rough.
Other nature-based activities include excursions to see caves, mangroves and Los Haitises National Park. Tui (0203 636 1931; tui.co.uk) offers seven nights all-inclusive at the Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa from £1,036 per person, departing January 9 and including Tui Airways flights and transfers.
4. A rum and spa getaway in St Kitts
Set beside a gently shelving beach with fine views of Nevis, Park Hyatt St Kitts is a game-raising five star resort that opened last month. Next door lies Cockleshell Bay Beach, arguably the best on the island with inviting beach bars and restaurants, and all 78 rooms and 48 suites come with a private balcony or terrace. There are separate pools for adults and families, a spa with nine treatment rooms, three restaurants and – most importantly – a rum bar.
Elegant Resorts (01244 897516; elegantresorts.co.uk) has seven nights from £3,456 per person departing February 3 including British Airways flights to and from St Kitts, UK airport lounge passes, transfers and breakfast.
5. St Patrick’s Day on Montserrat
Thanks to its Irish heritage, Montserrat is the only country beyond Ireland where St Patrick’s Day (March 17) is an official holiday. The accompanying, week-long cultural festival is a boisterous mix of carnival and craic held on an intriguing island spectacularly crowned by the mighty Soufrière Hills volcano.
Seven nights departing March 14 with Motmot Travel (01327 359622; motmottravel.com) costs from £1,795 per person, including British Airways flights to and from Antigua, connecting flights for Montserrat, transfers, accommodation at Olveston Lodge and a full-day island tour.
6. Night-snorkelling in the Cayman Islands
Looking for an educational half-term break in the sunshine? At the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman children can take part in “Ambassadors of the Environment”, a naturalist-led programme of activities in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society. Those aged four to seven learn about the Caymans through experiences such as “Have You Ever Seen A Blue Iguana?” (an endangered species), while over-eights can go night-snorkelling and kayak through the mangroves.
Caribtours (0207 751 0660; caribtours.co.uk) offers seven nights departing February 10 from £3,589 adult, £2,375 child, based on four sharing room only, including British Airways flights from London Heathrow and transfers.
7. The bountiful gardens of Grenada
Twelve degrees north of the Equator with rich volcanic soil and a tropical maritime climate, Grenada is heaven for horticulturalists – last May the island won its 13th Gold Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Local operator Caribbean Horizons (001 473 444 1555; caribbeanhorizons.com) offers tours of its enchanting gardens and nurseries (from £144 for two for half a day) and a good base is Blue Horizons Garden Resort set in six acres of floral splendor.
Seven nights staying here departing March 12 costs from £1,270 per person through Just Grenada (01373 814214; justgrenada.co.uk), including Virgin Atlantic flights, transfers and self-catering accommodation.
8. Building a new trail in Dominica
A favorite with walkers and whale-watchers, Dominica was particularly ravaged by Hurricane Maria. If you’d like to help, Northamptonshire-based Motmot Travel (01327 359622; motmottravel.com), who are donating £50 to relief funds for every Caribbean holiday booked this winter, are seeking volunteers to restore a segment of the 155 mile Waitukubuli National Trail running the length of island.
Available till mid-April, packages include up to four days assisting forestry staff and are based at the all-inclusive Tamarind Tree Hotel. Seven nights departing February 1 costs from £1,900 per person including British Airways flights to and from Antigua, connecting flights, transfers and guided tours.
9. Because Jamaican coffee is the best
Learning about Jamaica’s highly regarded Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the treats in “Jamaica on a Platter”, a new four-day culinary tour based at the elegant mountaintop hotel, Strawberry Hill. The escorted small group tours take place over the last weekends of January, February and March and include a trip to Kingston’s Coronation Market and private visits to historic houses and gardens.
Book through Island Outpost (001 876 622 9009; islandoutpost.com), from £1,078 per person for three nights with breakfast and activities, excluding flights.
10. Shakespeare in Barbados
Recently released in UK cinemas, and out on DVD next month, A Caribbean Dream is a delightful film that transports Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the enchanting shores of Barbados – the mechanicals become fishermen and women and the fairies look carnival-gorgeous. Much of the action was shot at Fustic House, a magnificent villa that sleeps 14 and comes with a staff of 11.
SJ Villas (020 7351 6384; sjvillas.co.uk) offers seven nights from £25,000, starting March 11, excluding flights.
11. A Grenadine music fest
Bequia, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, is a small, topsy-turvy island with an old school charm where the annual Bequia Mount Gay Music Fest (Jan 18-21; bequiamusicfestival.com) sees Caribbean bands and singers performing at three beachside venues. The smart way to get there is aboard Bequia Beach Hotel’s plush nine-seater plane that now offers smooth connections with flights into Barbados.
Seven nights here departing January 16 costs from £2,305 per person through Carrier (0161 492 1354; carrier.co.uk) including British Airways flights to and from Barbados, connecting flights, transfers and breakfast.
12. Kayaking by night in Tobago
Tobago offers the extraordinary chance to kayak or paddle board at night through waters glistening with bioluminescent organisms known as dinoflagellates. The unworldly experience, which is like swimming through a galaxy of underwater stars, is organised by Radical Sports Tobago (001 868 728 5483; radicalsports-tobago.com) – the two to three-hour trips to Bon Accord Lagoon cost £44 per person and are best done around the new moon.
British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0120; ba.com/tobago) offers seven nights at four-star Bacolet Beach Club from £819 per person room only departing on March 9, including flights and transfers. Book by January 7 2018.
13. Herb-infused massage bliss in the Turks and Caicos
Pizichili, a dreamy Ayurvedic massage in which a continuous stream of warm, herb-infused oil is poured over the body, is one of the standout spa treatments at COMO Parrot Cay, a private island resort on Turks and Caicos with a mile-long white sand beach that’s ideal for some indulgent downtime. This winter sees the launch of a new gym and beach club and “Play by COMO”, a programme of personalised children’s activities.
Turquoise (01494 678400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights from £3,149 per person departing January 18, including British Airways flights, transfers and breakfast.
14. Fly fishing in The Bahamas
The “Andros Mothership” is a new 74ft liveaboard boat that takes up to six guests fishing for tarpon and bonefish in the remote and pristine waters of south-west Andros. The four-night all-inclusive trips are available till May 2018 and cost from £4,929 per person through Eleven Experience (020 8102 9800; elevenexperience.com), which this year opened boutique hotel Bahama House on Harbor Island.
Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386500; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers seven nights here departing January 21 from £2,862 per person including flights with British Airways from London Heathrow, transfers and breakfast.
15. On the trail of Death in Paradise
The French island of Guadeloupe is the exotic location behind BBC One’s comedy drama Death in Paradise. Western & Oriental (020 3588 6130; westernoriental.com) has seven nights departing March 1 from £1,715 per person including Air France flights from London Heathrow via Paris, car hire and accommodation at La Creole Beach Hotel and Spa, Langley Fort Royal and Le Jardin Malanga with breakfast.
16. Food and rum in St Lucia
With its abundant fresh fish, spices, tropical fruits and organic chocolate, St Lucia is a good pick for foodies. New for this season is the St Lucia Rum & Food Festival (stluciauk.org) running Jan 12-14. Just St Lucia (01373 814204; juststlucia.co.uk) has seven nights departing January 11 from £1,759 per person including British Airways flights, transfers and accommodation at Bay Gardens Beach Resort with breakfast.
17. Climb a volcano in St Vincent
Rising to 4,049ft, La Soufrière is colossal volcano that offers a strenuous but rewarding climb. Taking around five hours to get to the top and back, it’s a desolate, windy and strangely exhilarating lavascape. Seven nights departing on February 5 with Motmot Travel (01327 359622; motmottravel.com) costs from £1,850 per person, including British Airways flights to and from Antigua, connecting flights for St Vincent, transfers, accommodation at Beachcombers Hotel and a guided hike up La Soufrière with lunch.
18. Bag a bargain in Antigua
With most prices in the Caribbean geared to the US dollar, bargains are hard to find. Searching online is best – for example My Caribbean Holiday (020 3733 1420; mycaribbeanholiday.co.uk) has seven nights at the three-star all-inclusive Hawksbill by Rex Resorts, right on the beach in Antigua, from £1,169 per person departing February 28 from Manchester with Thomas Cook Airlines including transfers. This represents a 30 per cent saving on standard hotel prices; book by December 28.
19. Carnival in Aruba
Just 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is a tiny Dutch island with a multicultural energy that powers its annual carnival (January 6 to February 11; visitaruba.com) centred on the capital, Oranjestad. Visit during the final days to catch the most colourful parades and midnight burning of “King Momo”.
Seven nights departing London Heathrow on February 8 with Virgin Holidays (0344 557 3859; virginholidays.co.uk) costs from £2,810 per person including flights via Amsterdam with KLM and accommodation at adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort with breakfast.
20. Island-hopping through the top 10
Can’t decide on the right island? How about sailing around 10 of the best? A 14-night, adults-only “The Caribbean and Cuba” cruise departing February 15 with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (0845 287 4151; fredolsencruises.com) costs from £3,999 per person including flights to and from Barbados, transfers, meals and entertainment.