Muddy Insider Guide: The Caribbean
For those dreaming of escaping to the sun in 2022 (me, me!), here's an expert guide to the loveliest islands in the Caribbbean to visit, with the how, where and why.
Historically the Caribbean as a holiday destination has had its barriers – people either think it’s horrifically expensive and only for the superposh, or imagine it’s too far (though Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbados are only a direct 8-hour flight away). Yes, the rainy season in June to October can produce Biblical downpours but they are only brief buckets before the sun beams down again. Worth remembering that when you’re booking your summer holiday because you can book up a luxury break for a fraction of what it would cost between Nov and April (up to 40% cheaper people!).
So this is a Caribbean special, with a little help from Turquoise Holidays, for those thinking about giving the warm waters a try, offering some real insights into the best places to go, and why.
Best for a spa break: Turks & Caicos
There are no shortage of spa retreats in the Caribbean but if you’re after the most replete luxury experience on offer, either with your girlfriends, as a couple or solo, it’s got to be COMO at Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos. This 1000-acre private island is total paradise, from the silky white sand beaches to the COMO Shambhala Spa which offers Ayurvedic treatments, yoga, pilates and meditation.
Best for families: Antigua
Antigua is a brilliant option for families with some fantastic hotels that really cater to a mix of ages, our favourite is Carlisle Bay thanks its blissful beach setting, complimentary Cool Kids Club, suites that sleep four and short 30-minute airport transfer. One of the selling points for Antigua with families is the flight – it’s direct which is a godsend for smaller kids. The island’s all about watersports and the beaches – 365 beaches of them, with gorgeous shallow lagoons and those turquoise waters we associate with the Caribbean. Every Sunday in Antigua there’s a massive BBQ at Shirley Heights lookout with steel bands, food and amazing views around the south of the island – it’s been running for 50 years and you really have to experience it.
Best for adventure: Jamaica
Jamaica is one of the most colourful islands with its immense musical history but suffers from a rougher reputation. It’s true you need to be careful in Kingston, as you do in any city world-wide, but it’s an absolutely beautiful destination and is a natural two-tier holiday – you can spend days walking in the Blue Mountains and river rafting, before decamping to the beach. It’s not a polished island, it’s real and authentic and home to one of Muddy’s favourite hotels on the planet, Jakes, a cluster of colourful, bohemian villas set around peaceful Treasure Beach, with a local restaurant, tiny bar and mosaic-lined swimming pool, all for less than £80pn
Best for everything: Grenada
Grenadians are the friendliest, most lovely people in the Caribbean – they’ll ask you to join in on cricket on the beach, or just start chatting to you. The island offers something for everyone. One of the big bonuses is that many of the hotels (Muddy recommends Spice Island) are on Grand Anse Beach, walking distance from the capital of St George’s which itself is a really pretty town. If you love snorkelling and diving there’s an underwater sculpture park, a sunken statues surrounded by coral to explore. You can go into the interior and visit the spice plantations, climb through jungle to waterfalls or just hang out on the beaches. It’s a really fun, diverse option.
Best for teens: Antigua/British Virgin Islands
Antigua is great for families (see above) but we also recommend the British Virgin Islands. There’s accommodation at the Bitter End Yacht Club , just reopening after a total refurb after being hit by Hurricane Irma a few years ago. It boasts the largest fleet of sailing boats in the Caribbean so the kids can enjoy the freedom of learning to sail, paddleboarding and kayaking, as well as having a full programme of trekking, walking, smores nights on the beach and excursions. One thing about BVI is that there aren’t really any chains – McDonald’s has not made it out there, so if you want an authentic, laidback Caribbean experience without your teen begging you for a Big Mac, this is your option.
Best for foodies: Barbados
Definitely make a beeline to Barbados if you love your food. The island has more than its fair share of celebs, golf and private villas, and the upshot of that is the huge variety of restaurant out here, from silver service to rotis on the beach. We’ve enjoyed long, lazy seaside lunches and suppers at Daphnes (sister hotel to the London restaurant), Tides and The Cliff, though apparently this has now changed hands and will relaunch in December 2021. Don’t miss Sunday Bajan brunch at the Atlantis Hotel on the east coast – it’s a local tradition. Barbados’ beaches are white and powdery and it’s very safe to and easy to rent a car so if you’re a keen surfer, head over to the east coast – you hit the Atlantic here and the conditions are the best in the Caribbean for catching waves.
Best for getting away from it all: The Grenadines
There are no direct flights to The Grenadines so the package holiday makers often don’t make it here. Less tourists means clean waters and beautiful snorkelling and diving across the sandbanks and reefs. It’s very quiet and peaceful here, as though time has stood still, though the hotel scene is very much ahead of the game – Muddy stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Canouan, a luxurious pocket of paradise with some of the best service in the region.
Best for a digi detox: Petit St Vincent
Petit St Vincent is a private island with one hotel. There’s no kids club, no TV, and no Wi-Fi in the rooms, so it’s good for families who want to spend time with their children! There’s a Jacques Cousteau dive centre here, which gives you a hint as to the quality of the diving.
Best for diving and sailing: Turks & Caicos, Antigua and BVI
All the Caribbean tourist boards will put their hands up for this one, but if we had to choose one it would be Turks & Caicos – there’s some of the best diving in the world here. For sailing I’d say Antigua and BVI (above).
Best for honeymooners: St Lucia
St Lucia is such a romantic, lush island with dramatic scenery and plenty to do including walks, hiking up Gros Piton, volcanic mud baths, even zip wiring through the rain forest if that takes your fancy. The island’s also great for diving and snorkelling straight from the beach because of the volcanic drop offs, though the upshot of this is that the beaches are slightly shallower than in other islands with darker sand. Choose the north if you want to get around easily and enjoy the bar and restaurant culture. The West Coast near the Pitons is more secluded. And the most important part of the honeymoon? The hotel of course and here it’s got to be Jade Mountain, where suites have an open wall with sea and sky views, private pools and four-poster beds.
Best for older couples: St Kitts and Nevis
St Kitts and Nevis has a more traditional feel – the hotels are converted plantation houses, there are more monkeys and donkeys than people! It’s very sedate, especially Nevis, but incredibly pretty – Nevis has a very beautiful town centre in Charlestown. There’s not much organised entertainment for the under 35s so you make your own fun.
Best for island hoppers: Antigua with BVI/ St Lucia with Grenadines
Antigua and BVI is a great twin centre option for active families – fly to Antigua first, unwind and get into the time zone, and then head off to BVI for watersports and the outdoor activities. Or try Saint Lucia (diving) with the Grenadines (castaway seclusion). Much of the Pirates of the Caribbean was shot around the Grenadines which gives you a good idea of its beauty.