The Best New Caribbean Deals for 2011!
From swish $80 suites in the Grenadines to Jamaica's own gondola rides, the Caribbean is full of surprises this season. The biggest shock? What you'll end up paying.
Sea-U Guest House
Crash pad for Caribbean surfers
The rugged, wave-tossed Atlantic Coast of Barbados has spawned one of the coolest little surf scenes in all the Caribbean. And the Sea-U Guest House, in the village of Bathsheba, steps away from the water, sits right at its heart. The nine-room traditional Bajan inn, with a peaked roof, louvered windows, and a broad veranda, is as laid-back as its surroundings: Hammocks are strung up across the property, and sweet small touches like an honor bar out back preserve the vibe. German expat owner Uschi Wetzels serves a complimentary full breakfast of eggs, bacon, and freshly made banana and coconut breads each morning, and she's more than happy to connect guests with local surf instructors such as homegrown legend Melanie Pitcher. 246/433-9450, seaubarbados.com, from $119 including breakfast.
The splashiest $80 rooms around
You could be forgiven for never having heard of Bequia (beck-way), a seven-square-mile outpost in the Grenadines, but spend a few days here and you'll never forget it. With sailboats bobbing in Port Elizabeth's pint-size harbor and pocket beaches in seemingly every cove, the island is all charm, and few hotels reflect that more than the Sugarapple Inn. Set on a hillside overlooking Friendship Bay, the inn has eight rooms splashed in bright colors like mango, lime, and papaya. Each unit has an open-air kitchen and sitting area, and guests have access to a pool, sundeck, and free local cell phone. One tip: All rooms are priced the same, but the ones on the upper level have higher ceilings and better views of the water below. 784/457-3148, sugarappleinn.com, from $80.
Waitukubuli National Trail
A walk on the Caribbean's wild side
From its black-sand beaches to its boiling lake and 10 active volcanoes, Dominica (dom-in-eek-a) is a one-of-a-kind island—and there's no better way to get a taste for what makes it so special than by hiking the new Waitukubuli National Trail. In August, the first two segments of the 115-mile trans-island trail were completed. Running through World Heritage–listed rain forest, the two legs span seven and eight miles, respectively, from Wotton Waven to Pont Casse and on to Castle Bruce, and pass mountain villages, jungle-covered peaks, and two different waterfalls, Middleham Falls and Emerald Pool, along the way. Additional sections are slated to open throughout the year. 767/448-2045, download a free map and brochure at BudgetTravel.com/dominicapdf.
Gondolas go tropical
In 1950, Errol Flynn, the famed swashbuckler of the silver screen, relocated from Hollywood to Jamaica and started a tourism phenomenon: bamboo raft tours. For years, the simple crafts had been used to haul produce from the mountains to the coast, but it was Flynn who convinced boatmen to guide visitors instead. Today, the sturdy, 30-foot-long vessels have become the Jamaican equivalent of the Venetian gondola, complete with two-person love seats and photo ops galore. The Martha Brae River trips, lasting 90 minutes to three hours, start at put-ins just outside Montego Bay, wind past green mountains and traditional villages, and take in everything from vendors on the banks hawking snacks to kids performing somersaults into the water. 876/952-0889, visitjamaica.com, from $60.
GET THERE FIRST
Because here you can escape everything (except the long arm of the law).
It's telling that Eleuthera's biggest news in years came from the capture of a man trying to fall off the map. Following the arrest of the Barefoot Bandit in July, the little-known Bahamian island anchored the 24-hour news cycle for about two days; then—as it always does—it slipped blessedly back off the radar.
Unlike Nassau or Paradise Island, Eleuthera sees hundreds, not thousands, of visitors at a time, and they're spread across miles of pristine beaches and bays. The reasons for its isolation are complex—a series of boom and bust real-estate deals since the '50s, a few devastating storms—but the seclusion might not last much longer. New developments loom, and Florida's proximity (a mere 300 miles away) is a draw that travelers are likely to pick up on soon.