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.
Because the island is 112 miles long and incredibly thin—it claims to have the narrowest strip of permanent land on the planet—your best bet is to fly into Governor's Harbour, in Eleuthera's center, and fan out from there. Just south of the airport, the 4-year-old Pineapple Fields is an ideal base camp. The 32 one- and two-bedroom units are scattered among bougainvillea, avocado, and star-fruit trees. Two-mile French Leave Beach, one of the prettiest on the island, is just a half mile north, and on-site Tippy's Restaurant & Bar serves island favorites like conch fritters and lobster pizza. From the hotel, you can book half-day snorkeling trips–the dives at Current Cut will have you bobbing by gentle nurse sharks and spotted eagle rays—or world-class bonefishing excursions; local guide and fly-casting master Gersham Pinder will share his wealth of knowledge on the island's natural history, bush culture, and, of course, fishing spots. Pineapple Fields, 877/677-9539, pineapplefields.com, from $160; Gersham Pinder 242/464-0754, full-day bonefishing trips from $200.
Le Domaine St. Aubin
Sleeps sanctioned by Sarkozy
You wouldn't expect a hotel that's hosted a head of state (Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007) to fall into the affordable category, but Le Domaine St. Aubin is that rare exception. Located amid the sugarcane fields and mango trees that overlook Martinique's less developed northeastern coast, Le Domaine is a passion project for Laurent and Joëlle Rosemain, who spearheaded a top-down renovation of the historic French-colonial plantation house. All 30 rooms are richly decorated with mahogany furniture, and common areas are accented with heirlooms from Laurent's family, whose island lineage dates to 1715. At the restaurant, however, the food takes center stage: The menu is filled with French Caribbean creations like lamb curry, fresh seafood, and chocolate soufflé with lime and rum. 011-596/596-69-34-77, ledomainesaintaubin.com, from $136.
GET THERE CHEAP
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Because there are still places where the dollar goes far.
Plenty of Caribbean destinations are accessible via cheap flights—Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic—but when it comes to the Riviera Maya, low airfare is only the beginning of your savings. Count an approximate 20 percent drop in the peso since 2008 as reason No. 1 why your dollar will go further here than it will in any other Caribbean spot.
Once you land, all trips begin in Cancún, but from there the options are wide open, from the glitzy high-rises of Cancún's Hotel Zone to the thatched palapas of Tulum, one hour south. For convenience, however, Playa del Carmen, about 30 minutes south of the airport, can't be topped. Set smack in the middle of the 81-mile-long Riviera, Playa is just steps from the beach, a short ferry ride to the legendary dive sites of Cozumel, and a two-hour drive to the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. In town, Mamita's Beach Club has white daybeds along the sand and a DJ spinning low-key dance music; just to the north, visitors can spend hours scanning for white scallop shells on Maroma Beach, arguably the area's most beautiful.
Most hotels in Playa are set back from the beach—case in point, La Tortuga Hotel and Spa. Run by two Italian brothers, the 51-room inn tempts swimmers with a mazelike pool that looks as if it fell out of an M.C. Escher painting. The hotel is only a block from 5th Avenue, a hotbed of bars, restaurants, and clubs, and five blocks from La Tarraya, the oldest restaurant in Playa and a standout spot for fish tacos, ceviche, and ice-cold cerveza. If you'd rather stay on the sand, the thatch-roofed cabanas of Mahékal Beach Resort, complete with wooden decks and hammocks, will have you feeling like Robinson Crusoe in no time. Mamita's Beach Club, mamitasbeachclub.com, chair rentals $7 for the afternoon; La Tortuga Hotel and Spa. 866/550-6818, hotellatortuga.com, from $114; La Tarraya, 984/873-2040, tacos from $3; Mahékal Beach Resort, 877/235-4452, mahekalplaya.com, cabanas from $171 including breakfast and dinner.