The Caribbean Quickie
Your favorite islands are now a nonstop flight away. The warm blue water is reason enough to go, but let us fill you in on a few more excuses to pack your bags.
THE UNTAMED BEAUTY
Get there American Eagle flights to Martinique from San Juan, P.R., now depart at 7:30 P.M. instead of 12:30 P.M., so you no longer have to catch an early plane from the U.S. to make your connection.
Reason to go now It's called the Isle of Flowers for a reason: Between February and May, lotus, red ginger, and West Indian jasmine bloom across this overseas département of France. You can take in more than 200 species of flora at Le Jardin de Balata, a garden named for the balata gum trees that shade the grounds; it just reopened after months of post–Hurricane Dean replanting (011-596/596-64-48-73, jardindebalata.fr, $8). By March, the island emerges from the rainy season, making that an ideal time to go volcano trekking and bird-spotting on Mount Pelée. Outfitter Le Bureau de la Randonnée leads hikes to the crater, where the red-throated mountain whistler and blue-headed hummingbird nest. Rappelling into Mount Pelée's river gorges was recently banned, but the company can arrange canyoneering trips—you hike, climb, and rappel your way through a valley—in the Pitons du Carbet range (011-596/596-55-04-79, bureau-rando-martinique.com, tours from $43).
Beach locals love While most tourists sink their toes into the white sands of the south, islanders head to the protected cove of Anse Couleuvre, a black-sand beach with the best snorkeling. Wear good walking shoes—you have to hike down a steep hill to get there. Luckily, the palm trees on the quarter-mile-long stretch provide enough shade that you won't need to lug an umbrella.
Place to stay French-inspired hôtels de charme (cozy family-run establishments) have been sprouting up on Martinique in the past few years. One such spot is the nine-room Hôtel Villa Saint-Pierre on the northwest coast. Owners André Givogre and Maryse Imbert quit their jobs at a casino and a bank in France, respectively, to take over the art deco inn. Guests wake up to fresh-baked croissants topped with homemade mango jam (011-596/596-78-68-45, hotel-villastpierre.com, from $150 in high season). Another hideaway, the Hôtel Cap Macabou, is a five-minute walk from the powdery beach on the southeast shore that shares its name. Designed to resemble a plantation, the hotel has 44 rooms and two West Indian restaurants (011-596/596-74-24-24, capmacabou.com, from $190 in high season). —Amy Chen
Stir crazy Island bartenders mix cocktails using swizzle sticks whittled from bois lélé tree twigs, which mysteriously smell like maple syrup. Although souvenir shops hawk plastic replicas, the craft market in Fort-de-France sells the real thing for about $2 each.
CALLING ALL FAMILIES
Turks & Caicos
Get there Delta is now offering a second Saturday morning flight from Atlanta.
US Airways has new weekend service from Boston and Charlotte, N.C., and new flights from Philadelphia on Saturdays and Sundays.
Reason to go now This blue-green cluster of 40 isles and cays—only eight of which are inhabited—has come of age, thanks to a judicious balance of wide-open spaces and development (Providenciales and Grand Turk are where most of the action is). Après beach, hit Conch World, a just-opened theme park on Grand Turk, where the island's biggest export, the conch, takes center stage. Visitors meander from a model farm to a movie about you-guessed-it to a pond where kids can meet Sally and Jerry, two snails known to come out of their shells (649/946-1228, conchworld.com/go, from $7.50). After dark, don't miss the light show in the bays off Providenciales. It's courtesy of the glowworm, a firefly-like sea creature that flashes when the moon is full to attract mates. Three to five nights a month, Silver Deep leads boat excursions to the glowworms' hideaway (649/946-5612, silverdeep.com, from $47).
Beach locals love Insiders and visitors both agree: Grace Bay on Providenciales is the loveliest. Although resorts line its shores, plenty of real estate is given over to Princess Alexandra National Park, a 6,532-acre protected area with underwater grasslands that harbor sea turtles. Be on the lookout for JoJo, the resident wild dolphin.
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