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.

By , Tuesday, Jan 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

Turtle Beach on St. Kitts
Turtle Beach on St. Kitts (Brooke Slezak)

Rooms at Little Cayman Beach Resort are inches from the water

Rooms at Little Cayman Beach Resort are inches from the water (Brooke Slezak)

BEACH AND FEAST
St. Kitts

Get there American Airlines has new nonstop service from Miami seven days a week.

Reason to go now Few Caribbean islands are celebrated for their food, but tiny St. Kitts is one of the exceptions. An outpost of stately sugar plantations and white sands, the isle has landed on the culinary map thanks to the newly opened Beach House, a restaurant in a colonial mansion on Turtle Beach. Executive chef George Reid, a transplant from Anguilla's famed Cap Juluca resort, specializes in Caribbean fare that borrows inventively from French, Spanish, African, and Dutch cooking. After you've feasted on his cumin-crusted wild swordfish or lobster gumbo, head to the restaurant's outdoor pavilion to sample from the cigar and rum menu (869/469-5299, stkittsbeachhouse.com, entrées from $14). Later this month, the oceanfront Carambola Beach Club restaurant opens on South Friar's Bay. The place gets its name from the Averrhoa carambola, or star fruit, which is put to punchy use from the starters to the desserts. Nab one of the 12 beach cabanas—they have waiter service and prime sunset views (869/465-9090, carambolabeachclub.com).

Beach locals love Schools of yellowtail snapper, balahoo, and angelfish surround the reef near Cockleshell Beach, a two-mile-long stretch on the southern coast that's often empty during the week. At the entrance, the new Reggae Beach Bar & Grill serves conch fritters and jumbo coconut shrimp (869/762-5050, reggaebeachbar.com, appetizers from $7).

Place to stay St. Kitts has blessedly few hotels. A standout is the Ocean Terrace Inn, where each of the 71 rooms has a private balcony overlooking the Caribbean. The one-bedroom suites come with kitchenettes, but there's no need to do your own cooking. The hotel has a West Indian restaurant, a poolside bar and grill, and an oceanfront spot that specializes in lobster and mahimahi cooked over an open flame (800/524-0512, oceanterraceinn.com, from $195 in high season). —Amy Chen

Have a ball Isabelle Carr has been concocting her JC's Tamarind Balls, a sweet-and-sour snack made from native tamarind fruit, for more than 20 years (City Drug Store, 869/465-2156, $1).

ADVENTURES 'R' US
Cayman Islands

Get there Cayman Airways has new nonstop flights from Washington, D.C., operating Wednesdays and Saturdays, and just introduced nonstop flights from Chicago on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Reason to go now The beyond-belief underwater world of the Caymans—made up of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman—keeps expanding. Offshore from the recently opened Lighthouse Point, a condo resort in Grand Cayman's West Bay, divers can investigate a newly accessible 19th-century shipwreck (345/946-5658, lighthouse-point-cayman.com, daily tank rental $5). And come June, another vessel is joining the graveyard off Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach: Local authorities plan to sink the USS Kittiwake, a WWII American rescue ship, to create a 250-foot-long reef.

Beach locals love With its unusually smooth waters, Barker's Beach, on the west side of Grand Cayman, is a favorite, especially among kiteboarders out to test tricks. Ready to join them? For advanced wave riders, Ocean Frontiers gives lessons at Barker's. Beginners can learn the sport (picture balancing on a surfboard as a kite whisks you across the waves) on the even calmer East End Sound. For gondolier wannabes, the company also offers stand-up paddleboarding clinics (800/348-6096, oceanfrontiers.com, lessons from $250).

Place to stay The oceanfront Little Cayman Beach Resort has a collection of Hobie cats and kayaks—and a fresh new look. In December, all 40 rooms got a makeover: Out went the dated wicker furniture and grandmotherly wallpaper borders; in came maple furniture and granite countertops. Sign on with the dive shop for a scuba trip to the Bloody Bay Wall, breeding grounds of the rare longsnout seahorse (800/327-3835, littlecayman.com, from $175 in high season). —Alison Rohrs

The Cayman safari Grand Cayman is the only place on the planet where the five-foot-long Blue Iguana exists. The Blue Iguana Recovery Program organizes daily outings to catch glimpses of the creature, including a behind-the-scenes tour of an egg-hatching center (345/947-6050, blueiguana.ky, $30).

THE UNTAMED BEAUTY
Martinique

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.

Place to stay Spread out at Ocean Club West, a condo resort on Providenciales. Its rentals range from studios to three-bedroom units with screened-in balconies and kitchens. And just beyond your quarters, there are two freshwater pools, tennis courts, and a spa for mom (649/946-5880, oceanclubresorts.com, from $260 in high season). —Ellise Pierce

We'll drink to that Stanford Handfield free dives for conch shells and then turns his finds into funky souvenirs, such as soda glasses. Look for his goods at TCI Shell Man on Grand Turk (649/241-6414, from $4).

HONEYMOON FAVORITE
St. Lucia

Get there American Airlines has new nonstop weekday flights from JFK in New York.
Air Canada has added four nonstop flights from Toronto, as well as new nonstop Monday service from Montreal.

Reason to go now In the past few years, a handful of intimate villa resorts have opened on St. Lucia's secluded western coast. The latest to debut is Ti Kaye Village Resort, with 33 beach cottages and a cliffside spa that uses island ingredients and caters to couples. You don't have to be guests to book treatments—perhaps an ylang-ylang massage or a papaya scrub?—in bungalows with side-by-side massage tables and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean (758/456-8101, tikaye.com, treatments from $75, rooms from $280 in high season). Want to take in the island? The International Pony Club has a riding tour for two that progresses from the mountains to the fishing village of Gros Islet to a Danielle Steel–worthy gallop along Cas-en-Bas Beach (758/452-8139, internationalponyclub.net, from $65 per person).

Beach locals love All of St. Lucia's sands are public, but there's one quiet spot residents try to keep secret: Smuggler's Cove, a half-mile stretch surrounded by black volcanic cliffs. Beauty aside, the beach is next door to the Cap Maison Resort & Spa; waiters from the bar take towel-side drink orders from anyone sunbathing in the vicinity.

Place to stay St. Lucia is pricey, particularly in peak season. A great value is the Marina Outpost Villa, which opened last fall with four guesthouses on a peak above Rodney Bay. The red-and-yellow chalets have two-bedroom suites with four-poster beds, and balconies that face the sea. The resort's hibiscus and bougainvillea bushes attract purple-throated carib hummingbirds and yellow-breasted bananaquits—the inspiration for the villas' eye-opening palette (800/263-4202, oasismarigot.com, from $270 in high season). —Alison Rohrs

Love potion The island has its own aphrodisiac, a juicy pear-like fruit known as the pomme d'amour, or love apple. Dasheene, an open-air restaurant in the hills of Soufrière, serves a delicious pomme d'amour daiquiri (866/290-0978, $8).