The Caribbean archipelago decorating these pages (not without some artistic license) is formed by a shrimp-shaped string of islands, great and small, that stretch for 2,500 miles. They enclose in their vast sheltering curve a placid sea more than one million miles square, second in size only to the Malay Sea, second in charm to none. They lie entirely below the Tropic of Cancer in a climate constantly moderated by the westerly trade winds.
This year more than 750,000 Americans will invade these peaceful islands, an uncomfortable majority of them between now and the end of April. They will be seeking what not long ago was a prerogative only of the very rich, the aged or the invalid: a winter spell in the sun.
For the high season, 17 airlines have scheduled 400 departures a week from the U.S. and Canada, with seat space for 39,700 passengers. Where will everyone sleep?
The cruise passengers, diminished in number by the East Coast longshoremen's strike, which has caused the postponement or cancellation of American carriers, naturally will sleep aboard. Most of the others will follow the crowd to such long-established capitals as Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. But even the smallest West Indian isle is rustling and stirring as the adventurous tourist seeks his own equivalent of a Grenadines sail. With jets flying now to 11 Caribbean airports and with small-plane connections to anything long and flat enough for a landing strip, no place in the West Indies is more than a day away. But the imaginative traveler need not play Robinson Crusoe to get away from it all—frequently the quietest place is right in the middle of the crowd.
These three small islands, lying due south of Florida and well below hostile Cuba, are a British colony and are called by the natives "the islands that time forgot." The airlines remembered. Grand Cayman is only two hours from Miami on regularly scheduled flights. Guides will take you lobster-progging in clear waters. Fishing is excellent for sail, marlin and wahoo. The islands are flat but have beautiful foliage and miles-long white sand beaches. There are a dozen places to stay on Grand Cayman. Cayman Brae, 40 minutes from Grand Cayman by its own twice-weekly Cessna, is a coconut-and-papaya paradise with a modern hotel. The Buccaneer's Inn, which overlooks the Caribbean in three directions. Winter rates at all Cayman facilities are less than offseason summer rates on other islands. At Buccaneer's, for example, they are $22.50-$25 per couple, with meals. (Unless otherwise stated, all rates quoted below are full American plan, double occupancy. Unlike hotels in the States, which charge the lone guest almost as much as two, the single resorter gets fair treatment—for single rates figure only a bit more than half the double rates.) Little Cayman? Not yet, but a hotel and airstrip will be ready next season.
By contrast, no island in the Caribbean is better developed for tourists than Jamaica. It cannot in any language be called a traveler's discovery. It docs have, however, at Port Antonio, one of the most expensive resort hideaways in the world: Frenchman's Cove. The rates are $2,000 per couple for two weeks, a flat fee that is supposed to provide, in addition to absolute privacy, anything the guest's heart desires (SI, May 30, '60). Jamaica and Puerto Rico are the golfing centers of the Caribbean: Jamaica has five 18-hole courses. New this season is The Trelawny Club, with its course on beautiful Runaway Bay, 15 miles from Ocho Rios; rooms $50 per day.
With its troubled politics and lack of a jet airstrip, Haiti is one of the few Caribbean republics losing its tourist trade. He who takes the trouble can escape the crowd and also rind a room in one of many fine hotels with little difficulty—and French-Creole food that is among the best in the Caribbean. Beaches are poor or out of the way, but hotels have pools. Scenery is spectacular and, from now until April, so is duck shooting.
With Trujillo a thing of the past, visitors are welcome and there is nothing wrong here that a couple of years of work on tourist facilities won't cure—the only thing Trujillo didn't let run down was his bank account. There is fabulous dove shooting, now that firearms are once more allowed; there is also horse racing every Sunday.
With the lowest air fares in the West Indies and with new hotels popping up all over the landscape, San Juan was on the verge of becoming another place where you couldn't see the ocean for the eggcrates. But a moratorium has been imposed on beach-front building in the cheek-by-jowl Condado area. Out toward the Dorado Beach (which has added nine holes to its already splendid 18-hole golf course) the Riviera opens this week, a handsome but jazzier competitor with two swimming pools, a casino, and a golf course bounded by beautiful stands of coconut.
The first hotel on the eastern shore of the island, El Conquistador, opens a new Puerto Rican frontier 40 miles from San Juan. The handsome 80-room building is 280 feet up on a cliff overlooking clear green water all the way to the Virgins. (First requirement of a proper West Indian seascape: another island to gaze upon and tempt the wandering spirit.) The pool, a putting green and a croquet lawn are on hotel level; a teleferico takes guests down to a secluded beach. The water, protected by Icacos Reef, makes for fine sailing, snorkeling and fishing—native sloops from nearby Las Croabas are only $25 per day. Hotel rates are $56.
Busy St. Thomas, shopping center of the Caribbean, has hidden charms for those who get out of Charlotte Amalie. On the north coast, only 20 minutes from town, there is, for example, a Gauguinlike hideaway, The Dorothea Beach Club: 32 acres of palm trees, beach and rocks, from which guests have been known to cast successfully for tarpon. There are only five cottages, all with orchids growing in the showers; $45 per day. More sedate St. Croix's newest attraction is Buck Island National Park. You sail over on a catamaran or sloop, picnic on the beach and snorkel through a morass of staghorn coral inhabited by schools of reef fish—all clearly marked with undersea signs.
St. John's Caneel Bay Plantation was built by Laurance Rockefeller from the very start to be a quiet 600-acre retreat, and now that it is thoroughly surrounded by the Virgin Islands National Park there is no danger that it won't always be so. There are no fewer than 10 sea-grape-sheltered beaches for the 160 guests. Rates are about $50.
While their American sisters had 291,000 visitors during 1962, the British Virgins claimed 4,000. Those 4,000 found a huge marine garden of small islands close together, once described as "a handful of emeralds tossed by a careless pirate." From St. Thomas, Tortola, the largest, is only 1½ hours by ferry; all the islands are within 20 minutes of St. Thomas by float plane. The Treasure Isle, on Tortola, has 8 rooms, an 18-foot racing sailer ($15 per day) and a fiber-glass Thunder-bird ($20-$50 per day) for exploring such nearby gems as Salt, Ginger, Cooper and Peter. Rates are $28, and the menu features such West Indian specialties as chicken Tortola (baked in a coconut), and excellent curries.
Nearby Marina Cay is run by underwater enthusiast Allan Batham. All sorts of boats and snorkeling gear are available, and there are 180 known wrecks near by. Marina Cay is a six-acre island with A-frame cottages. Guests like the notion of roughing it in all that natural beauty enough not to object to a $35-per-day charge.
A step up the luxury ladder is the Guana Island Club, on 750-acre Guana, run by Louis Bigelow, a Bostonian right out of Marquand. Shelling, snorkeling and bird watching (the smoothbilled ani, the pied-billed grebe, the mustached quail dove) are favorite pastimes. Rates are $45 per day.
Antigua's hotels are spread around the entire circumference of the island. Each one is a haven on its own waterfront—an isolation that is intensified by the primitive road conditions. The big new hotel, part of a chain headed by Abe Issa, the man who put Jamaica on the tourist map, is the Jolly Beach ($48). There are some particularly pleasant small hotels that make an extra effort to supply guests with sporting facilities. Hawks-bill overlooks four crescent beaches and Montserrat on the horizon. The Admiral's Inn, built in 1788, at English Harbour, has 10 delightful rooms right on the cove that was Horatio Nelson's Caribbean dockyard and is today the hub of yachting in these parts (see page 22). High on a hill across the way, another hotel. The Inn, has hollyhocks in the garden and a half-timbered taproom looking out to sea. Curtain Bluff has En-Tout-Cas tennis courts, and 36-foot Chris-Craft. Rates for all these hotels are $40.
The man to see for water sports in Antigua is Tony Johnson. Antigua also is a good jumping-off spot for charter-plane investigations of small islands near by. Nevis, for example, is a dramatic island where Mrs. Mary Pomeroy has turned Nisbet, an old sugar plantation, into a charming five-room guesthouse ($20 for two). Anguilla, an island 16 miles long that is almost all virgin beach, has a simple hotel, the Anguillan, where two can sleep—and eat—for only $8 per day.
Just to the northeast of Antigua is Barbuda, where last year William Cody Kelly of Cincinnati opened, on a splendid crescent of protected beach, the most unusual sportsmen's resort in the West Indies—Coco Point Lodge. Here everything is made for hunting and fishing, and the $85-per-day fee for two includes meals, liquor, guides, tackle, skin-diving gear, guns, licenses, Land Rover and small boats. A 42-foot motor sailer is $150 per day, and a 30-foot sport fisherman, $80. There are 10 immaculate beach-front units. Fishing is for grouper, yellowtail, snapper, jack and marlin. Duck and guinea fowl are shot from now until April, dove and fallow deer (one per person), in the fall in the island's scrubby forest. There are 73 wrecks around the island for expert scuba exploring.
Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) has special day-trip charter rates to most of these islands—to Nevis, for example, it is $102 for six people in a Bonanza.
MARTINIQUE AND GUADELOUPE
At last, at last, the French islands, particularly Martinique and Guadeloupe, are coming into their own. Yachtsmen who sail the Windwards and Leewards go to these islands to eat—and to admire the beautiful women. So should tourists, now that two sparkling hotels are open this season. The new one in Guadeloupe, the Caravelle, has 100 rooms, a casino and a beach at Sainte Anne. The rates are $42 to $46, with two meals. In Martinique the Cap Est, a 30-minute drive from Fort de France through cane and banana plantations, has 15 tile-roofed double cottages, two chefs from metropolitan France, a swimming pool and a beautiful beach. The Hotel Europe on the Savane features, in addition to a menu that would do the best Paris bistro proud, such Creole specialties as calalou—an herb soup—and crayfish, sea urchins and stuffed crab backs.
This chain of islands is described in Roy Terrell's article, beginning on page 18. Last month two resort hotels opened—the St. Lucia Beach and the Grenada Beach, doubling the room capacity of the entire area. They arc, like Antigua's Jolly Beach, part of the Caribeach group. Rates at both are $48 per day.
Since it has been as carefully cultivated as an English garden for the past 50 years (SI, Dec. 25, '61), the only thing really offbeat about this popular island is that nothing is.
This is where the folks from Trinidad go for a fine weekend, and BWIA runs what amounts to a shuttle of Bonanzas and DC-3s between the two. The spectacular beaches are lined with coconut palms, which this year arc striped with red, white and blue paint in celebration of Trinidad and Tobago's new independence. The crystal lagoons are full of bonefish and tarpon, and two or three miles out to sea are jack, mackerel, barracuda, snapper, dolphin. Unlike the fish in many other areas of the Caribbean, they will take a fisherman's lure, particularly when the fisherman is guided by Cecil Anthony, a genial fellow of enormous girth. From January to July, Cecil "chums" by planting bamboo buoys on which flying fish lay eggs—apparently caviar to tarpon. Cecil will rent you a small native boat, put-put outboard and tackle for $2 a day, or take a party of five out on his large boat for $40 a day. His guides also take groups out to Buccoo Reef, where in water only waist-deep (sneakers are a must for walking on the coral) all the glories of reef life can be watched through a faceplate.
Best place to stay is Arnos Vale, a group of cottages on a small cove, set in tropical gardens filled with orchids and hummingbirds. Rate is $38.
This big, noisy island can hardly qualify as a retreat, but it's not exactly in the mainstream either. There is good hunting in the jungles of the mountainous interior for deer, alligator, wild hog, duck and dove, but hunting is difficult for tourists to organize, as is boating and fishing. The biggest thing to happen to Trinidad in 1962, besides its independence, was the opening of the Trinidad Hilton, an upside-down hotel with lobby and pool deck on top of a hill, room levels spilling down the slopes below. The hotel overlooks Queen's Park Savannah, a large grassy plain surrounded by Italianate villas. Cricket, soccer and flat racing all take place here. One way to get away from the crowd during one of the year's eight six-day racing programs is to sit on a balcony at the Hilton and watch the races with binoculars, placing bets by telephone with any one of 17 different parlors. Another way is to go down to the docks some afternoon and hire a boatman to take you to the mangrove swamps, where you can watch clouds of scarlet ibis return to rest at sunset. The cosmopolitan character of Trinidad makes for better food than is to be found on most British-colonized islands. One place that specializes in such native dishes as leg of lamb roasted over a guava-wood fire is the Hilton's La Boucan room. Another is the Belvedere, an aerie overlooking all Port of Spain and across to the Venezuelan shore. Its Austrian proprietors turn high the recorded Viennese waltzes to drown the steel band at the Hilton far below and make a specialty of such Trinidad game as quenk (wild pig) and tatoo (armadillo).
THE DUTCH ABC'S
These three Dutch islands, the tail of the long Antillean chain, have a different landscape from that of the rest of the West Indies. They are very arid and windy. Aruba's and Curacao's thriving oil refineries have made them so financially secure that it is only in the past several years that they have sought the tourist trade, and both have big new beachfront hotels, the Intercontinental in Curacao, the Caribbean Hotel-Casino in Aruba. Bonaire, without oil to bolster the economy, is a simple place for bird watchers and water buffs. Flamingos in pink hordes nest on the island's salt flats, as do heron, snipe, tern, pelican—140 different species. The Flamingo Beach Club, $22-$26 per day, is the place to stay. Trolling for bonito, tuna, wahoo and kingfish is excellent off all three islands.