We quizzed a wide range of charter professionals about their top 10 favorite spots in the Bahamas and/or Caribbean. While there is a nice spread over the entire region—several mentioned Saba, Îles des Saintes, Culebrita in the Spanish Virgins and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic—their favorites hail from island groups well known to the yachting set. The cognoscenti’s descriptions ignite a desire to discover or rediscover these destinations. The tally is in, and here are their top picks.
1. The Bahamas
The island chain of the Bahamas, as a whole, came in as number one. What earned the Bahamas its spot were the beaches (white or pink), the undiscovered feel of the Exumas and the Abacos, plus the island charm and architecture evident from Georgetown to Harbour Island. The Bahamian government’s decision to conserve its natural environment has paid off. In the Exumas, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park encompasses 112,000 acres of protected wilderness.
Tom Collins of Burgess says, “Hats off to the Bahamas! ... This area is the ultimate ‘get-away-from it-all’ kind of place. Gin-clear water, sugar-white sand beaches and beautiful coral formations make it the perfect place to reconnect with nature.” Conception Island—an uninhabited islet in the Out Islands, east of the Exumas—encompasses another untouched national park. DJ Parker, president of Neptune Group Yachting, picked Conception as one of her top stops because of “great snorkeling and diving in very mature reefs with snow-white sandy bottom.” She also says, “The island boasts both fabulous sugar-white and pink beaches.” Yachtzoo’s Neil Emmott also voted for the Exumas, and more specifically Great Exuma: “My top two picks for this area are Sampson Cay and the sand bar near Musha Cay (David Copperfield’s private island)...You can spend hours there beachcombing for sand dollars, kite surfing or indulging the growing craze of SUPs [stand-up paddle surfing]. Years ago I ran a charter for a famous Silicon Valley couple who were married at the sand bar near Musha Cay. The bridal couple swam ashore at opposite ends of the bar and then walked up the beach to meet friends and family gathered under the wedding canopy. In 12 years of chartering, it was an absolute standout magical place and moment.”
Even outside of the majority favorites, you can’t discount the charm of other islands. Harbour Island is another top Bahamian pick, both quaint and popular with the jet set. “I love to see people’s expressions when they travel through Devil’s Backbone—the sand is actually pink. The live-bait tuna fishing is exhilarating, and the people are warm, friendly and welcoming,” says Nicole Caulfield of RJC Yachts. There are also the many more picturesque and quiet islands in the Abacos and further afield. Other experts mentioned everything from the best place to start the charter (Atlantis Marina on Paradise Island) to the best round of golf (Sandals Emerald Bay). It sounds like the Bahamas has it all.
2. The British Virgin Islands
In the Caribbean, the BVIs as a whole came up a close second. The islands, all 60 or so of them, offer beauty and great diversity above and below water—everything from luxurious spas to dive sites, and miles of secluded beaches and anchorages to hilltops with panoramic views. A couple of private islands cater to an exclusive and appreciative crowd that seeks privacy and pampering, while other places will satisfy your appetite for a more laid-back Caribbean experience. “Cane Garden Bay offers its own brand of nightlife as does The Last Resort just off Beef Island. These are real ‘character places,’ places that add to the beautiful experience of cruising in the calm waters of the Virgin Islands,” Collins says. A sailors’ favorite, the BVIs also welcome megayachts, with the most recently opened marina, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Virgin Gorda, catering to bigger vessels. Nick Trotter of Meridian Yachts, who has sailed in many parts of the world, enthusiastically endorses North Sound, as “one of the greatest destinations not only in the Caribbean but in the entire world. It is ideally suited for everything from superyachts to bareboats, from world cruisers to daysailers. There are deep- and shallow-water anchoring areas, moorings with launch service and marinas for all sizes. There are anchorages with restaurants, beach bars and shops, and there are anchorages with total solitude. For land-based visitors, there are a number of excellent resorts and private villa rentals including Bitter End Yacht Club, Biras Creek Resort and Necker Island.” Ann Landry of Northrop & Johnson likes the BVIs, “all of them,” but ticks off a few of her all-time favorites: “Peter Island and Scrub Island for spa luxury and dining ashore. Jost van Dyke for local flavor: Foxy’s and Sydney’s Peace and Love. Tortola—the view island—for a top-of-the-mountain drive with stunning views of all the rest of the BVIs. I mean, breathtaking. Virgin Gorda for watersports in North Sound and The Baths, The Dogs, Alice in Wonderland [off Ginger Island], Fallen Jerusalem, Carrot Shoal, the wreck of the Chikuzen, the wreck of the Rhone and so much more for scuba divers of all levels.” Trotter gives the thumbs-up to the low-lying and largely uninhabited Anegada. “You can literally walk the beach for hours with no chance of seeing the end. Anegada is famous for a few great little beach bars and for lobster dinners grilled on the beach,” he says. For a private anchorage, Parker suggests Great Camanoe, “A tiny anchorage ideal for only one or two yachts snuggled behind a protective barrier reef on the windward side of this mountainous island. Your privacy is assured with your own beach and excellent snorkeling,” she says.
3. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, especially Tobago Cays, Mustique and Bequia, slipped into third. This string of islands boasts natural beauty and a famous blues festival. Caulfield selected the islands for their “beautiful anchorages, short cruising distances and some of the biggest lobsters I have ever seen.” Agnes Howard from CNI recommends a few special activities in the Grenadines: a lunch and a swim in Mustique at the Cotton House (an old sugar plantation turned boutique hotel—a member of The Leading Hotels of the World) and snorkeling in Tobago Cays Marine Park. Tobago Cays is nicknamed the “jewel in the crown” of the southern Grenadines. The park with its sandy bottom and rich biodiversity is close to the island of Mayreau, which is one of Rebecca Riley’s top picks. She recommends especially Salt Whistle Bay, for its “quaint, quiet, beautiful and wonderful beach.” Riley, president of Paradise Yacht Charters, also highlights the private island of Mustique, ideal for a luxurious barefoot vacation. Collins says its great villa rentals make it ideal for a “surf-and-turf” holiday. This landscaped tropical paradise has attracted big names from the world of music and fashion. Both Collins and Riley recommend Basil’s Bar. Collins says the bar on stilts is “perfect for a sunset cocktail with the locals,” while Riley likes the selection of Mustique Blues Festival CDs available there. Cindy Brown, president of Ultra Marine Yacht Charters, suggests Mopion, a small atoll off of Petit St. Vincent, and describes it as ideal “for the true escapist.”
4. St. Barths, St. Barts or St. Barth’s
This island’s name is abbreviated many different ways, and none of them are wrong. It owes the variety of spellings to its hard-to-spell French name, Saint Barthélemy (derived from Bartolomeo, the name of Christopher Columbus’ brother). Trendy and famous enough to be disliked by a few celebs (Anthony Bourdain, the chef-turned-globetrotter, gave it thumbs way down in his book Medium Raw), the island’s reputation hardly suffers from negative press. In fact, St. Barths needs no introduction among the superyacht set, as it is already a favorite place to gather for Christmas and New Year’s; the Port of Gustavia fills up with yachts for the holiday celebrations every year. “Guests on the yachts always count St. Barths as the highlight of a charter. There is nothing quite like a good evening on the quay in Gustavia,” Trotter says. This relatively small island competed with entire archipelagoes to earn an enviable position in the top half of our top 10 list. “St. Barths is truly one of the most unique islands in the Caribbean, kind of like the South of France with a Caribbean flair,” says Collins, who suggests leaving the port and the protected anchorage at Anse de Colombier to discover the interior. “It’s well worth your while to rent a jeep or Mini Moke for a day to explore the island; visit a few beaches on the windward side and choose a cool restaurant for lunch.” Cruising around St. Barths is also great. Close by is a marine preserve and an island picked by several of our experts as their favorite, Ile Fourchue. “Halfway between Sint Maarten and St. Barths is this crescent-shaped island. I love stopping in this sheltered bay for lunch away from the maddening crowds. It is as if you have sailed into a volcano crater. Should you choose to spend the night, the sunsets are spectacular,” Parker says.
Beautiful, lush Grenada has made quite an impression on our experts. Today, more than ever, it is a destination for megayachts, and it includes a top-notch marina in the very heart of its charming capital, St. George’s. Yachtsman Peter de Savary started the project a few years ago. Now part of the Camper & Nicholson Marinas portfolio, Port Louis Marina, another feather in the island’s cap, offers great anchorage a short distance from the airport, shops and restaurants. Tropical temperatures by the shore, a cool breeze and waterfalls on the hilltops give the island outstanding climate variety. An imposing fort made of volcanic rock protects the harbor, yet over the course of its history, Grenada has had many invaders who brought their own culture and influence; the island’s riches lured them to the southern tip of the Windward Islands. It’s an “amazingly lush and verdant isle of spice where anything will grow (and does),” Landry says, who gives it extra points for its friendly people. “It is more like ‘the original Caribbean’ than the more northern islands,” she adds. Howard also selected Grenada has one of her top 10 and recommends hiking to the famous Annandale Falls and then taking a plunge. “Grenada is a nice wrap-up after cruising through the Grenadines,” Collins says. And let’s not forget the homegrown organic chocolate, which Caulfield picks as one of the island’s highlights.
A rich history and a busy calendar of sailing events, plus one of the longest-running professional charter shows in the Caribbean, contribute to this island’s success among our charter experts. Many chose Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour as of one their favorite places to visit on the island. “Nelson’s Dockyard is the best and one of the few places in the Caribbean with tangible history for visiting yachtsmen and women. While many areas allude to a historical significance (pirates once anchored here, etc.), the Dockyard actually takes you back in time. We have started many charters from the Dockyard, including several large, multiyacht charters, and the guests tell us that the Nelson’s Dockyard experience is one of their most endearing memories,” Trotter says. Well preserved, the dockyard and its museum take you back into history. “It’s easy to conjure up a vision of what it might have been like in 1784. Well worth a visit,” Collins says. Sailing to and from Antigua is a treat. Howard recommends keeping an eye out for frigate birds that fly between the island of Antigua and the lesser-known Barbuda. Brown suggests a detour to the other island that is part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda for its exceptional beaches, perhaps the best in the Caribbean. “This is the best-kept secret,” she says.
7. The US Virgin Islands
If you are a big country music fan, like Marian Walker of The Marine Group, you will appreciate that Kenny Chesney chose to keep a house on St. John in the US Virgin Islands (although it is now reportedly for sale). Most of St. John is part of a national park, so the nature is protected and the sparkling waters that surround the island provide great snorkeling and a few special anchorages. Among them, Parker highlights Waterlemon Cay. “This protected harbor is a great place to spend a day and the night before hopping over to the BVIs.” Hiking from there is also great fun. “The sugar-mill ruins provide a fun destination as you stroll along the dirt road overlooking the harbor, and your reward is a spectacular view from the top,” she adds. Caulfield, a native of the USVIs, chose St. Croix, not only because this is her home, “but also because of the beautiful waters, lots of history, the rum factory tour, Hotel on the Cay (in Christiansted), the rainforest and turtle watching at Sandy Point beach [part of Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge].”
8. (TIE) Saint Martin/Sint Maarten
This busy island has a split personality. History divided it between the French and the Dutch, who each claimed a part of the island as their own; now the island really is two destinations wrapped into one. A Caribbean flair tinged with French flavor makes St. Martin a popular pick. Trotter recommends Grand Case, “a fun little village with the greatest concentration of good restaurants found anywhere in the Caribbean. The restaurants are casual, unpretentious and [feature] high-quality meals,” he says. Orient Beach gets a vote for people watching and optional bathing suits. The island’s Dutch side is more populous but accommodates large yachts. Puerto Cupercoy Marina at Simpson Bay has a slip for yachts up to 90 meters. St. Maarten is close to Saba in the Dutch Caribbean, also listed by a few of our experts as well worth a detour.
8. (Tie) St. Lucia
A mountainous island, St. Lucia is keen on developing the yachting business. Recent initiatives easing visa requirements for a number of nationalities and waiving import duties for temporary stays make it easier for yachts to consider St. Lucia as a haven during their Caribbean cruising. In addition to lovely anchorages, the island now counts several bona fide megayacht marinas, including Rodney Bay Marina and The Marina at Marigot Bay. If staying off shore is more your thing, Riley recommends a mooring near Anse Chastanet Resort in Soufriere, “a quiet bay with only two anchor balls in the shadows of the spectacular Pitons.” Excursions ashore allow visitors to explore the lush rainforest and beaches offering spectacular scenery. Howard recommends Jalousie Beach in the shadow of those famous volcanic sugarloaf-shaped spires. Several of our experts mention the island as a great starting point for the Grenadines, but it also is a great destination for eco-minded travelers and hikers.
For years, the history of the island was intertwined with that of nearby St. Kitts and Nevis, but Anguilla became independent in the late 1960s, and is now a destination of its own. Whatever turbulent history the island may have, it’s all in the past now. Walker chose Anguilla as one of her favorite islands for its quiet, serene and peaceful lifestyle. Anchoring out and riding the tender ashore is a treat. Caulfield loves going to Bankie Banx’ establishment for music and cocktails. “You kick off your shoes, relax and have no choice but to enjoy,” she says. Anguilla is also a golf destination, with several challenging private and public courses, including the famous Greg Norman-designed course near Cap Juluca.