Veteran captains offer up their favorite itineraries in top tropical charter destinations.

With winter fast approaching, it's time to start thinking about your next yachting vacation getaway. The first decision you'll need to make when it comes to planning your warm weather charter retreat is the destination. Fortunately for you, we’ve already done the research.

We asked some of the most well-traveled charter captains in the industry to share some of their top itineraries for warmer climes. These seven prime destinations are guaranteed to deliver top-shelf cruising experiences this winter season. So read on, make some mental notes, and call your favorite charter broker today to book the luxury yacht vacation of your dreams.  

Lesser Antilles, Leeward Islands

The horseshoe-shaped harbor of Gustavia in St. Barths, rimmed with boutiques and cafés, can accommodate a handful of superyachts at the quay. (Shutterstock photo, courtesy of Edmiston)

The horseshoe-shaped harbor of Gustavia in St. Barths, rimmed with boutiques and cafés, can accommodate a handful of superyachts at the quay. (Shutterstock photo, courtesy of Edmiston)

Whether you call it St. Martin (as they do on the French side) or Sint Maarten (as they do on the Dutch side), this island is a popular destination for casinos, shopping and Caribbean resort life. Many superyachts base here, which means that arrival aboard Meteor is likely to include a chance to see some of the largest yachts in the whole of the Caribbean.

Anguilla is a British territory with clear water that rings magnificent beaches. High-end resorts such as Malliouhana, Belmond Cap Juluca and CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa attract the rich and famous. While celebrities go to the island of St. Barths to be seen, they go to Anguilla for privacy. On Anguilla, the right balance of super chic and slightly funky prevails. Singer Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve is a must-visit for that funky vibe (and a rum punch). Sandy Island, Anguilla, is an oasis of greenery and palm trees in the center, with chalk white sand and transparent water all around its edges. A beach barbecue is great fun here, perhaps with some beach volleyball. Next is a sail to the Prickly Pear Cays, which are uninhabited islets great for snorkeling along a coral reef.

St. Barths (the nickname for Saint Barthélemy) is the “it island” for charter clients who enjoy St. Tropez style. There is a hint of Sweden here too: The French island’s capital, Gustavia, is named for the Swedish King Gustav III, because the island was a Swedish colony starting in 1784. Many of the street names are still Swedish. Even still, charter guests will find plenty of French rosé served during lunches at Nikki Beach and La Plage Restaurant, where a midday meal can go on for hours and blend into dinnertime. Popular restaurants such as Bonito, L’Isola and Maya’s have world-class cuisine, and Gustavia’s shops are reminiscent of Fifth Avenue in New York (think Cartier, Hermès and Louis Vuitton). During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Gustavia’s harbor is the place to see and be seen for the yachting crowd.

A respite from the hoopla awaits on unpopulated Tintamarre, an 80-acre island northeast of Sint Maarten. Tintamarre was purportedly a base for submarine operations in the 1940s. Today there are simply unspoiled beaches and calm water for relaxation.

Another option is a sail to Saba, an island that consists largely of a dormant volcano known as Mount Scenery. Hiking here can be memorable, and the village ashore has “gingerbread houses” as well as lovely flower gardens. At and below sea level, Saba is surrounded by a marine park and renowned for diving. The island has waters that are home to sea turtles, sharks and underwater mountains.

Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Dean Maggio | 169-foot (52-meter) Royal Huisman Meteor

Day 1: Arrive at Sint Maarten, where the airport is a quick ride from the charter yacht.

Day 2: Sail to Anguilla, where the yacht’s crew will set up a beach party on Sandy Island.

Day 3: Sail to the Prickly Pear Cays for snorkeling amid the tropical fish and colorful coral.

Day 4: Sail to St. Barths, where white sand beaches and designer shopping await.

Day 5: Sail to Tintamarre for lunch at anchor with a beautiful view, and then sail back to St. Barths for a walk around Gustavia, the island’s capital.

Day 6: For the adventurous, sail to Saba for an island tour and a hike to the peak, and then lunch at Queen’s Gardens Resort & Spa. That night, sail back to St. Barths for a calm anchorage.

Day 6 alternative: Enjoy a day of sailing and have lunch at anchor in Colombier Bay, St. Barths.

For more information: edmiston.com

169-foot (52-meter) Royal Huisman Meteor

169-foot (52-meter) Royal Huisman Meteor

Eastern Caribbean, Windward Islands, St. Lucia, Grenada

A morning hike up the Pitons in St. Lucia, though strenuous, is well worth the views at the top. (Photo by Quin Bisset, courtesy of Churchill Yacht Partners)

A morning hike up the Pitons in St. Lucia, though strenuous, is well worth the views at the top. (Photo by Quin Bisset, courtesy of Churchill Yacht Partners)

Few Caribbean islands are as photogenic as St. Lucia. Its towering Pitons, a jagged pair of volcanic peaks, are instantly recognizable. Ashore, the island offers much more, from golden-sand beaches and lively reefs to prized hiking trails and rainforest excursions. Anyone looking to combine fresh-air exercise on shore with unique, mountainous views from the sundeck hot tub at night should add St. Lucia to their itinerary.

Each island that is part of a yacht charter itinerary from St. Lucia to Grenada is a sovereign country with its own style and charm. The big islands are topographically sensational, with lush volcanic mountains, rich rainforest hikes and beachfront scenery. Scattered between St. Vincent and Grenada are dozens of smaller islands and cays, only a handful of which are inhabited. These islands, known as the Grenadines, are part of St. Vincent to the north and Grenada to the south.

Marigot Bay at St. Lucia is one of the most idyllic protected harbors in the Caribbean, with dense, forested hills surrounding three sides. The Pitons on the southwestern end of St. Lucia make for as dramatic an anchorage as Marigot is bucolic. If charter guests plan to hike one of the Pitons, then the yacht’s crew can arrange for a local guide and an early start (it can get hot on the trail as the day wears on). These hikes are great aerobic adventures and allow for guilt-free dining on board the charter yacht afterward, along with a swim to cool off and perhaps an afternoon nap on the sundeck.

Rarely on the radar for travelers, St. Vincent is a sleeper of a tourist island that a charter yacht can access. This Caribbean island’s interior is as lush and tropical as Bali’s or Tahiti’s in Indonesia or the South Pacific. Cumberland Bay is ringed in palm trees and has a volcanic black sand beach. Locals may come out in their small boats, offering fruit and vegetables for sale. And the Cumberland Nature Trail traverses rainforest and farmland—great for bird-watching.

On Mayreau, the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Grenadines, wake up in the lovely cove known as Salt Whistle Bay. From here, the Tobago Cays and Canouan are close by. The Tobago Cays is a marine park of five uninhabited islands with great snorkeling and diving, and the chance to spot green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

Canouan has been developed quite a bit during the past 25 years, creating a contrast with the sleepy local culture. The Tamarind Beach Hotel is here with a golf course and spa where the charter yacht’s crew can make reservations for guests who want to go ashore and indulge.

Grenada is a large and diverse island with a lot to offer. Some charter guests choose to disembark here and stay an extra day or two on land, to hike to the waterfalls in Grand Etang National Park, tour a chocolate factory, see parrots and monkeys in the rainforest, and shop for nutmeg and other spices in the thriving St. George’s market.

Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Allan Rayner | 142-foot (43-meter) Palmer Johnson Lady J

Day 1: Arrive at Marigot Bay Resort and Marina on St. Lucia and meet the yacht.

Day 2: Visit the towering Pitons on St. Lucia for dramatic photo opportunities.

Day 3: Cruise to Cumberland Bay off St. Vincent and explore a black volcanic beach.

Day 4: Stop at Mayreau, an uninhabited island in the Grenadines where peace and tranquility reign.

Day 5: Spend a day at the Tobago Cays archipelago, with its protected marine park for snorkeling and diving with turtles.

Day 6: Cruise to Canouan, where a golf course and spa offer relaxing shoreside excursions.

Day 7: Return to the Tobago Cays for one more day of underwater beauty and fun.

Day 8: Cruise to Grenada, which has an international airport at the far south of the Caribbean.

For more information: churchillyachts.com, ladyjyachtcharters.com

Antigua, Guadeloupe, Îles des Saintes, Dominica

Antigua’s English Harbour, on the south end of the island, was developed as a British naval base in the late 18th century. Nelson’s Dockyard is the only continuously working Georgian dockyard in the world.

Antigua’s English Harbour, on the south end of the island, was developed as a British naval base in the late 18th century. Nelson’s Dockyard is the only continuously working Georgian dockyard in the world.

Antigua, in the Eastern Caribbean’s Leeward Islands chain, is where Admiral Horatio Nelson was stationed during the 1780s. The historic naval base—Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour—is unique for its national museum with restored officers’ quarters, capstans and artifacts from Nelson’s era.

Accessing this historical site is convenient for many charter clients because Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport got a new terminal in 2015, with direct flights available from many U.S. and European cities. The transfer from the airport to the charter yacht is less than an hour, putting guests in the heart of not only Nelson’s Dockyard, but also such historic sites as Shirley Heights and Fort Berkeley on Day One.

Day Two’s cruise to the uninhabited Green Island for a day of water sports gives charter guests access to a pristine beach as well as encounters with lizards, hermit crabs and birds on land—and good snorkeling underwater. The nighttime anchorage is at nearby Falmouth Harbour, where the marina hustle and bustle mixes with small and charming restaurants, live music into the wee hours and local joints offering fried chicken and rotis.

The next morning, cruise to the French island of Guadeloupe: a topographically diverse piece of land that, when seen from overhead, is shaped like a butterfly. Anchor on the northern end of the island in the sheltered bay just off Deshaies, a fishing village dotted with local eateries and bars. Visit a wild tropical river and a botanical garden. (For fans of the BBC One/France 2 comedy series “Death in Paradise,” some filming locations are here.) Nearby is Pigeon Island, where the main attraction is the underwater Cousteau Reserve. The charter yacht’s tender can take guests there for diving and snorkeling.

Next on the itinerary is Îles des Saintes, a small group of islands where the main town is Bourg des Saintes. It has “gingerbread houses” with red tile roofs, restaurants and shops, all ideal for a walkabout. Linked historically and culturally to Brittany, Îles des Saintes feels even more French than the popular Caribbean island of St. Barths. One well-known boutique is Maogany, with handmade fashions that often are dyed a distinct indigo blue.

From Îles des Saintes, cruise to Prince Rupert Bay at the north end of Dominica, which is part of the Windward Island chain. Christopher Columbus “discovered” Dominica in 1493. The French colonized the island in the 1690s, and the British took over in the 1760s. Dominica became independent in 1978. Arguably the wildest and most ruggedly beautiful rainforest island in the Caribbean, Dominica is an adventurer’s dream. A hike to the volcanic Boiling Lake—rife with waterfalls and rivers, and flora and fauna—is memorable.

Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Chris McKenna | 155-foot (47-meter) Christensen One More Toy

Day 1: Arrive at Antigua and join the yacht at historic Nelson’s Dockyard.

Day 2: Sail to Green Island for water sports. Anchor out in Falmouth Harbor for the night.

Day 3: Have breakfast underway, en route to the charming village of Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

Day 4: Snorkel and scuba dive at Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe, and the Cousteau Reserve.

Day 5: Cruise to Îles des Saintes and the pretty anchorage at Pain-de-Sucre on Terre-de-Haute island.

Day 6: Arrive at Dominica’s Prince Rupert Bay and the town of Portsmouth for an Indian River boat ride.

Day 7: Spend a day hiking in Dominica’s tropical rainforest.

155-foot (47-meter) Christensen M/Y One More Toy

155-foot (47-meter) Christensen M/Y One More Toy

For more information: camperandnicholsons.com

Exuma Cays, Bahamas

The vibrant palette of colors and textures of Exumas’ waterborne landscape is something of a masterpiece.

The vibrant palette of colors and textures of Exumas’ waterborne landscape is something of a masterpiece.

The only problem for an Exumas charter client is determining how to take everything these 365 vibrant islands and tiny cays offer and squeeze it into a seven-day itinerary. This archipelago is a pristine retreat just a short distance from the U.S. mainland, accessible via direct flights into Nassau and then, if part of the itinerary, a short hopper flight to the heart of the islands. The Exumas are quite a contrast from the more touristy parts of the Bahamas, with white sand beaches, translucent waters and untouched reefs.

Compass Cay offers charter guests an opportunity to swim with—and pet—the resident nurse sharks. Do it. These sharks may as well be rough-skinned puppies, as curious about people as we are about them. Charter guests must mind their fingers (as the yacht’s crew will helpfully instruct as they stand by and watch) and then the experience is exhilarating. Some charter clients say that meeting the nurse sharks at Compass Cay is one of the best memories not only of their vacation, but also of their life.

Just around the corner is one of the best swimming holes in the Caribbean. The deep, crystal-clear, blue lagoon known as Rachel’s Bubble Bath gets its name from the wave action. A rocky outcrop detaches the pool from the ocean, and at mid- to high tide, the waves get high enough to crash over the rocks and into the lagoon, creating bubbles of white foam like a natural spa tub. The spot is ideal for a swim or a well-timed leap off the rocks into the water.

With so many unspoiled cays, charter guests here often have beaches all to themselves—except at Big Major’s Cay, a small, uninhabited island where resident pigs, some quite large, swim out to greet people on the incoming tenders. The pigs are friendly, especially if they see that food is available (the yacht’s crew will prepare carrots and the like), but the pigs are wild animals, so the crew will help guests to treat them respectfully.

Near the pigs’ home is Thunderball Grotto, named for the James Bond movie “Thunderball.” The grotto’s entrance is small, almost hidden—and to get inside, even at ebb tide, charter guests have to hold their breath, dive underwater and swim for it, trusting that they will come up able to breathe on the other side. (Don’t sweat it; the yacht’s capable crew have done this many times and will be right there.) Once inside, prepare to be dazzled by the placid water teeming with a kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored fish and the cavernous walls that echo overhead like a sonic fortress.

Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Brian Warner | 86-foot (26.2-meter) Ferretti Custom Line Slainte III

Day 1: Arrive at Staniel Cay Airport. Meet the charter yacht and cruise to Compass Cay. Swim at Rachel’s Bubble Bath and with local nurse sharks.

Day 2: Cruise to Warderick Wells. Swim and explore the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.

Day 3: Cruise to Highbourne Cay for offshore sportfishing on Exuma Sound.

Day 4: Visit the iguanas on Allan Cay, then cruise to a secret anchorage to snorkel and play with the yacht’s water toys.

Day 5: Cruise to Big Major’s Cay for a beach visit (and maybe even a swim) with the local pigs. Play with the yacht’s water toys.

Day 6: Dive or snorkel at Thunderball Grotto on Staniel Cay. Scuba dive on a plane wreck or play with the yacht’s water toys.

For more information: bnbyachtcharters.com

Belize

Belize Blue Hole

On the bucket list of nearly every dive enthusiast, Belize’s famous Blue Hole is an underwater shaft nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep.

If total escape is the goal, then Belize is the place to charter a yacht. Its cruising grounds are rich in blue holes and barrier reefs—all situated in what feels blissfully like the middle of nowhere.

A rare dichotomy exists when venturing to such a raw and rugged aquatic playground aboard a superyacht. While the yacht comes with all the fineries and service expected of a five-star hotel in the heart of civilization, it is often anchored in the lee of a remote cay, miles from the mainland, where the only sign of human life may be a faint strobe from an airplane in the distance. Many yacht charter destinations claim to offer this type of “best of both worlds” experience, but Belize is arguably one of the places on Earth where it is best exemplified.

Sitting on deck, perhaps in the yacht’s hot tub, and simply gazing out at the region is an exercise in fantastic sights, sounds and feelings. The evening darkness advances from the east like a smooth jib unfurling over the diamond-speckled water. To the west, the mountaintops of southern Belize squeeze the last droplets from a drenching sunset, until water gently licks the yacht’s hull sides—the only sound to be heard. There are no throngs of cruise-ship passengers vying for the best camera angle; only solitude in its purest form. The isolation and feeling of vastness can be difficult for mainlanders to comprehend, and the sensations become something that charter clients remember for many years to come.

The southern out-islands of Belize encompass a panorama of jewel-tone water dotted with secluded sand spits, cays and atolls with lazily swaying palms and white sand beaches, all protected by the world’s second-largest barrier reef (first is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). In fact, rolling backwards off a tender into the turquoise and emerald waters off Belize places charter guests above what is perhaps the richest coral reef system in the tropics. The waters are crystalline, and the local inhabitants range from inquisitive rays and skittish sea turtles to fiery sea fans and colossal coral heads.

Hundreds of mangrove-covered islands interspersed with creeks and picturesque lagoons make up Belize’s largest atoll, Turneffe. This unspoiled paradise has some of the best diving worldwide, for every level of diver. Wrecks, drop-offs and currents can make for challenging dives at certain sites, so Sequel P has a certified dive instructor on board. The exposed southern point of Turneffe Atoll, known as “The Elbow,” is a congregation area for schools of jacks and snappers. Thousands of groupers come here to spawn, and all the fish action attracts sharks and rays. “The Elbow” is a must-do for underwater adventurers.

Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Robert Verity | formerly of 179-foot (54.7-meter) Proteksan Turquoise Sequel P

Day 1: Arrive at the international airport that serves Belize City, meet the yacht and cruise to Goff’s Caye. Relax with sunset cocktails and dinner on the sundeck.

Day 2: Cruise to Turneffe Atoll. Dive or snorkel “The Elbow,” with its game fish, turtles and rays. Play with the yacht’s water toys.

Day 3: Cruise to Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Scuba dive off Half Moon Caye or cruise in the yacht’s tender to the Blue Hole.

Day 4: Cruise to Hatchet Caye. Play with the yacht’s water toys, scuba dive or snorkel, or head ashore for a meal at Hatchet Caye Resort.

Day 5: Cruise to the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. Dive the shipwreck and then sip sundowners on Ranguana Caye.

Day 6: Cruise to Coco Plum Caye. Dive or snorkel off South Water Caye. 

Luxury charter yacht Sequel P in Belize

179-foot (54.7-meter) Proteksan Turquoise M/Y Sequel P in Belize

For more information: burgessyachts.com

Emerging Hotspots for 2018

Bequia

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The Caribbean island of Bequia gained popularity last season as yachts adjusted course a bit farther south, leaving hurricane destruction in their wakes. The island, part of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines archipelago, isn’t overly luxurious, polished or trendy—which is why it’s so beloved. Bequia’s magical charm is an antidote to more populated Caribbean destinations. Friendly is the rule here, and the pace is relaxed and easygoing. Bequia has sandy beaches (where more than 10 people may constitute a crowd on any given day), lush green hillsides, quaint villages and local eateries with service that feels almost personalized.

Fiji

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For adventure-seekers who really want to get away, and who are amenable to a long-haul flight, the South Pacific island nation of Fiji offers a fusion of cultures, cuisines and tropical surroundings. 

The Mamanuca and Yasawa archipelagos have welcomed charter yachts for a number of years, with white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters for snorkeling and diving, and shore excursions that can include traditional song-and-dance ceremonies, fire twirling, lovo barbecues (where the food is cooked underground) and sharing a drink of kava with the locals. Some charter yachts here are outfitted for serious offshore sportfishing, too.

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