The Resort Report

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Winter Travel Guide 1996

The Resort Report

The Carribean: An all-star list of island sporting resorts, from tented camps to posh plantations

The Big Picture: Accessible only by boat, the Bitter End, on Virgin Gorda's northeast side, is the perfect resort for water-worshippers who can't quite see themselves surviving a bareboat yacht charter. Guests stay in either marina or beachside rooms or in rustic villas, some with hammocks strung across their balconies, tucked among the bougainvillea and cactus high on a hill overlooking sheltered North Sound. Dozens of sailboats, windsurfers, kayaks, rowing shells, and power skiffs are available at no fee to guests. At night, the open-air restaurant and bar--standard stops on the charter-boat circuit--get revved up with visiting sailors.

Sports On-Site: The Nick Trotter Sailing and Boardsailing School offers three-day camps for sailors of all levels. Diving instruction is available through Kilbrides Underwater Tours (809-495-9638), and C-card holders can get tanks and weight belts. Daily snorkeling and diving excursions leave from the marina to key spots like the Baths and the wreck of the Rhone. There's also a swimming pool and fitness trail.

Farther Afield: Take a Boston Whaler or sailboat over to Mosquito Island, just across North Sound, where there are hiking trails and two excellent snorkeling sites, the underwater caves in Rocky Beach and Long Beach. Stop in at Drake's Anchorage for a cool drink.

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles, $400-$490 per night, all-inclusive, through December 22; $450-$595, December 23-January 6; $480-$570, January 7-April 13; call 800-872-2392.

By Meg Lukens Noonan

The Big Picture: This sprawling, 7,000-acre mega-resort, which has its own airstrip and professional polo fields, is actually bigger than some Caribbean islands. Located on the southeast corner of the Dominican Republic, one of the great bargain islands in the region, Casa de Campo is a place where you can recharge your batteries in posh surroundings for half of what St. Barts would cost you. Is it perfect? Not quite. It's not on the beach, so you have to take a short shuttle to get there. And the ubiquitous golf carts that transport guests around might make you wince. On the other hand, you stay in tasteful casitas designed by Dominican Republic native Oscar de la Renta.

Sports On-Site: Saddle up, because from dressage to barrel racing, there are herds of horses for English and Western riding lessons. Or take a two-hour ride along the Chavon River. As for polo, few other places offer a chance for mere Americans to learn the sport of sugar barons and Sylvester Stallone. There are three playing fields, and afternoon tournaments are held thrice weekly. There are also 13 tennis courts, 14 swimming pools, and two 18-hole golf courses. And you can sail, windsurf, or swim at Las Minitas, a private, palm-fringed beach.

Farther Afield: The concierge can arrange for a half-day deep-sea fishing excursion ($280 per person for up to six people). From October to January you can catch professional baseball in the nearby town of San Pedro de MacorŒs.

Price/Reservation Information: The Completely Casa Inclusive Package gets you a casita, all meals, unlimited drinks, horseback riding, tennis, and watersports, round-trip transfers, taxes, and gratuities for just $159 per person per night, based on double occupancy until December 20. Rates jump to $293 per night at Christmas, then fall back to $218 after January 4. Call 800-877-3643.

By Everett Potter

The Big Picture: It's just off Route 1, but the Cheeca Lodge, once an exclusive fishing club, feels miles away from the strip malls, shell shops, and 24-hour foodmarts that choke much of the Upper Keys's main thoroughfare. The plantation-style four-story main house, with its gleaming white facade and pool-blue shutters, sits on 1,500 feet of beachfront. Inside, exotic caged birds sing amid the wicker furniture, tropical plants, and mounted trophy fish. Flanking the hotel on the 27-acre grounds are several two-story guest buildings and a small-scale golf course. Though the resort pushes the P.C. family angle, offering environmental awareness camps for kids, among other eco-friendly programs, sportfishing remains the focus.

Sports On-Site: The resort runs dive trips to several local sites, including Alligator Reef, cut with canyonlike channels, and the Eagle, a 287-foot freighter sunk in 1985. On the grounds are six lighted tennis courts, nature trails, two swimming pools, and a saltwater lagoon. Bicycles and snorkeling and scuba gear are available for rent.

Farther Afield: Fishing charters can be arranged out of several nearby marinas, including Whale Harbor (305-664-4511), Bud 'n' Mary's Fishing Marina (800-742-7945), and Lorelei at Ark Islamorada (664-4656). Anglers can go offshore for sailfish, marlin, and giant bluefin tuna, over the reefs for snapper and grouper, or into the shallow-water backcountry after tarpon, snook, and bonefish. Robbie's Rent-A-Boat (664-9814) runs shuttle boats Thursdays through Mondays to two offshore state parks--Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key, which supports a virgin tropical forest. Park rangers lead tours at both locations.

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles, $250-$1,000 per night. Call 800-327-2888

By M.L.N.

The Big Picture: Built by Hollywood actress Frances Armbrister, this main house and nine native stone villas face a mile-long, tradewind-swept beach overlooking the Great Bahama Bank. From the air, it's barely discernible, tucked away among casuarina pines on the southwest side of the 50-mile-long island. Shaped like the letter J, Cat Island lies in the central-southern Bahamian chain, between Long Island and Eleuthera. Still isolated and undeveloped, it yearly draws a modest number of savvy divers eager to step off its long, powder-soft beaches and be the first fins to explore pristine coral reefs. They may have heard about First Basin Wall, a deep-water drop-off draped with giant tube sponges, lacy sea fans, and bushes of black coral.

Sports On-Site: Grab your regulator or snorkel, hop on a dive boat, and explore the plummeting walls along the Bahama Bank. Equipped with four boats, Fernandez Bay can take you diving, snorkeling, waterskiing, or fishing. A two-tank dive is $75 per person, rental gear is extra. Certification ($370) and Discover Scuba courses ($100) are also available. You can arrange bonefishing, offshore, or bottom-fishing trips (full day, $200- $300). Or just borrow a sailboat from Mrs. A.

Farther Afield: The resort can customize an island tour (prices negotiable). Just don't leave without visiting Father Jerome's imposing Hermitage on Mount Alvernia; at 206 feet, it's the highest point in the Bahamas.

Price/Reservation Information: Cottage rates ($205-$210) include two meals daily. Call 800-940-1905 or 954-474-4821

By Jean Pierce

The Big Picture: On a small, scalloped bay along St. Lucia's southwest coast, Anse Chastanet combines European refinement with Crusoe-esque rusticity. Forty-nine louver-windowed cottages are built unobtrusively into the sheer, thickly vegetated slopes, affording drop-dead views of the island's twin peaks, the Pitons. If they don't leave you breathless, the resort's demandingly vertical layout will: Getting from the fine gray-sand beach to the hillside bungalows involves climbing up a few hundred steep, winding steps.

Sports On-Site: A variety of sports are available--from tennis to Sunfish sailing--but diving is the real focal point. Scuba St. Lucia, a Scuba Schools International/PADI training facility (one-tank dives, about $30), is located on the grounds, and there's a reef just 60 feet from the beach populated by wrasse and parrot fish, large brain corals, and moray eels. Night divers should keep an eye out for "The Thing," an elusive and as yet to be identified nocturnal creature that looks like a cross between a sea cucumber and a worm.

Farther Afield: Anse Chastanet can help you arrange guided climbs up the half-mile-high Pitons (about $100 per person) or hikes on the several-mile Fond St. Jacques trail that winds through St. Lucia's 19,000-acre mountainous rainforest, home of the endangered St. Lucian Green parrot. And check out the surreal cactus gardens in nearby Maria Islands nature preserve.

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles range from $290 (off-peak) to $630 (peak) per night, including breakfast and dinner. The resort also offers seven-day rates, including scuba diving ($1,731-$2,899 per person) and honeymoon packages ($1,522-$2,701 per person). Call 758-459-7000.

By Hampton Sides

The Big Picture: The Tongue of the Ocean, a 6,000-foot-deep trench off the Andros Barrier Reef, at 463 miles long the third-largest in the world, draws divers to sparsely populated Andros Island, the largest island in the Bahamian Commonwealth. Its land mass of about 5,000 square miles is covered by a vast wilderness of mangrove forests and serpentine waterways, with just a few small settlements on the east side. A prime stop for divers is Small Hope Bay Lodge on the east coast near the town of Fresh Creek. The central lodge houses a large living room, a dining room, and an old fishing boat that serves as a bar and gathering spot for munching conch fritters and trading dive tales. The 20 guest cottages, constructed of coral rock and Andros pine, have louvered windows and ceiling fans, and are decorated in colorful batik fabrics. No one bothers much with shoes here, even for dinner.

Sports On-Site: There's a free, two-hour scuba resort course for novice divers, and certification courses for $310 per person. The Andros Barrier Reef, protected from spearfishing and collecting, is just a ten-minute boat ride away. Experienced divers have a choice of specialty dives, including nine blue holes and the 185-foot Over the Wall Nitro Express. Non-divers can join a marine biologist on Discovery Snorkel excursions (half-day, $45 per person). The lodge has its own flats boat and a complete program for bonefishing, and reef and deep-sea fishing ($300-$480 per day).

Farther Afield: Schedule a Family Overnight Camping Excursion to the west side of the island and explore a mangrove wilderness teeming with bird and fish life. The lodge provides transportation, camping equipment, food and beverages, guide, and cook.

Price/Reservation Information: Dive packages ($220 per person per night for three daily dives; $165 for non-divers) include airport transfers, lodging, all meals and beverages, taxes, service charges, and use of sailboards, bikes, and sailboat. Scuba certification courses, specialty dives, fishing, and camping excursions are all extra. Call 800-223-6961 or 809-368-2014

By J.P.

The Big Picture: If you crave beach- and water-time above all else, Antigua, with its almost uninterrupted mane of sand, calm waters, and low annual rainfall, is the place for you. So what if parts of the island's winter landscape are as lush as a vacant lot in Vegas? You're here to dive, windsurf, sail, snorkel, and loll about. One of the best places to do all that is the 37-acre Hawksbill Beach Resort on a peninsula just north of St. John's on the island's west coast. Less formal (okay, stiff) than some of Antigua's other veddy-British resorts, Hawksbill's 113 pleasantly spartan (no television, phone, or AC) units include rooms in airy two-story beachside buildings, beach cottages, and one three-bedroom greathouse. A word of caution: Don't book during Antigua's raucous annual Sailing Week in late April if you care about ever getting the smell of rum out of your Topsiders.

Sports On-Site: There are four beaches (one of which is a "clothing optional" retreat) and a swimming pool. Guests have free use of Sunfish, snorkeling gear, paddleboats, sailboards, and tennis court. Snorkeling is excellent on a reef just offshore.

Farther Afield: Dive Antigua (268-462-3483) and Dive Runaway (462-2626) run scuba trips to nearby reefs (two-tank dives, $80-$100). Wadadli Cats (462-4792) circumnavigates the island on catamarans, runs snorkeling excursions to nearby Bird Island, and makes day trips to Barbuda, 30 miles north, for shelling, snorkeling, and tours of the frigate bird sanctuary.

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles and cottages, $375-$450 per night, breakfast and dinner included. Call 800-223-6510

By M.L.N.

The Big Picture: Just before you reach this small, exquisite, and very French hotel deep in the banana groves of Martinique's rugged north country, you may think you've made a terrible mistake. Could there possibly be civilization at the end of this nasty, rutted, overgrown road? Yes--and then some. An eighteenth-century turreted manor house is the main guest quarters. A curvaceous sapphire pool reflects manicured gardens. From some of the 17 antique-filled rooms you can reach out, pluck a mango from a tree, then flop back onto your mahogany four-poster bed and bite in. Guests who aren't totally stupefied by the sultry languor of it all discover Lagrange also offers great access to the hiking and mountain-biking trails that climb into the rainforest just beyond the hotel's seven-acre spread, light-years from the whine of Jet skis at the giant resort hotels on the south coast.

Sports On-Site: The inn has a swimming pool, horseback riding, and one lighted tennis court.

Farther Afield: You'll need a rental car to get around. Mountain-bike tours and rentals can be arranged by VT Tilt (011-596-66-01-01) in Pointe du Bout across the island. Scuba trips are offered by Bathy's Club (about $50; 66-00-00). The Parc Natural Regional de la Martinique (64-42-59) can help arrange biking and hiking trips in the area.The nearest beach, Anse Az‹rot, a secluded gray-sand cove, is about 30 minutes from the inn.

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles cost $275-$410 (breakfast included); call 800-633-7411.

By M.L.N.

The Big Picture: This patrician pink resort sits on nearly 340 choice, hilly waterfront acres on St. Croix's eastern shore. Built in 1947 on a former sugar plantation and still run by the original owners' family, the resort offers three of the island's finest beaches. Parents like the fact that it's just swanky enough--but not so exclusive that they can't give their sandy toddlers the run of the lobby. The 150 rooms, all with terraces, are divided between the main hotel and several (more desirable) beachfront buildings. Christiansted, St. Croix's eighteenth-century Danish harbor town, is just two miles to the west.

Sports On-Site: Besides the three beaches, the resort has two swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course, eight tennis courts, a two-mile jogging trail, and a spa and fitness center. There also is a supervised children's program.

Farther Afield: Mile Mark Watersports (809-773-2628) runs excursions to Buck Island, a mile off St. Croix's northeast coast, for snorkeling along marked National Park Service underwater trails, and hiking in the 865-acre park (about $60 per day). Dive St. Croix (733-3434) arranges scuba instruction and trips to famed steep dropoffs. Bodysurfing is best at Davis Beach, boardsailing at Cane Bay, both on the north shore.

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles, $170-$575, including continental breakfast; call 800-255-3881

By M.L.N.

The Big Picture: Those who see scuba diving as an extreme sport involving big pelagics tend to thrash their fins elsewhere. A 112-square-mile sliver of wind-burned desert 50 miles off Venezuela in the Dutch Caribbean, Bonaire is the improbable meeting point of dewy-eyed scuba novices and grizzled veteran divers. The island's entire coastline is a protected marine park with more than 80 marked dive sites. Habitat, the namesake of Bonaire dive-industry pioneer Don Stewart, holds court from dead center of the island's leeward coast, within minutes of the sleepy capital of Kralendijk. More to the point, it fronts La Machaca, a prime shore-entry site where six-foot morays and five-foot tarpon guard the macro treasures beyond: iridescent corals, Day-Glo anemones, and neon filefish that change hue with a shrug of their gills. Cottage-style rooms and palm-shaded villas have ceiling fans and sea-facing balconies or patios where you can park your wetsuit.

Sports On-Site: For divers as well as snorkelers, Habitat holds multimedia orientations on reef conservation and makes guided boat trips twice daily to fish-watching spots off Bonaire and the neighboring islet of Klein Bonaire (a good bet for spotting sea horses). Divers have unlimited access to tanks around the clock. Dip back into your pockets and you can choose from a range of scuba certifications and underwater photography courses.

Farther Afield: Rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle in Kralendijk or at the airport and head off into the kunucu, Bonaire's Arawak name for its cactus-studded, wild goat-infested countryside. Or head for the flamingo nesting ground of Goto Meer lagoon, or the 13,500-acre birder's haunt of Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Ask at Habitat's front desk about horseback riding and kayaking, and boardsailing at Lac Bay on the southeast coast (where the trades average 20 knots).

Price/Reservation Information: Doubles, $175 per night. Seven-night dive packages, including breakfast, airport transfers, taxes, gratuities, several boat dives, and unlimited shore diving, $721-$991 per person; seven-night snorkeling packages, $716-$976. Call 800-327-6709.

By Trish Reynales

The Big Picture: A former aloe vera plantation perched on a cliff a thousand feet above the Martinique Channel, the resort sits at the end of a twisting dirt road through the rainforest. There are three rustic cottages of tropical wood and stone, plus a main plantation house. Staggering ocean and mountain views, rainbows, hummingbirds, utter isolation. Romantic? The first guests ever to stay here decided to get married after three days under its spell.

Sports On-Site: There's an ocean-view swimming pool. Several hilly half-day loops lead through the rainforest to nearby villages and plantations. For mountain biking, a rough, steeply downhill, three-mile dirt road begins at your door. It connects to a ten-mile network of single-track in the valley.

Farther Afield: For scuba diving, sea kayaking, and mountain-bike rental and tours, try Nature Island Dive (809-449-8181) in the funky village of SoufriŠre on the bay, just at the bottom of the Petit Coulibri road. The beach there is typically Dominican--narrow and pebbly, with dark volcanic sand. Petit Coulibri can arrange a hike to Dominica's chief natural attraction: Boiling Lake, a flooded volcanic caldera shrouded in mist.

Price/Reservation Information: The three two-bedroom cottages are $200 per night. There are also two studio rooms, $90 each. Dinner in the main house is $25 per person; breakfast, $10. Call 809-446-3150.

By David Noland

The Big Picture: Ecologically correct luxury camping on a steep wooded hillside overlooking some of the world's most perfect beaches. A network of boardwalks connect 114 canvas tent cottages on wooden platforms, a camp store, communal toilets with cold showers, and a hilltop open-air restaurant. Be prepared for geckos on the tent wall and wandering peacocks, mongooses, and wild burros along the boardwalk.

Sports On-Site: At Maho Bay's small private beach, you can rent sailboards, Sunfish, sit-on-top sea kayaks, and snorkeling and scuba-diving equipment. Local captains will pick you up at the beach for scuba and snorkeling excursions, inshore and offshore fishing trips, and day sails. The primary non-nautical diversion is hiking along the trails in Virgin Islands National Park, accessible right from the camp.

Farther Afield: It's lights-out by 10 p.m. at the campground, so nighttime revelers in search of margaritas must make the 20-minute rental-jeep or shuttle ride (provided by the resort, $4 per person each way) along the north coast road to the village of Cruz Bay.

Price/Reservation Information: Tent-cottages are $95 per night for two people from December 15 to April 30; $60 at other times. Call 800-392-9004

By D.N.

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