Feature

The Caribbean: Four unique destinations

The forgotten islands; The new Jamaica; Lionfish hunting in Belize; The Caribbean’s double delight  

The forgotten islandsThe charm of the Corn Islands “lies in how little there is to do,” said Freda Moon in The New York Times. I haven’t spent time on Big Corn, but on its sister island, Little Corn, electricity is scarce, cars are unknown, and the only “road” is a “well-trodden footpath through the jungle that’s home to chicken-eating boa constrictors.” These two Creole-speaking islands off Nicaragua’s coast (see bigcornisland.com) offer no luxury resorts. But there are places to stay: A trickle of visitors drawn by some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean has begun setting up small hotels, dive shops, and restaurants. A friend and I spent our days swimming, “sampling rum drinks,” and hiking. One night we got lost on a 10-minute walk because the darkness “was as deep and pure as squid ink.” On Big Corn, I hear, there are at least six times as many people as Little Corn’s several hundred. Here, the only town has two nightclubs, but it doesn’t have a name. 

The new JamaicaJamaica is reinventing itself, yet “with an eye toward the past,” said Bob Morris in Travel + Leisure. Once an escape known for attracting a Hollywood elite, including Errol Flynn and Elizabeth Taylor, the island nation later became as known for poverty, violence, and “cruise-ship overload” as for reggae and jerk chicken. But that’s changing, thanks in part to some visionary hoteliers who are “tapping into what makes the island so special beyond its beaches—its complex topography, rich history, and vivid culture.” Former Bob Marley producer Chris Blackwell, who has a hand in both the GoldenEye Hotel & Resort and the Geejam Hotel, brings Jamaica’s music in for his guests, but also encourages them to leave the grounds and explore. “The main thing for me is to attract guests who are curious about life,” he says. Various hotels send visitors to see the “crystalline” Rio Grande by bamboo raft. “Of course, some visitors still want what they always wanted from Jamaica, a quick flight to good weather in winter and an elegant experience by the sea.” Fortunately, those features seem eternal. (See visitjamaica.com)

Lionfish hunting in Belize Belize takes an unusual approach to protecting its marine ecosystem: It encourages tourists to kill invasive fish species, said Sadie Dingfelder in The Washington Post. When I booked a recent stay in Placencia, a charming fishing village (see placencia.com), my plan was to “laze around on a quiet beach with a frozen drink.” But the plan lasted only until I heard that whale sharks were migrating close by and couldn’t pass up the chance to glimpse the oceans’ largest fish. These krill-eaters pose no threat to humans, so I’m not frightened when I jump off an expedition boat and “almost land on a whale shark the size of a school bus.” Instead, I’m motivated, and agree to join a hunt for the invasive lionfish, which are competing for food and helping drive the sharks toward extinction. Being a vegetarian, I’m squeamish about killing these colorful, tentacle-covered fish, especially after my guide shows me his scars from lionfish stings. But I try to focus on the species I’m helping once I’m underwater. Then I spot my prey. “The fish and I are equally surprised when I sink a spear right in the center of his zebra-striped head.” 

The Caribbean’s double delight“Trinidad and Tobago has an edge over other Caribbean islands: It’s one nation, but two experiences,” said Lystra Lashley in The Washington Post. Together, the two getaways “make some noise” with their Carnival and their calypso and steel-pan music (see gotrinidadandtobago.com). “But there’s more: You can’t swim a stroke or brush past a tree without seeing or hearing its other well-known attractions—the fish, birds, and other wildlife.” Of the two oil-rich siblings, “Trinidad is the fast-paced twin, known for its hiking, wildlife-watching, and heritage sites.” By contrast, Tobago is “more tranquil, with resorts, white-sand beaches, snorkeling, and scuba diving.” Bird lovers might be most amazed by Trinidad’s immense bird sanctuary, Asa Wright Nature Center, but during my visit, a sail on a glass-bottom boat from Tobago provided the most vivid memory: The Buccoo Reef, with its “fantastic coral formations,” is one of the region’s “most spectacular treasures.”

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