We've got the best new hotels, culinary adventures, private islands, off-the-grid escapes, and lots more to turn your bucket list upside-down. Welcome (back) to the Caribbean.
By Bob Curley
1 of 9Photo: Courtesy of Aman
Best New Hotel
Amanera, Dominican Republic
The D.R. gets its game-changer: Bets are on Amanera's arrival on the island's quieter northern coast starting a trend of ultra-exclusive resorts and hotels. Just 50 miles from Puerto Plata airport, the resort opened in 2015 on sleepy Playa Grande, a broad sweep of sandy shore backed by more than 2,000 acres of jungle. With gorgeous rectilinear restraint, the main house and clifftop casitas face the Atlantic and allow onshore breezes to push through open spaces. Amanera is situated alongside a Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course and has built a small, serene spa on a quiet corner of the property. Resort experiences deftly integrated with local culture, like cigar-rolling in the town of Cabrera or whale-watching day trips to nearby Samaná, mean the splendid isolation of the property never feels cloistered, but rather serves as the ideal base camp for immersive adventure. Rates start at $950.
2 of 9Photo: Daniela Spector
Best Food Find
Stush in the Bush, Jamaica
Take your Jamaican adventure way beyond jerk chicken by heading into the wild for authentic Rastafarian cooking at Stush in the Bush, an organic farm-to-table dining experience at Zionites Farm. The menu focuses on a "sexy vegetarian" Rasta diet of fresh vegetables, fruit, and spices. $75 per person.
3 of 9Photo: Jad Davenport
Best Island Adventure
Kayaking in Cuba
Get ahead of Americans making their way to Cuba this year by jumping off the tour bus and into a kayak: You'll gain not only a true island adventure, but also a view of the world's most beguiling destination from the rare vantage point of the water. Row Adventures' eight-day Cuba Unbound tour—four days of kayaking and three days of snorkeling—optimizes the "people-to-people" travel required in Cuba with cultural experiences that include visiting the Hemingway Museum and lodging with locals in the historic port city of Trinidad.
Travel Deal! Mention Coastal Living when booking to get $250 off any tour. Rates start at $3,585; 800-451-6034 or cubaunbound.com.
4 of 9Photo: Danita Delimont/Getty
Best Island Comeback
It was a Club Med outpost in the 1970s, then fell from favor during a 2009 strike. But thanks to new, low airfares, Americans are rediscovering this French West Indies archipelago with pale-sand beaches, great Creole cuisine, and locally made rhum agricole. The renewed interest has spurred updates at boutique hotels like cliff-hugging La Toubana Hôtel & Spa on Grand-Terre. For all-inclusive fans, Club Med Caravelle remains a budget-friendly favorite. La Toubana rates start at $245. Club Med Caravelle rates start at $143.
5 of 9Photo: Courtesy of Benedict Kim/The Family Coppola Resorts
Best Luxury Steal
Coral Caye, Belize
Keep your friends close and your wallet closed with a group trip to director Francis Ford Coppola's newest luxury hideaway. For $895 per night, couples can get this two-acre private island all to themselves (or add $200 per guest) for a celebrity-quality getaway that includes lodging, meals, and—for a few well-spent dollars more—private chefs and butlers. Once a fishing camp, Coral Caye is a half-hour boat ride from Coppola's Turtle Inn on the mainland; two cottages and one Great House sleep up to eight total, but it's possible to pitch a few tents as part of the adventure and sleep up to 12.
6 of 9Photo: Michael Melford/National Geographic Creative
Best Private Island
Palm Island, Grenadines
Indulging type-A travelers with soft adventure while offering the blessings of luxurious indolence (for the rest of us), Palm Island is ringed by five never-crowded beaches. Active life includes hiking, biking, kitesurfing, tennis, and croquet, though the finest diversion may be selecting one of the island's swaying hammocks. Room rates start at $569.
7 of 9Photo: Nick Ledder/Getty
Best Romantic Escape
Secret Bay, Dominica
The wild, pristine setting— a clifftop with views of white-sand beach on Dominica's north shore—is romantic enough. Put your true love and yourself into one of Secret Bay's new Ylang Ylang treehouse villas that overlook this paradise (and are surrounded with lush greenery and ocean vistas) and you have a sophisticated Caribbean escape that's tailor-made for love. Rates start at $499.
Travel Deal! Use the code COASTALLIVING when booking to get a free romantic Indian River tour for two and a welcome bottle of local, ocean-aged, limited-edition rum.
8 of 9Photo: Argalis/Getty
Best Remote Escape
This compact island has just one main road. Walking its length—from placid Saltwhistle Bay to Saline Bay via Old Wall village—reveals Mayreau's blessedly old soul (and picturesque hewn-stone architecture). Saltwhistle Bay's protected waters attract yachties cruising to the nearby Tobago Cays, but the island itself—reachable by a network of local ferries—remains firmly off the beaten path. Stay the night at the unpretentious but welcoming Dennis' Hideaway and you'll have plenty of time to dive the Mayreau Gardens and soak up the small-town vibe. Rates start at $93.
9 of 9Photo: Blaine Harrington III
Best Bucket-List Getaway
For Caribbean-culture aficionados, Trinidad's flashy and festive Carnival (February 27–28 this year) is an insider's must. Book early if you want to join the crowds "chipping" with Mas Bands, which provide costumes, food, and copious drink for two days of good-natured revelry that make New Orleans's Mardi Gras look like a church supper. Pre- and post-Carnival parties—including pre-dawn J'Ouvert road marches and the traditional recovery beach nap at Maracas Bay—practically demand an extended stay. The Hyatt Regency Trinidad (rates start at $179) is Port of Spain's swankiest address. The Coblentz Inn (rates start at $105) and the Kapok Hotel (rates start at $149) are fun boutique hideouts near the parade route.