No cars, no crowds, no problem. Guana Island in the BVIs is the perfect escape for the over-scheduled.
Silence. It takes me a moment to even identify this phenomenon, so alien is it to my everyday experience. Thanks to a life lived largely on planes and in airports, shuttling between various metropolises, the absence of sound isn't something with which I'm overly familiar. Yet that is what surrounds me after I settle into my room at Guana Island, a speck of serenity marooned between two of the world's greatest stretches of water—the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
This privately owned isle in the British Virgin Islands is one of those places better understood by what it doesn't offer than what it does. There are no cars, no bikes, no raucous hordes of party people clogging your route to the swim-up bar. There are no pillow menus, no mixologists, and no butlers. There aren't even any locals; the 20-room resort constitutes almost all of the island's manmade structures. This is a haven designed for the over-scheduled, over-stimulated, over-caffeinated 21st-century traveler, a place where siestas are encouraged and the art of doing nothing reigns supreme.
I unfold the wooden plantation shutters in my whitewashed suite, the last in a series of Mediterranean-inspired rooms strung along a ridgeline at the center of the island. In pours the dazzling Caribbean light. Out goes the silence as a sound floats up: the resident flock of flamingos, foraging and fussing from the salt pool and mangroves far below, their feathers a fiercely blushing pink.
There is something deeply old-fashioned about the style of vacationing enshrined on this 850-acre island. Flicking through the guestbooks stacked in the lounge room of the main house, I notice that the background doesn't really change. The perms, hexagonal sunglasses, and sideburns might come and go, but change on Guana Island moves at a glacial pace, and that's just its appeal.
In the 1930s a Massachusetts couple, Beth and Louis Bigelow, bought the island, instituting a Downton Abbey–style tradition of dressing for dinner with their worldly, well-heeled guests. Since 1975, the island has been in the hands of Dr. Henry Jarecki, a New York–based physician, businessman, and philanthropist who no longer insists on ties and evening gowns at dinner but otherwise has retained the place's delightful sense of time standing still. The rooms are technology-light (though there is Wi-Fi); the only entertainment, paperbacks left by other guests. There are set meal times, and the four-course dinners always start with soup.
Dining is serious business here, thanks largely to executive chef Xavier Arnau, a young Spaniard who cut his teeth in some of Europe's best kitchens and whose daily menus fuse Mediterranean and Asian flavors, but always with a Caribbean influence. After lunch, guests choose from two entrees for dinner that night (served by atmospheric candlelight on one of two terraces, a privilege reserved only for guests of the hotel), which could be anything from tuna tartare served with coconut, mango, cilantro, and avocado, or a jerk-marinated Caribbean rack of lamb that's cooked for 14 hours and served with pumpkin.
After tucking into morning pancakes that I defend from thieving birds, I decide to walk down to the main beach, White Bay, one of seven on the island. The steep road meanders through tangled tropical terrain—succulents, palms, and rare flora including a bromeliad found nowhere else on Earth—and ends at the beach, a magnificent parabola of white sand hemmed in by sea grapes and lined with palm trees. This is the island's most popular beach, which is to say you can expect to encounter four to six of your fellow guests on this half-mile expanse at any given time.
I settle into a cabana with striped curtains that frame a scene of almost ludicrous beauty: glossy palm fronds, sugary sand, and aquamarine Caribbean Sea so clear you can see the bottom for what looks like miles. A honeymooning couple mix up their own daiquiris in the whitewashed cottage that serves as an honesty bar. (There's no bartender.) Another couple laze on loungers in the shade of a giant Australian pine; its feathery needles provide a natural umbrella. A mother waves indulgently from her towel as her daughter squeals by on an inner tube behind a speedboat, the day's most energetic scene.
Sun-sated after several languid hours beachside, I hail the "beach bus" (a staff-driven jeep) back up the hill and reemerge at dusk to nurse a cocktail on the aptly named Sunset Terrace, an open-air patio set dizzyingly on a ledge overlooking the Atlantic. Tiki torches are lit along the paths, and I use their light to take a quick detour to check out The Garden of Eden, a picturesque cliff-edge wooden pavilion that hosts open-air movie nights, before repairing to my candlelit table on White Bay Terrace, overlooking the Caribbean and the twinkling lights of Tortola.
I awake the next day ambitious, and set out on a rigorous three-mile hike along the island's spine to a volcanic outcropping with intoxicating ocean views. Considering my little adventure has turned into a half-day-long cardio session, I feel justified in booking a beachside massage that afternoon. The spa—a wooden gazebo set on a raised wooden floor and swathed in billowing curtains—is an easier hike, down a sandy path lined with bougainvillea.
On my post-massage beach stroll, the serenity is briefly interrupted by the arrival of the Guana Island launch from Tortola. I listen to the newcomers chattering about all the things they plan to do here and recall something Guana's manager had told me the day before. "Guests often book a lot of things in advance," she'd said. "You know, sailing tours, day trips. And then they arrive and see the beaches and the scenery and cancel it all." Just wait until they get a load of that silence.
HOW TO GET TO GUANA ISLAND
Travelers can board a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with connections to Beef Island (EIS) on Seabourne or Cape Air (a 45-minute small plane flight), or fly to St. Thomas and take a 50-minute ferry to Beef Island. A short boat ride shuttles guests to Guana Island. Rates start at $695; 800-544-8262 or guana.com.
Photos, from top: Nina Choi; Courtesy of Guana Island; Nina Choi