Georgia’s Best Kept Seaside Secret

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Georgia's Best Kept Seaside Secret

August 1, 2019

Sea Island is not a new resort. All the way back in 1928, two months after the flagship Cloister hotel opened on the privately-owned island, then-president Calvin Coolidge became the first visitor to plant a commemorative oak tree on the hotel’s lawn. General Dwight Eisenhower and his wife followed suit, vacationing there in 1946, just a year after a lanky young veteran named George Bush honeymooned there with his new wife.

For generations now, Sea Island has been a genre-defining destination for both genteel Southerners and Yankees seeking the year-round comforts of the Georgia coast. In fact, the island’s reputation as a leisure destination extends even beyond the 20th century—and beyond recorded history. Before the arrival of the first Europeans, the island was the site of a Native American hunting and fishing camp known to Georgia natives as Fifth Creek. When European settlers—first the Spanish and then the English—colonized the area, establishing missions and later plantations, they used the scraggly stretch of land as a place to pasture animals. It was briefly a hunting preserve at the end of the 19th century, but that venture was short-lived and it was, once again, a sandy strip overrun with livestock by the time that Alfred William Jones and his moneyed cousin thought it might be the spot for their next project.

His cousin, Howard Coffin, was a mild-mannered auto magnate from Ohio who had purchased large swaths of land in coastal Georgia and planned to open a hotel for well-to-do travelers arriving on a newly constructed causeway. At the time, Sea Island did not make much sense for the luxury destination that Coffin and Jones had in mind. It was undeveloped and wild, lacked basic utilities, and the road across the marsh needed serious improvement. And yet within a matter of years, Coffin and Jones strung power lines across the marsh and hired wellknown architect Addison Mizner to construct the low-slung, Spanish-style Cloister, which would thereafter anchor a lush island of pools, tennis courts and second homes. 

Today, nearly a century later, the old Cloister has been razed and replaced by a palatial structure with a red-tiled roof similar to that of the original. Residents and vacationers have constructed and reconstructed hundreds of homes on the shady avenues past the hotel. Countless feet have hustled down the well-kept paths that connect the hotel and the equally venerable Sea Island Beach Club, which has also played host to several generations of visitors: roaring-twenties capitalists sipping champagne by the pool; Eisenhower-era parents trusting burnt but happy children to the watchful eyes of the staff while heading off to play a game of golf or a round of tennis; iPhone-equipped teenagers tanning by the Beach Pool, sipping non-alcoholic daiquiris and sneaking dips in the adults-only hot tub.

Sea Island is already many small renovations and one major overhaul into its existence. Still, under all of the new construction, the island has not lost its wild character. It’s in the bones of the new Cloister, where several rooms were built in part from planks of native heart pine and pecky cypress that were salvaged from old buildings and riverbeds. And it’s in the grounds, which are neither as tightly manicured as those of chillier resorts nor as breezy and paradisiacal as those of beachside getaways in Florida or the Caribbean.“There’s a certain mystique to coastal Georgia,” says Bill Jones III, grandson of Alfred William Jones and former CEO of the resort. “It’s unspoiled, with the moss and the live oaks and that rugged coastline.”

While other beach resorts preside over spreads of gleaming sand and gin-clear water, the colors of Sea Island are muddied tropical greens and muted shades of brown and opaque blue. At night, the moon casts Southern-gothic shadows over gnarled trees, palmettos, white-capped ocean and hanging curtains of Spanish moss. Inside The Cloister, however, the atmosphere is considerably different: glasses clinking, piano playing, forks settling onto plates and guests murmuring as they head back to their rooms or their homes after dinner. Officially, Sea Island claims seven restaurants. Counting the kiosks scattered throughout the resort and the food truck parked May through August on the beach, the number is considerably higher than that—at the height of the tourist season, more than 700 people work on the food-and-beverage side of Sea Island.

But three of the most noteworthy restaurants on the island are inside The Cloister. The River Bar is a cozy brasserie that overlooks the marsh and the Black Banks River, with a menu that nestles old-time favorites such as shrimp nachos and fried green tomatoes alongside airy profiteroles and duck cassoulet. Another continental eatery, Tavola, serves rustic Italian food helped along by sheets of house-cured meat and from-scratch pasta. The crown jewel of dining in The Cloister, however, is the Georgian Room. There, yes, jackets are still required in the dining room, but chef Daniel Zeal is not mired in white-tablecloth standards. His tasting menu explores the flavors of coastal Georgia with meticulous attention to detail and quality ingredients—and the occasional wink. Take, for example, the Southern-inspired pork bun at the top of the menu, stuffed with bacon, coleslaw, fried pickle and pimento cheese. (For guests in search of a more casual experience, the Lounge next door serves small bites from Zeal’s kitchen as well as craft cocktails.)

Come morning, after The Cloister staff has set out the stacks of newspapers, trays of pastries and urns of coffee in the glass-walled solarium, guests stream through the front doors of the hotel toward the beach, the spa, the tennis courts, the golf courses, the shooting school and the hunting preserve, or the marina where boats leave for deep-sea fishing. And then, if it were not already evident at dinner the night before, a guest realizes how Sea Island has changed over the past few decades. It may still be grounded in its founders’ vision, but a recent push to reinvigorate the place has sent new blood pumping into old veins. The children’s program, long a Sea Island hallmark, has developed a full-on curriculum. A typical day might begin with tie-dying shirts, progress into instruction in sailing or on the air rifle range, and transition into a hands-on lesson in biology from one of the resort’s naturalists, who come equipped with nets and microscopes, among other things. “We’ve got live animals, we’ve got shells, we’ve got skulls,” says Mike Kennedy, Director of Recreation. “We want kids to learn things that they can take home with them, which is an experience that we try to give to every guest.”

In keeping with Sea Island’s all-things-to-all-people approach, the fishing guides are trained as naturalists, too. When the fishing isn’t good, they’ll take guests out to see the dolphins, or to explore the barnacled exterior of a commercial crab trap. For most of the year, though, the fishing is just fine. Guests have been known to haul in as many as 100 fish in a day—catch-and-release, of course—although the chefs at Sea Island will clean, cook and serve a freshly caught fish to order. They’ll also cook game birds for guests coming back from Broadfield, the relatively new hunting preserve where the resort is cultivating an Edenic array of activities for the sporting set: five-stand shooting, a rifle and pistol range and 500 acres of quail and pheasant habitat where hunters can pursue birds with a guide or hunt alongside trained Harris hawks, goshawks, and peregrine falcons overseen by Sea Island falconers. (The beehives, chicken coop, smokehouse and gardens at Broadfield supply the restaurants back at the main resort, and it will soon help stock The Market, a gourmet general store at the entrance to the Sea Island causeway.) 

For those more interested in learning to shoulder a shotgun than taking it to the field, the Sea Island Shooting School, an institution nearly as old as The Cloister, keeps an experienced team of teachers on staff. The most junior instructor among them has been teaching for 15 years. “We can teach people who have never touched guns in their life,” says Jon Kent, a longtime instructor who is now Sea Island’s Director of Outdoor Pursuits. “We go through the safety, and then get them out there, and they’re usually hitting targets within five or 10 minutes.” 

Golf, too, has been an integral part of the Sea Island experience since the resort’s founding. Today, three courses built around the beaches, marshes and woods of southern Georgia draw visitors from all over the world. The Seaside Course is home to an annual PGA tournament, the McGladrey Classic, organized by professional golfer and Sea Island resident Davis Love III. At the golfing school guests can fine-tune their mental games with sports psychologist Dr. Morris Pickens while new converts practice on their swings with the pros. At the end of the day, sore shoulders and tired arms find relief in the 65,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, home to an indoor waterfall and an experienced team of nutritionists, trainers and masseuses.

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Island is greater than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, the golf courses and sparkling activity centers and hunting properties and five-star restaurants do not make the resort what it is. Rather, it is the overarching focus on quality that has been at Sea Island’s foundation since the resort was only a sketch in Coffin’s notebook—and, just as importantly, the timeless Southern hospitality that has been drawing vacationers to rugged coastal Georgia for all these years. “People say to us sometimes, ‘You must have a great training program,’” Jones says. “My answer is, ‘No. We have a great hiring program.’ You can’t train warm, from-the-heart service. And whether we have movie stars, or big businessmen, or whoever they might be, those people don’t get treated any differently than any other guests here at Sea Island.”

Make Yourself at Home

Sea Island Inspirato members can settle into any of four Spanish-style luxury homes, including the Estuary or the Tidewater, situated in The Cloister at Sea Island. Both offer 3,700 square feet of comfort, along with 4 bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms and a heated pool. The Cloister’s restaurants, spa, Beach Club and other amenities—all available to Inspirato members—are a leisurely five-minute walk from either house.

Must-Do List from a Vacation Advisor

Day Trip: Head to the historic St. Simons Island lighthouse and museum close to the pier. Then peruse the village’s boutiques. If time permits, grab a boat to wilds of Little St. Simons Island.
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ocal Fare: On St. Simons Island stop into Barabara Jean’s for seafood and homestyle cooking. Get your ‘cue fix at Southern Soul BBQ or try Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon and Twin Oaks BBQ in Brunswick.  

Costa Rica’s Stunning World of Ecotourism

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Costa Rica's Stunning World of Ecotourism

July 31, 2019

From the slack wood seat of an Adirondack chair, Gil Henry munches popcorn. He flicks every other kernel to a scrum of gulls flittering at his feet as he watches the wan sun emerge from late-day storm clouds and slip back out of view below the Pacific horizon. Henry just finished a blustery round of golf on the Arnold Palmer designed links at the Four Seasons Resort on Peninsula Papagayo, and after he polishes off his Hendrick’s and tonic he’ll head to the nearby town of Playa Hermosa for dinner and then on to his villa in the hills. Just another day in this Latin American Eden. 

“I come every year. Have been for a decade,” he says. “I used to think I should branch out, go elsewhere. But once you find paradise, why change it?” Costa Rica, with its miles of empty beaches and biodiverse forests and easy-to-use infrastructure, inspires loyalty among travelers. With a full 33 percent of its land under some form of conservation protection and everyman’s adventures ranging from cloud-forest hikes to snorkeling and horseback riding, it has become the poster child for ecotourism. In 2012, the latest year statistics are available, some 2.3 million visitors came here to learn to surf and spot birds in the cloud forests and witness sea turtles nesting.

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That’s part of why I’ve avoided visiting the place for years, because no matter how physically endowed or ecologically sensitive a place might be, as far as I’m concerned paradise overrun by crowds is no paradise at all. Besides that, I’ve always scoffed at Costa Rica’s feeble sense of adventure. I once mentioned the place to my parents, and my 68-year-old mother, whose idea of excitement is a social tennis match followed by a glass of sweet rosé, announced that she’s always wanted to go zip lining in Costa Rica. The place must be about as thrilling as a bridge tournament, I decided. But curiosity got the best of me. The millions of people like Henry can’t be wrong, can they? So I booked a ticket to the northwestern town of Liberia, the smaller of the country’s two international airports, and headed up the Pacific coast near Nicaragua in search of the charm of this ecotourism hotbed. Crowds and underwhelming adventures be damned—I would find the secret to this place’s appeal. The only condition: no zip lines. 

Less than an hour’s drive on freshly painted two-lane roads from the international airport, the quiet town of Playa Hermosa and Peninsula Papagayo that wraps away to the north should be overrun with tourist traffic. But unlike the more built-up swathes of beachfront farther south on the Nicoya Peninsula or the hippy traveler hangouts inland in Monteverde and La Fortuna, this northwest Pacific corner of Costa Rica is still mostly undeveloped. A few hotels speckle the waterfront, including the boutique Bosque del Mar that’s literally cut into the jungle on a spit of gray sand. But the land is mostly wild and empty hill country that’s cloaked in an impenetrable canopy of secondary forest tumbling straight down to the untouched edge of the Pacific. “It looked like that was all going to change five years ago. There was a lot of speculation and rumors that half a dozen international hotel chains had plans to open properties here,” says Anne Hegney, a Montreal transplant who moved here over a decade ago and opened Ginger, one of the best restaurants in the vicinity. “But after the global economic crisis in 2008, it really cooled down. Everyone put their plans on hold, and Playa Hermosa has stayed quiet and friendly.” Things look to be picking up again, with the boutique Mongroove Hotel opening in January north of Playa Hermosa and the Hyatt revealing a new property on the Papagayo Peninsula in December. Several other resorts are set to come online in late 2014 or 2015, as well. “But I don’t think it will be that big of a change,” Hegney says. “We’re starting from minimal development. Even the busy towns around here like Tamarindo are relaxed. It’s not like this is ever going to be Miami Beach.” 

 I decide to have a look for myself and set out for Tamarindo early the next morning. Driving in Costa Rica is a little like wandering through a corn maze—you know you’ll eventually get where you need to go, but it’s never clear what route you’ll take or when you might arrive. So vague are the highways that I’m almost surprised to reach Tamarindo, a one-road town sandwiched with surf shops and curio stands and pastel, open-air cafés. It’s busier than Playa Hermosa, but Hegney is right, it’s a far cry from the tawdry visions of Cancún that I imagined.

At Kelly’s, one of Tamarindo’s best-known surf shops, instructor Jonathan Zamora says people keep coming to Costa Rica, crowds or no crowds, because the surfing is that good. “I can put a client in the water on a board, and I guarantee they’ll be surfing by the end of the day,” he says. “But then down the coast, there are breaks to keep me surfing for the rest of my life.” I tag along as Zamora, who’s built like a can of Costa Rican Imperial lager with a crop of shoulder-length hair as curly as Christmas ribbon, guides a couple of clients to the beach for their first-ever session. Zamora leads them through a series of yoga-like drills on land to warm up. All along the beach, I note other neophytes are standing on their boards, moving through similar poses. Within the hour, Zamora’s clients are surfing, grinning and hooting like rodeo clowns. It’s not pretty, but it’s still surfing.

After the lessons are done, strangers gather on the beach and squat on their boards to trade stories, both about the day and their lives back home. Phone numbers are traded. Friends are made. It’s not unlike summer camp for adults, except when the sun sets everyone saunters down the beach to the scatter of restaurants serving icy Imperials and freshfried corn chips to scoop up the lime-tart ceviche. Around dusk, a squall pushes through town dropping rain so heavy that you can’t see from the bar patio to the cars parked out front. Evening plans are scrapped and amended, and another round of Imperial is ordered.

There are two ways to enjoy a stay on the Pacific coast, on the beachfront or in the hills. “The water is nice,” says Kelsey Hill, Inspirato’s destination concierge in Costa Rica. “But the views are what you want.” I’m skeptical. It sounds like marketing spin for, “We couldn’t get beachfront.” Until I visit one of the company’s properties, that is. Set on a finger of wooded land overlooking Playa Coco to the south and Playa Hermosa to the north, the airy singlestory home has a glass-front living space that opens onto an expansive patio and infinity pool with dizzying views to the Pacific. A salty breeze blows all day, making this perch both cooler and more spectacular than the waterfront properties where I’d been staying. It’s just five minutes in the car to surfing, snorkeling and kayaking. Yet the perspective, out over a canopy so thick that it looks like broccoli florets, is worth the extra few minutes of travel time. For the mightiest canopies, however, you must head inland. Arenal, which sits beneath one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanos, is the nearest, biggest rain forest. But it’s a long drive, so I opt for the lesser-known Tenorio Volcano National Park. Farther north, it has a dominant cinder cone akin to Arenal, rain-forest hikes, a spring-fed river that supposedly shimmers as blue as Kool-Aid and fewer visitors. 

The road to Tenorio, as is the case with most byways off the main arteries, is roller coaster steep and covered with boulders big enough to crush a large raccoon-like coati. Along the way is the Celeste Mountain Lodge, a quirky and elegant ecolodge owned by Frenchman Joel Marchal that makes a timely coffee stop and break from the jouncing road. Marchal, whose Canadian-based travel company was one of the first to offer Costa Rican trips, moved here in 2003 to erect his ideal jungle lodge. “It’s not the best-known corner of the country,” he says. “But in our opinion it is the best.” At Tenorio, guide Alex Ordoñez Jarquin meets me at daybreak and leads the way up the steep, rooted national park trail in search of wildlife. There’s the possibility of sighting a tapir, an endangered mammal that, judging by the murals at park headquarters, resembles an overstuffed, cow-size pig with a short trunk. The odd beast proves elusive, though there’s plenty of other fauna, including several beautiful coati and a pencil-thin zopilota snake that Jarquin plucks from a branch for a closer look. He also points out the iridescent blue Rio Celeste, which derives its fantastical color from a chemical reaction that takes place at the convergence of two mineral-rich tributaries. “Last year Paris-Match called the Tenorio waterfall the most beautiful in the world, and most people have never even heard of it,” Jarquin says. “This country is full of untapped spectacles. You just have to look.”

I decide that I owe it to Costa Rica—and to my mother—to see the zip lines. It’s the country’s biggest attraction, and to pass judgment on tourism here without at least trying it would be like going to Peru but skipping Machu Picchu. So I detour eastward toward Arenal where the land turns to pristine, canopied hill country that empties into a broad valley beneath the perfect onyx pyramid of Arenal volcano. No one can explain the connection between zip lining and Costa Rica, though the most reasonable explanation comes from a guide who says that the activity caught on after researchers at the Monteverde cloud forest introduced the cable system for research purposes. One of the biggest operations in Arenal today is a 9-year-old company called Sky Adventures that climbs 775 feet up the mountainside by way of a 1,000-meter-long open-air gondola and then descends on eight lines cut into the canopy, one nearly half a mile long.

A group of twelve visitors conquers the course together, and reactions range from peels of unfettered laughter to screeches of terror. When my turn comes, I zing across the chasms, sometimes as high as 600 feet off the ground and ogle the views. I have to admit that it’s entertaining. But it’s the South African retirees on the excursion who make the experience for me. Having come to Costa Rica for the birding, Pieter and Moira decided they simply had to try the zip lines. Moira, a spry but graying grandmother, is beaming after her first few rides. She later tells me it’s the most thrilling thing she’s ever done. I will forever like the zip lines because of her. We travel to expand our experience, to discover something new about the world and ourselves, and Moira will always remember the day she flew through the Latin American cloud forest. That’s the thing about adventure—you never know where it will take you. It’s also Costa Rica’s secret. Sure the country has world-class surf, rain forest hikes and biodiversity that makes Noah’s ark look like a dinghy. And yes, the northwest corner has some of the most consistently perfect weather of anywhere on the planet, with zero precipitation virtually guaranteed from December through April. Everyone knows these things. But just when you think you have a handle on the place, a tapir will walk out in front of you on the trail, or the dry season skies will unleash a cloudburst so violent you can’t see the car bumper ahead of you, or a volcano will unexpectedly growl and erupt. There are still plenty of spectacles to be found in Costa Rica. You just have to look.  

Make Yourself at Home 

Costa Rica Nestled into the soaring hillside along the Cacique Peninsula, Inspirato’s three Signature Residences offer private pools, a daily housekeeper and a chef (for breakfast and lunch). Homes range from the 4,000-square-foot, 4-bedroom Villa Vientos and Villa Altamira residences to the sprawling, modern 4,600-square-foot, 3-bedroom Serena abode. New this year, Inspirato members can settle into two residences on Peninsula Papagayo with access to the golf course at the Four Seasons Resort.

Must-Do List from a Vacation Advisor 

Day Trips: To get the best of Costa Rica, plan on exploring the country. Travel by horseback to a waterfall close to the Borinquen Resort, and then fly through the jungle on their zip line. Return for a large lunch and spend the rest of the day at the spa. Take the Jungle ATV tour of the rain forest and prepare to get muddy from stream crossings. Want less adrenaline but no less awe? The Palo Verde Tour boat trip up a river through a wildlife sanctuary passes crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas and thousands of birds—on a good day the monkeys will jump into your boat 

What It’s Really Like Taking a Trip on a Mega-Yacht​

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What It's Really Like Taking a Trip on a Mega-Yacht

July 31, 2019

In a corner of the economy that few get to see and even fewer get to experience, there exists a conveyance known as the mega-yacht. Nothing short of castles upon the sea, these vessels are more than 100 feet long, 25 feet in beam, and more than 50 feet tall. Bulging with four decks and more than 5,000 square feet of living space, they are multilevel Park Avenue penthouses—that float.

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Lady J, at 142 feet, is the definition of mega-yacht; and what better place to show it off than the island of Providenciales, part of the Turks and Caicos archipelago. As we walk the pier to board, Lady J’s crew of nine, including captain Steve, snap to sharp attention to welcome us. The yacht has a capacity of 12, but its passenger list seldom exceeds 10, meaning the ship’s ratio of crew to guest is roughly 1:1 so there is no wish left unanswered or, more impressively, unanticipated. A few steps up to the main deck and we are given cool towels and still cooler champagne. While the captain explains the vessel’s safety features on our introductory tour, I can’t help but eye both the collection of wines and the collection of water-born sea toys that includes two jet skis, a 32-foot, fishing/waterski/do-whatever-the-hell-you-want speedboat, and an arsenal of associated apparatus from paddle-boards to wakeboards to banana boats, all accessible from a hardwood sports deck that extends invitingly off the stern a foot or so above the water.

Morning begins with a breakfast of smoked salmon, eggs Benedict and cappuccino as we cruise toward our anchorage off a lovely coastline on the west side of the island. Once there, the crew squires us aboard the tender for a day on a deserted beach where upon arrival we find beach chairs arranged, umbrellas unfurled, and champagne on ice. The beach itself is beyond pristine, having been raked by the crew hours earlier.

The staff of Lady J operate in a manner that combines the most important elements of white glove service (in some cases even including white gloves), the U.S. Secret Service (each wearing an earpiece to assure that a guest’s mildest requirements can be promptly met) and of traditional hospitality (“Is there anything at all I can get you?”). When one evening a guest decides to have an unannounced midnight swim, it seems as if two of the crew arrive with waiting towels even before he hits the water. “We have a swimmer!” is quietly heard over the radio to a listener being poured some chamomile in the main parlor.

We spend the morning speeding on jet skis, falling off paddle-boards, and snorkeling on the reef. Given the choice of lunch on the beach or back at Lady J, the guests agree to return to the ship for chef Nate’s ministrations, which this time included a lovely quinoa salad and some perfectly seasoned grilled chicken. While some of our group elect to spend the afternoon on the sun deck replete with a hot-tub and comfy chaise lounges, Captain Steve suggests we try our hand at some game fishing. Thirty minutes later, we are off in Lady J’s powerboat equipped with tackle well suited for Moby Dick. Steve, who’s an angler by heart, put us on fish almost immediately, and we return with both fresh mackerel and some very tired arms.

Fatigued from a full day of indulgence, we assemble in the formal dining room for a carefully crafted sauté of diver scallops, shrimp, and lemon flounder.  It is delectable, as is the freshly baked bread, in which Nate takes particular pride With the exception of some unexpected rain which the crew handles with the deftness and coordination of a race car pit crew, our cruise on Lady J is a mix of luxury, excitement, relaxation, and service that leave us thinking only of the next time we might be aboard.

Providenciales: Jewel of the West Indies 

The gleaming, reef-enclosed island of Providenciales sits at the northwest corner of the Turks and Caicos island chain, yet it’s neither Turk, nor Caico. It’s not technically part of “the Caribbean” either according to purists who claim that the Turks and Caicos, along with the Bahamas, are not Caribbean islands. 

Whatever the case, to most visitors the warm, gentle and gin-clear water that explodes in turquoise and surrounds Providenciales is a decidedly Caribbean experience. What’s not Caribbean about it? That Turks and Caicos appears to be relatively underdeveloped with respect to other islands, which are both farther away from the United States and no more beautiful. “Provo”—as the locals call Providenciales—lies a mere 500 miles from Miami, and the airport’s 9,000-foot runway can serve the largest jets in the world. The islands are also possessed of the earth’s third-largest barrier reef (behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and that of Belize) and offer some of the best diving and fishing in the Americas.

Why Puerto Rico is the Most Underrated Tropical Destination

Why Puerto Rico is the Most Underrated Tropical Destination

July 29, 2019

Before you choose your next Caribbean vacation, scribble a list of what you’re after on a piece of paper. It might go something like this: shimmering seas and sugar-sand beaches; balmy weather; breezy luxury accommodations; surfing, diving, sailing, jungle hiking, and a round of golf; food culture, including a rum or three; a touch of the exotic; and, since you’re headed to the Caribbean, not the South Pacific or Asia, easy access.

Next, off the top of your head, pin some destinations to those desires. Turks and Caicos have some of the most sparkling beaches in the West Indies. St. Lucia is swathed in jungle and exploding with mountains for tropical adventures. Cuba is a cultural time capsule. The Caymans have teeming reefs and vibrant waters. But if you want to roll all those elements into one destination and make it as easy to get to as flying to Miami, there’s only one place to go, Puerto Rico—the United States’ nearest tropical escape and perhaps one of the most overlooked destinations in the Caribbean. 

The Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the Mexican Riviera often draw more travelers annually. And where Curaçao conjures visions of beach cocktails and Saba or Montserrat sound as exotic as the South Pacific, for Americans, Puerto Rico often evokes the mainland; it’s too close and too easy to feel like a true escape. “Those associations are understandable, but I don’t see it that way,” says Mari Jo Laborde, chief sales and marketing officer at the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. “The fact that we are part of the U.S. means that travelers can get here quickly and easily without the headaches of a passport or immigration. But the island is a whole different culture than anything on the mainland, and we have more diversity of things to do than any other place in the Caribbean.” And judging by recent trends, Puerto Rico’s stature might be on the rise. 

Though the slump in tourism that washed over the Caribbean after the economic crisis in 2007 hit Puerto Rico hard, visits to the island have been on a steady rise since 2011. “There has been a major reinvestment in hotels and infrastructure in the last few years,” Laborde explains. “We’re also seeing a resurgence in the luxury market and a renewed effort to recapture some of the old glamour that started in the 1920s and lasted through the 1950s.” 

The idea of Puerto Rico as an exclusive escape isn’t something new: In the 1920s, the island was once considered as exotic as Hawaii and as glamorous as St. Tropez. Even then, Dorado Beach sat at the heart of that dazzle. The property was a citrus and coconut plantation owned by New York physician Alfred Livingston. It was Livingston’s daughter, Clara, the 200th female pilot in the world, who brought celebrity to the place. Clara’s good friend Amelia Earhart visited occasionally, including an overnight in 1937 on the first leg of her fateful attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Laurance Rockefeller purchased Dorado Beach and opened it as a hotel in 1958. It was a prescient venture. 

Around the same time, hostilities fired up between Cuba and the United States, and the socialites and Hollywood stars who were frequenting Havana as a playground suddenly turned to Puerto Rico. Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, and presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy all visited during the heyday 

It’s this Golden Age mystique that Ritz-Carlton is chasing with the reopening of Dorado Beach. The hotel owners spent $342 million on the project and crafted a property befitting its celebrity past. It tapped Spanish culinary phenom José Andrés to run Mi Casa, the gourmet Puerto Rican-fusion restaurant on property, and brought in Jean Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program to guide its diving and underwater ecology programs. The property is an Eden of lush waterfalls and gardens, and the bungalows and suites, which are tucked beneath the old growth trees and coconut palms redolent of the Livingston days, feel as if they’ve been there for centuries.

Helbling will tell you that the time is ripe for a tourism boom in Puerto Rico. In the past five years, the Puerto Rican government has instituted a generous program of tax and housing incentives to lure investors and high-net-worth individuals to move to the island. Plans are afoot for a major renovation to the airport at San Juan that will accommodate new routes from the mainland. “We now have direct flights to most major cities: New York, Washington D.C., several airports in Florida, Chicago, Houston,” says Laborde. “In just three or four hours from home, you can be on the beach. That’s less time than many Americans spend commuting each day.”

The payoff for that short vacation commute to Puerto Rico is an island packed with history, culture and natural beauty. The island’s history starts at the centuries-old stone fortifications and bluestone cobbled streets of the old city that transport visitors into a different time and culture. First stop, a stroll atop the ramparts of El Morro, the walled fortress built on the high promontory overlooking San Juan Bay, which evokes 400 years of Spanish rule and all its history. The island’s modern history dates to 1952, when Puerto Rico became a United States commonwealth. Just outside the ramparts, a World Heritage site since 1983, the narrow grid of streets is packed with cafés, galleries, antique shops, stone plazas, and hundreds of pastel-splashed 16th- and 17th-century Spanish Colonial buildings that have been fully restored. Officially this is America, but it’s arguably the most exotic and authentic corner of the Union this side of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After dark, the streets echo with live salsa music, the brassy screech of horns and incessant thrum of pianos and congas dancing off the ancient streets. Outside the time capsule of Old San Juan, however, the quaint little corners of this city of more than 2 million, half the island’s population, have sprung to life in recent years. Condado, once a tacky touristy strip of hotels east of the old town, has been resurrected with boutiques amid lush, tree-shaded parks. The gorgeous renovation of the beachfront Vanderbilt Hotel, originally built in 1919 and host to no less than Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, and president Franklin D. Roosevelt, has only added to the district’s renaissance. Ocean Park, at the east end of Condado, draws discriminating visitors with luxury guest houses and one of the hippest beaches in the city. And straight south is Santurce, a slightly gritty working class neighborhood that’s becoming the Chelsea of San Juan as it fills with trendy 20-somethings and cutting-edge galleries showcasing contemporary Puerto Rican art.

It would be regrettable to miss out on the sexy, Spanish influenced, metropolitan side of Puerto Rico, but talk to anyone who lives there, and they’ll tell you that much of the island’s charm lies outside San Juan. “Visitors should really explore the rest of the island,” says Chelsea Harms, a marine scientist who lives on the west coast and author of the lifestyle and travel blog Sea, Field, and Tribe that documents life on this Caribbean outpost. “Outside the metro area, you get a better feel for how different this place is from the rest of America.” The quickest introduction is along La Ruta Panorámica, the island’s answer to Maui’s Hana Highway, with 165 miles of meandering switchbacks through the countryside. The road— it’s actually a linkage of 40 secondary roads—traverses Puerto Rico’s central spine through heavily forested hill country from Maunabo in the east to Mayagüez in the west. Though it’s not even an hour’s drive from the capital, this Puerto Rico is a lifetime removed from Dorado Beach, with field-workers harvesting sugarcane in the humid south, verdant coffee plantations in the highlands, and chickens and goats to dodge the whole way. A blanket of rain forest that looks like broccoli from a distance covers most hills, and, for the intrepid, trails that dead-end at deserted waterfalls speckle the countryside.

Near the end of La Ruta Panorámica, on the snout-shaped peninsula at the island’s northwest tip, sits Rincón, a dozy town of 15,000 whose population multiplies during the winter surfing season. The place gained a bit of an international reputation in 1968, when the World Surfing Championships came to town. Since then it’s lured surfers from all over the globe with stretches of lonely sand and swells that can reach 25 to 30 feet. CNN Travel rated it No. 27 on the list of world’s best 50 places to surf. It’s the laidback opposite of San Juan, with good waves and pristine reefs and a far-flung vibe quite apart from Laguna Beach or Nags Head. Harms agrees that it’s the chilled-out West Indies attitude that draws people. “It’s just a friendly little beach town,” she says of her adoptive town of Rincón. “You can walk to the beach from your house, leave the windows and doors open for the breeze, and basically have the best ocean, from the surf to the reefs, this side of Hawaii.”

A Personal Vacation Advisor's List

Eat: Don’t miss the award-winning wine list and dishes such as freshly made gnocchi with organic beef tenderloin in a cabernet sauvignon sauce at Marmalade Restaurant in Old San Juan. // Stay close to home for a Caribbean spin on Italian cuisine at the Grappa Ristorante in Dorado. Try the fresh, locally sourced grouper served over wild mushroom risotto.  

Explore: Set off in a kayak or paddle board for the full moon paddle departing from Cafe Barlovento in Condado. // Visit the El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest on U.S. soil. Well-marked paths lead to waterfalls and observation towers scattered throughout the park. //  Inspirato’s residences are located inside the Ritz-Carlton Reserve at Dorado Beach, a 45-minute drive from the San Juan International Airport. Vacationers can choose from either a multi story penthouse with four bedrooms and a 2,700-square-foot private terrace, or a fourth-floor, three-bedroom condominium residence. Both are situated within the exclusive Plantation community along the golf course’s renowned fairways with views of the mountains and ocean. // First Sunday of every month Mercado Urbano Head to La Ventana del Mar in Condado where more than 40 farmers and artisans from across the island sell their wares.

The Unforgettable Experience of an African Safari

The Unforgettable Experience of an African Safari

July 29, 2019

When we flew into Nairobi last December, a host greeted my family and ushered us into two Jeeps stocked with cold beers and safari-style wide-brimmed hats. My husband and I booked the African safari as our first Inspirato trip, bringing along his parents and our three children. Our route to the hotel cut straight through Nairobi National Park. 

As soon we entered the park, my kids poked their heads out of the top of Jeep to snap photos of a lioness a mere 2 feet from our vehicle. We were still close enough to Nairobi to see the backdrop of the city, yet we were suddenly immersed in a jungle setting with a rhino and a pride of lions in the distance. It was completely wild and surreal. 

The next day we flew to the Chyulu Hills area and landed in the middle of the bush. Our driver and guide, Seki, a tall man with a big grin and calm and gentle presence, met us in a Land Rover with elevated seats and drove us through the flat, dusty plain to Ol Donyo Lodge. On the drive we saw zebras, elephants, and giraffes.

 At the hotel, you could see the watering hole used by the area’s elephants. Our rooms had a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, private swimming pools, and a rooftop bed for sleeping under the stars. Two of the nights Seki took us out for “sundowners,” where he drove us out into the savannah and pulled out pewter cups for cocktails and a table for hors d’oeuvres. 

African-Safari-Featured-1

A surprising perk of the trip was having everyone unplugged from cell phones and iPads. My son Wilson, 22, made friends with the staff and went out to play volleyball in a rigged-up court out back. We read books by the pool and played cards as a family at night. There were horse stables right off the property, so we spent a day on horseback, viewing giraffes in the distance. 

My husband and I went mountain biking and saw a Maasai man dressed in red warrior-looking garb herding cattle across the plain. Young children ran alongside the cows and stopped to wave to us. We toured a Maasai village with mud huts. Women and children sold wares and my children bartered for knives and spears, which they somehow managed to get through customs on the way home.

On our fifth day of the trip, also Christmas morning, we boarded a charter flight to the Bateleur Camp. Our pilot flew low over the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, giving us a spectacular aerial view of hippos, elephants, and giraffes. It was one of the most exciting parts of the trip and something I will never forget. 

Just off the airstrip, our hosts set up a table with cookies, juice, and champagne. It was such a special greeting. Bateleur Camp was mostly wood and had an open-air living room and bar. Our fixed tents had thatched roofs and stone showers. I felt like I was on a movie set. Monkeys hung out in the trees and warthogs wandered across the lawn. 

Each day we headed out on game drives, traveling along bumpy dirt paths over rolling green hills. We witnessed a lion trying to chase down a zebra (the zebra got away), other zebras lingering near a river with more than 50 visible crocs, and two cheetahs eating the remains of a recent kill. We saw hundreds of elephants and got so close to giraffes that we could have touched them. 

Each day after the tours, we returned to the tents for a delicious family-style meal. I was a little concerned at first since my son and I are vegetarians, but our hosts were extremely accommodating and always made sure to offer us a meat-free option. For our Christmas dinner, the tables were covered in rose petals and lined with candles and crystal, a truly beautiful experience. 

After arriving in Kenya, we learned about hot air balloon rides and decided to add it to our itinerary. Toward the end of our trip, we floated over the spectacular landscape at sunrise. Besides the noise of the balloon inflating, it was completely quiet and peaceful. I highly recommend it. 

I have my mother-in-law, Sally Knapp, to thank for giving us the idea for the trip. She’d previously attempted to organize a family safari about a decade ago and it never panned out. Now that she’s in her mid-70s, my husband and I really wanted to make it happen for her. We’re so glad we did. She loved it. It was the trip of a lifetime.

Mountain Adventures to Experience with Your Family This Winter

Alaska-Glacier-Hero

Mountain Adventures to Experience with Your Family This Winter

July 26, 2019

If you’re looking for a departure from beaches and boardwalks this summer, consider an unconventional mountain escape that’ll have you oohing and ahhing over expansive vistas. Fill your lungs to the brim with fresh air, and feel your heart pound with exhilaration. However you prefer to balance exercise and adventure, your family will cherish these unforgettable experiences forever. 

Get Here: Trips depart from Aspen Paragliding’s downtown Aspen office mornings at 6:45, 8:30 and 10:30. Arrive 15 minutes early, and plan two hours for the experience.  
Be Prepared: Bring a wind jacket, sunglasses, walking or running shoes, and your camera.  
Suitable For: Children 3 and older, and adults who can run 20 steps. aspenparagliding.com $225 per person.

You’d think soaring through the crisp, mountain air mere feet from the peaks as the sun peers over 14,000-foot summits is an experience exclusive to red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and the occasional helicopter or small jet. But when you sign up for a ride with Aspen Paragliding, you too can take flight on the Rocky Mountain thermals. This is as close as you can come to truly flying as you step off a cliff, arms spread, to catch the updraft and ride the breeze. In Aspen, the experience begins when you pile into a four-wheel-drive truck for a winding drive up the Aspen Mountain service roads as marmots and deer and even the occasional bear or elk scamper out of the way.

Step out of the Jeep onto one of two well-manicured grassy runways—high-altitude greenbelts that in the winter are Walsh’s and Ruthie’s ski runs. Enjoy the sights while your pilot lays out the paraglider and helps you into your harness, which doubles as your seat while you’re in flight. The pilot attaches himself to the paraglider and to you with Kevlar straps called risers. When the wind is right, he says, “Go,” and you sprint 10 to 20 steps downhill. Seconds later, you feel the tug of the wing above you, you run faster, and then your legs are moving but they’re not touching the ground. You lift off and you’re floating above a maze of snowless ski slopes.

The wind is brisk but not overly so, and the smell of earth is quickly replaced by fresh air and ozone as the ground sinks below you. The pilot scoops you onto a wooden plank seat, and your hands are free to snap photos as you meander and serenely glide 3,000 feet down to Aspen Valley. Spot a hawk playing in a thermal, and your pilot will steer you to join the bird as it hovers in the sky. Panoramic views in all directions let you pinpoint Aspen’s famed Wheeler Opera House, the craggy Maroon Bells, the cleft of Independence Pass and Highlands Bowl, which still hides snow in its gullies.

Alex Palmaz, owner of the company and its lead pilot, learned to paraglide in Aspen 20 years ago from the school he now owns. Since then he has flown more than 4,000 tandem flights, and 6,000 flights in all. If you’re game, he’ll let you steer. Brake toggles control the wing overhead. Lean left, look left and pull the left toggle, and the wing sweeps left. It’s the same to the right. Lean; look; brake. Best of all, you needn’t worry about the landing as each passenger harness has a bottom-mounted airbag to make your return to Earth gentle. You may not spend more than 20 minutes in the air, but the memory will last a lifetime.

Get Here: Tyax will pick you up in Vancouver or Whistler and fly you via float plane to the start of the trip.
Time Commitment: Ride for one to seven days. For the true hutto-hut experience, we recommend spending two to three nights.
Equipment: Bring your own hydration pack to carry water, snacks and an extra layer, and a sleeping bag liner for the huts. Tyax provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and transports your bags each day.
Suitable For: Intermediate and advanced riders, teenage and older.  $1,980 per person, two-night trip.

As the float plane skitters to a splashy stop on Lorna Lake, or perhaps one of the other puddles sprinkled throughout Canada’s South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park—150 miles, and a 90-minute flight, from Vancouver—your skin prickles with delight at the silence and serenity of having millions of acres of virtually untouched wilderness seemingly to yourself. There is no hum of other planes or cars; not so much as the braying of an odd farm animal. You’ve flown here because there are no roads or rail lines into the park. Lorna’s waters lap gently at the shore as you wait for your guide to retrieve your bike from the bowels of the five-seater Dehavilland Beaver. Helmeted and ready, you mount your trusty steed and ride off into the mountains. 

Wind your way over shale-littered passes with sweeping views of the jagged Coast Range, snow occasionally crunching beneath your bike tires. Then race downhill through sprawling meadows—a rainbow of endless azalea, Indian hellebore, arrowleaved groundsel, Indian paintbrush, Sitka valerian and lupine quivering as you whiz past. You’re in the capable hands of the Tyax Wilderness Resort & Spa’s expert mountain bike guides, and you’re pedaling toward the first of as many as six simple and comfortable huts—each with its own personality, but all with soft beds, hot showers and hot, hearty meals—that will be your home each night. Bike for three, four or seven days, three to eight hours a day. Awake each morning to snow-capped peaks reflected in a mountain lake, with a lone heron gliding silently by. If you’re truly adventurous, skip the shower and take a frosty dip in the glacier-fed lake. After breakfast, it’s another quad-burning climb to the top of a pass followed by the sweet reward of a sweeping descent through mineral stained soils, the crumbling remnants of old lava flows and breezy groves of iridescent aspen. 

You might see a string of packhorses delivering your bags to that night’s cabin or possibly a faraway grizzly digging for grubs or chomping on fireweed. The single-track isn’t technical—it was beaten in by gold-seeking prospectors and their stock animals, and First Nations hunters in pursuit of deer, bear and mountain goats. But the adventure is remote and hard-charging—the kind of experience that creates an iron bond between you, your fellow travelers and a special place few people get to experience.

Get Here: Drive 90 minutes from Park City to Ogden to meet your guides, who provide harness, helmet and lanyard.  
Be Prepared: Bring sunscreen, a small backpack, light snacks and lots of water; and wear light hikers, approach shoes or running shoes.
Suitable For: Children 8 and older. Pass on this adventure if you’re afraid of heights. mountogdenviaferrata.com $100 per person. 

Have you ever imagined yourself scaling a cliff Stallone-style, your fingers pinching barely-there ledges as you athletically slither your way to the summit? If it sounds exciting and ruggedly romantic, yet you lack the skills, (rock) face time or Sly’s catlike reflexes, don’t sweat it. You can book an afternoon at Mount Ogden Via Ferrata in Utah, a 90-minute drive from Park City, and experience the thrill with much less risk. Italian for “iron road,” via ferrata is a semi-assisted way to traverse rock walls using fixed iron cables and ladders that let you StairMaster your route up a cliff; no technical rock climbing skills, knots or ropes required. The technique originated in the Italian Dolomites during World War I as a way for troops unskilled in mountain climbing to move quickly and efficiently through Italy’s peaks as they fought the Austrians on ever-higher ground. In the U.S., via ferratas are purely recreational. The Mount Ogden routes are some of the best in North America, designed by American alpinist, climber and Ogden resident Jeff Lowe. If you’re fit enough to climb a long ladder, agile enough to clip a carabiner to an iron rung and comfortable with heights, you’ll scamper up mountainsides with ease whether you’re 5 or 65.

Ogden’s Waterfall Canyon, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, can be steamy hot in the summer. It’s a short and dusty walk to the shady grove at the base of the demonstration wall, where your guide fits you with a climbing harness and helmet and issues you via ferrata’s signature hardware: a shock-absorbing Y-shaped lanyard that connects your harness to the route’s metal rungs. Your shoe rubber grips the rock as you carefully choose slabby foot holds and navigate from rung to rung. You work one side of your lanyard then the other up the iron ladder so that you are always attached at one point or the other. Once you have the basics, it’s a 15-minute hike through a boulder field to the waterfall for which the canyon is named. Cool off with a splash in the water; then it’s time for your first ascent. Your focus is sharp as you carefully pick your way around loose cobbles, reach your foot for the next rung and pull your hips toward the next secure clip. Three routes meander 350 feet up craggy Mount Ogden. The rock is hot and dry, but a light breeze cools you as you wrestle your way to the summit, where you’re greeted by bird’s-eye views of the Great Salt Lake basin and the jagged Wasatch Mountains. 

3 Tropical Family Getaways for Relaxation and Adventure

3 Tropical Family Getaways for Relaxation and Adventure

July 19, 2019

Families who vacation together, stay together. And whether they’re adventurers or relaxation-seekers, the following three locations have a variety of activities for everyone to enjoy.

1. Rosemary Beach, Florida

Idyllic. Charming. Timeless. All words often used to describe Rosemary Beach, a sandy-shore escape upon the warm waters of northern Florida’s Gulf Coast. Picture old world architecture reminiscent of Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; and even parts of the colonial Caribbean. Stately homes are interlaced by cobbled walk ways, sunny pools, pocket parks and grassy knolls—all within a short walk to the lovely downtown, where boutiques, cafes, art galleries and a day spa present a chance to relax while away.

Located along scenic Highway 30-A, an 18.5-mile stretch of road that wends along strips of fine-sand coastline, through marshes and wetlands, past hardwood forest and coastal scrubland, Rosemary Beach is one of 11 communities connected by four state parks, 27 miles of greenway paths and dozens of beaches. In Rosemary Beach, favored for its sugar-sand and family embracing ethos, there’s much to do and see. Homeowners and guests receive a secure passcode for the beach gate, keeping crowds minimal. The fine sand trickles through your toes en route to the warm, crystalline water. Once in the ocean, you can see your toes, as well as the dozens of species of fish swimming alongside you, making for excellent snorkeling.  

An avid golf community, Rosemary Beach is close to several renowned local courses, including the Fazio-designed Camp Creek and the stunning Santa Rosa, with two holes abutting the Gulf of Mexico. And with water as clear as the Bahamas’, aspiring fishermen can catch a boutique charter right out of Rosemary Beach for an intimate ocean-fishing excursion, or make the 45-minute trip into Destin for a deeper-sea option. Expect plentiful cobia, tuna, amberjack and snapper. Those seeking time away from the sand will find refuge in one of Rosemary Beach’s four unique pools (see sidebar). A sure hit with kids of all ages, the pools are open to all Rosemary Beach homeowners and guests. A highlight here is sampling each pool and soaking in its unique flavor and vibe. Summertime family themed pool parties are always a hit, followed by beach bonfires with s’mores and moon – light crabbing on the wet sand with flashlights in hand. 

Ideal for families with school age children, the summer high season also brings kids camp sunny days filled with activities designed to introduce the younger set to the joys of the beach, from snorkeling to fishing to stand-up paddle boarding, a new sport that’s become a Rosemary Beach staple. Concerts on the Great Lawn, movies out under the stars and family-centric performances all summer long perpetuate Rosemary Beach’s idyllic summer ambience.

And while everything in Rosemary Beach is walkable, getting around is more fun on a beach cruiser. Local cycle shop 30-A Bikes will drop off and pick up cycles at your residence, and the more adventurous cyclists should know that all 18.5 miles of Highway 30-A is paved from end to end. Pedaling it—all or in part—is a great way to get the lay of the land. But the real Rosemary Beach magic transcends the golf, the fishing, the snorkeling and the sugary beach. At the end of the day, time spent in such a special place creates family memories worth keeping.  

Locally owned cafes and restaurants—no drivethroughs allowed here—offer a down-home culinary scene with something for all comers.

Places to Eat

  • Restaurant Paradis: Serves steaks and seafood in a fine dining setting. 
  • La Crema: This fun tapas bar serves up diverse wines, small bites and tempting chocolate desserts in an outdoor cafe style setting. 
  • Summer Kitchen Cafe and Restaurant: A casual cafe serving three meals a day. Also a popular brunch spot.  
  • Wild Olives Market: Stop at this market and deli for fresh soups, salads and sandwiches made in-house.  
  • George’s: Located in nearby Aly’s Beach, this seaside restaurant focuses on fresh ingredients and is known for its famous grouper sandwich.
  • Caliza: Also in Aly’s Beach, Caliza offers waterside dining surrounding its sleek infinity pool. 
  • Cafe Thirty-A: About 15 minutes from Rosemary Beach, this restaurant in Seagrove Beach consistently offers up some of the best food and service in the region.  

Where to Swim

  • Cabana Pool: Next to a playground, Cabana Pool has a shaded 12-inch-deep children’s wading pool and a large main pool that boasts a colorful Mediterranean design. 
  • Coquina Pool: Sitting beachside, Coquina is simple yet beautiful with an infinity edge and a large shallow end that makes it a family favorite.  
  • Sky Pool: This unusual pool features a closable roof that allows it to stay open year-round. 
  • Barbados Pool: With two pools inside a gated structure, this complex has a distinctive Caribbean design with plenty of shade and a vestibule fountain

2. Punta De Mita, Mexico

The wild, rugged beauty of Punta de Mita is often the first thing visitors notice. Only 50 minutes from the tourist capital of Puerta Vallarta, Punta de Mita seems a world away—which is exactly what makes it so special. 

We can thank, in part, geography: Punta de Mita sits on a 9-milelong peninsula that juts into the Pacific, replete with hidden coves, craggy coastline and sandy bay-front beaches perfect for lounging, splashing and sunning. One of Punta de Mita’s finest is Veneros Beach, on the northern edge of Banderas Bay. One mile of soft sand meets the gentle, warm waters of the bay and serves up all the activities a beach-seeking family with adolescent and teenage kids could want: boogie boarding at low tide, kayaking out past the breaks, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, digging in the sand or just lounging in a chaise with a good book on an uncrowded strip of Pacific coastline. 

Punta de Mita is also one of Mexico’s top diving spots thanks to an underwater topography of arches and caves and plentiful coral reefs that attract diverse marine life. Even novice divers and snorkelers will find an excursion that meets their needs, including a tour to Las Marietas, rugged, uninhabited islands known as the “other Galapagos” thanks to their unique birdlife. Beneath the waves, look for dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles and colorful tropical fish such as pufferfish and damselfish. From December through March, whale-spotting cruises take over as the destination’s most popular diversion. The waters of Punta de Mita also hold a bounty for deep-sea fishermen hoping to catch their limit of sea bass, tuna, black and blue marlin, and red snapper.  

This beach vacation isn’t all about the water, though. Families with older kids can partake in a popular eco tour. These excursions introduce families to Punta de Mita’s pristine forests and inland parks of the verdant Sierra Madre Mountains. Visit up-and-coming San Pancho (also known as San Francisco), a quaint, artsy Mexican village still frequented by the native Hiuchol tribe. Or arrange for a hike or bike ride along the trails between Punta de Mita and surfing village Sayulita, then reward your brood with a taste of the local specialty: fresh coconut ice-cream pops dipped in Mexican dark chocolate. In or out of the water, you can’t go wrong.

Hot Tables 

  • Cafe des Artistes del Mar: Head to this gourmet bistrostyle restaurant for classically prepared fresh seafood and lovely views over the water. 
  • Señor: The Mexican menu features a healthy selection of seafood dishes in a space where almost every table enjoys an oceanfront view. 
  • Mariscos Tino’s: Savor very local flavors and preparations at this seafood restaurant, especially its pescado zarandeano, grilled sea bass with native spices.    
  • Casa Teresa: Homemade pastas and family recipes passed down through the generations characterize this cozy Italian cafe. Try the gnocchi or the eggplant Parmigiana.
  • Casiano’s: The epitome of the local experience; dine on Mexican tapas.  
  • Frascati Ristorante: This Italian clay oven puts out excellent pizzas and homemade pastas. 

The Price is Right 

  • Farmers’ Market in Punta de Mita: Local artists come here every Sunday from November through April to display their wares. Also try some fun regional tastes, such as banana cakes. 
  • Local Market in Bucerias: This is where you’ll find wood art sculptures, handcrafted silverware, pewter pieces, handmade bedspreads and all manner of Mexican artistry on display year-round. 
  • Galleria Tanana: Located in Sayulita, this spot is known for its authentic Huichol beadwork. 
  • San Pancho galleries: Local artists display their own work at several galleries in the craftsy town. 

3. Anguilla, British West Indies

What’s there to do on a coral-sand island a mere 16 miles around and 3 miles at its widest point? Plenty. Or, if you prefer, nothing at all. Tiny, laid-back Anguilla, located a few miles from St. Martin in the Caribbean Sea, is the northernmost island in the Leeward chain. On paper, this flat swath of beach doesn’t boast the geographical riches of some of its neighbors. It’s a good thing, then, that vacations don’t take place on paper. First among Anguilla’s assets are its 33 powder-sand beaches, gateways to the warm turquoise water that’s 80 degrees year round. Ideal for families with very young children, the gentle waves here invite sandcastle-making and safe splashing just off the shoreline. Families looking for some adventure can join a sailing or snorkeling excursion, perhaps coming face-to-face with historic shipwrecks (El Buen Consejo, a Spanish ship wrecked in the 18th century, is worth checking out), or boarding a Panga boat for a day of angling with a local captain. Not that you have to exert yourself. 

Anguilla’s crushed coral beach sand is slip-through-your-toes luxurious, and the island’s remoteness keeps the beaches blissfully uncrowded, even during high travel times. The largest beach is Rendezvous, wide and inviting, where one of the best beach bars on the island, Dune Preserve, provides a reggae soundtrack. Shoal Bay’s 2 miles of beachfront is known as one of the best in the world, where the water is so clear and blue it seems almost unnatural. More low-key and perfect for young families, Mead’s Bay offers a safe swimming area that’s separate from the rest of the beach. Moms and dads looking to get farther afield have more than a dozen near-deserted island cays at their disposal (see details above). 

We know Anguilla has killer beaches, but where this little island surprises most is what it offers on solid ground. Or rather, below it: caves. When the kids want a little mystery, families can seek out Big Spring Cave, a collapsed cavern that hides a natural spring where the native Arawak people sourced their fresh water more than a thousand years ago. The walls of the cave are covered with ancient petroglyphs called Spirit Eyes. One of the most dramatic caves is Fountain Bay, descending almost 100 feet into the earth. For young families, Cavanaugh Cave is ideal thanks to its smaller size and layout. Back in the sunshine, whether on beach or deserted cay, one thing is for sure: For all families, an Anguilla vacation promises as much adventure—or lack of adventure—as desired. 

Table Talk

  • Smokey’s at the Cove: Casual, on the beach, and serving local cuisine from pigeon peas and rice to jerk chicken to coconut shrimp, all accompanied by the beat of live island music. 
  • Picante: Hit up this Caribbean taqueria for fresh Mexican cuisine amped up with island spices. 
  • Blanchard’s: This is perhaps the classic Anguilla restaurant, located on the water in Mead’s Bay, known for stellar service and excellent American-Caribbean cuisine.

Paradise Found 

  • Sandy Island: As the name implies, this cay is made entirely of sand and is completely barren save for some palm and coconut trees. 
  • Prickly Pear Cay: Home to a reef that offers snorkelers the chance to see plenty of colorful fish, this little cay also has a restaurant that specializes in fish grilled over local coals. 
  • Scilly Cay: Smallest of the cays, Scilly has a restaurant known for its lobster and rum punch and a super-small but tranquil beach for sunning and swimming. 
  • Dog Island: Rocky and low-lying, Dog Island is home to several species of nesting sea birds, including Sooty Terns, Brown Boobies and Laughing Gulls.
  • Scrub Island: Lovely beaches and calm waters are the only amenities on this tiny, tranquil paradise at the eastern tip of Anguilla.

The Top Three Winter Vacation Destinations for Families

The Top Three Winter Vacation Destinations for Families

July 11, 2019

 You’ll feel it—perhaps as you sip an autumn cocktail al fresco. Faint at first, almost imperceptible, a breeze will catch the air and you’ll detect the slightest, fleeting chill of winter whispering its approach. When your mind begins to drifts to snow-capped peaks, stashes of powder and a crackling fire, then you know you’re ready for ski season. Planning the perfect ski vacation means matching the destination to the journey. Is this a family getaway, geared more to the s’mores than the slopes? Or is it the annual guys’ trip, skiing first chair to last going big before going home? Either way, you want to be certain that the mountain you choose is compatible with your crew. Here, we profile three distinct resorts that will answer all calls. 

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

Stepping off the Whistler Village Gondola on a clear day feels a little like flying over Manhattan’s sprawling constellation of skyscrapers for the first time. The sight is overwhelming. Jagged, rock-peppered peaks and meringue-like snowcaps spread out in every direction. Immediately above you, Whistler Mountain scratches the clouds. Grande Finale, the black diamond centerline that slices the peak in half, draws your eye from the treeless summit down to the belt of densely packed pines that wrap the mountain below. Nineteen lifts climb every aspect of the peak, and more than 100 trails spill from its terminus. When breath returns to your lungs, you realize just how big Whistler is. And Whistler is only half the story. Turn around and you’ll see Blackcomb Mountain with 17 more lifts and 100 more trails. Together, Whistler and Blackcomb comprise the largest ski area in North America with more than 8,000 skiable acres.

With that much terrain, Whistler Blackcomb might be the only ski resort in the western hemisphere whose claim to have something for everyone is truly valid. Between the two mountains, experts could spend an entire week doing nothing but hiking and skiing high-alpine, treeless steeps and extreme terrain. Intermediates can explore all varieties of blue and black trails—from quad crushing mogul fields to sweeping boulevards purpose-built for high speed GS turns. Best of all, beginners and kids aren’t relegated to a small pocket of trails at the base. Gentle green roads and wide avenues traverse the lower half of both mountains.

The resort’s off-hill offerings are as equally abundant as the slopes. The modern, inviting base villages feature some of the best shopping and dining in skidom. The nightlife—which starts with après at the Giribaldi Lift Company or Merlins Bar & Grill and rolls into five-course dinners followed by wee-hours dancing—is unmatched in North America. A week in Whistler is a party— albeit a sophisticated one—that doesn’t stop. When breath returns to your lungs, you realize just how big Whistler is. And Whistler is only half the story. 

Trying to get the full Whistler Blackcomb experience without hiring a guide is a fool’s errand. For all the terrain that you can see, there’s twice as much that you can’t. Extremely Canadian, one of the industry’s first independent ski schools, runs steep skiing clinics and tours throughout the world but calls Whistler Blackcomb home. Among its impressive roster of guides are former pro athletes and ski film stars who get you up-close and personal with the resort’s two peaks. They’ll help you find the hidden nooks and crannies that only longtime locals know about. 

The resort’s proximity to the Pacific and the sheer size of the Coast Mountains lead to some strange weather patterns and inversions. It’s not unusual to experience gale-force winds on the peaks, sunny skies in the middle of the mountain and rain or fog at the base.

Go ahead; use the weather as an excuse to give your legs a break. Whistler’s Ziptrek Ecotour is a full- or half-day adventure perfect for older kids and thrill-seeking adults. On the way up the mountain, you’ll learn about the Coast Range’s unique temperate rain forest ecosystem. Then you’ll strap in and whiz back and forth across Fitzsimmons Creek on a series of ziplines, including one of the longest and highest in North America.

Hands down, the pinnacle experience for any skier is heliskiing, and British Columbia is the place to do it. The relatively stable snowpack and an abundance of heli operations in southwest B.C. make for an easy day-trip adventure that even strong intermediates can experience. Coast Range Heliskiing, which operates out of Pemberton, will pick you up at your hotel, equip you with safety gear and an experienced guide and then drop you high on a knife-edged ridge with thousands of untracked vertical feet at your ski tips.

The culinary scene in Whistler Blackcomb rivals those of most major cosmopolitan cities. Dinner at the Bearfoot Bistro is more than a meal; it’s an experience that starts with a tour of the enormous wine cellar, where you can try your hand at champagne sabering. Between courses of decadent handcrafted gourmet fare, step into the vodka ice room, where you can taste spirits from around B.C. and the globe. The night ends with ice cream prepared table side. 

Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont

The very roots of American skiing cling to the soil beneath Stowe’s Mt. Mansfield. That’s where, in the 1930s, FDR’s Civilian Conversation Corps cut some of North America’s first ski trails in what became a symbiosis, of sorts. The New Deal propelled the development of the country’s first ski areas; in turn, a proud American brand of the greatest winter pastime was born in New England and helped to pull this nation out of the Great Depression. Today, resorts like Whistler and Jackson attract the most committed, dyed-in-the-wool skiers to whom little but sliding on snow matters. But it’s places like Stowe that made them that way. 

Gaze up at the Front Four, double-black-diamond trails that spill from Mansfield’s nose and you begin to appreciate Stowe’s legacy. The runs are narrow and steep relics of an era when every trail was cut by hand. Until a few years ago, most of Stowe’s slopes were at the mercy of often-fickle Mother Nature, which meant that learning to ski here meant learning to ski in the toughest conditions a skier can imagine.  

Surrounded by working farms and anchored by the 200-year-old bucolic town of Stowe—its clapboard storefront Main Street and rickety covered bridges movie-set perfect—Stowe is the quintessential family ski getaway. The dining scene covers the spectrum from simple to gourmet. Locally owned boutiques and galleries satisfy even Manhattan bred shoppers. The resort’s Mt. Mansfield to the south and beginner-friendly Spruce Peak to the north serve everyone from beginner to expert, and a midday rendezvous is easy thanks to the Over Easy gondola that connects the two base areas.  

Ask anyone who cut their teeth, and maybe some other body parts, on these slopes, and they’ll wax nostalgic about old Stowe as they lament recent upgrades—a massive snowmaking system, high-speed quads and gondolas, an enormous timber base lodge, significant slope grading and grooming, and real-estate sprawl—for stripping the resort’s rustic charm. But the truth is, those improvements have returned Stowe to its position at the top of America’s roster of must visit ski resorts, especially for anyone curious to know skiing the way it used to be while still enjoying modern comforts. 

Expert skiers can’t officially check Stowe off their list until they’ve skied The Front Four, preferably all in succession. National, Goat, Liftline and Starr demand a level of proficiency and pluck you cannot acquire on the machine-manicured boulevards out west. Ski them all to earn your Stowe stripes, recognized around the world… even in Jackson Hole 

Ever wonder what happened after Maria, the Captain and the Von Trapp brood climbed over the Austrian Alps? They settled in Stowe and opened the Trapp Family Lodge. Today, guests of the lodge and visitors can take part in a true Vermont tradition—maple sugaring. In the winter months, you can visit—by cross country skis or snowshoes, on foot or horse drawn sleigh— the original Trapp family sugar shack to see how maple syrup is made, taste samples, and take home your own bottle.

The very first ski trail cut on Mt. Mansfield was the Bruce Trail, which dates back to 1933. Although it’s not technically part of Stowe Mountain Resort, it remains a favorite sidecountry line that is easily accessed off the Toll Road trail. But the best part is that it descends to The Matterhorn restaurant and bar, Stowe’s best spot for après beers and—believe it or not—sushi.

No trip into or out of Stowe— or both—is complete with.out a stop at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in nearby Waterbury. Thirty-minute tours run daily every 30 minutes and give guests a peek at the production floor and a free taste of the flavor of the day. Before you leave, make sure to stroll through the Flavor Graveyard to pay your respects to the likes of From Russia With Buzz and The Full VerMonty 

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

You’d think Wyoming— sandwiched as it is between Colorado, Utah, Montana and Idaho, and spanned by sky-scratching Rocky Mountains— would be chock full of ski resorts. Nope. Not counting a handful of tiny, municipal hills, the state has exactly one destination resort. Given that, you might assume it’s crowded and free enough of competition to neglect things such as customer service and luxury amenities. Wrong again. 

Jackson averages fewer than 1,800 skiers a day, and they disperse quickly over 2,500 acres thanks to an impressive network of lifts. That’s fewer than two skiers per acre, and that’s only the in-bounds terrain. In 2000, Jackson was one of the first resorts in the U.S. to institute an open-gate policy, giving skiers lift-served access to extreme terrain beyond the boundary ropes. That’s where you’ll usually find the locals—and those who aspire to be locals. Considered a pioneer in the side country movement (now the fastest growing segment of the ski industry) and the mecca of extreme skiing, Jackson is home to few less-than-phenomenal athletes. Most locals ski only the resort after big storms. Once the inbounds powder is skied off, they head into the side- and backcountry.  

What does that mean for visitors? You shouldn’t sleep in, stop for lunch or get in anyone’s way on a powder day. Locals don’t suffer dawdlers. Whether to visit or to live, you come to Jackson because pushing the lim – its tops your to-do list. 

That’s not to say Jackson can’t be relaxing. Inti – mate and easy-to-navigate Teton Village, at the base of the ski mountain, has gone a long way to soften Jackson’s hard edges and counterbalance the frenetic pace of its ski hill. World-class spas, fine dining and a handful of shops and boutiques offer guests a much-needed breather, but the main attraction in Jackson will always be the skiing. 

If fresh snow fell last night, you’re already late. Book it to Jackson’s iconic tram, “the red heli,” and get in line. “First box” is at 9 and it’s 12 minutes to the summit. One hundred meters from the top, look down and left for a glimpse of Corbet’s Couloir, widely regarded as the most difficult marked ski trail in North America. Hint: Ski the mountain from looker’s left to right—the terrain gets gentler as you go. Your legs will thank you. 

Jackson’s base sits lower than most Rocky Mountain resorts’ at 6,300 feet, and its 10,450- foot summit isn’t particularly high. But the 4,139-foot vertical drop is impressive, unparalleled in the U.S., and explains why the pace on the mountain is so quick. No visit to Jackson is complete without a few leg-busting runs on the legendary Hobacks, a group of four relentless fall line steeps accessible from the Tram or the Sublet Quad. 

Jackson’s not the best place to strike out on your own the first time you visit. Luckily, some of the greatest skiers in the world don’t just live and ski here; they guide and teach guests. Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe leads private mountain tours for intermediate and advanced skiers. And if you’re ready for something hairier, sign up for a guided backcountry tour or multi-day camp, where world-class ski-mountaineers will teach you how to safely navigate Jackson’s off-piste terrain beyond the resort boundary.

The Chill Spa, on the top floor of the ultra modern Terra Hotel, and the Four Seasons Spa—ranked number one in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure— offer full menus of body and facial treatments with stunning views of the slopes. Soak sore muscles in their infinity pools and rooftop hot tubs, and—if you’re feeling like a local— squeeze in a second workout in their state-of-the-art gyms.  

Reward yourself for a day’s hard work with dinner at Jackson’s premier awardwinning restaurant, Couloir, atop the Bridger Gondola. Chef Wes Hamilton sources sustainable, regional ingredients for his farm-totable menu that changes with the seasons but includes dishes like pan-roasted Snake River sturgeon and Idaho potato-wild mushroom perogies. Eat up. After the day you had—and the one that awaits tomorrow— you’re going to need it.

Why Turks and Caicos Should Be Your Next Beach Vacation

Why Turks and Caicos Should Be Your Next Beach Vacation

July 10, 2019

A short flight to worlds away, Turks and Caicos boasts endless stretches of secluded white sand beaches, world-class diving and a true island life demeanor. Visit Turks & Caicos Islands, and you’ll need to pack a color chart along with your swimsuit. How else to name the dozens of variations of blue that radiate out from the islands’ beaches? First, you’ll wade through inch-deep aquamarine. Then you’ll splash through cerulean, pale turquoise, light jade and cyan, before reaching a 7,000-foot-deep coral wall bathed in Prussian and cobalt blue. Out of the water, vast reaches of white sand beach, as fine as confectioner’s sugar, seduce visitors into long leisurely strolls. 

Whether you seek relaxation or ocean adventure, opportunity abounds—above and below the waves—in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Here is your guide to the best of this Caribbean jewel. 

Grace Bay Beach

Twelve-mile-long Grace Bay Beach earns its fame for wide, white stretches that go on and on, but it’s hardly Turks & Caicos’ only option. You’ll want to rent a car to visit Providenciales’ less-frequented gems. Here’s our Provo beach primer. 

Named for Lady Grace Hutchings, who honeymooned on the island in 1892 and reportedly charmed everyone she met, Grace Bay Beach is both the busiest part of the island and its most open and serene. Turtle Cove Marina gives the beach’s western end a more nautical feel, while the Leeward area on Grace Bay’s northeastern tip occasionally attracts a few scofflaw nude sunbathers. 

Long Bay Beach

For isolation, there’s no better choice than this three mile stretch along Provo’s southeastern shore, which opens onto the glimmering Caicos Bank. Instead of sacking out on a towel, consider a horseback ride in the surf with Provo Ponies.

Chalk Sound Area Beaches 

The small beaches at Sapodilla Bay and Sunset Bay (a.k.a. Taylor Bay) on Provo’s southern shore are mostly used by nearby villas. Just behind them, the road cuts through Chalk Sound National Park, a three-mile inland waterway, where locals like to say there’s a cay for each day of the year. Once you’re done driving, swimming or sunbathing, stop at the bottom of Sapodilla Hill on South Dock Road and follow the trail to the top to find rocks engraved by shipwrecked sailors, dating back to 1767. 

Malcolm’s Road 

This comparatively “short” two-mile beach is the hardest to reach on the island, but that’s how it stays pristine. To find it, take the nominally paved Blue Hills Road past Wheeland, and then follow signs for Northwest Point Marine National Park. Scuba divers visit daily for the coral, but the above-water beach is just as pretty. The chaises on the beach’s southern tip belong to the Amanyara resort, an ideal stopping point for lunch.

Blue Hills Beach

At 161 feet above sea level, Blue Hills isn’t just the oldest settlement in Provo, it’s the highest spot in all of Turks & Caicos. Take in vast views of the coast from Blue Hills Road, which runs along the coast, and enjoy a swim at any of the pocket beaches along the way. Stop for a tasty conch dish at any of the local shacks dotting the roadside to refuel. 

Singin’ the Blues

The 40-island, 100-mile archipelago has 230 miles of white sand beaches. Visitors tend to stay on Providenciales (better known as “Provo”) and the legendary Grace Bay Beach (left). But all of the islands are equally accessible by air or ferry, each offering its own unique charms. 

Diving

This morning, I’m on Big Blue Unlimited’s 40-foot Live & Direct, racing across the Caicos Bank, off Provo’s southern shore, to neighboring French Cay. Perhaps I’d be feeling more serene if the dive master hadn’t just told us the island was once home to 17th-century pirate François L’Olonnois, who used it as a base for plundering passing Spanish ships. As the story goes, L’Olonnois was such an accomplished torturer that he wouldn’t just cut the hearts out of prisoners; he’d eat them, still beating, while others watched.

Of course, all of that washes away as we descend beside the boat. Beneath the water, 80 percent of French Cay is encrusted with coral. We start at a site called Double D (named for two large underwater humps), where we swim past three-foot groupers, four-foot barracudas and barrel sponges the size of cars. A trumpetfish cruises by, big as a bassoon, and the horse-eye jacks number in the thousands. Spiny lobsters and green moray eels lurk inside holes, while purple-and-yellow fairy basslets, blue chromis and bright red cardinal fish transform the water into a confetti of color. Our second dive is at G-Spot (this time named for the gorgonian corals, the size of garage doors), and we immediately descend upon a passing Caribbean reef shark, which graciously fins out of our way. Then a spotted eagle ray swims past us, followed by a pair of hawksbill turtles. Three more reef sharks glide over the wall; another ray trails behind, with a remora dangling from it. Yet back on-board the Live & Direct, no one is impressed. A “good” dive here, I’m told, starts with a dozen eagle rays or sharks.

What makes diving in Turks & Caicos so stunning is the combination of clear water with visibility sometimes topping 150 feet, the planet’s third-largest reef system with 196 square miles of reef, and the fact that there are so many distinct marine parks and sites in the archipelago to explore. After French Cay, my favorite area to dive is Northwest Point Marine National Park, off Provo’s northwest tip, where getting caught in the eye of a few hundred spiraling jacks is fairly typical, and I’ve sometimes felt stuck inside a fish stampede. But there are also the dozen sites in West Caicos Marine National Park, chockablock with snappers, stingrays, hogfish and puffers, and Princess Alexandra Land and Sea National Park, which encompasses Grace Bay Beach, and is ideal for novice and night dives alike. The last time I dived there, after dusk, the trevally were so plentiful I could actually reach out and touch them 

And that’s just the western chain of islands. Heading east across the 22-mile-wide Turk Island Passage (you’ll want to go by plane), the archipelago’s capital of Grand Turk sits high atop many must-dive lists, while Salt Cay, eight miles south, is the archipelago’s best place to spot the North Atlantic herd of 2,500 humpback whales each year, from early January to mid-April. Turks & Caicos is one of the few places in the world where captains and snorkelers are legally allowed to approach the whales—and even if you don’t see them, you can’t miss hearing their songs underwater. 

Beyond Provo, the other islands of Turks & Caicos are worth exploring, either as day trips or overnight. Here are some favorites you need to see.

Little Water Cay

Home to 2,000-plus endangered rock iguanas, many measuring two feet in length. The horned creatures mostly scurry across rocks, while visitors stick to a well-maintained boardwalk, five minutes by boat from Provo’s Leeward Marina. 

North Caicos

A 12-minute flight from Provo or 25-minute ferry from the Leeward Marina, North Caicos is home to most of the archipelago’s farms. But you’ll also find a few thousand pink flamingos, outstanding snorkeling at Three Mary Cays, jaw-dropping Horsestable Beach and eerie plantation ruins at Wades Green; Big Blue Unlimited runs day trips on bikes.

Salt Clay

Once the world’s leading salt producer, the 2.5-squaremile island today is a quiescent collection of salt ponds, 19th-century stone and stucco buildings, and wild donkeys and cows (which have the right of way). From midJanuary to early April, Salt Cay is also Turks & Caicos’ prime spot for watching whales.

Middle Caicos

The largest of the chain, 48-square-mile Middle Caicos is a 15-minute flight from Provo, or a half-hour drive from North Caicos’ ferry terminal. Hike the five-mile Crossing Place Trail, swim and snorkel in the natural lagoon at Mudjin Harbour, or explore three-square-mile Conch Bar Caves, the largest above-ground cave system in Turks & Caicos or the Bahamas, with blind fish and shrimp, and several thousand flapping, squealing bats. 

Big Sand Cay

Seven miles south of Salt Cay, this island’s beach is one of Turks & Caicos’ least visited and finest. Loll on the sand, and then explore the lighthouse ruins and two abandoned bunkers marked “Keep Out. U.S. Government Property.” Whether you do is strictly up to you. Trips leave from Salt Cay. 

Grand Turk

Scuba divers flock here and cruise ships dock here, but Grand Turk’s charms extend beyond both. Founded by Bermudian salt rakers in 1681, the island’s capital, Cockburn Town, is the archipelago’s historic, political and administrative center, with weathered colonial buildings and the national museum along its streets.

Watersports

 Beyond diving and snorkeling, Turks & Caicos is famous for other watersports, especially fishing. For light-tackle trolling, deep-sea-, fly-, bottom- or bone-fishing in Provo, try Silver Deep or Hook’em Fishing Adventures. Dedicated anglers should also consider spending a few days at North Caicos’ Bottle Creek Lodge. For wakeboarding, surfing, kiteboarding, waterskiing and tubing, try Nautique Sports. For sailing, Beluga Private Charters is ideal. Top dive center Big Blue Unlimited also offers stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Bred-in-the-bone extremists need look no further than Caicu Naniki for guided swim safaris and free-diving classes or excursions—as well as for Middle Caicos trail treks or runs. But if your goal is simply to relax, the open-air cabanas at Provo’s Thalasso Spa at Point Grace will keep you floating blissfully.