Three Clandestine Caribbean Winter Hideaways

by Elysian Magazine

Going away during the cold winter months to a warm, wondrous, sublimely beautiful island feels about right this time of year and there are many well-known destinations from which to choose. But what about the islands that are lesser-known and slightly off the beaten path? You will be amazed at what you will discover if you are in search of peace and quiet, magnificent scenery, and luxurious accommodations and dining to be found on Vieques and Culebra, Illes des Saintes, and the Caribbean Netherlands.

Vieques and Culebra

The Hidden Islands of Puerto Rico

The two most popular of the many small islands off the coast of Puerto Rico are sleepy, laid-back, and offer the visitor the luxury of peace and quiet on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and emerald-blue waters. If you are looking for excitement and entertainment, then neither Vieques nor Culebra is for you. Of the two, Culebra is the quietest and offers fewer services and places to stay and eat. There’s no need to dress up anywhere, or for any occasion, on either island, so you can pack light.


You can fly to Culebra and Vieques from mainland Puerto Rico from the capital city of San Juan or the east coast town of Fajardo, or take a ferry from Fajardo—which only costs $2 a ride. Be forewarned, however, that the ferry schedule is quirky and if you are prone to seasickness then flying will be best as the seas can be quite rough.


ON VIEQUES: There are 248 vacation rentals in the Vieques Conservation & Historical Trust if you’re traveling with family, friends, and even pets. Most have swimming pools, many are beachfront properties. Prices start at $99 per night. For a family or large holiday party of up to nine people, rent a spacious, luxurious, fully appointed, modern villa at Martineau Beach Estates on the north shore of Vieques—pricey, perhaps, at about $1,000 a night—but with five bedrooms, four baths, a large private swimming pool and semi-private beach, the hilltop villa affords panoramic ocean views and is just minutes away from fine dining and the big, beautiful beach at Sun Bay. What’s more, it’s a five-minute drive from Vieques airport. Go to or paste Vieques Island Exclusive Oceanfront Gated Community – Florida ( into your search engine.

If you want to be pampered, then consider the luxurious El Conquistador Resort, the most iconic destination resort in Puerto Rico. Each of the 299 rooms and suites offer private balconies from which you will be mesmerized by stunning ocean views. Enjoy golf, tennis, swimming, sunbathing, and scuba diving, Rooms start at around $386 a night. A three-bedroom, ocean-view villa at El Conquistador’s Las Casitas Village starts at $1,650 a night.

ON CULEBRA: Club Seabourne is Culebra’s only boutique hotel. Located on a hill with breathtaking views of Fuladoza Bay, the hotel offers individual villas and rooms to accommodate your needs. Starting at $169 a night, the rate includes a la carte breakfast, one hour kayak use, one hour adult bike use, airport-ferry-hotel transfers, and beach towels.


Both islands were U.S. military outposts in World War II, so don’t be surprised if you come upon a long-forgotten Army tank on one of the beaches. For military enthusiasts, visit El Polvorín, a former munitions warehouse on Culebra that is now a museum, and the Culebra lighthouse, where you can row out to the breathtakingly beautiful bioluminescent bay, one of the natural wonders of the world.


ON VIEQUES: Founded in 2000, Restaurante Bili on Vieques is known for its unique Puerto Rican flavors and Latin fusion cuisine prepared by local chef and owner, Eva Bolivar, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. She proudly prepares recipes she learned from her Puerto Rican grandmother as well as signature dishes inspired from her travels around the world. Chef Ava only uses fresh, local, organic ingredients and, famously, Bili’s fresh catch of the day specials—lobster, conch and snapper that were swimming in the Caribbean just a few hours before are brought in daily by local fisherman on Bili’s own fishing vessel. Whether it’s Caribbean Boullabaise, Lobster Paella, Snapper filet with cassava gnocchi you won’t know for sure till you get there because the menu changes daily. Vegetarian dishes are her specialty.

ON CULEBRA: Culebra offers a more relaxed atmosphere and scaled-down accommodations and dining than its sister island. Dine at Treasure Bay Restaurant and feast on such fresh seafood dishes as octopus salad, breaded grouper fillet or, if you yearn for meat, glazed smoked chop dipped in house frosting. Tikis Grill Burgers, near the Ferry Terminal, offers “great food, great music, and awesome staff.” There are several “food joints” where you can enjoy delicious island food and take-out for your beach picnic.


Flights are cheapest to San Juan, Puerto Rico from mid-April to June and most expensive during the peak tourist season, from mid-December to late March. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit, Delta, Continental, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Îles des Saintes

A Destination of the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World

ÎLLES DES SAINTES (“island of the saints”) is an eight-island paradisiacal archipelago of volcanic islets south of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Sea. Les Saintes boasts the third most beautiful bay in the world. Its tropical climate is kissed by trade winds and its lush green vegetation as virgin as it was when the island was discovered in, and christened by, Christopher Columbus in 1493, on his second expedition for America. Les Saintes became a French possession in 1648 and today, the “melting pot” of Norman, Breton, Creole and Franco-Caribbean cultures makes the “Gibraltar of the West Indies” one of the most fascinating exotica destinations for the winter-weary traveler.


You will have no difficulty reaching Les Saintes from Saint François, Trois Rivières or Pointe à Pitre, however everything depends on your choice and your time. You can rent a plane taxi or a water taxi from Point-à-Pitre but it is better to take a boat to Trois Rivières. Shuttles, boats, and ferries leave from Basse-Terre, Pointe-à-Pitre, and Saint François. You can board one of the speed boats like the Lio to reach Les Saintes from Saint François. If you prefer calm waters, take a classic ferry like the CTM DEHER for your crossings from Trois Rivières or take the Babou One. The duration of the crossing depends essentially on the place where you depart from in Guadeloupe. Airlines that fly to Pointe à Pitre, Guadalope are Aire Caraibes and American Airlines.


The largest of the islets is Terre-de-Haut, where you can stay at Bois Joli in the hotel’s newest seafront section, which was completed in 2014 and sits apart from the main hotel. The architecture and design suggest a luxury yacht, including dark wood accents and portholes, and the large rooms have luxury bedding and contemporary bathrooms. (NOTE: the corner rooms have the best views.) Seafront bungalows are family-friendly, with bunk beds and proximity to the pool and beach for “kid-appeal.” The house restaurant offers generous portions of French-creole food. The village is almost 3 km (about 40 minutes) downhill, but there’s no reason to leave this lovely resort. It is a plus, though, if you speak French. If you really want a getaway where you’ll have no interruptions (you’re on your own: no meals, no resort services, no landline, an electric car or scooter is necessary to get to town), look into the stunningly beautiful Les Hauts de Grand Anse, a private, three-bedroom residence where the only sound you’ll hear is the ocean. The villa is tastefully decorated with original works of art and furnishings imported from Senegal. Three smaller apartments in the same building each have separate entrances. Modern and well-maintained, the property overlooks Grand Anse and Anse Rodrigue beaches.


De Saintes is a haven for beach-lovers and explorers. One of the wonders of Les Saintes is the beach of PAIN DE SUCRE (“Sugar Loaf” beach.) Prized for its seclusion by “the jet set,” anchorage for private yachts is accessible yet quiet. Sheltered by coconut trees, the crystal-clear water is ideal for swimming and if you enjoy snorkeling, you will find yourself in an underwater garden populated by sponges, sabelles, coral formations, blue surgeons, and other sea-life. POMPIERRE BEACH (“firefighter”) is a vast, pristine swathe of white beach that is easily accessible and ideal for swimming. The beach is actually a protected lagoon, so its translucent turquoise waters are calm and safe. The only interruption you may have is the occasional, curious iguana. Seductive GRAND ANSE BEACH, on the east coast, is open to the Atlantic Ocean. With almost a mile of fine, white sand, it is ideal place for sunbathing, long walks (especially on romantic evenings), observing sea turtles, and breathtaking views. However, because the ocean current is so strong, swimming is prohibited.


Inventive Chef Xavier Simon takes fresh local produce and seafood to a new level with his signature dish, grilled lobster at his restaurant in Terre-de-Haut. The menu features fresh-caught fish but is not limited to seafood, with meat, vegan, and gluten-free offerings also available on the ever-changing menu. A well-chosen wine list and a full range of aged rums from Guadeloupe enhances the evening where the finale is a dazzling selection of desserts. Contemporary dinnerware imported from France is set on tables on the veranda, where the night sounds of the tropics are accompanied by jazz and French music. TI KAZ LA, also on Terre-de-Haut, is a convivial, intimate waterfront restaurant where talented chef-owner, Philippe Dade has merged fine dining with an artsy atmosphere set off with contemporary, original works of art, lush tropical hanging plants, and hip music. Fresh-caught grilled fish is accompanied by Chef’s authentic pomme frites. Le choucroute de la mer, a Caribbean-accented version of the Alsatian specialty, is an assortment of catch-of-the-day, scallops, and mussels in a white wine sauce. Desserts, such as mango soufflé, must be ordered in advance, however. There are two well-priced, three-course, prix-fix menus to help keep prices in check.


To offset the winter doldrums, the best time to go—December through April—is also the most expensive.

The Caribbean Netherlands

The BES Islands of Saba, Bonaire, and Sint Eustatius

The Caribbean Netherlands in the Caribbean Sea are made up of three islands—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba. As part of the Netherlands, the islands are part of the European Union; but as overseas countries and territories, EU law does not automatically apply. Bonaire is one of the Leeward Antilles and is closest to Venezuela. Sint Eustatius and Saba are in the main Lesser Antillies and located northwest of Saint Kitts and Nevis.



BY AIR: WINAIR’S 12-minute flights are scheduled four times a day.
PRIVATE PLANE CHARTER. You can charter a plane thru Windward Express Airways and SXM Airways.
BY BOAT: DAWN II provides consistent, reliable service between Fort Bay, Saba and Dock Maarten, Sint Maarten.
THE EDGE FERRY is a high-speed ferry boat to Saba that operates on Wednesdays, Fridays & Sundays.
THE MAKANA FERRY affords travel between Saba, Statia, and Sint Maarten.


SELERA DUNIA BOUTIQUE HOTEL is one of Saba’s newest luxury tourist destinations. High on a hillside overlooking the quaint old village of Windwardside, yet close to bars, restaurants, and dive shops, Selera Dunia caters to comfort, elegance, and culture with its themed rooms, each with private balcony and assurance of absolute privacy. SPYGLASS, one of the prestigious villas of Saba, is a 1,500 square-foot villa that has three ensuite bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, and daily maid service. The villa reflects today’s cutting-edge standards with its chic interiors that feature natural materials, its simple elegance, vast openness, and utter privacy.


For those who enjoy hiking, take in the mountain scenery in the Elfin Forest or Buds Mountain trail. Visit the tide pools at Flat Point, Well’s Bay, and Tent Reef Wall to explore Saba’s abundant natural beauty and wildlife. Visit the old town of Windwardside, and the Dutch Museum Saba.


CHEZ BUBBA BISTRO, only French Bistro on the island of Saba, offers fine dining in an intimate, romantic setting. The menu changes daily and the freshest of ingredients are used. Start off with tuna sashimi and order lobster for your main dish. [Kristin: images on CHEZ BUBBA BISTRO, Windwardside – Menu, Prices & Restaurant Reviews – Tripadvisor]



BY AIR: St Eustatius is served daily by Winair.

BY BOAT: The roll-on, roll-off pier at Oranjestad enables small cruise ships to dock on St Eustatius. There are no ferry services operating on St Eustatius.


Enjoy Caribbean-style luxury at the OLD GIN HOUSE GRAND INN AND RESTAURANT, located on Orange Bay in Lower Town, Oranjestad, which offers panoramic views, an oceanfront restaurant, dive shops, and 14 garden-view rooms, two ocean-view rooms, two junior suites and two ocean view suites. The GOLDEN ROCK DIVE AND NATURE RESORT is a superb luxury resort that offers deluxe rooms and suites overlooking the ocean. Experience breathtaking views while enjoying fine dining at the resort’s Restaurant Breeze, with a vibrant menu that includes such dishes as lamb coconut stew, sea bass filet escovitch, Caribbean spiced filet mignon, Caribbean Bouillabaisse and for vegetarians, sautéed vegetables in island curry-coconut sauce.


Visit The Quill, the dormant volcano at Quill/Boven National Park and hike the Mazinga Trail to experience the island’s lush interior. Go windsurfing, waterskiing, or enjoy the island’s superb scuba-diving opportunities. Wander through Old Town and visit the Miriam Schmidt Botanical Garden.


Bonaire offers a great deal to the winter-weary traveler, from magnificent beaches, wonderful restaurants, markets that offer a range of local handmade and artisanal products, a delightful nightlife at one of the many beach bars, and an ambiance that makes this one of the most enjoyable island retreats the Caribbean has to offer.


You can travel to Bonaire by plane to Flamingo Airport or by cruise ship, where there is a large port that receives, on average, four ships a week during High Season. You may also travel by yacht. No ferry service is available.


If you wish to bring your canine companion or cat with you, Bonaire accepts animals as long as you follow proper procedures. (Pets on commercial flights must follow airlines restrictions.) Once on Bonaire, you must have documents that prove your pet is microchipped and vaccinated. You will be obliged to have your veterinarian fill out and sign the Bonaire Veterinary Certificate prior to travel Bonaire-Veterinary-Certificate.pdf ( There are two vets on the island, Dienensiel Bonaire and Flamingo Island Veterinary Center, should your pet require care. Last but certainly not least, be sure the hotel you have booked is pet friendly.


Stay at the BELLAFONTE BONAIRE, a luxury oceanfront hotel that offers every amenity and experience. Here you can go kiting and windsurfing, diving and snorkeling, sailing and fishing, explore the island’s preserved wildlife sanctuary and windswept beaches, or bike or hike on the island’s many well-marked trails to experience panoramas like nowhere else on earth. Stay in one of the Bellafonte’s two luxurious penthouses, the choice of royalty and world celebrities, for the ultimate in comfort and privacy. With their secluded wraparound balcony, they provide one of the best panoramic views on the entire island. Each consists of two large bedrooms with spacious, en suite bathroom and private balcony. Expansive open-plan living and dining areas flow into a well-appointed modern kitchen and breakfast area. Minimum stay is five days.


Bonaire has wonderful restaurants. Dine at CHEFS BONAIRE, where your personal chef will accompany you to your seat before he offers you a drink and begins to prepare your five-course menu, with wine pairings. IT RAINS FISHES is well-known for their fresh catch-of-the-day, often mahi-mahi, and always paired with fresh vegetables and small potatoes. MEZZA RESTAURANT offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine; try their muhammar and hummus or tender, delicious lamb shank. And if your sweet tooth is aching, GIO’S GELATERIA & CAFFE is the place to go (outside of Italy!) for homemade gelato with real fruit.

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