With more than 7,000 islands, islets, and cays, the Caribbean attracts sightseers and adventurers from every corner of the world. Besides the region’s ubiquity of clear waters and exquisite white sands that are unanimously favored by visitors, there are a few lesser-known treasures awaiting exploration.
To make the most out of a stay on the Leeward Islands, we put together a list of essential destinations for a one-of-a-kind trip. Best of all, these Caribbean jewels lie in wait only a short flight away on one of Tradewind’s world-class Pilatus PC-12s or Citation CJ3s.
Colombier Beach, St. Barth
To get a slice of personal paradise, sometimes you have to head off the beaten path. Luckily, accessing the exclusive Colombier Beach only requires a scenic 20-minute hike or a 10-minute boat ride from Gustavia Harbor into the bay. Considered by many locals and vacationers to be the finest stretch of beach on St. Barth, Colombier is a haven for starfish, sea turtles, coral, and various schools of vibrant fish — all of which can be intimately experienced with the aid of a snorkel.
As visitors are drawn to more convenient, amenity-driven beaches on the island, those who make the trek will discover an almost untouched playground of white sand and clear blue water, ideal for swimming or floating under the Caribbean sun. Because there are no amenities, however, guests should bring their own picnic for the day (ask your hotel to prepare a bag or stop by Maya’s To Go).
Little Bay, Anguilla
While Anguilla is acclaimed for its picturesque, uncrowded beaches, there’s one in particular offering even more seclusion and serenity. Only accessible by boat or kayak through Crocus Bay, or by descending down a steep bluff, Little Bay is the most protected and remote beach on the island.
This distinct cove of azure water and small stretch of shore provides an ideal refuge for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and lounging on the sand. Swim to the northeast side of the bay to scale and jump from a massive rock jutting out of the sea. Known to residents simply as “The Rock,” the boulder seems like it’s all but hovering over the bright blue surface of the water. Because the hidden inlet is so exclusive, visitors may only be sharing it with pods of local pelicans.
Devil’s Bridge, Antigua
The product of countless years of ocean erosion, this rocky arch forms a natural bridge over the tides of Antigua’s northeast coast. As waves crash against its riddled surface, seawater blasts through limestone blowholes in hundreds of piping geysers.
Located in Indian Town — an Antigua national park and historical site where Amerindian artifacts have been excavated — Devil’s Bridge may have been home to some of the island’s earliest residents.
Botanical Gardens, Nevis
Just beyond the twin statues of Cambodian dragons that flank the gate to the Nevis Botanical Gardens lies a tranquil oasis of stunning and delicate flora hailing from all over the world. Wrapped around the ruins of a lost temple, this five-acre rainforest conservatory features waterfalls, lily ponds, a bamboo grove, a tropical fruit garden, over 100 species of palms, and a vibrant orchid collection that’s recognized as one of the largest in the Caribbean.
A wondrous array of tropical color isn’t the only exotic allure inside the garden grounds. Thoughtfully dispersed through its lush, winding pathways are scores of sculptures and artifacts, including a replica of a pre-Columbian Olmec head and a Ganesh statue from India. In the heart of this verdant enclave, complete with flitting purple hummingbirds and talkative African green parrots, sits Oasis in the Gardens — a restaurant serving world-renowned Thai cuisine and offering striking veranda views of Nevis Peak, Charlestown, and St. Kitts.
Friar’s Bay, St. Kitts
After a short, two-mile ferry ride from Nevis across “The Narrows,” you’ll find the volcanic island of St. Kitts. With an economy dependent on the exportation of sugar cane up until 2005, the island is relatively new to the tourist industry. What this means for visitors, at least for the time being, is that St. Kitts remains a unique enclave replete with authentic and unfettered local Caribbean culture.
As St. Kitts tapers off into a thin peninsula on its southern end, a stark duality can be observed at Friar’s Bay where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. Just a thin strip of land separates the sprawling, choppy Atlantic from the calmer Caribbean, and observing the contrast of the two bodies of water is spectacular on its own. Add to that the choice of two pristine beaches and some of the island’s best snorkeling opportunities, and you’ll be hopping back and forth to savor the unique characteristics of each.
Fountain Cavern National Park, Anguilla
For a taste of what life may have been like for natives who originally inhabited Anguilla, pay a visit to Fountain Cavern National Park, a protected archeology site and treasured testament to the history and culture of the Amerindian Taino people. The focal point of the park, set back in a cave 70 feet above the sea, is the Fountain itself. Long used as a local source for reliably clean water, it continuously pumps a fresh stream into Shoal Bay from 50 feet below Anguilla.
Once a place of supernatural worship, the Fountain is the oldest ceremonial cave site in the Caribbean — and through archeological studies of the various glyphs and rock carvings spanning 1,000 years, it’s also deemed as the longest used. Hanging from the massive domed limestone cavern is a 16-foot stalagmite where natives carved the head of Jocahu, the Taino spirit of fertility. Believing that the sun, the moon, and the first people emerged from caves, Caribbean Amerindians used the cavern and its vast, interconnected network of underground grottos to honor the deities in their pantheon and ward off evil spirits.
Anse de Grand Fond, St. Barth
Tucked into a bay on the southeast side of the island is Anse de Grand Frond — otherwise known as the “wild coast” — a rugged beach where you can find natural landmarks as mysterious as they are beautiful. Here, where surging ocean meets coral rocks, visitors can hike the shoreline to discover the Washing Machine, a series a small pools roiling in rhythmic, hypnotizing whirls as they are continually filtered by the churning tide.
Further along the rocky path, complete with nomadic goats, bathe in the Natural Pools, sun-warmed pockets of bright green water that have been deposited by the surf.
Nevis Peak, Nevis
The prominent feature of St. Kitts’ sister island, looming 3,230 feet above its sandy shores, is Nevis Peak. Although the volcano has been dormant throughout recorded history, its lush coastal slopes still vent hot sulfurous gases through various springs and fumaroles.
Summiting the highest point in Nevis via guided trek is not an easy feat, but if the clouds cooperate, the peak rewards hikers with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, plus a panoramic vantage of the Leeward Island chain.
Situated among the tropical gardens on the south side of the volcano is The Hermitage Plantation Inn, a colonial-style boutique assembled from vintage cottages originating around the island. Built around a house originally erected in 1670 (thought to be the oldest standing wooden structure in all the Caribbean), this charming hotel and its meandering grounds afford visitors the opportunity to soak up an authentic dose of island life from the comfort of a veranda or hammock while listening to conversations of green vervet monkeys as they play in the trees.
Buck Island, St. Croix
Whether it’s the impeccable soft sands of Turtle Beach or the marine garden wonderland of the Buck Island Reef National Monument, a day full of breathtaking surprises awaits just one and a half miles off the north coast of St. Croix.
Because two-thirds of Buck Island is surrounded by a 7,000-year-old elkhorn coral barrier reef, the monument area provides some of the best snorkeling in all of the Leeward Islands. In addition to exploring 704 acres of marine habitat filled with over 250 species of varicolored fish, snorkelers can navigate a subaquatic trail (one of only three in the US) to discover an ecosystem teeming with sea life like barracuda, parrot fish, squid, and vibrant brain coral. When they come ashore, visitors enjoy hiking over the crest of the hill to take in spectacular sea views and to try their luck in spotting brown pelicans, least terns, and sea turtles — all endangered species that have made their homes on the protected island.
Featured Photo: Anguilla Tourist Board