So much of life in the past 18 months has been back to front – so let’s embrace the idea of a summer (rather than winter) holiday in the Caribbean, where ‘green lights’ have finally been switched on all over the place.
Regular visitors to this balmy region are rejoicing at the prospect of a return to its fabulous beaches, potent rum cocktails and charismatic islanders. Or if you’ve never been, this could be the year to discover its charms.
For a getaway with the least hassle, go for the four destinations served by direct flights: Antigua, Barbados, Grenada and Turks & Caicos. All have superb sands, high-class resorts and plenty to enjoy, from cultural tours to catamaran cruises at sunset.
‘So much of life in the past 18 months has been back to front,’ writes Nigel Tisdall, ‘so let’s embrace the idea of a summer (rather than winter) holiday in the Caribbean.’ Pictured is Half Moon Bay in Antigua, which is on the green list
Hoteliers and tour operators are now offering tempting discounts to these islands. For example, British Airways Holidays has up to £300 off a summer package if you book by July 6.
Of course, Covid-19 protocols still have to be obeyed. Green-listing means there is no requirement to quarantine on your return to the UK, but you will need to have a negative Covid-19 test taken three days before flying home, complete a passenger locator form, then take another test within two days of your return.
Each destination has its own rules for incoming travellers, too, with those who have received both coronavirus vaccinations enjoying the smoothest entry. Once there beside the palm trees and turquoise sea, face masks, sanitising and social distancing remain the norm.
Bountiful: A fruit and vegetable stall on the green-list Caribbean island of Anguilla
Colourful chattel houses are a common feature of the Caribbean. The one above is in Barbados
A good reason to go soon is that life is currently relaxed because there are few visitors, and cruise ships have yet to start calling into port.
Renting a villa is a smart way to get some space and privacy, and it is a good idea to book restaurant tables, spa treatments and activities in advance.
PARTY IN ANTIGUA
Antigua boasts 365 beaches and it’s a cinch to drive from coast to coast, plus it has the most relaxed travel entry rules
Antigua has the most relaxed Covid-19 entry protocols and has never closed its borders completely. The island claims to have 365 beaches and there’s definitely one that will hit your spot, from lively Dickenson Bay to remote Half Moon Bay. All-inclusive resorts make it easy to fly in and flop, but if you want action there’s sailing, watersports and hiking.
Antiguans love to party and on Sunday afternoon a huge crowd heads to the panoramic Shirley Heights Lookout for a famous barbecue with steel pan music that has been running for more than 30 years.
You can drive anywhere on the island in 45 minutes, with World Heritage-listed Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour a must-see for its graceful Georgian buildings set beside eye-popping superyachts (visitantiguabarbuda.com).
BEST FOR: Beach bars, sailing, families, a late deal.
GOOD TO KNOW: You will need a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken within seven days of departure, children under 12 are exempt (covid19.gov.ag).
SPLURGE: Seven nights at Carlisle Bay, departing on August 17, from £2,399pp B&B including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow and transfers (caribtours.co.uk).
ON A BUDGET: Seven nights at all-inclusive Royalton Antigua, departing on August 31, from £1,627pp including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow and transfers (firstchoice.co.uk).
BOOK A VILLA: Seven nights at Ffryes House, a three-bedroom villa five minutes’ walk from Jolly Beach, departing on August 5, from £1,510 self-catering. Flights and transfers not included (jollyvillas.com).
Taste of the good life: This image shows dreamy Bottom Bay in Barbados. If you are new to the region, start here, says Nigel
A friendly ice-cream seller at Cobblers Cove Hotel
No island in the Caribbean makes us feel more at home than Barbados, with its familiar-looking parish churches, cricket pitches and place-names such as Scarborough, Worthing and Brighton.
If you are new to the region start here. Stay on the west coast if you like things refined, or head south for beach fun and nightlife.
Barbados is only 21 miles by 14 and, while parts are overdeveloped, there is much to enjoy.
Don’t miss the wild and windy Atlantic coast or St Nicholas Abbey, a splendid Jacobean mansion with a scenic railway, while the capital, Bridgetown, has World Heritage status on account of its outstanding British colonial architecture.
Taxis and restaurants are expensive, so consider getting a villa and a car, or hop on the cheap and efficient local buses (visitbarbados.org).
BEST FOR: First-time visitors, families, fans of cricket and horseracing.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fully vaccinated travellers need a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken three days prior to arrival. You must then stay at your accommodation until the results of a second test, taken on arrival, come through in the next day or two (barbadostravelprotocols.com).
SPLURGE: Seven nights in a butler-service suite at all-inclusive Sandals Royal Barbados from £3,209pp, departing on August 15, including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow and transfers (sandals.co.uk).
ON A BUDGET: Seven nights at all-inclusive Barbados Beach Club, departing on August 30, from £1,434pp including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow and transfers (tui.co.uk).
BOOK A VILLA: Seven nights at Jasmine, a three-bedroom townhouse close to Mullins Beach, departing on August 9, from £2,660 self-catering. Flights and transfers not included (hammertonbarbados.com).
Go with the flow: Au Coin is one of many waterfalls on the lush island of Grenada
MANGOS, FESTIVALS & SAVINGS
You can save money. Hotel rates are traditionally highest from mid-December to early April. Many properties are offering free nights or discounts, such as Cobblers Cove in Barbados, which has 30 per cent off until September 30 (cobblerscove barbados.com).
It’s hot — Barbados can hit over 30c (86f) in July and August. By contrast, average winter temperatures are a couple of degrees cooler, with a jacket or pashmina needed on some evenings.
Summer holidays are all about enjoying the seaside, and the Caribbean offers beaches galore, from remote coves for a romantic picnic to action-packed sands with rum bars and watersports.
Mangos are in season. More than 100 varieties are grown in the Caribbean and the islands make delicious use of them in cocktails, ice creams, salsas and salads.
It’s party time on some islands, with Crop Over on Barbados, Spice Mas on Grenada and the Antigua Carnival all major summer celebrations. 2021 festivities may be curtailed by Covid-19, but check tourist board websites to see what is happening.
For a taste of the friendly, authentic Caribbean that has not sold out to tourism, choose Grenada. The well-kept, mile-and-a-half-long sands of Grand Anse Beach are a highlight and never get too busy, while the charming capital of St George’s is worth a wander and a lazy fish lunch at BB’s Crabback overlooking the harbour.
The island is also a treat for foodies, with four rum distilleries, five artisan chocolate-makers and a profusion of spices.
Nutmeg features on the national flag for good reason and you can learn about the many uses for this and cocoa beans at Belmont Estate, a working farm dating from the 17th century.
Take a tour of some private gardens to understand why Grenada regularly wins Gold Medals at Chelsea Flower Show, or get some thrills tubing through the rainforest on the Balthazar River (puregrenada.com).
BEST FOR: Explorers, garden-lovers, devotees of rum, spices and chocolate.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fully vaccinated travellers need a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken three days prior to arrival. You must then stay at your accommodation until the results of a second test, taken on arrival, come through within 48 hours (covid19.gov.gd).
SPLURGE: Seven nights at Calabash Grenada, departing on August 23, from £2,385pp half-board including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow and transfers (inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk).
ON A BUDGET: Seven nights at all-inclusive Coyaba Beach Resort, departing on August 18, from £1,749pp including British Airways flights from Gatwick and transfers (tropicalsky.co.uk).
BOOK A VILLA: Seven nights in a three-bedroom villa at Grenada 473 boutique resort, departing on July 19, from £2,100pp based on six sharing, including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow, transfers and breakfast (justgrenada.co.uk).
TRY TURKS & CAICOS
Green-listing has brought this British Overseas Territory into the spotlight.
A scattering of 40 low-lying islands, of which only eight are inhabited, it lies 30 miles south of the Bahamas and has all the dreamy sands and luridly-coloured cocktails you need for a holiday in paradise. Playing in the sea is the most rewarding activity, be it snorkelling the world’s third-largest barrier reef, diving with sharks or parasailing above Grace Bay Beach, a seemingly endless stretch of powdery white sand on the gateway island of Providenciales.
Here, luxury tourism and American values are to the fore — Miami is just a 100-minute flight away, service standards are high, and the currency is the U.S. dollar. For a more relaxed scene push on to North or Middle Caicos Islands (turksandcaicostourism.com).
BEST FOR: Beach bliss and diving, as well as luxury resorts and villas.
GOOD TO KNOW: You will need a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken five days prior to arrival and an online travel authorisation (travelauthorisation.turksandcaicostourism.com).
SPLURGE: Seven nights at COMO Parrot Cay, departing on August 17, from £2,749pp B&B including British Airways flights from Gatwick and transfers (turquoiseholidays.co.uk).
ON A BUDGET: Seven nights at Ports of Call Resort on Providenciales, departing on August 1, from £1,119pp room only including British Airways flights from Gatwick. Book by July 6 (ba.com/turksandcaicos).
BOOK A VILLA: Seven nights at three-bedroom Villa Waterloo on Providenciales, departing on August 22, from £4,042 self-catering. Flights and transfers not included (islandescapestci.com).
TWO FLIGHTS BUT WORTH IT
If you don’t mind the additional effort and expense of a second flight, continuing to a smaller island promises a quieter and more exclusive holiday. These three escapes are also on the green list, but note you will have to meet the Covid-19 requirements of both your transit island and destination. Montserrat and the Cayman Islands, also green-lighted, have not yet opened to leisure travellers (visitmontserrat.com, visitcaymanislands.com).
LUXURY IN ANGUILLA
If your priority is prime stretches of sand, then Anguilla could be for you
Just 16 miles long, this arid and low-lying island has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. It is also has exceptional resorts, such as Belmond Cap Juluca and Malliouhana, and top-end villas that attract the private jet-set every winter.
Being a British Overseas Territory, driving is on the left, postboxes are red and the Union Jack has a corner of the island flag — so it’s easy to feel at home. Life is not all about lazing beside an azure ocean — Anguilla has an excellent museum, nocturnal adventures to spot turtles by kayak and a vibrant restaurant scene including plentiful fresh lobster.
BEST FOR: Beach addicts, luxury travellers and foodies.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fully vaccinated travellers need a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken five days prior to arrival and must apply online for entry in advance (escape.ivisitanguilla.com).
BOOK NOW: Seven nights at Malliouhana, departing on August 12, from £2,619pp B&B including British Airways flights from Gatwick to Antigua, inter-island flights and transfers (elegantresorts.co.uk).
HIKE ON DOMINICA
Dominica, sandwiched between Guadeloupe and Martinique, is a wild and mountainous destination
Had enough of being cooped up at home? If you want to stretch your legs, get muddy, trek through towering rainforest and stand inside a thundering waterfall screaming with joy, Dominica is ready for you.
Sandwiched between Guadeloupe and Martinique, this wild and mountainous island is all about embracing nature. Adventures include hiking through the World-Heritage-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park to a volcanic lake that boils like a witches’ cauldron, snorkelling in the bubbling geothermal waters of Champagne Reef and freshwater swimming in one of 365 rivers (discoverdominica.com).
BEST FOR: Walkers, birdwatchers, divers.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fully vaccinated travellers need a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken three days prior to arrival and must remain in certified ‘Safe in Nature’ accommodation until the result of second test, taken the day after arrival, comes through (domcovid19.dominica.gov.dm).
BOOK NOW: Seven nights at Jungle Bay, departing on July 20, from £2,815pp including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow to Barbados, inter-island flights, transfers and full board with non-alcoholic drinks (tropicbreeze.co.uk).
EXPLORE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Life in the 60 islands of this super-scenic British Overseas Territory revolves around the sea. At present there are few visitors, making the coming weeks a good time to go yachting, snorkelling and diving in its warm, clear waters followed by some rum in a toes-in-the-sand beach bar.
Head for the largest island, Tortola, if you like to explore on land, while smaller Virgin Gorda includes the Gorda Peak National Park where you can get a panoramic view over the archipelago. Accommodation ranges from easygoing beachside resorts to luxury enclaves like Rosewood Little Dix Bay and privately-owned Guana Island, or charter a skippered yacht and go island-hopping (bvitourism.com).
BEST FOR: Yachties, divers, star-gazers.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fully vaccinated travellers need a negative Covid-19 PCR test five days prior to arrival and online authorised entry (bvigateway.bviaa.com).
BOOK NOW: Seven nights at Sebastian’s on the Beach on Tortola, departing on July 13, from £2,005pp B&B including British Airways flights from Gatwick to Antigua and inter-island flights (bviholidays.com).