To island hop the Caribbean is to sail in the wake of Columbus, Cousteau – and a throng of sun- seeking mariners. If nodding palms and fragrant rum are your idea of treasure, these 7,000 islands scattered like emeralds over a topaz seascape are full of riches. Nowhere else on the planet combines history, pleasure and white-knuckle adventure in such a pretty package. And despite the damage wreaked by hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria, recovery efforts have been admirable and the islands are welcoming boats back.
While the big hitters are familiar to us all, splashed across advertising boards to lure masses towards the winter sun, there are still plenty of islands that have escaped the curse of the cruise ship. So, set your compass, escape the crowds, and head for this alternative sun-kissed shortlist...
Cooper Island, BVI
Location: A rum and sun-soaked hideaway south of Virgin Gorda
The British Virgin Islands clearly understand the value of maintaining a luxury yacht paradise in this watery Eden. To this end, authorities sank a dozen holed hulls to form Wreck Alley in the 1990s. Grouper, bar jacks and angel fish now patrol this scuba site par excellence. The ocean bed graveyard includes the freedive-friendly Inganess Bay, a 41 metre Dutch freighter with the masts poking up in 14 metres of Caribbean Sea.
On dry land the eco-friendly Cooper Island Beach Club is home to the BVIs’ nest rum bar (serving Appleton, Myers’s and Mount Gay) plus a microbrewery that produces Cooper Island’s own Turtle IPA. “For every beer sold, $1 goes to the BVI Sea Turtle Programme,” explains resort manager Samantha Baker. This helps safeguard the 20 resident turtles that live beyond the mooring buoys in the bay. Copper Island was damaged last hurricane season but has recently (April 1) successfully reopened.