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Since 2010, Sint Maarten has been a constituent country within the kingdom of The Netherlands. It comprises the “Dutch Side” of the island of Saint-Martin, the other half being a French overseas territory. Philipsburg is its capital and a busy deep-water port city. It is a popular port for cruise ships, and consequently boasts a thriving duty-free shopping community, a range of resorts and villas, and numerous leisure and sightseeing activities, as well as a well-served airport.
Anguilla’s name is based on the word for eel in several Romance languages, and its 17-mile length and three-mile width are appropriate to the analogy. The northernmost of the Leeward Islands chain, it is a British overseas territory. With its resources largely limited to an abundance of breathtaking beaches and coral reefs, the island’s main industries are tourism and the lucrative cultivation of offshore banking and insurance tax havens. Road Bay and its village of Sandy Ground comprise the main harbor for ships on the island, although the entire coastline is scalloped with lovely coves and anchorages that make it a magnet for yachtsmen. The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, although U.S. dollars are widely accepted. They might be well-spent on a luncheon of impeccably fresh seafood from the surrounding seas. There are no less than seven shipwrecks strewn along the island’s barrier reefs, which have made it the wreck-diving capital of the region.
A classic golden arc of sugary sand at South Friar’s Bay, Carambola is home to the island’s most luxurious beach clubs and restaurants. Umbrellas, loungers and optional water sports abound for those so inclined. Otherwise St. Kitts has other attractions, including a number of lovingly preserved plantation great houses, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brimstone Hill Fortress and a scenic narrow gauge sugarcane railway.
The Caribbean’s verdant “Nature Island” has resolved not to succumb to the high-rise hotels and casino culture that predominate on some other islands. The tiny nation is determined to thrive on its natural resources, which are many and attractive. Water is one, and the island does export delicious mineral water throughout the area. There are also thermal springs and a “boiling lake,” as well as lovely waterfalls. Citrus fruits such as grapefruit are another export. The island is the source of Rose’s Lime Juice, a requisite of the perfect gimlet cocktail. Fragrant bay rum, distilled from native trees, is a handmade commodity much prized on the global market. Visit the peaceful Botanical Gardens, or ascend Morne Bruce for a stunning view over the town, the harbor and the sea beyond.
The Iles des Saintes, a tiny cluster of islets off the southern coast of Guadeloupe is what the doctor ordered, if he ordered an unspoiled Caribbean experience. No franchise duty free, no big hotels, no casinos. It is what much of the Caribbean used to be like. Stroll around the little town of Bourg de Saintes. Shop for real French cosmetics from the sidewalk vendors. Grab a seat and a beer and revel in the weather and the pace of the past.
Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital, with its narrow streets and iron grill-worked balconies, brings to mind New Orleans or Nice. This distinctly French island is a full-fledged department of France, with members in parliament and the senate. Naturally, everyone speaks French, as well as a rapid-fire Creole. The island features a varied landscape, from quiet beaches to lush rain forest to imposing Mont Pelee. Not surprisingly, the shopping in Fort-de-France has a decidedly Gallic flair. Bienvenue to this bit of France in the Caribbean.
Barbados has retained many of the trappings of its British colonial heritage. Judges and barristers wear proper robes and wigs, police don helmets styled after London bobbies and cricket remains a national passion. Barbados also has all the sporting appeal of the rest of the Caribbean, with pristine beaches, powerful surf and crystal clear waters. Brightly colored homes and hibiscus flowers mingle with mahogany trees and English churches dating back to the 17th century.