Caribbean One-Off Islands Are Where the True Vacations Lie
By Tab Hauser
The best way to lose the crowds in the Caribbean is to visit what I call a “one-off”. This involves taking normal jet service to a well-known island and transferring to what some people call a puddle jumper.
These 12 to 30 passenger smaller planes usually fly 30 to 60 minutes to some of the most beautiful, less-traveled islands. I have been to a dozen of these and the rewards for this inconvenience and extra time are very well worth it.
The Caribbean has 13 island nations and 12 dependent territories spread over 7000 islands on a million square miles of sea. The average vacationer can probably name no more than several of these islands.
Visiting the smaller or one-off islands have their advantages. This can include no crowds, no fast-food and a more laid back vibe. It means enjoying good casual dinners that won’t break the bank while wearing flip flops and shorts.
Here are some of my favorite less-visited islands in the Caribbean.
One of my earlier one-off destinations took us to the British Virgin island of Tortola the day before Christmas. (I have been there four times since). Flying there meant changing planes in San Juan to a regional carrier for the 30-minute hop over.
The next day, we heard from friends in San Juan complaining about crowded beaches, 7 AM dashes to save lounge chairs and waiting on lines for an overpriced lunch. We had none of that in Tortola.
Our Christmas Day on Smugglers Cove, a picture-perfect half-mile crescent beach had about 100 people scattered about with no lines for rum punches or lunch at the beach stand.
During a January peak week, I arranged for three couples to visit the little island of Nevis. This meant flying to Barbados and connecting to a private chartered plane I arranged for the scenic flight over.
Using the charter saved us $200 a ticket and a three-hour layover. It was nice getting the royal treatment without paying royally.
Nevis is what much of the Caribbean was like over 50 years ago. The island has no traffic light or fast food chains.
Nevis only gets just 10% of people that visit Barbados each year. It offers beaches, hiking and five-star hotels on the sand or up on the mountain.
Dominica is the laid back nature island.
This island offers waterfalls, nature hikes, diving, and good inexpensive fresh catch or island-grown dinners.
When visiting, I would break up a week by staying in the north and the south to save the drive time on getting to all the beautiful places.
A good way to meet the locals is to give them a lift when you see them walking up the steep hills to their village.
Here you can easily spend $50,000 a week for a villa. You can also enjoy the same very empty and beautiful beaches by staying at the Firefly for far less.
This boutique hotel has big suites that include laundry, beach chairs, local phone, gourmet breakfast and dinner, and much more.
One day at the beach a staff member met us and spread out an incredible picnic. You get around the island by golf cart. Flying in is part of the adventure in a 12 passenger plane.
Great Abaco and Nearby Cays
Not being a fan of Nassau in the Bahamas but wanting to learn about the outer islands, we hopped a 30 passenger plane into Abaco Cay.
There we rented a condo at Treasure Cay for some good diving and quiet beaching. Abaco is a great jumping-off point to the smaller nearby cays.
Here we rented a 27-foot skiff and called on Elbow Cay and its red-striped lighthouse, Man-O-War Cay, and Great Guana Cay where we ended our day with a drink and conch fritters at Nippers.
You have not experienced the Bahamas until you have seen the outer islands.
Other Islands to Consider
With Cayman Island popular and frequented by cruises ships consider Cayman Brac or Little Cayman if you are divers. St. Vincent in the Grenadines is the largest of the island nation with four smaller pretty islands nearby. Instead of going to Puerto Rico, visit Vieques to the east.
For the non-budget types, St. Barts is a pretty island with pretty high prices. Pass on St Martin, but do take the 12-minute flight (or ferry ride) to Anguilla next door and enjoy its slower pace with fewer people and perfect beaches.
Know Before You Go:
To start, you have to be OK with smaller planes. They are a little noisier and can be a little bumpier at times. Regional airlines in the Caribbean have an excellent safety record.
When connecting, take a days’ worth of clothes, medicine and a bathing suit in a carryon bag in case your luggage misses the flight. Luggage delays do occasionally happen so be prepared.
Your bags will show up later in the day or the next morning. On the other hand, a more casual island means less need for “dinner clothes” so I leave the shoes and slacks at home and pack in a carry-on bag.
Remember you are on “island time”. This means a shop may not open exactly at 10 AM. Dinners here can be more leisurely so enjoy the conversation and each other’s company.
For a restaurant tip, ask the chef where he or she may take a date for dinner. On small islands, they all know each other’s cooking and love to share information.
When on the smaller islands, other than a full moon party, evenings are quiet. I like ending my night watching the stars by the beach with a brandy glass holding a 12-year-old barrel-aged rum with one ice cube.