Caribbean Private Island Paradises

Find seclusion on a private island vacation, where you can stay in luxurious accommodations and have an entire beach (or more) to yourself.

There are Caribbean resorts and then there are “private island resorts,” where you can have a slice of some of the most secluded and exclusive pieces of paradise almost entirely to yourself. These havens can ironically be more authentic than your typical island getaway, eschewing manicured perfection and an overload of activities, instead relying on natural beauty and serenity to touch your senses. As they say on Guana Island, it’s the “Caribbean before it went public.”

Here are my top picks for creating your own private island paradise, the first three of which can be found in the British Virgin Islands.

Guana Island, British Virgin Islands

A couple who has visited Guana Island regularly for the past 41 years introduced me to their “newer” friends, who count just 18 years of visits. What’s the draw? With 850 acres of lush terrain and just 45 guests at a time, that’s about 19 acres per guest. Meandering trails dot the landscape, sprinkled with pretty, stone cottages overlooking the sea.

Evening cocktails begin on the Sunset Terrace complete with gorgeous views, and culminate with quiet romance or getting to know new friends at communal tables. Many meal ingredients are drawn from the island’s private orchard, tended to by a Chinese expert who has been reviving native species from extinction on behalf of the family stewards that have minded Guana Island for years. Rates start at $695 for double occupancy including all meals, wine with lunch and dinner, water activities and wash-and-fold laundry service. Tel. 800-544-8262.

Necker Island, British Virgin Islands

Guana Island was around long before Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island hideaway was created for his family, but Branson perhaps brought the concept of a “private island” to new prominence when he made his picturesque island available for rent years ago. Though its Balinese-inspired residences are stunning and exotic with the finest amenities, unlike most other private island resorts, Necker is typically rented out only in its entirety at a staggering US$51,000 per night for up to 28 guests. (A free night special will be offered between July 1 and Dec. 18, 2009, where guests can stay six nights for the price of five, or nine nights for the price of seven.)

Special “Celebration Weeks” allow for as little as a three-night stay starting at $10,900 per couple plus $1,470 per child. Rates include all meals, use of sailboats, speedboats and other water equipment, tennis and more. The following Celebration Week dates begin May 30 (children welcome), July 15 (children welcome), Sept. 26; and Oct. 3, 10 and 17 (children welcome); call the resort for further information about length-of-stay limitations. Near Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. Tel. 877-577-8777.

Peter Island Resort, British Virgin Islands

Peter Island Resort is a lush, mountainous island with 1,800 acres providing ample room for gorgeous beaches to suit every taste, from snorkeling and beachcombing to a couples’ beach and one perfect for yacht watching—the island’s deep harbor attracts yachters from around the world.

Accommodations are in guestrooms and villas, some featuring A-frame styles inspired by Peter Island’s original Norwegian owners. The resort offers a 10,000-square-foot spa, helicopter golf, shopping and fishing, where you’re flown to neighboring islands to enjoy these activities. Rates start at $340 per night including all meals. Tel. 800-346-4451.

Turneffe Island, Belize

Turneffe Atoll is an ancient underwater volcano rimmed in coral. In places, that coral rises to the surface creating islands that are now covered with mangroves, which serve as nurseries of the ocean. On one such island lies Turneffe Island Resort, a perfect launching pad for divers and anglers to enjoy the vast array of surrounding marine life. The private island resort, originally the first offshore lodge of its kind in Belize, offers luxurious island-style cabanas and rooms, combined with packages for enjoying the world-class diving and catch-and-release flats fishing.

The resort is offering a summer promotion: Buy a 7-night dive or resort package at regular price, plus tax, and receive an equal package for $300, plus tax. For anglers, buy a 7-night fishing package at regular price, plus tax, and receive a 7-night resort package for $300, plus tax. Reserve by July 31, 2009. Packages available on certain weeks through Sept. 5, 2009.

Turneffe Island’s 3-night packages with meals start at $900 per person, double occupancy, and include guided snorkeling trips and other water activities. Tel. 713-236-7739.

Blackbird Caye, Belize

Nearby on Turneffe Atoll is another private island, which features the Blackbird Caye Resort. The resort’s atmosphere is like that of a deserted island but with modern luxuries and friends to share the fun. Said Paul Mouktar, a surgeon from France, “I want Indiana Jones but with hot water. This is perfect—straw roofs and cabanas.” The family-style meals in the main community lodge are a particular highlight of each day where guests share stories of underwater sights or offshore fishing catches. It’s the casual Caribbean at its best. 

Blackbird Caye’s 3-night packages start at $865 per person, double occupancy, including meals, guided snorkeling trips and kayak use. Travel through May 24, 2009, and deduct $200 per person off weeklong packages. Tel. 888-271-3483.

Next: The Grenadines, The Bahamas, Florida Keys and Antigua

Petit St. Vincent, The Grenadines

Forget phones and TVs, because Petit St. Vincent Resort is truly about escaping. Gorgeous stone cottages are tucked into the hillside amidst natural windswept beauty; many cottages have their own private beaches. Hoist a small flag should you desire immediate service; another flag indicates privacy.

The 113-acre resort ranks as one of my favorites for tropical seclusion that includes amazing food, service and attention to detail, like coffee perched on a post outside my cottage each morning. There’s a good reason the family-owned resort has had many of the same repeat couples and families for decades; it’s private island paradise at its best. Cottages start at $525 per night for single occupancy including all meals, wine with lunch and dinner, and water activities, or $675 for double occupancy. Tel. 800-654-9326.

Kamalame Cay, Bahamas

Looking for an exceptional private-island retreat for both him and her? Try the luxurious family-run Kamalame Cay for a slice of paradise off the Bahama’s Andros Island. For her: The 96-acre island boasts perhaps the only spa in the Caribbean literally atop the water on a pier jutting over turquoise waters with floor-to-ceiling views.

For him (or maybe vice versa!): Some of the world’s best bone fishing is at the “Tongue of the Ocean” fringed by mobile sands and penetrated by tides. Deep sea fishing off the resort is also world-class from wahoo and kingfish to tuna, sailfish and more. Rates start at $400 per night and include a breakfast basket, use of golf carts, tennis courts and kayaks. Tel. 800-790-7971.

Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos

I’d call Parrot Cay Estates, a 1,000-acre “un-resort.” Here, instead of manager’s cocktail parties and limbo contests, there’s a quiet stillness and calm, a tropical sanctuary where East-meets-West surrounded by the azure blue waters. Parrot Cay’s signature spa draws on points East for inspiration from Javanese Royal Lular Baths—originally a wedding ritual for brides in Java—to the 5,000-year-old ancient healing and detox traditions of Ayurveda.

Stars flock to the resort for its understated elegance, privacy and luxurious villas. Rates start at $575 per night for double occupancy and include breakfast and complimentary yoga classes. Special through Dec. 20, 2009: Extend That Summer Feeling deal—stay four nights and pay for three, or stay seven nights and pay for five. Providenciales. Tel. 877-754-0726.

Sunset Key, Key West, Florida

The 27-acre private island that holds Sunset Key Guest Cottages is not technically in the Caribbean but it’s close enough, just off Key West in the Straits of Florida. And while the Westin resort offers luxury and seclusion, it gets my vote as the most happening of private islands; just minutes from its shore is the fun and craziness of Duval Street, Key West’s main drag.

The resort offers one- to three-bedroom Key West style cottages. Rates start at $595 for a one-bedroom cottage. 245 Front St., Key West. Tel. 888-477-7786.

Jumby Bay, Antigua

Jumby Bay, a Rosewood Resort, is one of the more developed private island resorts with suites, villas (some with plunge pools) and privately owned estates for rent, the latter of which offer a chef, private tennis courts and butler service. The 300-acre resort is finishing a $26 million renovation including a sparkling new spa. Re-opening is slated for November 2009. A two-bedroom villa with meals, alcohol, private chef and golf cart starts at about $2,500 per night as of April 30, 2009. The villas will be available during renovations after April 30 on a case-by-case basis. St. John’s, Antigua. Tel. 268-462-6000 or 888-767-3966.

Destinations: Turks and Caicos Islands, Key West, British Virgin Islands, Belize, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda

Themes: Beach Vacations, Luxury Travel

Activities: Fishing, Golf, Scuba Diving, Shopping, Snorkeling, Spas, Swimming