The winter weather is around the corner and if you're looking for a getaway that offers sun, surf and relaxation, these tropical islands may be your ticket to paradise.
Others who seek a quieter, more relaxed vacation find that smaller, less populated islands offer a different kind of escape — think fewer casinos and more beach shacks. For Melinda Long of Lloyd Harbor, it was the “crystal-clear water and laid-back atmosphere” of Turks and Caicos that set the tone for a relaxing family vacation. Here are four islands you might want to escape to for some R&R and warm weather:
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Getting around: Driving is on the left side of the road on these islands. If you want to brave it, you can rent a car in St. Lucia and Turks & Caicos. Golf carts, easily rented, are the preferred method of transportation in Bimini. You can’t rent a traditional car in Bermuda, so many visitors opt for an electric two-passenger minicar or go with a taxi (which can be expensive), bus or ferry.
Travel requirements: Visitors to all these countries need a passport. Travelers to Bermuda must fill out an arrival card (BermudaArrivalCard.com) to present to immigration officials on arrival.
Currency: There’s a Caribbean dollar, a Bahamian dollar and a Bermudian dollar, but it’s easy to use U.S. dollars on all these islands.
Flights: Delta and American fly nonstop from JFK (two hours, 15 minutes); airfares fluctuate daily, but in mid-January, round-trip fares are about $450.
With flights running just over two hours, this North Atlantic island is a popular destination for Long Islanders. The tiny British territory (21 square miles) boasts lush, pink sand beaches and clear waters. Some 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, the island has a temperate climate, so best to go in late spring into summer if you’re after warmth. And avoid the island during hurricane season, 2023 has been especially rough in that regard.
“It’s a very colorful place,” says Betty Ann Natke of St. James, who traveled to Bermuda several times. She first visited while on a cruise with her husband, Ernie, and son, Larry, and liked it so much they returned a couple of years later. “The island is beautiful,’’ she says, a perfect combination of beach and town life.
Hamilton, the island’s capital and biggest city, is a bustling place with a distinct British feel (cricket is a huge sport, cars drive on the left, and Bermuda shorts are often seen on police officers). Charming shops dot Front Street, along with numerous pubs and restaurants.
Horseshoe Bay with its stretch of pink sand is probably the most famous beach. Other popular stops for visitors include Royal Navy Dockyards on the island’s west side, and the Crystal Caves near Hamilton.
Where to stay
Known as the “Pink Palace,” the Hamilton Princess has long attracted travelers with it’s convenient location and a private beach club 20 minutes away by free jitney; a double room in early December starts at around $400, hamiltonprincess.com. The Natkes stayed at the charming Pompano Beach Club with rooms near the water. A double room starts about $300, pompanobeachclub.com.
Flights: Jet Blue has a nonstop flight, 4 hours and 42 minutes, $540 round trip.
This volcanic island in the West Indies offers more land-based activities than other tropical destinations, including what is said to be the world’s only drive-in volcano. “There’s a lot more to do on St. Lucia,” says Laura Leigh Carroll. She and her husband, Scott Rex, visited Sulphur Springs, where visitors can drive directly into the crater, then luxuriate in the mud baths and rinse off under a waterfall.
Natke also found plenty to do on St. Lucia, from snorkeling to zip lining. And the island has plentiful options for hikers. Trails on the Pitons, twin volcanic peaks, range from manageable to really steep, or you can hike the Tet Paul Nature trail or up to the 50-foot Toraille waterfall. Beach lovers will want to check out Marigot Bay, just southwest of Castries, the nation’s capital.
Where to stay
The Anse Chastanet Resort in Mamin is set on 600 tropical acres with stunning views of the Piton peaks; a double room in January starts at $780, anschastanet.com. If a huge resort doesn’t call to you, take a ferry to the Marigot Beach Club; rooms start under $200, marigotbeachclub.com.
TURKS & CAICOS
Flights: Jet Blue and Delta have nonstops taking just under four hours, starting at just over $350 round trip.
The archipelago of 40 islands and cays southeast of the Bahamas and most visitors end up on Providenciales (known as Provo), where the major highlight is Grace Beach, considered one of the best.
Provo is the most populated of the islands, and that’s where you’ll find the international airport and many resorts and restaurants. Other islands in the chain include sparsely populated North and Middle Caicos, a fun day trip via a 30-minute ferry. On Grand Turk, you’ll find the capital, the rustic Cockburn Town, where you can learn about the islands’ heritage. Salt Cay is said to be the best place for whale watching.
Visitors to Turks & Caico want to be in or on the water, and there are plentiful excursions, from sunset sails to diving ship wrecks to kayaking to see the mangrove forests. Long says she had a great time at a restaurant called Da Conch Shack, where her family ate dinner “while dipping our toes in the sand,” then participated in a masquerade party known as a Junkanoo.
Where to stay
Seven Stars overlooks Grace Bay and is close enough to walk to restaurants in town. Midweek rooms in January start at $780, sevenstarsgracebay.com. Less-expensive lodgings can be found at SailAway Cottages, with five units starting at $209 a night, sailawaycottages.com.
Flights: Spirit Airlines has a nonstop flight from LaGuardia to Ft. Lauderdale taking just over three hours, $89 round trip. From there, take a two-hour ferry to Bimini, about $225, baleariacaribbean.com.
The tiny island chain is known as one of the best games fishing locations in the world. Only 50 miles east of Miami, it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite vacation spots — he supposedly wrote parts of “To Have and Have Not” while staying at the Compleat Angler hotel, which burned down in 2006, taking a lot of Hemingway memorabilia with it.
North Bimini is the busiest of the two main islands — that’s where you’ll find the capital, Alice Town, along with hotels, shops and restaurants. On the quieter South Bimini, visitors are drawn to the spot where Ponce de Leon went looking for the Fountain of Youth. He didn’t find it, but there is a freshwater pond, accessible only by boat, called the Healing Hole, said to have some restorative properties.
Divers seek out the shipwreck of the SS Sapona — its hull can be seen above water, making it a navigational landmark. The waters of Bimini are also home to several varieties of dolphin, and for thrill seekers, a huge population of hammerhead sharks.
Where to stay
The Hilton at Resorts World Bimini dominates the north island, with 750 acres including a beach, marina, casino, lazy river and multiple dining options and a tram service to help guests navigate the property; a double room mid-January starts at $229.