There's an island with its own flavor for every taste PRIMED FOR THE Caribbean

October 02, 1994|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,Special to The Sun

The woman was on her room patio overlooking the wide white beach and deep blue Caribbean Sea at a popular Aruba hotel.

And she was fuming.

She had had to pay the airline overweight for her luggage, which was filled with dressy gowns for what her travel agent had told her were the hotel's always formal dinners. But at the hotel, she realized that the place was informal to the max -- the gowns were inappropriate.

Had the woman -- or her travel agent -- done any research on Aruba and the hotel she had selected, she would have discovered that the island's appeal is its gorgeous beaches and relative lack of activity, and that the hotel's motto ("Barefoot Elegance") meant exactly that. Guests who had been returning year after year relished the place's laid-back mood as a respite from the pressures back home.

Each of the Caribbean's dozens of islands has its own appeal and limitations. One visitor's charmingly remote retreat is another's isolated bore. A diving area will hardly thrill a non-swimmer; a skyline of high-rise hotels will disappoint an adventurer after unspoiled rain forest, and a beach lover will not be satisfied with a coastline characterized by rocky outcroppings.

Herewith, then, a primer on some of the best isles for different styles. It is not a complete rundown -- that would require a book, and some excellent ones are widely available.

For general information, try the "Berlitz Travellers Guide to the Caribbean" (Berlitz Travel Guides, $10.95), "The Caribbean Islands Handbook" (Prentice Hall, $20), "Birnbaum's Caribbean" (Harper Perennial, $17) and "Fielding's Caribbean" (William Morrow, $13.95).

Hikers and nature lovers should get the "Sierra Club's Adventuring in the Caribbean" (Sierra Club Books, $12.95), while the romance-minded should pick up Ian Keown's "Caribbean Hideaways" (Prentice Hall, $16).

While most people think of the Caribbean as synonymous with sparkling white beaches, only a few islands have extensive stretches of white sand.

Anguilla, a quiet British colony 16 miles long and about 4 miles wide, is ringed by gorgeous white beaches (especially Shoal Bay) with plenty of good beachcombing and bird-watching. Equally tiny St. Barthelmy (better known as St. Barts), a dependency of Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, is 8 square miles of quiet coves and spectacular beaches (especially St. Jean). There are few hotels on the island, which is notable for its tranquillity, great views, fine French food and high prices.

For those after just a just a bit more bustle (including more hotels, restaurants and entertainment), Antigua is another gem, with lagoons, reefs and harbors. Grenada, a Garden of Eden-like isle with a lush rain forest, is favored by many Europeans for its lovely white beaches (especially the extensive Grand Anse Beach) and laid-back lifestyle.

Among the more developed tourist hot spots, St. Martin/St. Maarten, which share the same island, feature 36 white sand beaches (St. Martin is French; St. Maarten Dutch). While much of the sand on the Dutch island of Aruba is of a coarser coral, the vast length and width of many of the beaches (perfect for a nice long jog) make up for variations in color and texture.

Romance

St. Lucia is not the place for great food or service, but the resort's top-of-the line private hillside cottages are among the most romantic accommodations I have encountered.

Equally blissful is Jamaica's Trident Villa Resort in Port Antonio. Our private villa faced a crashing surf, and neon-colored peacocks meandered onto our veranda each morning. The six-course dinners were exquisite, afternoon tea was a treat, and a band played sweet -- and sometimes bawdy -- banjo ballads at the cocktail hour.

The island of Petit St. Vincent, which is all one luxury resort a 20-minute launch ride from Union Island in the Grenadines, is cited by many as the Caribbean's most idyllic and secluded hideaway. All but six of the rooms are self-contained cottages, with private terraces situated so that no one can see in. Guests hoist a yellow room-service flag for food or service -- and a red flag means do not disturb.

Jumby Bay Resort is a private, 300-acre islet a 12-minute launch ride from the northern coast of Antigua. Accommodations are in luxurious cottages with two guest rooms, or the two-story mission-style Pond Bay House. There are several beaches, five miles of walking trails and bike paths through wild scenery. The big event each day is dinner, for which everyone dresses up.

On Anguilla, the Moroccan-themed Cap Juluca is another deluxe retreat. It's famous for the guest rooms' huge bathrooms, with tubs for two and private sunbathing garden-patios.

Nowhere are there more couples-only resorts than in Jamaica. The all-inclusive Sandals chain has six properties in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril; Superclubs, another chain, runs Couples in Ocho Rios. Swept Away in Negril has, as a bonus, the most complete sports facilities in Jamaica.

Bargains

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