13 Stunning Secret Caribbean Islands You've Never Heard Of
Hidden atolls, tranquil coves, and unknown archipelagos await
Jamaica, Aruba, Barbados, and Bermuda—we know them and love them for a reason. If you've already been a few times, though, and are looking for an under-the-radar beach retreat, listen up. There are a handful of secret Caribbean islands (think: crystalline waters, swaying palms, and hidden cays) that have yet to see the masses brought by cruise ships and all-inclusives. From remote, unspoiled atolls off the coast of Nicaragua to exclusive, privately-owned enclaves in the British Virgin Islands, these are the serene destinations you'll be dreaming about for days.
And for more Castaway escapes, check out the 13 Secret Islands in the U.S. You Never Knew Existed.
Cayo Espanto, Belize
If barefoot luxury is what you're after, Cayo Espanto can compete with the best of them. The tiny—and we mean tiny—private island, which lies three miles off the coast of San Pedro, Belize, is dedicated entirely to seven open-concept, oceanfront villas; each of which is outfitted with a private plunge pool, veranda, and alfresco shower. Plus, there's no better place for scuba diving, snorkeling, or catamaran sailing as Cayo Espanto sits amidst the largest reef system in the Northern Hemisphere. To offset long days on the water, indulge in a little pampering, with in-villa massages, manicures, or facials.
Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe
Îles des Saintes—or Les Saintes, as it's commonly called—is a volcanic archipelago of nine islands. Of all the tiny, reef-ringed isles, only two are inhabited—Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas. While these locales may draw curious visitors of Guadeloupe, they're often regarded as a day trip rather than a vacation in and of themselves. However, we'd argue that's a mistake. The mountainous keys—which share no more than 3,500 residents between them—have maintained an old-world French Caribbean feel, and each brims with sugar-soft beaches, emerald coves, and open-air cafes.
Isla de Providencia, Colombia
This remote, mountainous island lies 260 miles east of Nicaragua, marooned in turquoise Caribbean waters. Since Providencia doesn't have any direct flights (yet), the former British colony has been able to maintain an air of mystery, but with its home country of Colombia gaining more and more popularity, it's hard to know how much longer that'll last. Rather than testing your luck a few years from now, buckle up for a ride on a puddle-jumper plane or catamaran and get there ASAP. Once you've touched down, it's off to swim, snorkel, hike, and binge on the freshest seafood imaginable.
Like its sister territories of Saba and Sint Eustatius, Bonaire is known not for its beaches, but its exceptional dive sites. Despite an arid on-land climate (it's sometimes called "Arizona with an ocean"), the island's waters teem with more than 350 fish species and 57 coral species—thanks, in part, to a manageable number of visitors and extensive reef restoration efforts. Beyond snorkeling and scuba diving, adventure seekers can windsurf, sail, mountain bike, hike, and cliff jump from Boca Slagbaai Beach in Washington Slagbaai National Park. As one of the region's most under-the-radar food destinations, you'll also have to try Spanish- and Dutch-influenced dishes and spirits like piska krioyo (pan-seared lionfish) and tekibon, a tequila-like liquor distilled from yatu cactus.
Bonaire has many pastel storefronts, which fit right in with these 23 Most Colorful Towns in the World.
Saba, Lesser Antilles
Saba (pronounced "say-ba") is a favorite among scuba divers, but the tiny five-mile isle remains undiscovered to others. The overseas Netherlands territory—which is also referred to as the "Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean"—has eschewed modernization in order to hold tight to its rugged natural beauty and quaint villages. To see all of Saba's highlights, climb the Mount Scenery Trail to the highest point on the island; there you'll be rewarded with views of St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis and—on an especially clear day—even Montserrat.
Kamalame Cay, Bahamas
Unless you follow tabloid coverage of celebrity vacations, it's quite possible you've never heard of Kamalame Cay. Though the privately-owned, 96-acre isle—which has welcomed the likes of Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem—sits pretty in the heart of the Bahamas, it's not nearly as talked about as Eleuthera, Nassau, or Paradise Island. That's a shame as barefoot luxury is the name of the game here. Indulge in a little shorefront R&R or a drink at the resort's tiki bar—with only 70 guests at a time, you'll never have to compete for real estate at the beach or bar.
Don't get it confused: Dominica is in no way related to the Dominican Republic. The 290-square-mile "Nature Isle of the Caribbean" is actually part of the Lesser Antilles. While it has gained some much deserved attention in the last decade, Dominica still isn't on most people's radar, which is surprising given its dramatic waterfalls, volcanoes, boiling lakes, coral reefs, dense rainforests, and black- and white-sand beaches. Outdoors enthusiasts can also take advantage of the 114-mile-long Waitukubuli National Trail (the Caribbean's first long-distance hiking trail), which spans the entire length of the island.
Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
With only seven square miles to call its own, Bequia—or "Island of the Clouds"—may not be "big" by most standards, but it is the second-largest island in the Grenadines. Whether you're arriving from the U.S. or Europe, a connecting flight is in order, but don't groan, as this keeps the archipelago from being overrun with visitors. Sailors and divers will find themselves in good company as Bequia offers nearly 30 dive sites and up-close-and-personal interactions with hawksbill turtles, moray eels, and coral reefs. If you're looking for other activities, you'll also find palm-fringed beaches, a handful of farmers' markets, and historic forts perched atop volcanic rock. As far as nightlife goes, you'll have no trouble finding a stiff drink and steel drum serenade.
And for more budget-friendly trip ideas, check out the 17 Magical Destinations Where the U.S. Dollar Goes Further in 2020.
Montserrat and Ireland may have a vast ocean between them, but the two islands share a common heritage and geographical resemblance, which has lent the former its "Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" moniker. The dramatic, 39-mile peninsula features a few other things, too: an enviable number of black-sand beaches, lush rainforests, and a notorious active volcano that once caused residents and visitors to flee. Today, it is on the up and up, though, with tours of the scorched exclusion zone, nine crowd-free shores, and a number of big and small annual festivals (think Carnival parades, calypso competitions, and crafting events all in the name of calabash fruit).
Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Cayman Brac is an underrated but highly charming island just a 30-minute flight from Grand Cayman. Named for a dramatic bluff which runs the entire length of the shore, "The Brac" is chock full of adrenaline-pumping sites and activities from limestone caves and lush forest canopies to dense karst formations and sunken shipwrecks. Since tourism isn't Cayman Brac's only bread and butter, it's also been able to maintain a level of authenticity other Caribbean locales haven't. All-inclusive resorts, for example, aren't a thing here—instead, villas, condos, and boutique properties help preserve its Caymanian culture.
Nevis is often overshadowed by St. Kitts, its larger sibling, but the 36-mile beauty is worth its own look. Known as the "Queen of the Caribes" and the "Land of Beautiful Waters," the pocket-sized atoll lies southeast of Puerto Rico and west of Antigua. The entire area centers around Nevis Peak—a potentially active volcano that's also the island's tallest summit. Fanning out from the volcano, you'll find plantation-style hotels, world-class golf courses, and white-coral and black, volcanic-sand beaches. Since there are no mega-cruise ports, Nevis clocks less than 120,000 visitors a year and maintains an old-world charm.
Anegada, British Virgin Islands
Anegada is something of an anomaly. While most British Virgin Islands are known for their mountainous, volcanic topographies, this low-lying coral inlet's tallest peak stretches only 28 feet above sea level. Pancake-esque appearance aside, Anegada offers visitors breathtaking beaches and a wealth of wildlife from ambling goats and chickens (we're pretty sure they outnumber residents) to rock iguanas, sea turtles, conch, and Caribbean lobster—the latter congregates along the 18-mile-long Horseshoe Reef. Just be forewarned: Since daily ferry service between Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Tortola just kicked off, the island won't be quiet for long.
Guana Island, British Virgin Islands
With powdery beaches, 850 acres of verdant tropical forest, and a 32-guest luxury resort, Guana Island is a slice of paradise. The privately-owned BVI enclave embraces a "castaway ethos" with well-appointed but relaxed hilltop cottages and an array of outdoor activities from snorkeling and kayaking to hiking and croquet. Guana is also committed to conservation, and a simple walk around the island will reveal bougainvillea-drenched landscapes, sharp-mouthed lizards, and Caribbean flamingos (along with more than 50 other species of birds). If you really want to splurge without a stranger in sight, gather three dozen of your closest friends and rent out the entire cove for a cool $24,000 to $38,000.
If you want to travel but don't have a passport, check out these 13 Coolest International Destinations You Can Visit Without a Passport!