Travel Destinations

Featured Post

Best Waterfront Resorts in the South

Travel Destinations
|
Read More
Croatia's Coastline & Wine
|
Croatia's Castles | April Winship

“WOW!” WAS ALL I COULD COME UP WITH when my neighbor asked, “So, how was Croatia?” I simply ran out of adjectives to express the beauty and allure of this country. With its unique combination of history, culture, cuisine, friendly locals, rugged mountains, long coastline and crystalline blue waters, not to mention hosting a world-class boating scene, it’s easy to see how Croatia is becoming a popular destination with something to excite everyone.

If you are looking for history, then exploring one of the many Croatian UNESCO World Heritage Sites will quench your passion for the past. Transport yourself back to the 4th century AD with a stroll through the remnants of a Roman emperor’s palace. Wander through one of the best-preserved Roman coliseums in the world, and you can almost hear gladiators’ swords clashing against wooden shields.

Croatia’s story is woven together with charming medieval hill towns where regal bell towers seem to pierce the heavens. Climb the ancient tower’s stone steps spiraling to the top and be rewarded with breathtaking vistas. Look straight down past the windows with a line of colorful laundry fluttering in the breeze and on to the delightfully twisty cobblestone streets just wide enough for a donkey cart to pass. Now, centuries later these lanes are lined with enticing artisan shops, gelato stands, and tucked into every bend, a little sidewalk café begging to be discovered.

Ruins of castles and fortresses dot not only the coastline but many of the islands. Standing guard, their thick limestone walls once provided safe haven to the residents within, and now only serve as a testament of a more turbulent time. Walk along the massive stone fortifications and peer down into the moat, and one can almost feel the thunder of horse hooves as knights ride across the drawbridge.

Surround yourself in the art of the ages by stepping inside Croatia’s sacred churches and splendid cathedrals, the architecture spanning the Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque periods.

Seaside Towns in Croatia | April Winship

Although it is possible to stay in a Hilton-style hotel or rent a Mediterranean villa by the sea, you have other options. We chose to immerse ourselves in the medieval world by staying in the heart of the old town centers in family-run studio apartments. Sleeping under a roof that dated back 600 years enriched our Croatia experience while also supporting a local family business. These cozy apartments are refurbished to modern standards and are as comfortable as any four-star hotel.

If you’re a nature lover, Croatia boasts eight national parks. One can hike a lake rim and descent onto a series of wooden boardwalks meandering among turquoise waterfalls giving a unique on-the-water view of Mother Nature’s power or try backpacking through an island forest. However, you do not have to go to a national park to be enveloped in nature, as Croatia is a wonderland anywhere you turn.

If you’re into adrenaline sports, Croatia can provide all you need from bungee jumping to zip lining. For those leaning toward adventure with less heart stopping action, cycling, paddleboarding, sea kayaking or snorkeling are popular choices. My favorite jaunt was an all-day off-road dune buggy ride with a final stop at a local winery for a tour and tasting.

Croatia has a long history in winemaking, and wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular. Croatia cuisine reflects the flavors of central Europe, Italy and the Mediterranean. The coast of the Adriatic Sea is famous for its fish and seafood dishes while the inland menu features hearty meat platters. Sharing a border with Italy, it’s not unusual to be enticed with handmade pasta or even pizza.

Wrapped around all these sensory experiences is the Croatian people. Perhaps it’s due to the mild Mediterranean climate that the locals exude, a version of a “malo po malo” or “little by little” attitude that entices us fast-paced city dwellers to slow down and take in life. Pausing for a wine spritzer or cappuccino at a sidewalk café could last hours, and it’s not only quite all right...it’s expected. As a local told us; “There’s no such thing as coffee to-go in Croatia.”

CRUISING CROATIA’S DRAMATIC SHORELINE

This small country is touted as the number one sailing destination in Europe, and with good reason. Rivaling the West Coast of the United States in length, Croatia’s shores are lined with protected ports and marinas that support a wide range of options for visiting the more than 1,200 islands. So, it’s no wonder that each year many visitors opt to explore Croatia by water.

Croatia's Coastline | April Winship

If your taste leans toward a traditional cruise line, you will find an ample supply of lavish cruise ships capable of hosting more than 3,000 guests making overnight stops at the most popular ports of call.

For those seeking a more intimate experience, it’s increasingly popular to book a cabin on a 20 to 40 passenger luxury yacht. Croatia specializes in these small ship cruise lines, because they can explore tiny islands with hidden coves and access regions of the coast larger ships can’t navigate. Becoming your mobile boutique hotel, these opulent yachts boast the finest service, cuisine, spacious teak sundecks and even jacuzzis to enjoy your final nightcap.

Looking to be captured by the romance of exploring the Adriatic under sail? Then your hot ticket may be booking a cabin on one of the smaller eight to 16 passenger schooners known as gulets. Handcrafted of mahogany, pine and teak, these motor-sailing gulets offer a marvelous blend of modern-day comforts with charms of tradition. Potentially a little more laidback, swimming, sunbathing and just plain relaxing become a favorite pastime of the guests.

If you’re a bit more on the adventurous side, contact one of the many charter boat companies servicing Croatia to reserve your own sailboat or powerboat. Both are available as bareboat or skippered charters. Many choose a local captain to handle the boat and play guide, allowing you to kickback and gain a sense of the culture, all the while discovering his favorite anchorages, villages and local restaurants you would have missed along the way. You just might end the cruise with a new best friend.

If you’re land trekking and want a quick taste of boating life in the Adriatic, wander down to the harbor and book a day cruise from a variety of island tours or dinner cruises offered on small excursion boats.

After a full day of exploring, we often found ourselves joining the locals sitting on the rocky shoreline and hoisting our drinks to yet another magnificent Adriatic sunset.

A WINE LOVER’S SECRET PILGRIMAGE

Grk Wine tasting | April Winship

Ever tasted Grk wine? If not, don’t feel bad. Most people, including wine connoisseurs, have never heard of, much less tasted, Grk “Gerk” wine. This Holy Grail of wines is one of the more elusive vinos in the world that ironically enjoys an almost cult-like following in Croatia.

Among wine specialists, there is no consensus whether this peculiar three letter name comes from the wine’s taste (to locals, Grk translates to bitter) or the origins of the first grapes brought to this area by the Greeks, which is also Grk in Croatian.

Around the 3rd century BC, ancient Greeks settled just off the coast of what is now mainland Croatia to a small island called Korčula bringing their precious vines. The southern slopes provided what Grk likes the most: excellent sandy soil and temperature stability under the influence of the surrounding sea. Vines enjoy sunny days, and locals swear that the grapes also benefit from the added reflection of the sun both off the water and the rocky hillsides behind.

These factors seem to be the sweet spot for cultivating this rare variety; however, the precious microclimate only exists in less than 100 acres of coastal land, which is the entirety of all the Grk planted in the world. Cultivation on other islands or in other parts of the country and the world have failed for the most part, making this one of the rarest grapes and categorized as “almost endangered” by the State Institute for Nature Protection.

To make matters worse, Grk is among the 1% of grape varieties in the world that cannot self-pollinate. Because Grk has only female flowers, it is always planted with the male grape vine nearby to enable pollination. This additional complication also hampers the desire to upscale commercial production.

Limited in production, it’s rare to see Grk wine served or sold outside Korčula. So, the best chance to savor this wine is to visit the handful of family wineries producing Grk. During summer when Korčula welcomes a massive influx of tourists, almost the entire production of Grk wine can be consumed within a season.

MEET ME AT THE WINERY

April Wine Tasting

Time to start my Grk quest. I took the two-hour ferry ride to the island of Korčula, and a short bus ride left me within walking distance of three family wineries. Confession: I had planned to visit all three wineries, but after I got settled into my wine sampling accompanied by a delectable charcuterie board, I began easing into island time and whiling away the afternoon at just one winery.

A tour of the production was accomplished practically from my seat overlooking the vineyards. I did walk over to view the wine cellar, which had enough room to house only eight wine barrels. These are tiny boutique wineries, and the labor of love that goes into making this wine is evident. I asked the owner if they bottled their wine to sell or import off the island. Looking at me quizzically, he replied that it was for sale only for individuals that came to visit the winery, and they sold out each year.

But was it good? As more of a full-bodied red wine lover, I didn’t know what to expect when he poured this pale golden wine. It was fabulous. It displayed an astounding depth and complexity I usually do not associate with white wine. The taste and texture were dry with hints of pine, citrus and saltiness leaving a subtle touch of tartness or bitterness at the finish.

I left the winery feeling my quest was accomplished. I smiled knowing that the bottle of Grk swaying in my backpack wasn’t going to make it back to the United States in my carry-on luggage, so I’d just have to enjoy it here. Now I have one more reason to return.

Read More
Chartering Canal Du Midi
|
Canal Du Midi bike trebes

The scenic Canal du Midi in southern France is a must for boaters! Cruising this 300-year-old waterway, you will savor the slow easy French pace, passing medieval villages, country farms and vineyards in the heart of the Languedoc wine region. Le Boat, the largest charter boat operation in Europe, offers surprisingly affordable, entry- level charters to this canal (and hundreds of other waterways). This historic passage is easy to navigate, scenic, fun and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Boating at a mellow 5 kilometers an hour aboard your vessel of 30-45 feet, the big excitement is passing through the lock system every few kilometers and arriving in ancient villages as your daily destination on your personal private cruise ship.

Don’t expect a luxury yacht holiday, however, because you are the crew and captain, you will be driving the boat or donning gloves to handle the dock lines in each “écluse” (lock). But it’s entertaining and affords a sense of freedom by chartering your own boat and navigating these centuries-old canals. Le Boat provides itineraries of how far you should voyage each day, but it’s truly up to you.

Our weeklong voyage started in Castelnaudary, a small, pretty village. Le Boat’s base in Castelnaudary is in the Grand Basin with a lovely view of the cathedral and village across the waterway, just a short walk over an old stone bridge to town. We could also see the majestic Pyrenees Mountains to our southwest along the French-Spanish border.

Greg on the Canal

Our first night, after our swift check in and orientation aboard our 40’ Horizon, we strolled to town, enjoyed local Languedoc wine and dinner at the Maison du Cassoulet sampling the specialty dish of slow-cooked white beans, tender pork and duck. Traditional “cassoulet” was a staple historically, especially in meager winters. Wow is it yummy and filling!

While returning over the old stone bridge back to our boat within the fleet, twinkling lights of the village reflected in the canal. We were excited to embark the next morning after a quiet comfy night’s sleep in the berth of our Horizon — Le Boat’s most modern vessel, equipped with a head, shower and full galley kitchen.

Before bed, I read about the fascinating history of the Canal du Midi. It was initially commissioned in 1516 by King Francis who hired Leonardo DaVinci to survey and create the route. Canal construction didn’t commence until 1667 and was completed in 1694, connecting 240 kilometers from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with aqueducts, bridges and 91 locks to overcome the 620 feet height change in water level.

Designed as a trade route to shorten the otherwise long passage around the Iberian Peninsula, it’s also called the “Canal des Deux Mers” or canal of two seas. This vital trade route for two centuries is now a meandering waterway for pleasure boaters as well as bicyclists riding the tow paths paralleling the canal.

On the first morning, our first lock was the most dramatic, departing Castelnaudary via a series of four locks that descend 9.5 meters in consecutive rushes of water. Captain Greg (my husband) and I established our duties: he’d drive into the narrow stone chamber (thankful for bow thrusters) while I secured lines to the lock shore, ready to adjust as the water floods out.

Canal Du Midi Boat Locks

We traveled in tandem with two other boats, a Swiss family and a German couple. All were experienced boaters, so we developed an efficient rhythm of entering the locks sequentially, tying up, descending and exiting in order.

We cruised 15 locks by noon, then tied to a canal bank for the daily lunchtime lock closure of 12-1:00 p.m. We’d provisioned in Castelnaudary for the perfect picnic of flaky croissants, local ham and cheese, and a glass of Languedoc rosé on our boat’s top sun deck.

When the “Eclusier” (lock operator) returned to open the lock for us, we cruised the canal again with the occasional excitement of encountering oncoming boats in the narrow canal. Some boat captains were better at steering than others.

Our first day, we clocked 19 locks, 26 kilometers from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. We chose to stay overnight in Villesèque, a lovely anchorage with a few other boats tied to the shores. There was no marina, but we could walk to the tiny village over a charming stone bridge to see the church and the Sully elm tree planted in the square, among the last elms still alive in France.

We toasted to our first boat day with wine and cheese on our top deck, and invited over our boat neighbors, a delightful South African couple who proved Le Boat’s international appeal. He’d never boated before, but Le Boat states that you need no prior boating experience.

On Day 2 we cruised under sunny early October skies, loving the canopy of iconic Plane trees that drape some of the river. Unfortunately, much of the 40,000 Plane trees along the 240- kilometer stretch are diseased. Over 25% have the blight and are systematically being cut and burned, a huge undertaking. In parts of the river, trees are being removed, and replanting different species is underway, but it will take time to reestablish the majestic trees.

Carcassonne de la Citi

We arrived midday at the marina of Carcassonne and docked our boat well-positioned for exploring the city, with views of the waterfront park and tour boats coming and going across the Aude River.

Carcassonne exceeded my expectations, and I know now why it’s the second most visited tourist attraction in France (#1 is the Eiffel Tower). La Cité is a massive, fortified castle with 52 spiraling turrets and imposing double walls of rampart circling 3 kilometers perched above a medieval village.

We immediately rode our bikes, provided by our Le Boat charter, up to the fairytale citadel. You can also ride le Petite Train for 7 Euro. Crossing the castle drawbridge, we stepped in to La Cité and the 13th century. Be sure to pay to enter and appreciate the scale of the ramparts and the view of Carcassonne’s lower city and the Pyrenees to the west. Then stroll the maze of medieval cobblestone streets filled with shops and cafés. Lunch at Comte Roger was a chic culinary treat. A real luxury would be to stay at the five-star Hôtel de la Cité for an elegant evening in the illuminated castle.

Back in Carcassonne’s village, we found the grand pedestrian plazas marked by statues and fountains, boutiques, bakeries and casual bistros. It’s a fun city to explore on foot, with provisions aplenty for boaters.

A SIP OR TWO AT LOCAL VINEYARDS

Greg and Heather at Chateau du Pennautier

The next morning, after fresh pain au chocolat, we hopped on our bikes to cycle to wineries. Greg guided us with his iPhone’s Komoot app, which maps out recommended hiking and biking routes. Château Auzais (est. 1872) was a wonderful tour and tasting. Our guide described the Occitanie wine’s bouquet as the convergence of Atlantic winds melding with the Mediterranean, as we sipped our favorite wine aptly named “La Cité des Ventes.”

Château de Pennautier was another fantastic estate. The gorgeous 1620 castle was home to the financier of the Canal du Midi construction — the same architect who designed Versailles. The château’s authentic furniture is gorgeous. Reserve an interior castle tour or just stroll the beautiful gardens. From here, we visited the sister winery and restaurant for a lovely lunch and wine tasting of Pennautier’s whites, rosés and reds.

We planned to boat the next day to Trèbes from Carcassonne but biked instead. The tow paths along the canal are ideal, in fact you can cycle faster than you can boat. We waved to fellow charter boats as we breezed by vineyards, farms, locks and bridges. Our return into Carcassonne provided stunning views of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at once — La Cité Castle and Canal du Midi.

Heather biking in the winery

Our return trip from Carcassonne to Castelnaudary only took a day through 24 locks and 30 kilometers with our now well-orchestrated rhythm of navigating locks. Our timing was good for the opening of most locks, and we traveled solo, as mid-October is end of the season the lock keeper told me. Summer is very busy on the canal, with boats in a queue for their turn in locks, and busier marinas.

As for the voyage, I recommend you plan one-way (for an upcharge) for the adventure of all new places along your voyage. The round trip had us retracing our passage, viewing previous scenery. We prefer the excitement of not knowing what’s around the next river bend and discovering new villages.

Also ascending the locks, going upriver, is more difficult. Captain Greg would let me off on a dock before the lock, I’d walk ahead and retrieve his tossed lines to secure the boat, we’d adjust during the rush of cascading water, then I’d board our boat when it came to the top of the full lock.

We felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, having completed our week with success (i.e. no one fell in, no damage to boat). Our final day was leisurely aboard the boat, walking Castelnaudary’s village to a delightful bakery, to the cathedral and up the hill to the windmill, a wonderful 17th century Moulin with splendid views of Black Mountain and the French countryside. We biked along the canal, then relaxed on our boat’s sun deck viewing the Spanish peaks where we planned to ski in winter.

Our check out was quick but thorough. Le Boat’s fleet varies in age, so I was happy we’d opted for the newer spacious Horizon model. Funny, other couples posed for selfies by our boat preferring our more sophisticated-looking vessel for their posts. Some of the older boats are a bit banged up from lock passages, a testament to the “no license or experience required” policy of Le Boat.

We’re already browsing Le Boat’s itineraries: Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, England, the Netherlands or Canada for our next charter adventure.

PHOTOS BY GREG BURKE

Read More
Best Waterfront Resorts in the South
|

The South is well-known for the hospitality of its people, the freshness of the seafood and the flavors of down-home cooking. What more could you ask for during a getaway? Well, it turns out, a lot! Resorts offer opportunities to do it all or do absolutely nothing in spectacular settings. Check out the following vacation options, which range from ultramodern island getaways to dignified historic grand dames.

Duck, NC

SANDERLING RESORT

Duck, NC

On the beachfront where the Atlantic joins Currituck Sound, this Outer Banks resort offers nonstop motion or endless relaxation in peaceful waterside surroundings. Fly a kite beachside, hit a golf or tennis ball, go hang-gliding or roam with wild horses. Water lovers can take surf lessons, plunge into the Atlantic or lounge by the tranquility pool sipping on a drink from the Sandbar. The award-winning Spa at Sanderling offers coastal and seasonal treatments with views of tranquil Currituck Sound.

For refined dining, try Kimball’s Kitchen, (reopens on Memorial Day) and for all-day service, The Lifesaving Station is located in the 1874 Caffey’s Inlet Lifesaving Station. Although the closest marina is about 30 minutes away in Nags Head, this resort is too scenic to be excluded and OBX First Watch provides transport service to the resort.

Where to Dock: Pirate's Cove Marina or Safe Harbor Outer Banks

SEA PINES RESORT

Hilton Head, SC

Unlimited land and sea recreation awaits on these 5,000 pristine oceanfront acres. Spend a morning touring the 605-acre forest preserve, explore the grounds on horseback or bicycle, or grab a kayak and join playful dolphins lounging along the beach.

The soothing rhythms of nature surround accommodations ranging from the romantic seaside hideaway Inn & Club at Harbour Town to the luxurious vacation homes for families. The Quarterdeck has a rooftop oyster bar with perfect sunset views overlooking Calibogue Sound.

Where to Dock: Harbour Town Yacht Basin or Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina

THE SANCTUARY

Kiawah Island, SC

Designed to feel like a casually elegant seaside mansion, The Sanctuary’s live oak framed entrance gives the resort a centuries old ambiance. In addition to the golf course, spa and pools overlooking the coastal Carolina landscape, guests enjoy miles of wide beach that glow pink at sunset.

Eateries across the island offer a diverse range of culinary items true to coastal Carolina roots. It’s Lowcountry cooking all day at Jasmine Porch. Shrimp & Grits (buttered local shrimp, organic grits and tasso ham cloaked in sweet pepper, onion and tomato gravy) is irresistible.

Where to Dock: Bohicket Marina & Market (local) or Safe Harbor Charleston City (transient)

Palmetto Bluff | OBrien

MONTAGE PALMETTO BLUFF

A classic Southern escape nestled along the scenic May River, the Montage is set within an active 20,000-acre community between Hilton Head Island and Savannah. The collection of spacious cottages, suites and village homes honor the region’s rich heritage as does the Lowcountry-inspired fare served with traditional Southern hospitality. Salute the morning at Buzz with fresh brewed coffee and house-made pastries. The dinner menu at River House celebrates both land and water with steak, seafood and game offerings.

The resort encompasses an extensive nature preserve, plus golfing, fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Spa Montage uses local elements to provide authentic coastal plains wellness treatments inspired by nature.

Where to Dock: TPG Isle of Hope Marina

Jekyll Island

JEKYLL ISLAND CLUB RESORT

Centered on 5,700 virtually undisturbed acres, this award-winning resort offers the historic charms of the Jekyll Island Club and adjacent Island Cottages, or the modern appeal of the beachfront Jekyll Ocean Club. Throughout the property are a multitude of land and water activities, a variety of dining options, a sun-warmed pool with fire pit as well as direct access to the National Historic Landmark District and complimentary shuttle to the ocean beaches. From the pool deck of the Jekyll Ocean Club, follow the footpath over the dunes for a day on the sand.

The verandas surrounding the famed clubhouse dating back to 1888 were designed to provide spectacular views. Bring a Pat Conroy novel and nestle into one of the porch’s rocking chairs overlooking the croquet lawn and riverfront.

Where to Dock: Jekyll Harbor Marina

The Breakers Main Drive | The Breakers Palm Beach

THE BREAKERS

Palm Beach, FL

Recognized as one of America’s most iconic resorts, this Italian Renaissance-style hotel is situated on 140 acres of oceanfront property. Still in the hands of founder Henry M. Flagler’s heirs, this legendary property remains independent of chain affiliation.

The Breakers Mediterranean-style architecture is inspired by Italian villas of the 15th century (i.e. the Villa Medici in Rome) The palm-lined drive leads to a sea-side palace with a lobby influenced by the Great Hall of the Palazzo Carrega in Genoa. Steeped in the glamour of a bygone era, yet wholly current, there are two golf courses, 10 tennis courts, a Forbes five-star spa and an alfresco shopping plaza. The private poolside cabanas have flat-screens and concierge service.

Restaurants range from casual beachfront to stylishly sophisticated. The Circle’s arched windows offer glimpses of the Atlantic and a soaring 30-foot, hand-painted ceiling. Sunday mornings, seasoned travelers and locals come to The Circle for an artfully crafted buffet brunch experience.

Where to Dock: Town of Palm Beach Marina or Palm Harbor Marina

THE VINOY RENAISSANCE RESORT & GOLF CLUB

St. Petersburg, FL

Currently undergoing yet another reimagination project, the grandest of all the 1920s Boom Era hotels remains pink, proud and preserved. A wide range of celebrities and notables have graced The Vinoy veranda at one time or another.

The hotel’s history is fascinating. In 1942, it was leased to the U.S. Army Air Force and subsequently the U.S. Maritime Service as a training center and housing for military cooks and bakers. By the 1970s, The Vinoy had declined into a low-rent boarding house, commanding $7 per night, far less than the extravagant nightly rate of $20 in 1925. Ironically, in 1990 as the painstaking restoration of this local treasure began, the hotel revealed a treasure of its own. Workers discovered a vault containing 1,400 silver pieces stamped “The Vinoy” and wrapped in newspapers dated 1934. Most amenities including golf, tennis, spa, pools and dining areas are open during the latest upgrades.

Where to Dock: The Vinoy Marina

Little Torch Key, FL

LITTLE PALM ISLAND RESORT & SPA

Little Torch Key, FL

& SPA |Little Torch Key, FL This secluded adults-only retreat features British West Indies-style thatched roof bungalows. A private island with crushed seashell paths winding through lush foliage and exotic wildlife, it is accessible only by boat or seaplane. All amenities, including an indoor-outdoor spa, deliver exotic charm reminiscent of a Balinese hideaway. A menu worthy of paradise is served in the plush dining room or at idyllic beachside tables.

Away from the island seclusion, find deep sea fishing, natural reef snorkeling or kayaking through the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. Visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, an amazing ecosystem for world-class diving, swimming, snorkeling and fishing.

Where to Dock: Little Palm Island docks

SOUTH SHORE HARBOUR RESORT & CONFERENCE CENTER

League City, TX

This tropically inspired getaway sits halfway between Houston and Galveston on Clear Lake, the country’s third largest boating destination. Kemah Boardwalk and its 60-acre theme park with chic shopping and waterfront dining options is just moments away.

Soak in the sunshine at the 185-foot oasis pool at the private cabanas and outdoor lounge. Swim right up to the bar for a poolside lunch. Evening time, dine al fresco at Opus Steakhouse and Bistro.

Where to Dock: South Shore Harbour Marina

Read More
Chartering the Caribbean
|

An inside look at this popular boating style

Charter vacations have grown in popularity over the years. Like other industries, it took a hit during COVID but has since skyrocketed in sales. In fact, the global yacht charter market is expected to rise from $6.50 billion in 2019 to $10.82 billion in 2027, according to a 2022 report from international market research publisher, Fortune Business Insights.

From bachelorette parties and milestone celebrations to fishing trips and relaxing getaways, chartering is a convenient way to make vacations a breeze. Whether you want a crewed charter to enjoy boating without manning a boat, or a bareboat charter to rent and return, the recent industry boom has allowed companies to increase services and streamline easy bookings and processes.

Bahamas-The Moorings-UPTOPMEDIA-7
Bahamas, The Moorings by UPTOPMEDIA

“There is rising marine tourism, aquatic recreational activities, and preference to chartering than ownership of motor and luxury yachts due to increasing ownership costs associated with yachts in markets such as Europe and North America,”notes a report from Transparency Market Research. The charter industry’s revenue is also estimated to rise by boosting services such as cabin, skippered and crewed chartering.

“The yacht charter market is witnessing a growing trend of innovative interior design such as the use of exotic leather ... and upholstery in the yacht. Sailing and motor yachts are becoming increasingly equipped with modern woodwork, lighting, and furniture,” Transparency Market Research also reports.

Travel with the local expects on a crewed charter and let loose while enjoying watersports and activities you can’t experience while captaining a vessel, or move at your own speed with the feeling of freedom while bareboating. Your charter company will work with you to not only accommodate all travel needs, but to also plan your trip based on the best weather conditions, routes, local knowledge and anything you want to make of the journey.

CHARTERING TIPS FROM OUR BOATERS

While tracking trends in the boating world, Marinalife also noticed an uptick in interest for chartering a Caribbean vacation. To help understand what’s behind this shift, we conducted an exclusive membership survey and came up with interesting insights that we’d like to share with our readers.

We chose our top 12 Caribbean destinations most frequented by our readers and asked about their favorite locations, what they love about chartering, and what season is best. We also inquired about helpful tips from their experiences.

We found that the U.S. Virgin Islands was the top destination by 74% of the respondents. Coming in second is the Bahamas at 43%. And British Virgin Islands (BVI) remains as one of the favorite charter destinations.

When it comes to the best season for chartering, winter was voted number one by 56%, followed by spring (48%), then summer (35%), with fall coming in last at 26%. The Caribbean winter season is known for dry, sunny clear skies and mild temperatures — a perfect time for snowbirds to plan a charter escape.

BVIs The Moorings Charters
BVIs by The Moorings

When readers were asked about what they enjoy most about chartering, the most common answer was, “freedom.” Boater Jim DelVecchio notes his favorite part of the experience is the freedom of bareboating. He suggests to book early to snag the best boats available. Richard Fisher, who also notes “freedom” as his favorite benefit of bareboating, gave a few tips for chartering the British Virgin Islands: “Know what you are doing, study the geography (nautical charts), relax and enjoy. Winds in the BVI tend to be brisk to potential gale force, especially in the winter.” He adds, “Get a catamaran — the absolute best platform for enjoying the BVI!”

Another boater Westray Paisley strongly recommends planning ahead. His number one tip: “Book early and do your port of call research.” Paisley cruised the British Virgin Islands with a group of eight in 2015, starting in Road Town, located in the BVI capital of Tortola. He says his group quickly learned that for the smoothest experience, you must have a flexible plan and take your time to enjoy all the gorgeous ports.

“We bareboated the whole trip, and it was very easy, because you are never out of sight of land. We arrived by the ferry from St. Thomas where our booked 54 Leopard power cat was waiting for us from The Moorings charter company,” says Paisley.

“Bareboat is the best for us, since we are all longtime boaters and enjoy the challenge and flexibility to do what we want, when we want. While the 54 Leopard has four staterooms, having a captain would have made it very tight,” he adds.

Have you chartered in the Caribbean? If so, we want to hear about your experience. Share your stories at editorial@marinalife.com

CARIBBEAN CHARTER COMPANIES


The following charter companies (including their areas of operation) are among some of the region’s top-rated services:

Carefree Yacht Charters
BVI, USVI


Dream Yacht Charter
Antigua, Belize, BVI, Cuba, Grenada,
Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin, USVI


Horizon Yacht Charters
Bahamas, BVI, St. Vincent & The Grenadines,
USVI


IYC
Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, BVI, Cayman
Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica,
Grenada, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. Vincent &
The Grenadines, Turks & Caicos, USVI


MarineMax Vacations
BVI

Navigare Yachting
Bahamas, BVI USVI


Nicholson Yacht Charters & Services

Antigua, Bahamas, BVI, Cayman Islands,
Cuba, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Maarten,
St. Vincent & The Grenadines, USVI


Ritzy Charters
Anguilla, Bahamas, Belize, BVI,
The Grenadines, St. Martin, St. Barts


SailCaribe
BVI, USVI


Sunsail
Antigua, Bahamas, Belize, BVI, Grenada,
St. Lucia, St. Martin, Martinique


The Moorings
Antigua, BVI, Grenada, Martinique, St. Lucia,
St. Martin, St. Thomas


Waypoints Yacht Charters
BVI, USVI

Read More
Bahamas: Seven Islands You Can Only Visit by Boat
|

So close to the United States, yet the Bahamas are worlds away with a tropical paradise vibe. This must-visit popularity comes not only from proximity but also a plentiful number of islands to visit, each with distinct personalities. You find everything from upscale resorts to laidback beach bars and pristine nature preserves.

While four islands have international airports, and more than 50 have smaller airports and airstrips, some reachable solely by boat. This means the only way to travel to these destinations is by ferry, water taxi or private boat. Here’s a sampling of seven boat-only Bahamas islands to visit.

GREEN TURTLE CAY, ABACOS

Green Turtle Cay
Photo by Green Turtle Cay Resort

Sea turtles abound on this namesake three-mile-long barrier island considered part of the Abaco “Out Islands.” Fly from the United States into airports on Treasure Cay or Marsh Harbour. From Treasure, it’s a 20-minute ferry ride to the cay. A couple of marinas, such as at the Green Turtle Club and Bluff House Beach Resort, make it easy to arrive by private boat. The best place to see endangered green sea turtles is Coco Bay Beach. This calm shallow bay to the north is the perfect place to swim and snorkel next to these gentle giants. Reach the bay either on shore by walking or golf cart, or by boat.

Green Turtle Cay is full of civilization too. To the south is the historic town of New Plymouth, founded in the 18th century by British Loyalists during the American Revolution. Walk past the quaint New England-style homes to sight-see at the Loyalists Memorial Sculpture Garden and Albert Lowe Museum, which is housed in a Victorian-era family home and traces the island’s history from its origins. Restaurants, shops, galleries, banks, churches, hardware and grocery stores are on the island.

Where to Dock: Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina or Bluff House Beach Resort & Marina

LITTLE HARBOUR CAY, BERRY ISLANDS

Smack in the middle of this 30-square mile chain of 100-plus islands and cays, it is relatives of Chester Darville who first settled here nearly a century ago. Today, Darville owns the cay’s sole business, Flo’s Conch Bar & Restaurant. He brought his father’s dream to life by taking the family back to their home when he opened Flo’s in 1993. Darville’s mother, Flo, served as head chef until her death, building a reputation for the best conch fritters. Today, conch fritters, conch salad, cracked conch and conch burgers are on the menu along with Danville’s special rum punch.

Beyond Flo’s, expect good snorkeling on the nearby reef beyond the small dock and anchorage and sport fishing near and offshore. Located 40 miles north of Nassau, the closest airport is 9 miles south in Little Whale Cay, with no ferry service. This makes Little Harbour remote to reach by boat. Perhaps that’s why some of Darville’s customers have included Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Sylvester Stallone.

Where to Dock: Great Harbour Cay Marina or Chub Cay Resort & Marina

ROSE ISLAND, OFF NASSAU

Rose Island
Photo Courtesy of Sandy Toes 2018

Find a best-of-both-world experience on this 12-mile-long island located three miles east of Nassau. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Bahamas’ capital city, Rose is full of peace and quiet. Back to nature after past lives as a pineapple plantation and private residence until 2005, the now road-less, nearly resident-less island is ripe for a day trip. “While on Rose, guests can partake in snorkeling, exploring, and of course swimming with the world-famous pigs,” says Deb Saunders, sales and marketing at Sandy Toes, which operates full-day private excursions to Sandy Toes Beach on Rose.

“We make our own water and power to leave the smallest footprint, so Rose Island may retain its beauty for many years to come,” Saunders adds. Rose is popular with private boats to cruise over from Nassau. First Beach, on Rose’s west end, is closest at a little over 4 miles east of Nassau Harbor. MacTaggart’s Beach, to the east, is farther and delightfully secluded as a result.

Where to Dock: Palm Cay Marina or Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina

Compass Cay by Compass Cay Marina
Compass Cay Courtesy of Compass Cay Marina

COMPASS CAY, EXUMAS

Baby sharks and bigger ones too are the star attraction in the naturally protected harbor of the Compass Cay Marina. “Visitors come from all over the world to have a close interaction with these docile nurse sharks,” says Trevon Rolle, assistant manager. “Aside from these precious creatures, enjoy several hiking trails, a large maze of mangroves leading out from the marina that’s great for kayaking and paddle boarding, a beautiful sandy crescent beach on the eastern shore with gazebos, and a natural formation at the island’s northeast tip called Rachel’s Bubble Bath, which is a natural swimming pool.”

Fly from Fort Lauderdale or Miami to Staniel Cay and take a water taxi to Compass. Or cruise from the Exuma Banks and Exuma Sound through buoy-marked channels, where the draft is six-feet in low and nine-feet in high tide. Marina docks accommodate yachts up to 200 feet and are equipped with reverse osmosis water and 30-, 50- and 100-amp electricity. The marina store sells beverages and food items. The closest fuel is Staniel Cay five miles south.

Where to Dock: Compass Cay Marina

FOWL CAY, EXUMAS

Once used as a nature-made corral where nearby communities raised chickens (hence the namesake fowl), this 50-acre island has been a private luxury destination for two decades. Its vibe is Robinson Crusoe meets the Ritz. Six secluded yet spectacular one-, two- and three-bedroom rental villas start around $20,000 per week in season. That combines with resort amenities such as a restaurant, pool, tennis courts, housekeeping services and watersports equipment. Best of all, an 18-foot powerboat with unlimited gas is included in every villa hire.

Fowl Cay Resort
Fowl Cay Courtesy of Fowl Cay Resort Marina

Fowl is a perfect homeport to cast off on a trolling trip for snapper and grouper. Or snorkel at the nearby underwater Thunderball cave, so- called for the same-named James Bond spy flick filmed here. Or cruise to Staniel Cay Yacht Club for lunch. Staniel is the closest airstrip to Fowl, and the resort offers guests a seven- minute ferry ride. Or, BYOB (bring your own boat) and tie off at Fowl Cay’s north dock.

Where to Dock: Staniel Cay Yacht Club

STOCKING ISLAND, EXUMAS

Shaped like — you guessed it — a long narrow stocking, the one-mile distance from the Government Dock in Georgetown, Great Exuma, across a protected harbor, makes this an easy dinghy trip. You can explore several beaches on this three-mile-long island, from Starfish and Powder beaches to the northwest and northeast, respectively, to Sand Dollar beach at the southern tip. Right in the middle, and nearest to Georgetown, on a small beach sits the Chat ‘N’ Chill beach bar and grill.

“Try our fresh conch salad and experience a Bahamian tradition,” invites owner Kwanza Bowe. “Watch as conch is taken straight from the sea, cracked and broken out of its natural shell right before your eyes. The conch man then skins the conch, washes it, chops it up, and prepares it with locally grown onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, goat peppers and Bahamian sea salt for your conch salad.” An easy walk from this eatery is gorgeous sand dunes. Beyond, on the island’s Atlantic side are stromatolites. These are fossilized bacteria dating over 1 million years old and found only on Stocking Island and in Australia. “We also recommend visiting the Jacques Cousteau Mystery Cave,” Bowe adds. “This is reached by a two-minute boat ride from the Chat ‘N’ Chill. The cave’s mouth teems with fish and is an excellent snorkeling spot.”

Where to Dock: St. Francis Resort & Marina

CONCEPTION ISLAND

Conception Island
Conception Island Courtesy of Bahamas National Trust

Take a visit to the wildlife side. Christopher Columbus first sited it in 1492, but no humans have lived on this 4.5-square-mile island for over a century. The Bahamas National Trust established a national park here in 1964. Pink sand beaches, lush mangrove ecosystems and spectacular sandstone cliffs make this one of the prettiest islands in the Bahamas. Imperiled long-tail tropicbirds, ospreys, sooty terns and oystercatchers nest on the island, while surrounding waters are nurseries for conch, crawfish, sharks and fish. Green turtles are a common sight in the creek off the southwest shore. Discover ruins of several early 20th century structures made of limestone, shells and mortar, but no amenities or facilities are ashore. So, bring food and water to explore on land. The best anchorage is in West Bay, and a couple of moorings, marked by large red buoys, are nearby. The closest island is Rum Cay, 20 miles south, which has a small airport.

Where to Dock: Conception Island National Park

Read More
10 Caribbean Islands You May Not Have Heard Of
|

Jamaica is synonymous with jerk. St. Thomas tops the cruise ship stops. Even the little Grenadine island of Mustique has made headlines as a second home for the rich and famous, from the UK’s Princess Margaret to Mick Jagger, Tommy Hilfiger and Bryan Adams. However, with some 7,000 islands, islets and cays making up the 2,000-mile-long Caribbean, you find a treasure trove of off-the- beaten-track destinations that may not ring a bell but are definitely ready for a visit.

Culebra - Flamenco Beach - Credit Dean Barnes
Culebra - Flamenco Beach - Credit Dean Barnes

CULEBRA

Dance to the sound of the surf on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Flamenco Beach, a 1.5-mile crescent of white sand on the 11-square-mile island’s Northshore is a spectacular work of natural art. The shallow reef- protected bay is ideal for swimming, the tree- lined shore hosts tent camping and the adjacent Culebra National Wildlife Refuge is a seabird lover’s paradise. One funky quirk is the old rusting Sherman tanks. Culebra, like its sibling island of Vieques, was once used for weapons testing by the U.S. Navy. The one town, Dewey, is folksy friendly with guest houses, and bars and restaurants that come alive with music after sunset. It’s a 10-minute flight or 45-minute ferry from Puerto Rico’s mainland town of Fajardo.

WATER ISLAND

Called the “fourth” U.S. Virgin Island, after St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, this three-fourths of a square mile isle became an official Virgin in 1996 when the U.S. government transferred it to territorial control. Take a 10-minute ferry ride to Phillips Landing where a short walk or drive in a rental golf cart over the hill ends at the arc-shaped Honeymoon Beach. A swim and lunch at Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill or Dinghy’s Beach Bar make it a memorable day trip from St. Thomas. The sunset here is spectacular and featured in a scene with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. History buffs can venture farther afield in this residential community to see the ruins of World War II-built Fort Segarra.

Anegada
Anegada BVI by Caribbean Travel Organization

ANEGADA

Conch out on this 15-square-mile sandbar-like isle. Nicknamed the “drowned island,” this farthest east of the British Virgin Islands is an hour’s ferry ride or 15-minute flight from the territory’s main hub in Tortola. From here, there’s nothing across the Atlantic Ocean until the Cape Verde Islands and Africa beyond. Top to-dos are strolling miles of white sand beaches and snorkeling or scuba diving on marine life-filled Horseshoe Reef, the fourth largest barrier reef in the world. Conch Island sits on the reef at the island’s far end. Eons of fishermen cleaning conch and discarding the shells have created this manmade octopus-shaped atoll with ocean-filled pools between the tenacles of shells. Conch and lobster star on the menus of Anegada’s handful of beachfront bars and restaurants. Try stewed conch, conch ceviche and conch fritters.

ST. EUSTATIUS

Experience the thrill of the Quill on this Netherlands Antilles island that sits northwest of St. Kitts-Nevis and southeast of Saba. The Quill, a dormant volcano nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, is the second-highest mountain in the Netherlands and towers over this 12-square-mile island called Statia for short. Explore several hiking trails, with the most popular being the 2.8-mile round-trip Quill Trail to the crater’s rim. From here, follow the Panorama Point Trail for a picture postcard view. Or take the steep step-marked Crater Trail into the cone and experience the lush rainforest. Trail maps are available from the St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation. Black sand beaches, historic ruins and forts, and quaint lodgings and restaurants make for a delightful stay.

BARBUDA

Celebrities and celebrated sea birds are among Antigua’s sister island’s claims to fame. The UK’s Princess Diana vacationed at the exclusive K-Club in the ‘90s, and today actor Robert Di Niro, with Australian billionaire James Packer, is bringing the hurricane-hit property back to life as Nobu Barbuda. The upscale resort sits on the pink-white sands of the renamed Princess Diana Beach. North in the Codrington Lagoon is the largest colony of frigate birds in the Western Hemisphere. Numbers reach nearly 100,000, and it’s a magnificent sight to these three-foot-tall birds, especially the males with their bright red gullets, while on a guided boat tour. It’s a 30-minute flight in a seven-seater plane to the small airstrip on Barbuda, or 90-minutes one-way by ferry.

Marie Galante - Credit Aurelien Brusini
Marie Galante - Credit Aurelien Brusini

MARIE-GALANTE

It’s a sweet treat to visit this 60-square-mile island, owned by France and located 15 miles southeast of Guadeloupe. For one, the name itself “La galette” means pancake, due to the land’s flat terrain and circular shape. Secondly, instead of hiring a taxi, take an ox cart ride to the beach. Like yesteryear, these continue to transport cut cane stalks today. A mile from the town of Grand Bourg is the two-century-old castle-like Château Murat, where a museum shows the history of sugar and rum. Third, sample this sugar in a spirited Ti Punch, preferably at sunset on the porch at Chez Henri’s in Saint-Louis. A hydrofoil ferry makes the trip in 50 minutes from Guadeloupe, while a puddle-jumper flight is only 15 minutes. Brush up on your French before visiting.

CANOUAN

Nature and nurture combine on this three-square-mile island, which is part of St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Residents, who not long ago were outnumbered by the turtles that gave the island its ancient Amerindian name, only received residential electricity and running water in the early 1990s. Now, with the recent opening of the five-star Mandarin Oriental Canouan, with its private jet strip, mega-million-dollar marina, and butler-equipped luxury villas and suites, it is billionaires who may soon exceed the island’s shelled critter population. Go natural for a swim off Charlestown Bay Beach or get nurtured with signature spa treatments at the Mandarin.

La Desirade
La Desirade by Aurelien Brusini

LA DÉSIRADE

Have a whale of a time in this three-in-one French archipelago 15 miles east of Guadeloupe. Full-day sightseeing trips launch from Port de la Désirade en route to the uninhabited duo of Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas 10 miles south. These are part of the Petite Terre Islands National Nature Reserve. Humpback whales swim from February to May, and sperm whales are year-round. Back on La Désirade, white sand beaches rimmed by coral reefs create great snorkeling. Fifi Beach is a don’t-miss with its palm-lined shore equipped with picnic tables and nearby sea-filled lagoon. The only way to get here is a 45-minute ferry ride from the town of Saint- François, Guadeloupe. Parler français is a plus!

TOBAGO

Relive a Swiss Family Robinson fantasy on Trinidad’s sister island. Situated 19 miles to the east, which translates to 25 minutes by plane or 3 hours by ferry from Trinidad’s capital of Port of Spain, Tobago is where Disney filmed its 1960s shipwrecked family classic. Visit Pigeon Point Beach, with its iconic thatch-roofed jetty and nearby glass bottom boat tours, to see where the Robinson’s two sons, Fritz and Ernst, filmed raft scenes. Inland, waterfall storylines were shot at the Craig Hall Waterfall, where today concrete steps lead to seats with a full view of the falls. Richmond Bay, to the east, served as the movie’s main set. The beach remains, but the west coast’s white sands in Englishman’s Bay, Castara, and Parlatuvier are better for swimming and Swiss Family daydreaming.

Carriacou
Carriacou by Grenada Tourism Authority

CARRIACOU

Beaches and boats are big draws to Grenada’s 13-square-mile sister, located 90 minutes by ferry or 20 minutes by air to the north. Anse La Roche is an idyllic stretch of soft sand protected by cliffs that offers a secluded beauty both for people and the sea turtles that nest here. Water taxis leave from Hillsborough to Sandy Island, where the reef off the beach is a snorkeler’s dream. The Carriacou Regatta Festival happens in early August, featuring hand-crafted Carriacou sloops, which were cargo workhorses of an earlier era and range from 30’ to 40’-plus in length with a half dozen crew to race. Onshore, locals and visitors alike can participate in the festival’s donkey racing, greasy pole competitions, and beach parties complete with food and drink.

Read More
Cruising Itinerary: The Coast of Belize
|
San Pedro Beach Ambergris Caye |Credit Wikimedia Commons

Starting Point: Ambergris Caye

Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye, is 25 miles long and about a mile wide. Near the southern end, you find San Pedro Town, where most of the island’s marinas, hotels and restaurants are located. Snorkelers flock to nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a five-square-mile underwater park with four different zones that include The Reef, Seagrass Beds, Mangroves and Shark Ray Alley.

Just north of San Pedro Town is Secret Beach, a prime white-sand destination for tourists and locals that also features cenotes, sinkholes and caves. For onshore accommodations, check out Alaia Belize, an Autograph Collection Hotel featuring a rooftop pool and lounge, as well as upscale drinking and dining options.

While the waters around Ambergris Caye and other sites on BBRRS are relatively calm, navigation by sight with a bow watch is recommended due to abundant skinny water and coral reefs. The good news is numerous mooring buoys are available to keep boat anchors from damaging the reef. The outer reefs are more dangerous and less charted; many areas are simply labeled “numerous coral heads or patch reefs.” Tip: Get a copy of Captain Freya Rauscher’s Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.

Stop 1: Lighthouse Reef

Estimated mileage: 35 NM

Half Moon Beach at Lighthouse Reef | Credit Falco Ermert on Flickr

Located about 50 miles southeast of Belize City, Lighthouse Reef (LHR) forms a shallow sandy lagoon with a depth that runs between 2 and 6 meters. The big draw is the infamous Blue Hole, a giant marine sinkhole about 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep that was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who declared it one of the world’s top five scuba diving sites. In all, 60+ dive sites are within the vicinity of Lighthouse Reef, including several shipwrecks.

To the southeast of the Blue Hole, you find Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, a small island that’s been a designated bird sanctuary since 1924 and a marine protected area since 1981. The main attraction is the unique flora and fauna. The orange-flowered ziricote tree provides a habitat that supports one of the only red-footed booby colonies in the western Caribbean. In turn, the booby colony supports the forest’s stability by providing guano as fertilizer. It’s also a habitat for the endemic leaf-toed gecko and anole lizard, and the southeastern part of the island is a prime sea turtle nesting ground from May to November.

A handful of “eco-resorts” on LHR, primarily on Long Caye, offer accommodations ranging from rustic to really rustic. For lunch or dinner, try the Itza Resort, where you can dine on a “thatch-covered open-air deck with sweeping views of the Caribbean Ocean and nearby Half Moon Caye.” Call ahead.

Belize Blue Hole | Wikimedia Commons

Stop 2: South Water Caye

Estimated mileage: 42 NM

The main island in the 118,000-acre South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR), South Water Caye is just one of several small cays in the area offering unsurpassed snorkeling, diving, beaches and laid-back charm. Man O’ War Caye, Tobacco Caye, Coco Plum Caye, Thatch Caye and the Pelican Cays are nearby and easily accessible.

Considered one of the most biodiverse marine areas in Belize, SWCMR consists of “pristine reefs, mangroves, palm-fringed islands, turquoise waters and seagrass beds that provide a home to tropical reef fish, rays, seabirds, manatees and crocodiles,” according to the website Anywhere Belize.

South Water Caye is known for its dense, red mangroves that populate coral outcrops and the rare diamond-shaped reefs known as “faro” reefs. If the beach is more your speed, the island’s southern portion is well known for sandy shorelines, especially Pelican Beach.

For landlubbers, Blue Marlin Beach Resort and Pelican Beach Resorts are located at either end of South Water Caye, both offering snorkeling, kayaking, bird watching or just plain island-style relaxation, complete with Belizean cocktails and cuisine.

Stop 3: Glover's Reef

Estimated mileage: 13 NM

Coral Reef Fish | Credit Wouter Naert Unsplash

The 86,000-acre Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve is a popular destination for diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fly fishing and sailing. Since the atoll is only 18 miles long and 6 miles wide, you can easily explore it all in a day. Don’t miss the Caiman Trench, the deepest ocean drop in the world, plunging 15,000 feet. Prized for its amazing biodiversity, the waters of the atoll’s lagoon are home to three species of sea turtles, eight species of sharks and rays, hundreds of species of fish, and vast vistas and varieties of coral.

After a day of nautical adventure, you can relax and recharge at one of the area’s “off the grid” retreats, such as Isla Marisol Resort or Off the Wall Dive Center & Resort, both five-star PADI properties offering instruction, guided trips, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, accommodations, libations and all mod cons to adventurers and aquatic aficionados. If you prefer something less strenuous, Off the Wall owners Jim and Kendra Schofield invite visitors to kick back and spend time “walking barefoot on the pearly white sand beaches, searching for shells, or cooling off in the warm waters of the lagoon.”

Tip: Bluewater Sailing website notes that “the channel into Glover’s Reef is easily followed in good light. The entrance on the south end of the atoll is wide and calm, and a wonderful anchorage lies just inside this southern entrance through the reef. The reefs are healthy and teeming with fish of many species. Spear fishing is allowed on the southern edge of the reef, while the reefs in the conservation zone offer spectacular viewing.”

Placencia | Credit Glen Murphy Wikimedia Commons

Stop 4: Placencia

Estimated mileage: 32 NM

Placencia Peninsula’s narrow, 16-mile strand offers silvery sand beaches on the Caribbean side and mangrove-fringed lagoons on the western side that are inhabited by manatees, marine turtles and saltwater crocodiles. At its southern tip you find the town of Placencia, a tranquil place to spend time exploring.

As the gateway to the southern part of the BBRRS, Placencia is a popular destination for sensational snorkeling and dramatic diving. The town of around 1,800 permanent residents has several marinas where you can restock and recharge, as well as more than a dozen options if you want to lay your head on dry land for a night or two — everything from modest B&B-style accommodations to high-end resort properties. Hungry after a day on the reefs? Try Muna Rooftop Restaurant & Bar at The Ellysian or Mare by Coppola at the Turtle Inn for upscale Belizean cuisine and super-fresh seafood.

Side trip: A few miles up the road from Placencia is Seine Bight, a small village that’s home to the Garifuna, a West Indian native population who’ve occupied various parts of the Caribbean for 400+ years, eventually founding Seine Bight nearly 200 years ago. The villagers still practice indigenous drumming, singing and dancing, and traditional dress is worn for the dances, including unique masks and headdresses. Check out Sam’s Disco, where there’s dancing to punta and reggae, or Wamasa, a nightclub with live entertainment on weekends. Garifuna artisans are also renowned for their intricate carvings of indigenous animals and other fine crafts.

Read More
There’s Nothing “Lesser” about the Antilles
|
John holding up fresh catch for the barbecue

Cruising the Caribbean is a unique and distinct destination with steel drums and polka sticks, rum punch and coconuts, lobster barbecues and beach bonfires, and ready-made friends at every anchorage. Having already spent 10 years cruising the Pacific, Indian and Southern Atlantic Oceans, our diverse experiences brought us to the Lesser Antilles.

Sailing into the Caribbean was entirely different for us, as it felt like entering a cruiser’s candy land, where everything was as stimulating and enticing as candy tossed out at a Christmas parade. For us, the Lesser Antilles was like a prettily packaged, sugarcoated apple, dipped in strong local rum.

We focused the season on the Lesser Antilles, having learned that a longer time in a designated area was preferable to a quicker run through twice the destinations. Our entry point into the Caribbean from the eastern Atlantic was Antigua. As the epicenter of the super yacht industry, the island was as juxtaposed as you could get to our past cruising grounds. Super yachts were lined-up by the dozens, sparkling and shiny and locked-up tight. You could hop across the decks of tightly packed boats to join an endless stream of dusk-to-dawn parties, should you choose.

We passed on the parties and engaged in Antiqua’s other side and discovered a beautiful, relaxed island that ran on long-gone days of the slowly churning cogs of island life. We dove in the morning, relaxed in the afternoon and socialized on the beach in the evening. The highlight of Antiqua was to see the richness and variety of the marine ecosystem. Soft corals were vibrant and plentiful, hard corals young but healthy, and the marine life diverse and abundant. For all the talk of bleached reefs, diving in Antigua was an exciting example that reefs can revive themselves, given time and care.

Arrival at the Lesser Antilles

From Antigua we entered Barbuda and spent a few weeks in the relative isolation of Antiqua’s sister island. Rather than the lush mountainous landscape of Antigua, Barbuda is a large low-lying atoll with fine white sand and miniature pink shell beaches with strong winds that blow across her shores and provide perfect wind-sport conditions. Isolated from the local population, our days were filled in the company of other cruisers. Kitesurfing, windsurfing and waterskiing afternoons flowed into early evening potluck meals that flowed into late night beach bonfires.

Barbuda was exactly the Caribbean scene I’d envisioned. Several other boats were travelling with children, and it was our first time in 10 years in which we — a cruising family — were the norm. Rather than dragging our kids around, they were dragging us around to their numerous social engagements. They had playdates and sleepovers, snorkeling excursions and fishing trips, and numerous activities that involved being towed behind dinghies at high speed.

Barbuda was a kid’s all-inclusive free-for-all holiday with an edge of the semi-feral where homemade forts contained rusty machetes, discarded lighters and all sort of cast-off debris. No kids camp could ever complete with the freedom of play and exploration of nature offered here. Barbuda could have been home for the season. I haven’t seen my kids happier, busier, more manic and more exhausted in a long time. I haven’t felt less hassled, less in demand and more relaxed either. But it was time to up-anchor and get moving before our chain turned to rust.

Our route would take us from Antigua to Barbuda back to Antigua before sailing north to St. Maarten to get south to St. Vincent. Our track has never been a linear one, and well-laid plans are often tossed out at a whim. This time, our schedule was abandoned for the social extravaganza awaiting us in St. Maarten, where all the businesses were fully operational, and the pubs were drawing in crowds with silly happy hour prices. We were pulled into the fray by fellow cruisers who lie in wait for new victims to arrive, having already been pulled in themselves.

Kids getting a windsurfing lesson at Coco Point Barbuda

We filled our time outside the bars in excursions to the French side for carafes of chilled wine and window-shopping, trips to the airstrip to experience jumbo jets landing inches above our head, and rum cocktail in hand playing on beautiful white sand beaches with a pack of wild kids running amok for the afternoon. All of this to end up at a pub each evening sipping cold bottles of $1 beer. If Barbuda was the kid-version, St. Maarten was the adult-version of the Caribbean, where easy friendships were made and solidified over flowing amber liquid and the clock ticked toward each new happy hour.

From St. Maarten we headed south to the Grenadines, choosing it for the larger cruising area it offered. We spent the next three months in the pearl of the southern Caribbean, enjoying easy sailing between the 32 islands that lay within a 30-mile radius. The islands vary from the high- prized aquamarine blues of the Tobago Cays to the dramatic volcanic black hues of St. Vincent.

We indulged in upmarket luxuries, ate at centuries-old plantation houses and sipped high-end cocktails from swings on a floating bar in Bequia, enjoyed the quiet isolation and beach bonfires on Mayreau, and explored the geographic and cultural richness of St. Vincent, where we trekked through dense forests to see magnificent waterfalls, hunted down Amerindian artifacts and watched pilot whales hunted down and dragged in from the sea.

By the end of June, it was time to settle down for hurricane season. We entered Carriacou and spent the next month enjoying the quaint anchorages of Grenada’s sister island. While the number of boats in Tyrell Bay was a shock after the relative isolation of SVG, we were also excited to re-enter a cruising hub.

Evening bonfire in Spanish Point Barbuda

Carriacou and Grenada are considered far enough south to be safe from hurricanes, and it is the main destination for cruisers staying in the southern Caribbean during the summer months.

As a well-established area for cruisers, many activities are organized to keep all ages entertained, ranging from exercise groups, kids camps, music venues, weekly markets, and happy hour at a rotation of bars around the southern bays. It takes about a week to adjust to the continuous activity, two weeks before you fall into a set routine, and three weeks before you recognize it is time to slow down. Love it or hate it, Grenada is a cruiser’s home away from home.

When it comes to the Lesser Antilles, there’s nothing “lesser” about this collection of smaller, more remote southern Caribbean islands. Reflecting on our past year, I now consider the region a place of endless entertainment for kids and adults alike. The islands are beautiful, the locals are welcoming, the wind constant and the water warm. It is fun, easy and entertaining in the worst and best of times. Most of all, I got to share with my kids the same waters that I grew up on and gave them a sample of the Caribbean I knew — complete with playful days in the sun and the slow pace of the island lifestyle.

PHOTOS BY KIA KOROPP

Read More
Destination: Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
|
Ciudad del Carmen | Source Kenya Avilés González

On the west side of the Yucatan Peninsula, Ciudad del Carmen was a fishing village on Isla del Carmen long before oil was discovered off the coast in the 1970s. Thanks to the growing petroleum industry, abundant fishing grounds and a bridge built to connect the island to the mainland, Ciudad del Carmen is now a seafood hotspot and thriving beach destination.

The town only takes up a small portion of the barrier island that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the country’s largest coastal lagoon, Laguna de Términos. The lagoon is an official Ramsar site that visitors can tour by boat in hopes of seeing the hundreds of elusive creatures that make their home in this beautiful habitat.

On the opposite side of the island, white sand paves the way into the surf of the Gulf of Mexico. Playa Norte is one of the popular beaches on the island. Restaurants featuring fresh seafood and nightlife run parallel to the northern coast providing guests with the tropical beach town feel. Plenty of quieter beaches line the shore too, if you’re willing to take a short drive or a paddle.

Town Center awaits on the west coast of Isla del Carmen, presenting vestiges of colorful colonial European architecture. An old hospital was restored and is now the home of the island’s history museum, which details the region’s pre-Columbian history through the Spanish Inquisition.

Visitors who need a beach break can find other activities on Ciudad del Carmen and further afield. Plaza Zentralia is a shopping center with a variety of restaurants next to the airport, which also acts as an activity hub with plenty of bars in the immediate area and fantastic dining experiences lining the roads between the airport and town center. The botanical gardens and zoo are other great options for half or full-day entertainment that highlight the biodiversity of the surrounding area. Visitors can end the night at the casino or the bars in town.

History buffs and day-trippers might enjoy seeing what the rest of the state has to offer. The capital city of Campeche has a UNESCO world heritage site just 200 km up the coast. The region is also home to well-preserved remains of ancient Mayan temples.

Ciudad del Carmen | Source Rodolfo Israel

WHERE TO DOCK

Marina Bucanero

+52-938-118-0554

Marina Bucanero on the lagoon side of Ciudad del Carmen is a charming marina and hotel.

WHERE TO DINE

OV Vaquero Restaurante Y Taqueria

+52-938-286-1155

Located near the center of town, OV Vaquero serves an excellent taco, but the menu also includes a full spread of high-quality starters, soups, salads and desserts.

La Pigua Ciudad del Carmen

+52-938- 112-0808

Near Playa Norte, La Pigua is a local franchise in Campeche serving Mexican, Caribbean and local seafood. Prices are reasonable, and the coconut shrimp is hailed as the signature dish.

Cocteleria Cajun

+52-938-382-1421

Located at the southwestern end of the island, Cocteleria Cajun is known for fresh seafood and comfortable atmosphere. A popular place among locals, visitors to Ciudad del Carmen agree that this spot should not be missed.

Mosto Beer House

+52-938- 111-1992

On the southern side of the island, Mosto Beer House serves a variety of international beers, and the pizza is a crowd pleaser. The cozy wood-fronted bar also attracts visitors and adds to the atmosphere.

Mr. Pampas Do Brasil

+52-938-129-9654

This lively Brazilian steakhouse is near the center of the island and boasts an extensive menu of local dishes, fresh meats, a fresh salad bar and a kids room for family meals.

Read More

Want to Stay In the Loop?

Stay up to date with the latest articles, news and all things boating with a FREE subscription to Marinalife Magazine!

Thanks for signing up!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Marinalife articles