Feature: Island for Two

Romantic Caribbean escapes.

By Katie James Watkinson | Photographs and video by Matt Dutile

If there were a secret recipe for a romantic getaway, the Caribbean would have all the necessary ingredients: azure waters, white-sand beaches, verdant landscapes, laid-back locals, multiethnic cuisines. A lounge chair and a rum punch may be enough incentive to make any couple book a flight, but when it comes to cultivating the perfect vibe, it pays to pick the right island. Those in new relationships should look to Puerto Rico, which has lots of cultural riches to explore and humming nightlife, while honeymooners will find a memorable holiday among the towering Piton mountains of Saint Lucia. For those celebrating an anniversary, there’s relaxing-meets-adventurous Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten. You’re bound to fall in love with each other in the Caribbean—for the first time or all over again—as well as with your destination.



Testing the Waters in Puerto Rico

San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is just a four-hour flight from the East Coast (or five to six hours from the Midwest and Texas)—no passport required. Once you land, it’s a short taxi ride to popular areas of this capital city, such as Isla Verde and Condado.

The bright blue Caribbean waters will woo you into a beachfront stupor, but try not to lounge all day: Old Town San Juan is waiting. After wandering the cobblestoned streets, lined with pastel-hued townhouses, you’ll be within walking distance of the 16th-century Castillo San Felipe del Morro (501 Calle Norzagaray; 787-729-6777; admission, $7), one of the most iconic Spanish colonial fortresses in the Caribbean. The epic views of San Juan Bay are matched only by the cityscapes from Sage Steak Loft (55 Calle Aguadilla; 787-728-3535; dinner for two, $100*), a rooftop restaurant serving shareable plates, such as veal Parmesan croquettes and pork-belly paella.

For a bonding experience, consider heading out early one morning for Carabalí Rainforest Adventure Park (Puerto Rico Hwy. 3 km 32.4; 787-889-4954; one-hour ATV tours, $50 a person; additional $30 for a passenger), a 600-acre ranch in the foothills of El Yunque National Forest (much of which is still closed post–Hurricane Maria). You’ll cling to each other on an ATV ride through the ranch and then take a dip in the crystal clear Mameyes River. Afterward you can treat yourselves to a self-guided tour of El Mercado de Paseo Caribe (15 Av. Luis Muñoz Rivera; 787-721-2100), which brings together the best eats from across the island, including Fina and Nonna, two outposts from popular San Juan restaurant Cocina Abierta.

Don’t miss dinner in the trendy San Juan neighborhood of Santurce at José Enrique (176 Calle Duffaut; 787-725-3518; dinner for two, $96), the namesake restaurant from Puerto Rico’s most famous chef, or Gallo Negro (1107 Av. Juan Ponce de León; 787-554-5445; dinner for two, $93), an industrial-chic spot where up-and-comer María Mercedes Grubb blends Turkish, Japanese, Catalan, and Korean influences. A more casual meal can be had at Lote 23 (1552–1558 Av. Juan Ponce de León), an outdoor space filled with food stands and two Airstream trailers serving everything from tacos to doughnuts. There’s no better place to end the night than at La Factoría (148 Calle San Sebastián; 787-412-4251; drinks for two, $20), the setting for the popular “Despacito” music video. Drinks such as the Lavender Mule and Spiced Old Fashioned are as smooth as the live salsa beats—and hopefully your dance moves.

Honeymooning in Saint Lucia

Only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, Saint Lucia offers beautiful scenery at practically every turn: Whether you cozy up in northern Rodney Bay, the southwestern town of Soufrière, or somewhere in between, you’ll have a view of towering mountains plunging dramatically into sky-blue waters.

The island’s golden sands offer quiet pleasures, but to really get to know Saint Lucia, consider hiking Gros Piton, the larger of the twin Piton mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you traverse steep inclines on a two-hour climb with Real St. Lucia Tours (New Development, Soufrière; 758-486-1561; guided tours, from $50), you’ll experience one of the first of many challenges in your new life together and be rewarded with summit views of Petit Piton and the neighboring island of Saint Vincent.

You’ll have earned the tasting at The Rum Cave at Marigot Bay Resort and Marina (Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, Marigot Bay; 758-486-1561; tastings, $35), where “rumologist” Andre Thomas guides you through sips of St. Lucia Distillers’ Admiral Rodney, Chairman’s Reserve, 1931, and Bounty rums. Try dinner at Jade Mountain Club (1000 Anse Chastanet Rd., Soufrière; 758-459-4000; dinner for two, $190), which dishes up locally sourced cuisine and unparalleled Piton views.

Or head to Mango Tree Restaurant (Stonefield Villa Resort, Soufrière; 800-420-5731; dinner for two, $89), where chef Lwanga Edward reinterprets generations-old recipes (handed down by the owner’s grandmother Mama Mae) into modern Creole classics such as codfish fritters with cucumber salsa, and grilled dorado with couscous. If you can’t get enough of Mama Mae’s flavors, request a few bottles of her papaya, mango, or banana preserves to go.

The culinary education can continue on a food-market tour and cooking class with a chef from Cap Maison (Smugglers Cove Dr., Gros Islet; 888-765-4985; tours, $210 a couple), in northern Saint Lucia. You’ll forage for ingredients in the rain forest, tour plantations, and visit a local market in the capital of Castries before ending at the fish market in Gros Islet. If you’re there on Friday night, you can take part in a weekly party that the colorful fishing town calls a “jump-up.” Watch as the streets fill with small barbecue stands grilling zest chicken, spiny lobster, and bwigo (a type of sea snail). As the sun sets, grab a Piton beer and dance in the streets to DJ’ed tracks well into the wee hours.

Celebrating an Anniversary in Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten

Those seeking to recall the enthusiasm of young romance should look no further than the island of Saint Martin, on which you’ll find two bordering territories: Saint-Martin (French, to the north) and Sint Maarten (Dutch, to the south). The European vibe sets in as soon as you land at Princess Juliana International Airport (which, worth noting, is still in hurricane-recovery mode). There are no border crossings, so it may be hard to tell where the Dutch side ends and the French side begins, but no matter: The island is ringed by powder-soft white-sand beaches, including Grand Case, Orient Bay, Simpson Bay, Mullet Bay, and Friar’s Bay.

Idyllic mornings start at La Sucriere (130 Welfare Rd.; 721-544-3549; pastries for two, $5), a Cole Bay café that serves classic French-press coffee and a selection of breads, brioches, and baked sweets. Or unleash your inner child with an indulgent (and Insta-worthy) gelato at Carousel Gelateria (60A Welfare Rd., Cole Bay; 721-544-3112), which has an indoor carousel.

Those in the market for souvenirs can learn about Caribbean impressionism at Roland Richardson Gallery (6 Rue de la Republique, Marigot; 011-590-590-87-32-24), where the namesake painter’s landscapes and still lifes are on view.

For an authentic taste of the sultry French Riviera, you could make the 30-minute drive northeast to the clothing-optional southern tip of Orient Bay. Or take the ferry to nearby Pinel Island, where calm Caribbean waters front pristine beaches. Plan to stay for a swim and lunch at Le Karibuni (Pinel Island; 590-69-064-3858; lunch for two, $49), which serves local mahi-mahi, tuna, and lobster—all of which pair with Provençal rosé.

If you’ve still got wind in your sails after returning to the mainland, try dinner at Bistrot Caraïbes (81 Blvd. de Grand Case, Grand Case; 590-59-029-0829; dinner for two, $70). Brothers Thibault and Amaury Mezière serve French classics (foie gras, escargot cassolette, duck breast) with house-blended rum in an open-air dining room on Grand Case.

Before you depart, consider packing your suitcases a few hours early and heading to Maho Beach, adjacent to the airport. At Sunset Beach Bar (2 Beacon Hill Rd., Simpson Bay; 721-545-2084; drinks for two, $19), you can watch planes fly directly overhead as you sip Caribbean Breeze cocktails and catch a few final rays.


STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts in the featured destinations include:
Royal Holiday—Park Royal Club Cala 8843

Guests can divvy up their days among two on-site golf courses, a marina, and stables. 270 Harbour Dr., Suite 1, Palmas Del Mar, Humaco, Puerto Rico
Member Review: “I’d stay again.”

ESJ Azul D896

True to its name, this resort overlooks the blue waters of Isla Verde and offers plenty of swimming between the ocean and Azul Pool. 6165 Isla Verde Ave., Carolina, Puerto Rico
Member Review: Not yet rated

Oasis Marigot 2246

Situated on Marigot Bay, the resort has a 40-foot yacht you can take out to go diving, sailing, or island hopping. Marigot Bay, Castries, Saint Lucia
Member Review: “The views are breathtaking.”

St. James Morgan Bay C371

Units are either garden- or ocean-facing and feature large Roman tubs and balconies off the master bedroom. Choc Bay, Gros Inlet, Saint Lucia
Member Review: “There are abundant activities on-site.”

TravelSmart at Royalton St. Lucia Resort and Spa DJ69

Select units have private hot tubs on the balcony overlooking the property. Cap Estate, Gros Islet, Saint Lucia
Member Review: Not yet rated

Divi Little Bay Beach Resort 4219

High-pitched ceilings, open kitchens and dining areas, and plush bedding make it easy to stay put. Little Bay Rd., Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
Member Review: “Beautiful beach nearby.”

TradeWinds St. Martin 5205

Sleep and sail on a yacht complete with a crew that handles all the cooking. Marina Fort Louis, Rue de la Republique, Cole Bay, Sint Maarten
Member Review: Not yet rated

Belair Beach Hotel 1765

Dine on the beach at the on-site Gingerbread Café and follow it with a complimentary wine and cheese tasting. Octavius L. Richardson Rd., Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
Member Review: “My family couldn’t wait to get to the property—such nice units!”

RCI® TIP

Still can’t decide which island to visit? Visit RCI.com and use the Vacation Type filters to help you search. Whether you are looking for a vacation built around the beach, quality time with the family, relaxation at the spa, or another interest, RCI.com can help.

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts in the featured destinations include:
Serafina Beach Hotel

The owners behind NYC’s Italian eatery Serafina made their first foray into hotels with this stay in San Juan. Expect whitewashed interiors, an infinity pool, and tasty pasta at the restaurant, aMare. 1045 Ashford Ave., San Juan, Puerto Rico; 787-625-6000; serafinabeachhotel.com; doubles from $340 a night

Jade Mountain

“Open-air living” takes on new meaning at this boutique resort: Each of the 24 infinity-pool suites has only three walls, allowing for panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and the Piton mountains just beyond. 100 Anse Chastanet Rd., Soufrière, Saint Lucia; 1-758-459-4000; jademountain.com; doubles from $1,480 a night

Sol e Luna

This six-room hotel is a careful blend of France (the owner hails from Arles) and the Caribbean (the décor is Creole-inspired), set directly on picturesque Orient Bay. 61 Mont Vernon, Saint-Martin; 011-590-59-029-0856; solelunarestaurant.com; doubles from $260 a night

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Winter 2018