Travel & Leisure magazine has published a feature on the 32 “Best Secret Islands on Earth,” five of which are in the Caribbean region. “There’s something magnetic — almost primevally compelling — about a fleck of land bounded by endless sea,” they write. “And having to share the space with a crowd of tourists can ruin the magic. Fortunately, secret islands . . . still exist. And for those willing to search for solitude, the reward may be your own maritime Shangri-la. “ Here are the Caribbean islands on the list. I’ve included their recommendations and the sometimes hilariously outrageous prices of the stuff they recommend for your amusement.
1. Belize: South Water Caye
Great Value Unlike the busy beach scene on Ambergris, South Water Caye is still an unknown escape. The island—just 14 miles east of the town of Dangriga—is the ideal place to explore the Western Hemisphere’s longest living barrier reefs. Swim right off the south end’s beach and snorkel or dive amid spotted eagle rays, rainbow parrot fish, moray eels, and dolphins.
The Blue Marlin Lodge (from $223 per person, all-inclusive, three-night minimum) has its own dive shop, while Pelican Pouch (doubles from $295), with eight cottages, is set on the prettiest stretch of sand on the island. Entertainment here is of your own making—bring a book and settle back with a cold Belikin beer.
T+L Tip: Avoid July and August, when sand flies are fierce.
2. Colombia: San Andrés
This English-speaking island 140 miles east of Nicaragua is rightfully on our radar for its adventurous diving and protected wildlife and coral reefs.
Book one of the five rooms at Casa Harb (doubles from $400) for its custom-made bamboo and teak South Asian furniture and impressive collection of art (including two pieces by Keith Haring). The local dish rondón, a coconut, yuca, and fish stew, is especially good at Miss Celia Taste (dinner for two $47). Hop on a puddle jumper or catamaran to the Unesco-designated Seaflower Biosphere Reserve to see barracudas and sea snails.
T+L Tip: Take the obligatory ride around the island—private boats are available for rent (hoteldeepblue.com; from $175)—before a dinner of grilled fish speared by your guide and served on Santa Catalina island.
20. The Bahamas: Eleuthera
Great Value Regulars rejoice in the fact that this 110-mile-long island, with its peaceful pink-sand beaches, has played second fiddle to its smaller celebrity-filled neighbor, Harbour Island, for decades.
On the island’s northern end, all 26 rooms at Cove Eleuthera (doubles from $205) open onto expansive porches; to the south, the 32-room Pineapple Fields (doubles from $160) has a restaurant and lounge called Tippy’s (it’s one of the best in the Bahamas). The fast ferry from Nassau takes 2 1/2 hours.
T+L Tip: Catch the hourly boat from Jean’s Bay dock to Spanish Wells, a diehard fisherman’s island, for a lesson in crawfish hunting and a stroll past harborfront houses covered in blooming bougainvillea.
21. British Virgin Islands: Anegada
The only coral island in the volcanic BVI chain, Anegada is also one of the largest—10 by 2 1/2 miles—and, unexpectedly, one of the most sparsely populated. An 80-minute ferry ride from Tortola (via Virgin Gorda), it is known for powdery beaches and a large flamingo population.
Accommodations are simple: the Anegada Reef Hotel (doubles from $175) is a modest 17-room property that often schedules soca music during cocktail hour. Cow Wreck Beach Resort (doubles from $250) has three waterfront cottages; head to the outdoor bar for Wreck punch, made with rum—and bartender Alex Warren won’t tell you what else.
T+L Tip: While snorkeling Horseshoe Reef, the largest continuous barrier and patch reef in the Caribbean, look out for remnants of the 1859 cargo ship Parramatta.
22. Puerto Rico: Culebra
Sleepy Culebra—20 miles east of Puerto Rico—makes Vieques, its sister island, seem downright rowdy by comparison. The hilly landscape and abundance of wildlife preserves mean that development is minimal and the tiny airport will never see much more than an 18-seat twin-prop plane. Ten beaches ring the shore; discerning travelers claim that crescent-shaped Playa Flamenco is the Caribbean’s most perfect swath of sand. The one town, Dewey, is dotted with lagoon-side cafés framed in strings of lights.
Stay at Club Seabourne (doubles from $199), where the lemon-yellow cottages have private verandas on a slope facing Fulladoza Bay.
T+L Tip: Butiki sells landscape paintings by local artist Evan Schwarze and colorful, sought-after bracelets.
For the complete list go to http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36694397/ns/travel-destinations/