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The Caribbean Is Entering a New Golden Age

With a bounty of new properties and adventures, the region is more attractive than ever

by Todd Plummer

February 26, 2024

Secret Bay, Dominica / Photo: Courtesy of Secret Bay

With a string of record-breaking hurricanes and a global pandemic firmly in its rearview mirror, the Caribbean is poised for an exciting new chapter. Splashy new megadevelopments like the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Frenchman’s Reef are redefining their destinations, full steam ahead. Under-the-radar spots like Dominica are making enormous infrastructure investments and jockey-ing for some much deserved time in the spotlight. And the airlines are adding more and more direct routes to the U.S.—making it easier than ever to skip out on the colder months in search of some tropical sunshine. From the larger destinations to the lesser-known gems, the theme this year appears to be transformation. It feels like much of the region is undergoing a massive sea change, doing away with the dusty beach resorts of yore, adapting to the times and speaking to a new generation of traveler. New hotels, new food festivals, new everything are making this region more attractive than ever. So what are you waiting for? There’s a whole new Caribbean waiting to welcome you.


In Its Reinvention Era?

Cancún might be more known for its hard-party-ing nightlife, budget-friendly all-inclusive resorts and rowdy spring-break scene, but the winds of change are sweeping through this Caribbean city. According to a recent Global Wellness Institute report, wellness tourism is projected to cross the $1 trillion mark in 2024—and even a spot like Cancún is getting in on the action by cleaning up its act a little.

Just six miles northeast of Cancún proper in the tranquil beach enclave of Costa Mujeres, world-renowned luxury wellness clinic Sha just opened the doors of Sha Mexico, the company’s second location and its first in the Americas. Sha has long been a favorite of the well-heeled wellness set, with a celebrity clientele including Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow. Packages don’t come cheap—they start at $5,770 for a four-day protocol—but instead of (or perhaps after) some tequila-soaked beach days, a strict regimen of mushroom tea and steamed fish is exactly what the medico ordered.

Spa at Hilton Cancun Mar Caribe / Photo: Courtesy of Spa at Hilton Cancun Mar Caribe

For a less rigorous experience, check out some of Cancún’s newest resorts, offering a fresh, elevated take on the all-inclusive experience. After a yearlong transformation, Marriott Cancun, Marriott International’s legacy property in the Yucatán for several decades, is set to reopen as a premium all-inclusive concept. The refresh includes newly designed rooms, suites and common areas, new restaurants, expansive pools and even a lazy river. Nearby, the recently renovated Hilton Cancun Mar Caribe offers spacious ocean-view guest rooms and beachfront suites.

For an elevated (read: adults-only) take on the all-inclusive, consider the Hotel Mousai Cancun. It’s the brand’s second location after its popular Puerto Vallarta flagship, and is set to open in May with 88 spacious suites, a dreamy rooftop infinity pool and the serene Spa Imagine, which will have you feeling worlds away from the partying throngs.


An Eco-Tourism Hotspot Hits Its Stride

Tucked away between Guadeloupe and Martinique, the tiny island of Dominica has long felt like the Caribbean’s last bastion of unspoiled authenticity. What Dominica has lacked in luxury hotels and fine-dining restaurants it has long made up for with natural riches: It’s home to nine volcanoes, some of the greatest biodiversity of plants and animals in the Caribbean, and the largest remaining community of Kalinago people in the region. If you’re a hiker, a nature buff or a culture vulture, you’ve known about Dominica.

InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa / Photo: Courtesy of John Athimaritis

Some hotel happenings are creating a new chapter of excitement for the Nature Island, however. Last year brought the debut of the InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa, hidden away in Cabrits National Park where guests can explore waterfalls, hike on an extinct volcano, and visit a world-class spa. The island’s iconic all-inclusive Fort Young hotel is fresh off an $18 million renovation, too. And the luxurious Secret Bay (a longtime favorite for honeymooners) just added four new villas perfect for families and groups.

But as has always been the case with Dominica, the island itself is its greatest attraction. The newly completed Waitukubuli Sea Trail now offers 40 miles of hiking for those looking to traverse the island on a multiday excursion. And this year, the island is set to open a cable car to Boiling Lake, the longest of its kind in the world. It will bring visitors up from the Roseau Valley to the Valley of Desolation—now making it possible for cruise passengers and those short on time to reach this eco-tourism hotspot in about 20 minutes (the journey previously took six hours).


The Spice Isle Enters the Spotlight

Well-known among Caribbean aficionados for its diving and spices, Grenada has long cruised under the radar. It’s so far out in the Lesser Antilles (scarcely 90 miles from the coast of Venezuela) that it doesn’t attract the same crew of weekend warriors and family vacationers as, say, the Bahamas—but those who make the journey are rewarded with an authentic Caribbean experience that feels truly unspoiled.

Six Senses La Sagesse, Grenada / Photo: Cirtesy of Six Senses La Sagesse

Grenada sits worlds away from the Caribbean crowds, both literally and figuratively, and that’s why the island has recently attracted the attention of exclusive hotel brands, signaling a new chapter of luxury for the destination. Sustainability-centric brand Six Senses makes its Americas debut with the new Six Senses La Sagesse, a stunning 38-acre resort built dramatically into the cliffside landscape between the ocean and a protected cove. An all-suites-and-villas property where each key comes with its own private pool, the resort also offers a range of luxe wellness amenities including on-site personal trainers and Sleep With Six Senses programs.

To keep up with Grenada’s demand for luxury, Calabash just renovated all its suites, too. And while it might be more known for its comfort than its luxury, JetBlue just added a new direct route to Maurice Bishop International Airport from Bos-ton—so this tropical paradise has never felt closer.

U.S. Virgin Islands

So Much to Offer—No Passport Required

The Virgin Islands had a rough couple of years between the 2017 hurricanes and the pandemic—but it feels like this no-passport-required gem is fully positioned to enter a new golden age. At the forefront of that new energy is Frenchman’s Reef, the sprawling, iconic megahotel complex that finally returned last year with not one but two new concepts, the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort and The Westin Beach Resort & Spa. Guests of either hotel are welcome to use the amenities at the other, making this a convenient no-brainer for families, groups, business travelers or anyone seeking the ease (and Bonvoy points incentives) of staying at a larger hotel. Over on St. Croix, the historic King Christian Hotel, which has welcomed guests for almost 300 years, just underwent a total renovation—and the same developer was also granted a 90-year lease to redevelop and operate Protestant Cay, a private island resort in Christiansted Harbor. Watch that space.

Luxury charter from Frenchman’s Reef, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands / Photo: Courtesy of Cruz Bay Watersports

It’s a great time to check out the Virgin Islands’ scene of smaller properties, too. The Pink Palm Hotel opened its doors in the heart of Charlotte Amalie’s historic district on St. Thomas. It may not be on the beach, but its outdoor pool overlooks all of town and offers sweeping views of the harbor. It’s a different approach to the Virgin Islands that will speak to those looking for a convenient yet boutique experience.

Taste of Lovango culinary festival, Lovango Resort & Beach Club, St. John, / Photo: Courtesy of Tropical Bandit Photography

And for something decidedly more upscale, Lovango Resort & Beach Club (which occupies a private cay between St. Thomas and St. John) recently added four new cottages. The resort, which welcomes both overnight guests and day-pass visitors to enjoy its beach club, will offer its second annual Taste of Lovango culinary festival in May, attracting chefs from far and wide to the Virgin Islands’ turquoise waters.

Turks and Caicos

Reinventing the Beach Resort

Some of us travel to have off-resort experiences and to get to know the local culture—and some of us travel because we want to sit on a beach and completely unplug from reality. While not without plenty of things to please the former, it’s safe to say that Turks and Caicos excels at the latter. This archipelago continues to be the region’s standard setter for luxurious beach resorts that invite you to do absolutely nothing at all.

Pool pavilion at Amanyara, Turks and Caicos / Photo: Courtesy of Aman

Winds of change are bringing fresh energy to many of Turks’ favorite resorts. Aman Resorts’ Amanyara, which opened in 2006, is fresh off a renovation of common spaces and select villas under the direction of Jean-Michel Gathy, the resort’s original designer. Ambergris Cay is ramping up its sustainability efforts with a new solar farm, glass-bottling plant and low-impact whale-watching excursions. And Grace Bay Resorts continues to adapt and enrich its portfolio: Grace Bay Club is close to completion of a multiyear, $12 million renovation that will include a new beach club with cabanas; some refreshes to the Private Villa Collection continue to offer privacy and space for groups; and the company recently unveiled Rock House, the first luxury resort to build on Providenciales’ rocky north shore, once believed to be unmarketable to tourists.

Ocean pool at Wymara Resort + Villas, Turks and Caicos / Photo: Courtesy of Gary James

And most exciting of all, Wymara Resort + Villas just debuted the Caribbean’s first and only ocean pool. At 130 feet long and 30 feet wide and inspired by the great ocean-fed pools of coastal Australia (Sydney’s Bondi Icebergs comes to mind), it’s a stunning architectural marvel and a reason to visit Turks and Caicos in itself.


Reach new levels of relaxation—and consciousness

There’s always interest in exploring the rich culture and landscapes of Jamaica, but this year the Caribbean’s third-largest island feels especially apropos due to the release of buzzy biopic Bob Marley: One Love. In fact, travelers can trace Marley’s footsteps with a visit to the Island Outpost collection—which includes the boutique hotels GoldenEye, Strawberry Hill and The Caves—all owned by Marley’s record producer Christopher Blackwell. Strawberry Hill, in particular, is where Marley sought refuge to recuperate after his 1976 assassination attempt—today, located at elevation in the Blue Mountains with expansive views over the islands, it’s still considered one of Jamaica’s most serene retreats.

Not that there’s any shortage of spas or wellness experiences to get your blood pressure down elsewhere on the island. On the North Coast in Montego Bay, The Tryall Club just unveiled a new spa with rejuvenating treatments including sound therapy, guided breathwork, and farm-to-spa products that use herbs and spices from an on-site garden. Nearby, the elegant Round Hill Hotel and Villas—which since 1952 has hosted elegant visitors such as John F. Kennedy and Ralph Lauren—leans into wellness programming, too. A new partnership with the Manhattan-based Erika Bloom Wellness Collective brings world-class bodywork gurus to the resort every month for a rotating lineup of treatments and programming. And for those who prefer to find relaxation by breaking a sweat, Round Hill this year is also hosting Fantasy Tennis clinics for players of all levels, led by current and former professionals.

On the island’s west end in Negril, the Skylark Negril Beach Resort recently unveiled twelve new guest rooms and two new suites, a refreshed Miss Lily’s beachfront lounge, and a Rooftop Spa and Bathhouse featuring two ocean view soaking tubs. And just down the beach at the island’s westernmost point, Skylark’s sister property Rockhouse Hotel now offers weekly psilocybin sound baths, a two-hour wellness journey that incorporates an optional micro dose from Patoo Chocolate, a local brand that combines Jamaican cacao with a local strain of magic mushrooms—it’s legal there.