The new Vieques might be right next door to the old one. Also known as Isla Chiquita, this smaller neighbor has just 2,000 residents, and it’s gaining in popularity thanks to its natural beauty—40 percent of the island is protected wilderness—a phosphorescent bay, and the gorgeous Playa Flamenco beach. The best hotel is Club Seabourne (787-742-3169) with fourteen luxurious villas perched on a hillside, and a quick new ferry service—just 100 minutes—from San Juan makes it easier to get there. As its neighbor gets built up, Culebra could become the destination for visitors who like Vieques’s rural charm.
The world’s second-largest coral reef is the big attraction at the largest of Belize’s small islands. Slow-paced, with lots of bars, dive shops, restaurants, and non–chain hotels, Ambergris is reminiscent of the Florida Keys 30 years ago. In a sign of things to come, Leonardo DiCaprio is turning nearby 104-acre Blackadore Caye into a five-star resort for wealthy conservation lovers. And Cayo Espanto, a tiny private island with only five bungalows right off Ambergris, just opened.
The next Parrot Cay. Reachable only by boat, small plane, or helicopter, this eleven-square-mile, currently uninhabited island has some of the most beautiful diving spots in the Turks and Caicos. Day-trippers from Providenciales have picnics, visit the 5,500-acre wildlife sanctuary, or just sit on a lovely empty beach. But most visitors come with dive companies to explore sites like Molasses Reef, rumored to be the final resting place of Columbus’s Pinta. In 2007, Ritz-Carlton will open a 125-suite boutique resort and residential-villa community.
Iguanas may outnumber residents (just 170) on this tiny ten-mile-long island with only one road. But the kayaking is fantastic, beaches like Point O’Sand are beautiful, the nature preserve is pristine, and the few resorts are all intimate. And along the north shore, the underwater fantasyland of Bloody Bay Marine Park has spectacular snorkeling, including the best dive in the Caribbean, the 1,000-foot Bloody Bay Wall. Little changes on Little Cayman, and that’s likely to remain the case for some time. But the top-ranked dive resort Southern Cross Club expects to have new ecofriendly bungalows open by next month, and the island’s hoteliers are pushing to become Little Cayman’s first Green Globe 21 destination, meaning the hotel conforms to U.N. sustainable-tourism standards. That would doubtless attract support from green New Yorkers.
With the new Kura Hulanda Lodge on its westernmost point and Continental Airlines starting a nonstop flight from Newark on December 17, this island paradise is poised for liftoff. Part of the Netherlands Antilles, Curaçao is a melting pot where you can hear Dutch, English, Spanish, and Papiamento (the local dialect) spoken. Find a cactus by the beach, hike Mt. Christoffel (1,239 feet), visit the oldest functioning synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, and walk along streets in capital Willemstad (a unesco World Heritage site) that look like they could be in Amsterdam—except for all the sun. The restaurants are more varied than the island norm, and atypically for the Caribbean, Curaçao welcomes gay tourists, too (gaycuracao.com).