Image: Amanyara - Turks & Caicos
Amanresorts
The 40-minute drive from the airport to Amanyara culminates on a bumpy, gravelly road bordered by dust-coated scrub brush. Just when you start to seriously believe that your driver has taken a wrong turn, the gravel ends and you arrive.
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updated 10/21/2008 4:44:54 PM ET 2008-10-21T20:44:54

One of the cornerstones of the Caribbean is the fact that nearly every resort is set along a stunning strip of sand. What sets the truly great hotels apart from everyone else is what you find away from the beach — fortes or phenomena that advance the guest experience to a whole different level.

Nowhere is that more true than at the hotels that made the Forbes Traveler 400list of Caribbean resorts. All boast great service, awesome edibles and designer-savvy décor, of course; but there's also some niche theme or specialty that no other resort in the region can match.

For instance, Half Moon on Jamaica’s north shore is the best place in the Caribbean for golf. Not so much because the resort has its own championship course and golf academy, as the fact there are so many other world-class courses nearby — White Witch, Ironshore and the legendary Tryall among them. You can easily go a whole week at Half Moon without repeating the same 18 holes.

Tennis is the ace at Curtain Bluff, along the rugged southern shore of Antigua. Four championship quality courts (all are lit for evening play), fully stocked pro shop, in-house racquet stringer and three full-time teaching pros count among the tennis amenities. The resort also hosts the annual Antigua Tennis Week with its pro exhibitions, stroke and strategy clinics, amateur competitions and post-match parties awash in fine wine from what many consider the Caribbean’s best cellar (25,000 bottles strong).

Horned Dorset Primavera goes to the opposite extreme. Renowned for its lack of activities, it offers sublime silence and extreme privacy. And while not as unplugged as it once was (some of the rooms now have phones), the posh Puerto Rican boutique property also spurns gadgets. Bring a book and a friend. Or your surfboard, because Horned Dorset (named after a breed of sheep raised by the owners before they got into the hotel business) overlooks the best waves in the Caribbean. The nearby town of Rincon flaunts numerous surf shops, schools and guides who will take you out to spots like Tres Palmas for its 25-foot monsters.

It may seem silly to fly all the way down to the islands and not stay anywhere near a beach, but that’s always been Ladera’s trump card. Perched on a jungle ridge 1000 feet above sea level and surrounded by the remains of ancient volcanoes, the St Lucian resort blows you away with its rainforest setting, fresh mountain air and vertigo-inducing views of the famous Piton Peaks and the distant Caribbean. All of this made even more intense by the fact that none of the rooms have western walls — they open right onto nature and sheer drop-offs.

Image: Ladera St. Lucia
Ladera
Perched on the rugged mountain above St. Lucia's leeward shore, Ladera breaks the mold on tropical island escape, a resort that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that sea and sand aren't the only things that guests crave.
Another duck out of water, Ocean Club in the Bahamas is renowned for its bygone French architecture, both real and reproduced — a genuine 12th-century Augustinian cloister that was shipped all the way across the Atlantic and reassembled, and a lush formal garden modeled after those at Versailles.  Asian style, on the other hand, is what sets Necker apart from the other posh private island resorts in the region — extravagant Balinese bungalows filled with handmade furniture, fabrics and artwork imported from the far-off Indonesian island, as well as a Balinese spa and Hindu meditation hut. This comes courtesy of Richard Branson, who created Necker as his own family retreat before deciding to share it with the rest of the world.

Sir Richard may prefer the privacy of his own island, but other Brits of that same feather flock together at Sandy Lane, along the west coast of Barbados. One of the Caribbean’s oldest and most esteemed resorts is also one of the most English, with a Palladian-style main building, a bar renowned for its Scottish single malts, and a head chef who previously cooked for the likes of Princess Di, Maggie Thatcher and Rod Stewart. Right down the road is the Barbados Polo Club, as well as the holiday homes of former prime minister Tony Blair and many other Anglo luminaries.

Image: La Samanna - St. Martin
Orient-Express Hotels
La Samanna of St. Martin is perched on a cliff at the southern end of a 55 acre-crescent of tropical bushland, sugary sand and Tiffany-blue water. Built in 1973, La Samanna has hosted successive generations of movers and shakers from Nixon to JFK Jr. and Donald Trump.
Although our best of the Caribbean list also harbors three upscale resorts in the French Antilles, only one of them is genuinely Gallic. Eden Rock on St. Barths is run by an expat Scottish family; La Samanna on St Martin is part of the London-based (and American-owned) Orient Express group. That leaves Le Guanahani as the bona fide Francophile — a small red-roofed resort that looks like it washed up after drifting across the Atlantic from the French Riviera. The cottages are classic French West Indies and Le Bartolomeo restaurant an oasis of Franco-Caribbean cuisine. And if there’s a bit of attitude when it comes to the staff, that’s just part of the vibe.

Photos: Caribbean way of life

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  1. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Authority shows Harrismith Beach, Barbados. Sun, surf and sand are the main draws on this tropical Caribbean island. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Authority shows The Watering Hole rum shop in Barbados. The rum shops on the island are good places to sample local food and drink, watch a game of dominos, or just get to know the friendly and hospitable Bajans. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. St. Lucia

    Developed, beautiful and situated in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia is accessible from Europe and Canada, and reachable -- albeit not as easily -- from the United States. St. Lucia is known as a romantic destination. The island gets plenty of visitors, including wedding parties. (Holger Leue  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. St. Lucia

    Cocoa pods lie on the ground ready to be processed at Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St. Lucia. Cocoa is one St. Lucia's main produce alongside the more obvious banana crop. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. St. George's

    The capital of Grenada, St. George's is considered one of the prettiest harbor towns in the Caribbean. Grenada's unique layout includes many finger-like coves, making the island a popular sailing destination. (Richard Cummins  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Cayman Islands

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Stingray City

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. St John's

    In high season, up to five cruise ships visit St John's, Antigua, each day. The boats unload mostly American and European passengers who fan out across the island visiting the casinos and beaches. Antigua is easily accessible, and can offer good values for tourists. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Antigua

    Antigua, located in the Northeastern Caribbean, is a popular tourist spot. While there are high-end, stylish hotels, the island also features a large number of mid-priced options. Visitors will find beach bars, restaurants, casinos and shopping. (Richard I'Anson  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Antigua

    People walk along an area known as Devils Bridge in Indian Town Point, Antigua. Antigua is a wintertime destination for many visitors from the north. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dominica

    Not as well known as other Caribbean islands, Dominica is green, fertile and mountainous. Visitors will find some opportunites to scuba dive, but watersports are not its main draw. The island does, however, offer a slew of rainforest trails -- great for hiking and sightseeing. (Greg Johnston  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Dominican Republic

    An old church building is seen in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic. (Wayne Walton / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Belize

    Belize gets more than 850,000 visitors each year. The hot spot allows watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, as well as inland activities like hiking and birding. The Mayan ruins of Altan Ha, pictured, are easily accessible from Caye Caulker. (Andrew Marshall / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. La Tortuga

    A fisherman repairs his nets on Cayo Herradura, off the island of La Tortuga in Venezuela. The country offers visitors a variety of activities to choose from, but remains undervisited -- especially compared to its South American neighbors. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cuba

    Cuba blends the fantastic attractions associated with other Caribbean destinations with an amazing history. Tourists can stroll white sand beaches, take in the incredible architecture and party into the early-morning hours. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. St. Barthelemy

    St. Barthelemy is a vacation spot of stars and millionaires. Trendy, chic and sexy, St. Baarths is safe for tourists, but expensive to visit. About 8,700 people reside on the island. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Puerto Rico

    A man climbs to a 40-foot waterfall at the south side of the Caribbean National Rain Forest, commonly called El Yunque, near Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Most visitors hike the well-marked paths in the northern half of the park's rain forest but the trails in the south allow hikers and nature lovers to explore the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system. (Herminio Rodriguez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Puerto Rico

    The cupola of San Juan Cemetary as well as colorful homes sit next to the ocean in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Puerto Rico

    Men play dominos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a well-preserved colonial city that allows tourists a peek into the past. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Guadeloupe

    Guadeloupe isn't as developed as some other Caribbean islands, but it offers a variety of beaches -- some active with watersports, some secluded. The island also offers beach bars, restaurants, mid-range hotels and other tourist amenities. (Marcel Mochet / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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