Long stretches of packed beaches. Trinket-bearing vendors. Spring (gasp!) breakers. Just a few things that come to mind when thinking of the Caribbean.
And no wonder: Last year, more than 16 million sun seekers flocked to the area, which reaches as far north as the Bahamas and as far south as Guyana, according the Caribbean Tourism Organization, a public-private development group.
But many of the area's islands still boast luxe hot spots undiscovered by the masses. Here, thanks to sophisticated, secluded accommodations and an attentive staff, those seeking privacy can enjoy the Caribbean in peace. Many of the world's privileged--including Hollywood heavyweights and heads of state--are fans. Leonardo DiCaprio owns a small island off the coast of Belize. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair and wife, Cherie, de-stress on Barbados.
"Bajan people are very, very friendly, and they're not really in awe if Will Smith and his wife are here," says Michael Pownall, general manager of the Sandy Lane Golf Resort in Barbados, which has hosted Britain's first family. "They realize who they are, but they treat them with the same courtesy as they would other guests."
Barbados in particular has experienced a surge of popularity recently, especially among North Americans--it's been a longtime favorite for those traveling from the U.K., says Averil Byer, director of marketing for the Barbados Tourism Authority, a government-run organization that focuses on developing the tourism industry within the island.
"There is no doubt that Barbados is a very sophisticated destination," she says. "We are drawing in visitors across the board."
This, he adds, is partly due to the massive renovation ultra-posh Sandy Lane underwent in 2001.
The 46-year-old resort now boasts three brand-new golf courses, a full-service spa and a five-bedroom villa, in addition to spacious rooms (average size: 900 square feet) each with its own veranda. Tiger Woods loves the grounds so much that he rented the entire resort for his marriage to Swedish model Elin Nordegren in 2004.
Luxe Island Living
But make no mistake: Caribbean sophistication reaches far beyond a singular island.
Antigua and Barbuda, located in the Eastern Caribbean seas, host the Jumby Bay Resort, which stands on a 300-acre private island two miles off the coast of Antigua.
This secluded hideaway boasts 40 suites, some with four-poster beds and wraparound terraces; 11 villas; and several private estates for rent. Here, guests can immerse themselves in such activities as sailing and scuba diving, as well as afternoon tea and an open bar with all meals.
If your idea of a perfect getaway involves dreamy romantic details, La Luna, on the island of Grenada, just might hit the spot. The resort's one- and two-bedroom cottages include Balinese beds, a plunge pool and a daybed on private verandas, so, if you so desire, you can wake up underneath the stars (minus the sleeping bag).
Christine Nelles, general manager at La Luna, says patrons prefer the intimate, relaxed atmosphere of Grenada over some of the Caribbean's more ostentatious destinations.
"It's not about Gucci and Prada," she says. "People that come to Grenada have done their research--it's not overdeveloped."
Privacy is all well and good, but for the true recluse, look no further than Guyana. The only South American country also considered a part of the Caribbean, Guyana is recognized for its dense rain forest and English-speaking locals. (Unlike the case in every other country in South America, Spanish is not Guyana's official language.) And driver beware: Cars travel on the left side of the road.
Many organized treks into the Guyana's tropical wilderness include a stay in the Le Méridien Pegasus hotel--the only place with luxury accommodations on the island. After getting a peaceful night's rest in one of the three deluxe suites, you can enjoy Sunday brunch at Le Poolside restaurant or work on your approach shot at the Lusignan Golf Club.
Whether you're making your way through the rain forest or lounging on the hot white sand, it's good to remember that the Caribbean exudes an overall casual vibe.
"It's more understated than you would think," says Pownall. "People come down and feel very comfortable. They don't have to dress for dinner."
Sometimes, donning jeans and flip-flops is the most desired luxury of all.