It’s that time again: the start of a new year. While others are busy making resolutions, we think January is best spent plotting out the months ahead. With brand new beach towns, hidden islands, perfect weather and new hotels and restaurants springing up all over the place, there’s never been a better moment to visit paradise. Here are the hottest destinations in paradise for 2017.
Cayman Islands – Initially made infamous as a tax haven, the Cayman Islands are starting to change their tune, thanks to a tightening in overseas tax laws and a realization that this pristine marine paradise has more to offer than just banking capabilities. Long a destination for diving enthusiasts, those who thrive underwater are continuing to flock to lesser-visited Little Cayman, which boasts a population of less than 200 full-time residents. Those in the know that its real treasures are beneath the surface, quite literally. Back on Grand Cayman, 2017 brings the return of Cayman Cookout, which is one of the best food events on the planet – forget just the region. The celebration of food, booze and a “no worries” lifestyle brings big names to the big island: Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio and Michael Mina (among others) descend on the Caymans every January.
To bed down, the Southern Cross Club is a luxurious base camp for divers on Little Cayman. On Grand Cayman, we’re excited about the 266-room Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa, which just opened in November 2016. Situated right on the prized Seven Mile Beach, the resort is the group’s first venture outside the United States.
Pearl Islands, Panama
Just 30 miles from Panama City, the Pearl Islands are Panama’s next “it” destination. Until a few years ago, you had to own or hire private transport to get there, which is why you may not have heard of this idyllic destination until now. You can take a short flight or catch the ferry these days, but these 200-or-so islands are still perfectly off-the-radar. Dotted with Spanish colonial architecture, luxe estates and steeped in history from its days as the base of the pearling industry, relaxation is the name of the game in this quiet archipelago. So, renting a villa in favor of staying in a hotel – like this villa with a private beach on Isla Viveros – is the best way to maximize the experience so you feel like the king or queen of your own island. Whether you prefer to be above or below the ocean, the Pearl Islands offer a multitude of activities, from an abundance of biodiversity for divers as well as a healthy sailing and yachting culture and white sand beaches.
Grenada – Best known as the home for medical students-to-be, Grenada is having its own tourism renaissance, thanks to an influx of beautiful hotels and residential properties. Known as the Spice Island, Grenada’s volcanic soil is the perfect home for the vanilla, nutmeg, cacao and cloves that grow everywhere. The city of St. George’s is a favorite for yachters, offering stunning vistas with its multicolored colonial buildings positioned against green mountains and the azure harbor. Adventurers have two hidden gems in the form of the nation’s smaller islands, Petit Martinique and Carriacou, whose beaches are even less populated than the already sparse main island of Grenada’s. Back on the big island, chocolate lovers should take a tour of the Grenada Chocolate Company, a mainstay of the country’s robust chocolate industry. Even better, visiting in May gives the opportunity to attend the Grenada Chocolate Fest, which celebrates all things confectionary for a full week. Visitors in August, typically low season, will get to experience Spicemas, which is two days of Grenada’s exhilarating Carnival festivities.
To stay, try the Spice Island Beach Resort, offering unparalleled digs right on Grand Anse Beach, the island’s main sandy drag. Currently under construction is Levera Beach Resort, which will be a 375-acre spread on the mostly undeveloped northeastern coast of the island. Peter de Savary’s Mount Cinnamon resort brings understated luxury to the forefront with 21 villas and suites on a perch above Grand Anse beach – fitting for this slice of paradise that continues to fly just under the radar.
Costa Rica – Costa Rica, as a whole, has been on traveler’s radars for years now, but “pura vida” lovers are decamping to different locales in favor of greater tranquility and a change of scenery. Guanacaste Province in northwestern Costa Rica – best known for windswept Pacific beaches as well as world-class surfing and sportfishing – is on our mind for the coming year. Tamarindo, in particular, is the hottest destination for surfers, playing host to beginners camps and professional tournaments, alike. Kelly’s Surf Shop offers the full package with an online booking app and board rental, as well as classes. To stay, head up the road to the Papayago Peninsula, where luxury awaits at the Four Seasons Papagayo, which is a stunning property tucked into the hills. A brand new beach town, called Las Catalinas, will be home to the latest Casa Chameleon property, which will open with a sprawling infinity pool and private villas in February 2017.
Much further down the coast on the Nicoya Peninsula is another surf town we love, Santa Teresa, which serves as a hotspot for ecotourism while oozing boutique charm. Its multitude of cozy restaurants and treehouse-inspired digs maintain their character despite the fact that several international celebrities call the area home. Immerse yourself in nature by staying at Rancho Pacifico, where you can duck into your personal infinity pool in between surf sessions and jungle tours. Rather be closer to the beach? Head down to Florablanca, where the jungle around your private villa blends seamlessly into the ocean.
Barbuda – Usually discussed in tandem with its sister island, Antigua, 62-square-mile Barbuda is worthy of a look on its own. The most obvious benefit of it being somewhat overlooked is the fact that it offers genuine seclusion: the pink sand beaches are endless and sparsely populated. Bolstering this is a lack of accommodations compared with other islands, but what does exist, like the newer boutique hotel Barbuda Belle, is well worth a stay. The entire island has only about 1800 people, most of whom live in the only town, Codrington, named for the British family who leased the island for 185 years. Barbuda also has a wealth of shipwrecks off the coast, a literal treasure trove for divers. On land, the island is dotted with a bird sanctuary on a private island, as well as abandoned colonial forts and Neolithic caves ripe for exploring.
Cartegena, Colombia – This Caribbean Colombian city is the absolute must-visit spot in South America these days. Known for its brightly-colored walled colonial city and its pulsing dining and nightlife scene, Cartagena is the perfect place to experience city life while in paradise. The other side of the city is Bocagrande, which was modeled after Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro – just one glimpse of its sea of high-rises on a pristine beach will reveal how well that bore out. A tour around the city is a constant juxtaposition of old and new, leaving endless opportunities for exploration. After a day on foot, by bike or via a la chiva bus tour, settle into one of the city’s many patio bars to enjoy a limonada de coco, with or without a rum floater. To eat, María, opened in 2013 by Alejandro Ruiz, is one of the city’s culinary titans. Ruiz studied under David Bouley and Gordon Ramsay and brought modern tradition to classic Colombian cooking. Cartagena’s colonial splendor is best displayed at Tcherassi Hotel, a seven-room mansion-turned-boutique-hotel with an unmissable Italian restaurant on site, called Vera. Also required is a stop at Alma, in the historic Casa San Agustin in the old city. Here, you’ll enjoy expertly-prepared fusion cuisine in the most beautifully-designed space.
Yucatán, Mexico – Nowhere is luxury hotel development more happening than the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. Late 2016 saw the debut of the Andaz Mayakoba on the Riviera Maya, bringing 213 new, luxuriously-outfitted rooms to the Mayakoba resort family. On the northern side of the peninsula, a jungle-based retreat 25 minutes outside Merida offers a side to the area many beach-bound visitors don’t get. Chablé Resort and Spa, opened in June 2016 in Chocholá, provides guests with a holistic retreat for mind, body and soul rejuvenation. For those looking to indulge in a different sense, it also offers the world’s largest tequila collection alongside five-star cuisine at its restaurant, Ixi’im. Back on the Riviera Maya, the Thompson brand expanded from its initial Mexico hotel in Los Cabos to open the Thompson Playa del Carmen. Like all other properties in the group, this hotel is long on style, offering a main hotel on the pulsing Quinta Avenida as well as a beachfront property, called Thompson Beach house, just two blocks away. The main hotel features Catch, which is a spin-off of the well-known restaurant and lounge in New York. Guests can have a gourmet meal or enjoy cocktails on the rooftop terrace, gazing down at the riviera below.
St. Kitts – The small island of St. Kitts is not very populated but is anything but overlooked. Yachters have known about its treasures – particularly its deep harbors – for awhile now, resulting in the recently debuted Christophe Harbour development on the Southeast Peninsula. Beyond a marina, the development offers 43 villas, 165 rooms, a yacht club, several private beaches, a Tom Fazio-designed golf course and, for owners in the development, citizenship to St. Kitts and Nevis. Talk about full service!
Also on the horizon is the debut of the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, also in Christophe Harbour with 78 rooms and 43 suites overlooking not only the turquoise waters but the volcanic island of Nevis. To maximize the stunning views, most of the suites have a private rooftop pool and each room has a view of Banana Bay and a private balcony or terrace. It’s scheduled to open in spring 2017, making this tiny island a must-visit for luxury travelers seeking a fresh, bespoke experience.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Art and food lovers need look no further than San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. This small city up in the hills outside Guanajuato has been a magical haven for writers, artists and musicians for decades, all of whom have taken refuge in its colonial streets and perfect climate. Though the city’s charms are not new to the creative set, it’s been capitalizing on Mexico’s current status as a global culinary capital, namely with the addition of a few serious restaurants. Moxi, a fine dining temple in the Hotel Matilda owned by famed chef Enrique Olvera, should be any serious eater’s first stop. Farm to table reigns supreme at The Restaurant. La Posadita has the best rooftop in the game – a must to take in the beauty of the city while sipping one of their famous margaritas. Speaking of the view, another place to sip, snack, see and be seen is the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel, which also happens to be one of the chicest places to lay your head at the end of the day.
By Jackie Bryant