Martinique could easily pass for the south of France—whitewashed walls and red-tile roofs, techno pouring from the open doors of a waterfront disco, the aroma of garlic and wine wafting from some country kitchen, the tricolor flying from French naval ships. It's the tropical beaches—and those ubiquitous coconut-palm trees—that keep reminding you that you are actually in the Caribbean.
Best for: Couples who like to shop together. The boutiques and department stores near Martinique's Place de la Savane, in Fort-de-France, and La Galleria shopping center, near the airport, offer a veritable buffet of French luxury goods for browsing—upscale fashions, perfume, jewelry, wine and gourmet foods—and many of them are straight from Paris.
Not for: Anyone who expects the locals to speak English. Martinique is a full-fledged French department, a status that is similar to Hawai'i's in the U.S. Parlez-vous Français?
Highlight: The local food, which is a delicious combination of zesty Caribbean Creole cooking and classic French cuisine. It's especially delightful when you dine alfresco at an old plantation house restaurant, like La Grange (try the foie gras and roast duck; 596-53-60-60) or Céron (spicy seafood delights; 596-52-97-03).
Sweet Dreams: Created by a descendant of one of the island's first French settlers, the new Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa blends old-world pampering and 21st-century amenities like plasma-screen TVs and private plunge pools. Already a retreat for Euro-rich and royals, the resort sprawls along one of Martinique's most picturesque bays (596-54-80-80; capest.com). Those traveling on a tighter budget can opt for the beachfront Sofitel Bakoua (595-66-02-02; sofitel.com).
Little Nevis, one of the smallest landfalls in the Caribbean, has a huge heart, making it one of the most friendly islands for visitors. With countryside dotted by old sugarcane plantations and highlands dominated by a hulking volcano, Nevis is also one of the most scenic of the Caribbean isles.
Best for: Laid-back honeymoons with an emphasis on activities such as lounging in bed, lying around the pool and maybe a little limin' (hanging out) around the hotel bar at night.
Not for: Adrenaline freaks. Scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, golf and horseback riding are readily available, but Nevis is not the place to come if you want to spend your honeymoon on the back of a WaveRunner.
Highlight: Rent a car and drive the round-island road, only 20 miles and easily doable in a single morning or afternoon. Stop along the way in quaint villages, in old country churches, at the daily street market in Charlestown and on the golden sands of Pinney's Beach.
Sweet Dreams: It would be difficult to find, anywhere on the planet, a more romantic setting than the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, tucked in a coconut grove beside a beach. Although little remains of the 18th-century plantation—the childhood home of Horatio Nelson's wife, Frances Nisbet—the bygone charm endures, making it a place to act out your own tropical version of Pride and Prejudice (nisbetplantation.com; 800-742-6008). If an ultramodern retreat is your style, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, on Pinney's Beach, should be just right (fourseasons.com/nevis; 800-819-5053).
This huge, mountainous island may be part of the U.S.A., but the thoroughly Latin ambience gives it the feel of an exotic foreign land. You can base yourself in one place (like San Juan or the west coast) or undertake a motoring honeymoon that encompasses a number of destinations.
Best for: Couples who think that variety is the spice of life. In Puerto Rico you can have a big-city or a middle-of-nowhere honeymoon. You can stay at an ultramodern resort or a renovated Spanish plantation estate. You can lounge along a white-sand strand or explore jungled national parks. It's one of the few Caribbean isles that literally offers something for everyone.
Not for: People who don't like to move. Puerto Rico is a cradle of salsa. There, even wallflowers are expected to get up and dance.
Highlight: A night out in San Juan: walking the cobblestone streets of the Old Town hand in hand, dining by candlelight in a café overlooking the waterfront, and then dancing the night away at a crowded salsa club.
Sweet Dreams: Get away from it all at the secluded Bravo Beach Hotel on the island of Vieques, which lies between the main island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best new boutique hotels in the Caribbean, Bravo blends stylish retro décor with New Age amenities like satellite television, Aveda bath and beauty products, and PlayStation II in every room (787-741-1128; bravobeachhotel.com). Puerto Rico has plenty of other chic sleep options, including the wildly romantic Horned Dorset Primavera on the west coast (horneddorset.com; 800-633-1857).
This chic French island is all about being gorgeous, rich and famous—or at least pretending to be—whether you find yourself lounging on some beautiful beach, zipping around in a Smart Car or dining at a trendy café.
Best for: Couples who love spending time (and money) with the beautiful people. One great place to join them is over lunch at the Tom Beach hotel on St. Jean Beach (011-590-27-53-13; st-barths.com/tom-beach-hotel).
Not for: L.L. Bean-wearing types most comfortable with burgers and beers, or those on a strict budget.
Highlight: Intimate and exclusive, like everything else about St. Barts, the tiny island's 14 white-sand beaches are never crowded, so it's not tough to snag a prime spot. For the best people-watching ops, along with good swimming, water-sports rentals and a selection of restaurants, try Cul-de-Sac and St. Jean beaches. For a strand that's popular with locals, visit pretty Corossol Beach, which is set near a tiny fishing village.
Sweet Dreams: Awash in the colors of the sea and sand, Baie des Anges offers 10 perfectly simple rooms, each with ocean-view terraces (011-590-27-63-61; hotelbaiedesanges.com). Book a suite with a private pool, and you'll never want to venture off the grounds of the lovely 68-room Guanahani Hotel (011-590-27-66-60; leguanahani.com). All rooms have garden or ocean-view terraces, Hermès bath amenities and free Internet access.
Thus far, friendly St. Kitts, which is home to green mountainside rain forests and historic sites, has remained less developed than Nevis, its sister island. While the island has been independent since 1983, it retains strong ties to its English heritage and offers a taste of an unhurried, uncrowded Caribbean.
Best for: Nature-lovers. Exploring rain forests, sugar plantations, majestic sea cliffs and the island's famous Mt. Liamuga, an extinct volcano situated at 3,792 feet above sea level, are musts for adventurous, outdoorsy couples.
Not for: Beach-lovers. If lounging on a postcard-worthy beach is your first priority (and will be your primary honeymoon activity), St. Kitts may not have enough idyllic strands to satisfy your sand-and-sea requirements.
Highlight: While some Caribbean boutiques have cheesy, commercial-grade batik clothing on offer, everything at Caribelle Batik is the real thing. Located in an adorable cottage on the grounds of a 17th-century estate, this workshop is open to visitors, who can watch artisans paint the fabrics by hand and see the finished hibiscus-red, canary-yellow and electric-blue garments drying in the sun. It's a can't-miss shopping experience—and a cultural one to boot (Romney Manor, Basseterre, St. Kitts; 869-465-6253; caribellebatik.com).
Sweet Dreams: Ottley's Plantation Inn is as romantic as it gets. Situated on a hill 500 feet above sea level, this genteel, 24-room boutique resort is surrounded by thick fields of sugarcane, rain-forest trails and, in the distance, panoramic ocean views. Plan to stay in your own private cottage, with luxurious British-colonial-style appointments, as well as a private plunge pool and patio, where the cutest little green lizards are happy to keep you company while you soak up the sun (800-772-3039; ottleys.com). If you're set on a beachfront location, the 62-room Timothy Beach Resort is one of the better ones, and it's a great value, too (timothybeach.com; 800-288-7991).
Best known for its dramatic landmark mountains, The Pitons, the French West Indies island of St. Lucia is also home to abundant rain forests, mountainous terrain and spectacular dive sites.
Best for: Nature-lovers. If you enjoy soft-adventure excursions, then St. Lucia won’t disappoint. The town of Soufriëre has some of the best spots for viewing the island’s coral reefs. While you’re in the area, you can also hike the Fond Gens Libre Nature Trail.
Not for: The unadventurous. The island has remained relatively underdeveloped, so the roads are bumpy, and even the most upscale resorts feel remote.
Highlight: Try a jungle-biking tour at the Anse Chastanet resort, in SoufriËre. Along the way, you’ll pass mango, coconut and cocoa trees as well as an 18th-century sugar mill (800-223-1108; ansechastanet.com).
Sweet Dreams: For an inexpensive—yet super-cozy—option, stay at the 33-room Ti Kaye Village, a secluded beachfront hotel on Anse Cochon. Rooms have private outdoor showers (758-456-8101; tikaye.com). For pricier digs that are just as nature-friendly, there’s the 25-room Ladera resort, on a hillside in Soufriëre. Rooms are open on one side, giving unobstructed access to a romantic plunge pool (800-738-4752; ladera.com).
Saint Martin (or Sint Maarten, its Dutch name) has a split personality. About a third of the island is Dutch—gingerbread houses, English-speaking and home to some delicious cheese. The other two-thirds is French—a bit more posh, a bit quieter and wine that’s out of this world.
Best for: Flitting back and forth between two very different European cultures. You can have lunch in Paris, dinner in Amsterdam. A morning walk along the North Sea, a sunset stroll along the Mediterranean—or at least their Caribbean equivalents.
Not for: Anyone who thinks a tropical island paradise must have a rain forest and cloud-shrouded volcanic peaks. Truth be told, both sides of the island are well-populated, and the arid, natural landscape doesn’t reflect the lush, mountainous idea that many people have of the Caribbean.
Highlight: Tear yourself away from the duty-free boutiques and head for a beach. St. Martin has some terrific strands: Dawn Beach on the Dutch side; Grand Case, Orient and Longue beaches on the French.
Sweet Dreams: Settle into a Mediterranean state of mind at the Hotel l’Esplanade, which sprawls across a hillside overlooking trendy Grande Case. Just steps away are dozens of outdoor cafés and bakeries, as well as the island’s most celebrated beach. The front desk can arrange all sorts of water sports, including sailing, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing and scuba ( 011-590-590-87-06-55; lesplanade.com). There are plenty of hotel bargains on the Dutch side, including the historic Pasanggrahan Royal Guest House (011-599-542-3588; pasanhotel.com).
If your romantic fantasies include swashbuckling sword fights (or Johnny Depp), then SVG is the place for you. This lovely archipelago in the southern Caribbean is where the original Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed and where the two sequels were recently completed. St. Vincent is the volcano-crowned main island; the Grenadines are a chain of smaller upscale landfalls that sprawl to the south along the turquoise sea.
Best for: Island-hopping. Even if you don’t have your own boat, the islands are well connected by commuter flights and ferries. About a dozen boats per day ply the hour-long route between Bequia and St. Vincent.
Not for: Anyone on a tight budget. Many of the posh Grenadines (especially Mustique, Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent) have long been the haunt of the rich and famous. If you have to ask the price, these islands aren’t for you.
Highlight: A speedboat trip along St. Vincent’s western shore, visiting black-sand strands and places where Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow once frolicked (a.k.a. movie locations). Stop at Wallilabou Bay for lunch and check out the sets still standing from the Pirates filming.
Sweet Dreams: The new Raffles Resort Canouan Island brings Asian hospitality to Caribbean shores. It’s a sprawling mega-resort with its own Trump casino, an Amrita spa, four gourmet restaurants, two white-sand beaches and an 18-hole championship golf course (check out that killer view from the 13th tee). Every room comes with panoramic ocean views and a golf cart for tooling around the lush, 300-acre estate (rafflescanouan.com; 800-637-9477). Young Island, a petite private-island resort just off the coast of St. Vincent, offers romantic digs (800-223-1108; youngisland.com).
Trinidad and Tobago are the odd couple of the Caribbean, islands that couldn’t be more unlike one another but are now joined at the hip as one sovereign country. With its diverse population and humid lowlands, Trinidad feels more like South America than part of the West Indies. Tobago, on the other hand, is a bona fide island paradise of palm trees and golden sands.
Best for: Music fans. The birthplace of calypso, soca and the steel drum, Trinidad is where the modern Caribbean sound was first heard and continues to thrive. Even if you’re not there at Carnival time, you can still catch live music at local clubs and “panyards” where the bands practice year-round.
Not for: People who don’t want to leave their resorts and mix with locals. “Trinnies” are a gregarious bunch who love to hang out, brag about their islands and talk about just about anything. Spending some time getting to know them is a high point of any visit.
Highlight: Depends on the island. In Trinidad, it’s a visit to the celebrated Asa Wright Nature Centre in the northern highlands, where the rain forest takes center stage. In Tobago, it’s beach-hopping your way down the north shore, from Man O’ War Bay to Buccoo Reef.
Sweet Dreams: “Hippie chic” flourishes at the Kariwak Village, a funky boutique hotel on Tobago that doubles as a beach resort and holistic health retreat. It’s a place where yoga, tai chi and Ayurvedic massage count among the daily activities (011-868-639-8442; kariwak.com). The Chancellor Hotel is perfect for couples who seek the lively urban vibe in Port of Spain, on Trinidad (888-790-5264; thechancellorhotel.com).
Just over an hour’s flight from Miami, this British territory is actually a chain of 40 islands and cays—many uninhabited—which you can easily hop to from the hub, Providenciales (Provo).
Best for: Exploring. It doesn’t get much more romantic than chartering a private yacht to a virtually deserted island for the day. Once there, you and your new hubby can stroll along ultrawhite beaches, gaze at wild flamingoes, snorkel in turquoise waters off the world’s third-largest barrier reef, then hop back on the boat for a gourmet picnic lunch. Beluga Cruises offers private sailings by catamaran (649-946-4396; sailbeluga.com).
Not for: Shopping and nightlife. Unlike many Caribbean islands, the Turks and Caicos have no real town center, and there are only two local nightclubs (and the hotel bars).
Highlight: Kayaking to tiny, conch-shell-strewn islands, snaking in and out of mangrove-lined coves along the way (keep your eyes peeled for little nurse sharks and other eye-catching marine life). Big Blue, a small eco-tourist company in Provo, arranges kayak trips for groups as small as two (649-946-5034; bigblue.tc).
Sweet Dreams: Just over a year old, The Palms is the hippest new boutique hotel on the island. Its 72 suites, scattered within five white coral-stone buildings, offer state-of-the-art kitchens, large terraces, Acqua di Parma amenities—even iPod docking stations for the iPod-mini you can borrow at check-in (649-946-8666; regenthotels.com/thepalms). Before the Turks and Caicos developed into a luxury beach destination, there was just one tiny, quaint motel on beautiful Grace Bay Beach. It’s still there today, and it’s as cute as ever. A two-story, pale-pink, West-Indies-style property with traditional shuttered windows and fretted balconies, Sibonné doesn’t have a spa or fancy amenities. But it does sit on prime real estate, and has a lovely open-air, beachfront bistro with a white timberwork ceiling, a small pool set in a pretty courtyard, and 28 comfortable rooms (sibonne.com; 800-528-1905). —NS
Of the three main islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix—St. Thomas offers more choices in hotels and activities, while being the most convenient to reach (most major airlines offer nonstop flights).
Best for: Sailing. The calm waters and soft breezes around the U.S.V.I. make it easy and fun to explore by boat the tiny islands that dot the bays. Winifred Charters sails through Pillsbury Sound to spots such as Mingo, Lovango and Whistling cays. Along the way you will drop anchor to take guided snorkeling trips (sailwinifred.com).
Not for: Shopping. At least, not if you’re looking for authentic local art and crafts. The bustling port at Charlotte Amalie is packed with shops, but they lean more toward duty-free goods than artisan crafts.
Highlight: Drake’s Seat. Travelers flock to this scenic lookout during the day, but the best time to take in the panoramic view of crystal-blue Magens Bay and the British Virgin Islands is at sunset, when the crowds are gone and the two of you can have it all to yourselves.
Sweet Dreams: Honeymooners who are looking to splurge can’t top the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. Set on 30 acres out on the far eastern tip of the island, the 152-room resort has two private, white-sand beaches and a new spa (ritzcarlton.com). The red-tile-roof Sapphire Beach Resort has 171 suites, with views of either the half-mile-long beach or the 67-slip marina (sapphirebeachresort.com; 800-874-7897).
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