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The first hotel on the eastern shore of the island, El Conquistador, opens a new Puerto Rican frontier 40 miles from San Juan. The handsome 80-room building is 280 feet up on a cliff overlooking clear green water all the way to the Virgins. (First requirement of a proper West Indian seascape: another island to gaze upon and tempt the wandering spirit.) The pool, a putting green and a croquet lawn are on hotel level; a teleferico takes guests down to a secluded beach. The water, protected by Icacos Reef, makes for fine sailing, snorkeling and fishing—native sloops from nearby Las Croabas are only $25 per day. Hotel rates are $56.
Busy St. Thomas, shopping center of the Caribbean, has hidden charms for those who get out of Charlotte Amalie. On the north coast, only 20 minutes from town, there is, for example, a Gauguinlike hideaway, The Dorothea Beach Club: 32 acres of palm trees, beach and rocks, from which guests have been known to cast successfully for tarpon. There are only five cottages, all with orchids growing in the showers; $45 per day. More sedate St. Croix's newest attraction is Buck Island National Park. You sail over on a catamaran or sloop, picnic on the beach and snorkel through a morass of staghorn coral inhabited by schools of reef fish—all clearly marked with undersea signs.
St. John's Caneel Bay Plantation was built by Laurance Rockefeller from the very start to be a quiet 600-acre retreat, and now that it is thoroughly surrounded by the Virgin Islands National Park there is no danger that it won't always be so. There are no fewer than 10 sea-grape-sheltered beaches for the 160 guests. Rates are about $50.
While their American sisters had 291,000 visitors during 1962, the British Virgins claimed 4,000. Those 4,000 found a huge marine garden of small islands close together, once described as "a handful of emeralds tossed by a careless pirate." From St. Thomas, Tortola, the largest, is only 1� hours by ferry; all the islands are within 20 minutes of St. Thomas by float plane. The Treasure Isle, on Tortola, has 8 rooms, an 18-foot racing sailer ($15 per day) and a fiber-glass Thunder-bird ($20-$50 per day) for exploring such nearby gems as Salt, Ginger, Cooper and Peter. Rates are $28, and the menu features such West Indian specialties as chicken Tortola (baked in a coconut), and excellent curries.
Nearby Marina Cay is run by underwater enthusiast Allan Batham. All sorts of boats and snorkeling gear are available, and there are 180 known wrecks near by. Marina Cay is a six-acre island with A-frame cottages. Guests like the notion of roughing it in all that natural beauty enough not to object to a $35-per-day charge.
A step up the luxury ladder is the Guana Island Club, on 750-acre Guana, run by Louis Bigelow, a Bostonian right out of Marquand. Shelling, snorkeling and bird watching (the smoothbilled ani, the pied-billed grebe, the mustached quail dove) are favorite pastimes. Rates are $45 per day.
Antigua's hotels are spread around the entire circumference of the island. Each one is a haven on its own waterfront—an isolation that is intensified by the primitive road conditions. The big new hotel, part of a chain headed by Abe Issa, the man who put Jamaica on the tourist map, is the Jolly Beach ($48). There are some particularly pleasant small hotels that make an extra effort to supply guests with sporting facilities. Hawks-bill overlooks four crescent beaches and Montserrat on the horizon. The Admiral's Inn, built in 1788, at English Harbour, has 10 delightful rooms right on the cove that was Horatio Nelson's Caribbean dockyard and is today the hub of yachting in these parts (see page 22). High on a hill across the way, another hotel. The Inn, has hollyhocks in the garden and a half-timbered taproom looking out to sea. Curtain Bluff has En-Tout-Cas tennis courts, and 36-foot Chris-Craft. Rates for all these hotels are $40.