The Caribbean archipelago decorating these pages (not without some artistic license) is formed by a shrimp-shaped string of islands, great and small, that stretch for 2,500 miles. They enclose in their vast sheltering curve a placid sea more than one million miles square, second in size only to the Malay Sea, second in charm to none. They lie entirely below the Tropic of Cancer in a climate constantly moderated by the westerly trade winds.
This year more than 750,000 Americans will invade these peaceful islands, an uncomfortable majority of them between now and the end of April. They will be seeking what not long ago was a prerogative only of the very rich, the aged or the invalid: a winter spell in the sun.
For the high season, 17 airlines have scheduled 400 departures a week from the U.S. and Canada, with seat space for 39,700 passengers. Where will everyone sleep?
The cruise passengers, diminished in number by the East Coast longshoremen's strike, which has caused the postponement or cancellation of American carriers, naturally will sleep aboard. Most of the others will follow the crowd to such long-established capitals as Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. But even the smallest West Indian isle is rustling and stirring as the adventurous tourist seeks his own equivalent of a Grenadines sail. With jets flying now to 11 Caribbean airports and with small-plane connections to anything long and flat enough for a landing strip, no place in the West Indies is more than a day away. But the imaginative traveler need not play Robinson Crusoe to get away from it all—frequently the quietest place is right in the middle of the crowd.
These three small islands, lying due south of Florida and well below hostile Cuba, are a British colony and are called by the natives "the islands that time forgot." The airlines remembered. Grand Cayman is only two hours from Miami on regularly scheduled flights. Guides will take you lobster-progging in clear waters. Fishing is excellent for sail, marlin and wahoo. The islands are flat but have beautiful foliage and miles-long white sand beaches. There are a dozen places to stay on Grand Cayman. Cayman Brae, 40 minutes from Grand Cayman by its own twice-weekly Cessna, is a coconut-and-papaya paradise with a modern hotel. The Buccaneer's Inn, which overlooks the Caribbean in three directions. Winter rates at all Cayman facilities are less than offseason summer rates on other islands. At Buccaneer's, for example, they are $22.50-$25 per couple, with meals. (Unless otherwise stated, all rates quoted below are full American plan, double occupancy. Unlike hotels in the States, which charge the lone guest almost as much as two, the single resorter gets fair treatment—for single rates figure only a bit more than half the double rates.) Little Cayman? Not yet, but a hotel and airstrip will be ready next season.
By contrast, no island in the Caribbean is better developed for tourists than Jamaica. It cannot in any language be called a traveler's discovery. It docs have, however, at Port Antonio, one of the most expensive resort hideaways in the world: Frenchman's Cove. The rates are $2,000 per couple for two weeks, a flat fee that is supposed to provide, in addition to absolute privacy, anything the guest's heart desires (SI, May 30, '60). Jamaica and Puerto Rico are the golfing centers of the Caribbean: Jamaica has five 18-hole courses. New this season is The Trelawny Club, with its course on beautiful Runaway Bay, 15 miles from Ocho Rios; rooms $50 per day.
With its troubled politics and lack of a jet airstrip, Haiti is one of the few Caribbean republics losing its tourist trade. He who takes the trouble can escape the crowd and also rind a room in one of many fine hotels with little difficulty—and French-Creole food that is among the best in the Caribbean. Beaches are poor or out of the way, but hotels have pools. Scenery is spectacular and, from now until April, so is duck shooting.
With Trujillo a thing of the past, visitors are welcome and there is nothing wrong here that a couple of years of work on tourist facilities won't cure—the only thing Trujillo didn't let run down was his bank account. There is fabulous dove shooting, now that firearms are once more allowed; there is also horse racing every Sunday.
With the lowest air fares in the West Indies and with new hotels popping up all over the landscape, San Juan was on the verge of becoming another place where you couldn't see the ocean for the eggcrates. But a moratorium has been imposed on beach-front building in the cheek-by-jowl Condado area. Out toward the Dorado Beach (which has added nine holes to its already splendid 18-hole golf course) the Riviera opens this week, a handsome but jazzier competitor with two swimming pools, a casino, and a golf course bounded by beautiful stands of coconut.