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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Caribbean and the Antilles.

Island Hopping in Sandals Style – Sandals Resort, Bahamas

When heading to the Bahamas, its so hard to decide where to go. Its a case of so many islands, so little time. “Do I want a non-stop party or to just chill on the beach?” you may ask yourself. “Do I want to spend my time on or in the water, or do I want to play golf?”

With Sandals, there’s no need to choose, because they take island hopping to a whole new level in the Bahamas, with all-inclusive resorts on two islands. Nassau, known for its glittering casinos, Junkanoo festival, duty-free shopping, and exotic adventures, is a high-energy haven that’s drawn glitterati and royalty alike.

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Sandals Royal Bahamian – Sandals Resort, Bahamas

It’s where you’ll find Sandals Royal Bahamian, formerly The Balmoral Club, where The Beatles (who filmed their movie “Help” on the island) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once stayed. It’s the perfect place to stay, with 10 restaurants, a Red Lane® Spa, and the added adventure of Sandals very own offshore island, with all the luxurious amenities you’d expect from Sandals—a pool with a swim-up bar, beach cabanas and nightly beach parties. Guests in select suites even enjoy the services of a private butler, and Rolls-Royce or Mercedes Benz transfers for top-tier suites— something only Sandals offers.

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Life is more unspoiled in the Exumas, which is why it’s such a draw for the international A-list, many of whom flock to Sandals Emerald Bay. Home to immaculate beaches, untouched natural wonders, and some of the calmest waters in the world, the resort draws those seeking privacy, tranquility, and the pursuit of all things aquatic.

“With Sandals Resorts, guests don’t need to choose which island to explore with the new Island Hopping program”

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Sandals Emerald Bay

The calm waters of the Exumas invite sailing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, and sports fishing. You can even swim with pigs there. But landlubbers aren’t left out of the game. The Greg Norman- designed championship golf course, hugs a scenic peninsula allowing for both challenging play and spectacular views.

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The golf course organized by Sandals Resort – Bahamas

Pristine beaches are made for relaxing, seven restaurants are perfect for gourmet dining, and an award-winning spa is designed to pamper the mind, body and spirit.

Where to Stay – Caribbean Escapes

Island living – A wave of new, inspired hotel openings is lapping at the shores of the Caribbean isles

1. St Kitts – Belle Mont Farm. belle-mont-farm-st-kittsLocated within Kittitian Hill, a new sustainable community in the West Indies, this laid-back destination wants to impart life’s simple pleasures to its guests – from within suitably luxurious surrounds. Guest houses come with views of tropical forestland and the sea, along with a television projector inside and a free-standing bathtub on a private veranda; most have private pools. West Indian fare is locally farmed and foraged and served in The Kitchen, perched atop a hillside in the resort’s Great House – or guests can nibble on fruit from the orchards right by the golf course. Promoting creative expression through local artisans and festivals, Belle Mont Farm is well suited to those looking to expand their cultural horizon.
2. Jamaica – Azul Sensatori. azul-sensatori-jamaicaThe term “all-inclusive” tends to put off some travellers, but it shouldn’t in the case of this new resort on Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach. A handful of two-storey buildings house 130 guest rooms, giving it a more intimate feel despite its wide array of offerings for every age, like a Fisher-Price kids’ club and diving excursions for grown-ups. Though the resort caters to different generations, a section of 54 adults-only rooms are ideal for newlyweds, particularly the beachfront swim-up suite with a wraparound terrace and direct access to an adults-only pool and lounge. A la carte dining is offered throughout the property ‘s grounds and guests can get their fill of gourmet Caribbean fare at Ackee.

St. Lucia

Take advantage of what everyone else isn’t doing and make this year the year you visit St Lucia. There’s no way a place this charming can stay secret for long.

Essential information:

Population: 673,000

Foreign visitors per year: 350,000

Capital: Castries

Languages: English, St Lucian Creole French

Major industries: tourism, bananas

Unit of currency: East Caribbean dollar ($)

Cost index: beer in beachfront bar EC$5 (US$1.90), double room at boutique resort in high season EC$662 (US$245), minibus fare EC$1.50 (US$0.60), single tank dive EC$105 (US$40)

Why go ASAP?

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Soufriere Volcano is considered as the only drive-in volcano in the world – St Lucia

This ravishing island of emerald mountains and golden beaches sings its siren song year-round. Its main city of Castries is loaded with shopping, dining and sightseeing opps. And with primo diving and snorkelling, hikeable rainforests, and even a drive-in volcano (yeah, you heard us), it’s also got all the right stuff for the off-the-beaten-path adventurer.
When it comes to nature, St Lucia thrills. Swim in the blood-warm waters alongside dolphins, take out a pair of binoculars and try to spot the island’s unique species of parrot, catch sea turtles laying eggs on Grand Anse beach,
or observe an iguana sunning itself on a log.

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This little hawksbill turtle says hello to us from Grand Anse – St Lucia

Those seeking solitude can explore the secluded villages of the interior or the quiet sandy coves of the east coast. Thrill-seekers should climb the Piton mountains, kite surf Sandy Beach, or dive magnificent coral-crusted undersea walls.
But despite its splendour, this remote island paradise is still little-visited except for the usual cruise-ship traffic and in-the-know French couples. Take advantage of what everyone else isn’t doing and make this year the year you visit St Lucia. There’s no way a place this charming can stay secret for long.

Festivals & Events:

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St Lucia Jazz Festival

In May, national and international musicians jam together at the St Lucia Jazz Festival.

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Images from St Lucia’s Carnival 2015

In June, St Lucia’s Carnival is a bacchanal of street dancers, calypso music, costumes, food and rum.

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The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) – Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a global sailing event, sees enthusiasts arriving in St Lucia in November and December, after sailing 2,700 miles from their embarkation point in Spain.

Life-changing experiences:

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Rain Forest Adventure offers high altitude amazing view over the wild forest of St Lucia

Glide through the treetops in the heart of the St Lucia rainforest on a zip-line tour with Rain Forest Adventure. If you’re an adrenaline junkie who finds walking nature tours a bit… pedestrian, this is the activity for you. Take in the sights, sounds and smells of the tropical forest – prehistoric-looking ferns, buzzing insects, voluptuous jungle flowers – from a bird’s perspective. For the less Tarzan-spirited, there’s an aerial tram tour as well.

Current craze:

Though St Lucia is no stranger to celebrity visitors, actor Matt Damon recently set tongues wagging when he and wife Luciana Barrosso rented out the entire ultra-luxe Sugar Beach Resort for a vow-renewal ceremony. The star-studded guest list reportedly included Ben Affleck, Chelsea Clinton, Chris Hemsworth and Gus Van Sant, who partied for three days to the tune of a mid-six-figure price tag.

Trending topics:

Who owns the beaches? Can a beach be privatised, or does it belong to everyone? Historically all the beaches are part of the ‘Queen’s Chain’, open to the public even if they’re in front of a hotel. But many developers are keen to change this tradition.

The environment has been a hot topic lately as growing development threatens biodiversity ‘hot spots’, potentially causing land degradation and species loss.

Random facts:

  • St Lucia has the highest population-to-Nobel-laureate ratio of any country, with two winners: Arthur Lewis in economics and Derek Walcott in literature.

  • Control of the country went back and forth between the British and the French 14 times.

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    St Lucia Parrot

     

  • The national bird, the St Lucia parrot, only exists on the island.

  • It is illegal to wear camouflage clothing on St Lucia.

Most bizarre sight:

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This old cannon can be seen at Pigeon Island – St Lucia

On Pigeon Island, so-called despite the manmade causeway linking it to the rest of St Lucia, visitors will be confronted with photogenically spooky ruins worthy of a Gothic romance novel. Back in the 1550s, the island’s first French settler, Jambe de Bois (Wooden Leg), used Pigeon Island as a pirate base. Later, the British turned the island into a fort for use in warfare against the French. Today it’s a historic site dripping with vines and thick with the mystery of ages past.

Nicaragua

Explore Nicaragua’s quaint colonial (albeit bullet-holed) towns, riotous folkloric fiestas and enchantingly undeveloped Caribbean islands.

Essential information:

Population: 6.1 million .

Foreign visitors per year: 1 million

Capital: Managua

Language: Spanish (and English on Atlantic Coast/Islands)

Major industries: agriculture, tourism

Unit of currency: cordoba (C$)

Cost index: hotel double/dorm from C$1000/260 (US$40/10), short taxi ride C$80 (US$3), bottle of Tofia beer C$25 (US$1), street-vendor nacatamal (savoury, steamed corn meal snack) C$20 (US$0.80)

Why go ASAP?

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The beach of San Juan del Sur – Nicaragua

Nica neophytes have long been touting Nicaragua as ‘the new Costa Rica’. And in the sense that it’s cheaper, safer and less developed than its Central American neighbour, we can see why. But ask any local, and they’ll tell you that far from any imitation, Nicaragua is a unique natural playground with a history, culture and cuisine all of its own. Nothing attracts backpackers like a bargain, and intrepid adventure-seekers have secretly been flocking to mainland Latin America’s poorest country to surf San Juan del Sur’s blissfully uncrowded breaks, ‘board’ down an active volcano near Leon, and hike through the cloud forests of Isla de Ometepe, for years. But despite the added draws of Nicaragua’s quaint colonial (albeit bullet-holed) towns, riotous folkloric fiestas and enchantingly undeveloped Caribbean islands, the stigma of its war-torn past has traditionally kept the wider travel community at bay.

Then came Mukul. The nation’s first fully fledged five-star resort threw open its doors to international applause in 2013, closely followed by laid-back-luxe Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa over on Little Corn Island. As if on cue, the UN then declared Nicaragua the second-safest Latin country, and suddenly a romantic jaunt down to this exotic little corner of the world started to sound like a pretty good idea to everyone.

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Mukul Beach Golf & Spa – Nicaragua

It has now garnered a name for itself as one of the world’s top emerging luxury ecotourism destinations, and foodies have been raving about the new crop of stylish restaurants that have morphed Managua, a former no-go zone, into a fledgling culinary capital.

But while Nicaragua has, for the most part, been busy painting itself a bright green future, a controversial new plan designed to boost its still-flagging economy threatens to put it back in the red. With a giant shipping canal – to rival neighbouring Panama’s – set to be cut through the bowels of the country, there’s no better time to enjoy Nicaragua in its natural (and cheap!) splendour than at this very moment.

Festivals & Events:

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Granada’s International Poetry Festival – Nicaragua

Granada’s International Poetry Festival (February) attracts rhymsters from all corners of the globe. There are also concerts by some of Nicaragua’s best musicians.

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Nicaragua’s Day of Revolution

On Nicaragua’s Day of the Revolution (19 July), you’ll understand just how much the people love President Daniel Ortega when you see the master work a crowd of 100,000 red-and-black-flag-waving faithful in the capital.

What’s Hot…

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The Emerald Coast – Nicaragua

The Emerald Coast, Little Corn Island, eco-lodges,the quesillos (streetsnack)-per-cordoba ratio, sunset macuas (the national cocktail) mixed with gold-label Flor de Calla(the national rum)

What’s Not…

Referring to the United States as ‘America’ Nicaraguans consider themselves Americans, too), divulging the nation’s still-secret surf spots, the Nicaragua Canal project, catching taxis in Managua.

Life-changing experiences:

Its status as the birthplace of volcano boarding is the first hint that Nicaragua is an adventurist’s dream. Try your luck at beating the km/hr record flying down steaming Cerro Negro on a custom built sled near Leon, Central America’s oldest city, or strap on your hiking boots and attempt the summit of Isla de Ometepe’s majestic Volcan Maderas.

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Lagoon crater of Volcan Maderas – Nicaragua

A largely untapped surfing destination, Nicaragua also boasts one of the world’s few remaining coastlines where you can routinely get the lineups all to yourself – if you’re willing to sniff them out. As for the diving, the barrier reef system fringing the Corn Islands is one of the Caribbean’s most pristine.

Officially it’s eight days of festivities starting in late September, but the usually sleepy town of Masaya stretches out the feast of San JerOnimo, Nicaragua’s most famous fiesta, to three months. Fireworks, marimbas, parades, drag queens and more make it one to remember.

Current craze:

Celebrity golfers have been clamouring to tee off at the David McLay Kidd-designed course at luxury Emerald Coast resort Mukul since Forbes named it one of the world’s ‘top five great new golf resorts you need to know’.

Trending topic:

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Clearing an estimated 400,000 hectares of rainforest and wetland to build Nicaragua’s answer to the Panama Canal has enraged environmentalists, who argue the project will threaten fresh water supplies, cut off wildlife migration routes and further endanger the country’s rare species.

Most bizarre sight:

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Volcano-boarding in Leon – nicaragua

Rolling into Leon, it’s difficult to miss the hordes of elated, ash-covered travellers enjoying post-volcano-boarding mojitos at Bigfoot Hostel. Its former Australian owner is credited with founding the sport a decade ago and you’d be mad to leave town without trying it.

ONE OF A KIND – Belmond La Samanna, St. Martin

Belmond La Samanna brings a luxurious touch to the natural beauy and charm of St Martin, with fantastic food, spacious suites and the best sunsets in the Caribbean

It’s easy to leave your cares behind when you’re gazing out over pure-white sands, fringed with palms and lapped by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. It’s even easier when you’re doing so from your spacious ocean-view suite at Belmond La Samanna — the most exclusive resort on the beautiful island of St Martin.

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Many suites have ocean view

“AS SOON AS YOU CHECK IN TO YOUR ROOM, YOU’LL KNOW YOU’RE SOMEWHERE TRULY SPECIAL”

Belmond La Samanna is an elegant contemporary resort, perched right on the soft white sands of Baie Longue and set among lush greenery, where everything is designed for pure enjoyment and relaxation. From the moment you check in to your luxuriously appointed room or suite, many with sea views and private balconies, you’ll know you’ve arrived somewhere special.

That’s a feeling you’ll become familiar with at Belmond Samanna, from the year-round warm sea — where you can kick back in a cabana, or enjoy complimentary watersports — to the stellar lineup of fantastic restaurants and bars, which range from the formal to the relaxed.

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Natural beauty meets modern style at Belmond La Samanna

Begin the day with a lavish breakfast at Interlude, then head to the Beach Bar for lunch, where you can dine on grilled fish and light bites right at the foot of the ocean. Later, try Trellis for locally caught lobster in an elegant bistro setting, with wine from the private cellar — it houses more than 20,000 bottles. For a special occasion, you can even dine in the cellar’s private dining room. If laid-back dining and pristine beaches aren’t relaxing enough, the decadent Elysée Spa will soon have you in a blissfully tranquil state. Choose from a first-class selection of massages and treatments, using products by Sisley and Pure Altitude. Or just pull up a lounger by the infinity pool and soak up the Caribbean sun —then watch the spectacular sunset at the end of the day, with a signature cocktail in your hand.

Beyond Belmond La Samanna itself, there’s the whole of beautiful St Martin to explore, from the quieter French side (on which the resort sits) to the popular Dutch half. There are more than 450 restaurants to seek out, plus bars, nightclubs, casinos and outstanding beaches.

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But you’ll find the very best of St Martin at Belmond La Samanna. It’s paradise, with added luxury.

Into the Blue – Exotic Destinations For Every Kind of Pocket

Grenada

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Grenada – Caribbean Islands

Wallet friendly: Run with the locals

Grenada Hash Harriers

When seeing a Caribbean island from the back of a mini bus just won’t cut it, try sprinting around the place instead. The Grenada Hash Harriers are a local running group who show visitors the sites of the island on a jog around rainforest and beach trails. It’s not as hard as it sounds, either — being a little fit will help, but teens to tourists in their seventies take part — the focus is on having fun and seeing cool stuff as opposed to a sprint to the finish line. Every Saturday at 4pm they meet outside a pre-designated rum shop; the group’s mantra is ‘drinkers with a running problem’, so you’ll be pleased to know that the tour ends with a well-deserved beer-fuelled knees up down at a local beach shack. It’s exercise just as we like it. And it’s free.

petit-anseDETAILS: Petit Anse is a pretty guesthouse run by a couple who grow their own fruit and veg and make their own ice cream. Nightly rates from £45 per room. petiteanse.com. Flights from £600 return, check cheapflights.co.uk

 

 

 

Splash the cash: Try deep-sea fishing

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Catching a marlin in Grenada

Fancy trying something new? The Caribbean may not be the most obvious extreme sports destination, but if you’re talking sport fishing then it offers it by the boatload. Grenada is known as one of the best deep-sea fishing venues in the Caribbean, with marlin and yellowfin tuna fishing (with an average size of over 100lb). There’s a conservation aspect to this, too — all marlin and sailfish are released back into the sea. If the fishing’s not your bag, have a snooze on the deck while someone else gets on with it. As well as big fish you’re in dolphin- and whale-spotting, territory too.

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DETAILS: Book half-day trips from £90, yesaye.com; Laluna is a design-led hotel with nightly rates from £400, Ialuna.com; Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £474, virgin-attantic.com

Two Outstanding Resorts in the Dominican Republic

One Caribbean beach somehow landed two outstanding resorts.

The Dominican Republic wants you back. And this time it’s ready to earn your love – with two equally stylish (yet totally distinct) retreats sharing a mile long crescent of sand on the island’s north shore. At one end you’ll find the nine bungalow Playa Grande Beach Club, with its laid back communal vibe and bright, playful design by Celerie Kemble. At the other is Amanera, the second Aman outpost in the Caribbean and the brand’s first golf resort. Expect the group’s customary polished minimalism and obsessive attention to detail, plus panoramic beach views from the cliffside pool and bungalows. Suddenly, the D.R. feels very much like the place to be.

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Amanera Resort

Eleuthera – Winterless Wonderland

While news of blizzards around the globe flashes on my phone, I simply shut it off and glance out the plane window to find a beautiful sunny day in Eleuthera.

After landing at the single-building airport I’m greeted by a friendly taxi driver who takes me on the “highway” – which is essentially one extra-large lane for traffic in both directions. With only about 12,000 inhabitants the island is still very undeveloped, allowing me views of the wilderness and palm tree forests before crossing over the Glass Window Bridge with the bright aqua Caribbean on my right and the darker Atlantic Ocean on my left.

Soon I arrive at my destination: The Cove, a little paradise tucked away between the forests and the sea. At the gate I’m handed a luggage tag and offered the option of a Bahama Mama or lemon water. Inside the grounds, the winding road slices through the jungle until reaching the stunning hilltop lobby. Eschewing the hubbub typical of most resort reception areas, The Cove’s exclusivity means personal service above all else. At the top of the quiet hill I breathe in the salt air from the nearby sea and take in the simple beauty of the property.

Next I hop aboard a golf cart that whisks me through the peaceful plantation-like grounds of white cottages and hammocks surrounded by endless green. Further still I arrive at my own private villa right on the sand. The front porch sits mere steps from the water and, while blissfully isolated, the bungalow still has every modern amenity one could ever need.

The sliding glass doors are wide open, allowing the ocean breeze to ripple the white curtains as I enter the villa. Immediately I feel the aura of a cozy beachfront home with a plush and modern platform bed, vaulted ceilings, bright white decor and an ultra-sleek bathroom with the option of a walk-in shower, egg-shaped bathtub, or private outdoor shower – how will I ever choose?

After changing into a bathing suit I roam the grounds, passing by other guests every now and then… but for the most part it feels as though I’m on my own private island. With an intimate 57 rooms ranging from cozy suites and romantic cottages to a three-bedroom villa (with a private lap pool and butler service), this seaside utopia provides for the ultimate escape.

I walk along the secluded beach hugged by cliffs on each side, creating a beautifully calm bay. Overlooking it all sits the Gregory Town Grill and Freedom Restaurant, adjacent to a heated infinity pool. There aren’t any rentals here, simply kayaks and paddleboards ready for you to take as you wish. So I just grab a paddleboard and glide right out into the pristine clear waters of the cove. The water is flat as can be – a perfect day for paddle boarding, and while my feet shake at first I steady myself and soon float across the sea. From out in the bay I take in the sight of the entire property, 40 acres in all, surrounded by forests and a rolling hillside.

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Gregory Town Grill at The Cove – Eleuthera

Magens Bay Beach – St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

Virgin Sands

Much has been made of the fact that National Geographic magazine voted Magens Bay one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. You’re bound to second that, especially if you visit this mile-long, horseshoe-shaped strip of white sand when it’s uncrowded (most visitors to the island are either in a duty-free shopping frenzy in Charlotte Amalie or vegetating at their hotel’s private beach). The thick fringe of palms that lines the bay’s calm blue waters makes the admission charge the best $1 you’ll spend in your life.

Harmony Studios and The Reef Bay Trail – Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

An Eco-Friendly Resort on a Protected Island

For environmentally conscious vacationers who like their paradise injected with a little intellectual and moral challenge, this ecotourism phenom­enon is peerless. Harmony Studios (and the appendage of the no-frills, permanent-tent colony of Maho Bay camps), set in the midst of St. John’s verdant national park­land, was the first resort to be built almost entirely of recycled materials and designed to operate exclusively on solar and wind power. But it offers no telltale signs of its building materials’ humble origins: rubber tires, bottle glass, waste plastic, newsprint, and discarded lightbulbs.

The resort’s two hillside sites were excavated by hand, built on stilts, and linked by an intricate labyrinth of elevated steps and wooden walkways, leaving the environment undisturbed. Rather than dominate the beau­tiful, pristine tract of parkland that leads down to its own white-beached aqua cove, Harmony blends with it, leaving guests to feel like privileged interlopers in paradise. This is not everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, but with some of the highest occupancy rates in the Caribbean, they must be doing something right.

In large part due to the foresight of conservationist Laurance Rockefeller back in the 1950s, more than two-thirds of St. John is protected virgin forest, with three dozen well- marked hiking trails winding through more than 9,000 tropical acres. The Reef Bay Trail, starting not far from Harmony Resort from a spot on Centerline Road, is one of the most popular. It’s all downhill, beginning at 800 feet above sea level and winding past spectac­ular views, ancient graffiti-like petroglyphs, and the ruins of 18th-century Danish plantation houses before ending about three hours later on the southern shore.