PLAN THE ULTIMATE FRIENDS AND FAMILY GETAWAY BY RENTING A REMOTE ISLAND IN THE TROPICS—COMPLETE WITH LUXURY ACCOMMODATIONS, FINE DINING, ECO ADVENTURES, AND CONCIERGE SERVICES
BY NUBIA DUVALL WILSON
If buying your own piece of paradise in the tropics is not on your to-do list this year, experience the next best thing by renting it. Remote islands with luxury villa resorts and fi ve-star amenities have created “whole island” rates for private groups of 30 guests or more to have the run of the place, including daily meals, drinks, and activities—all in blissful isolation.
LITTLE PALM ISLAND
Florida, littlepalmisland.com, $$$$
One of the Florida Keys’ most exclusive destinations, Little Palm is 15 minutes away by private charter from Little Torch Key. Set on five acres, it features just 15 thatched-roof cottages (30 suites total) with British Colonial and authentic West Indies décor. Often catering to A-listers like Scarlett Johannsen, Billy Joel, and past U.S. Presidents, this refuge is a popular destination for celebrities seeking to unwind far from the lenses of the paparazzi. The entire island (or even half) can be booked for a minimum of $175,000 for 60 guests over the age of 16.
The most sought-after accommodation is the 1,000-square-foot, two-story Island Grand Suite. Perfect for couples, it features one king bedroom, separate living and dining room areas, a claw foot tub, a front porch with a redwood cedar hot tub and a sandy fire pit. Unplugging is encouraged here, as there are no TVs or telephones in any areas except in the resort’s Great Room (where there is also wi-fi). The 550-square-foot Island Romance Suite features a living room, extra-large private deck with a hot tub and daybed, bamboo outdoor shower, and vaulted ceilings. The cottage is surrounded by lush foliage and offers ocean views.
For an additional $200 a day, guests can take advantage of the full meal plan, which includes breakfast, a threecourse lunch, and four-course dinner. The Dining Room is an oceanfront option that serves all meals, including Sunday brunch and monthly “Full Moon Dinners.” The menu features tropical cuisine with a blend of French and Pan Latin flavors, such as yellowtail snapper ceviche and Hudson Valley Foie Gras with jalapeño pesto, banana tentación, pan Cubano, Spanish peanuts, and sherry reduction.
Spa treatment indulgences like a Coconut Sugar Body Polish or Margarita Key Lime Pedicure are offered at SpaTerre at the resort. Its Fitness Center is open daily, and provides machines and equipment for every style of exercise (yoga and meditation classes are also available). For those who are determined to do more than relax on the beach, the Keys offer a plethora of outdoor/fitness activities, such as swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center, tandem sky diving, off-shore or bay fishing on a restored 1972 53-foot Hatteras cabin cruiser, and kiteboard lessons at the “Flats.”
Rates start at $175,000 for a three-night stay (minimum), and price is dependent on dates requested. Island rentals include valet parking, motor yacht transfers to and from Little Torch Key, accommodations and meals for up to 60 people, non-alcoholic beverages, water sport amenities, and resort dockage.
Fiji, vomofiji.com, $$$$
VOMO is a privately-owned island of just 225 acres located in Fiji’s Mamanuca Island group. It is on our “worth the trek” list, as guests must take a 15-minute helicopter ride from Nadi International Airport or a 90-minute sea transfer on South Sea Cruises (the island will make transfer reservations on your behalf once a stay is booked). Accommodations include a variety of villas and beach houses for two to eight guests, with various amenities to compliment the luxury island life. Upon arrival, visitors are in a private paradise, with only 28 villas and four residences on hand.
The Palms is its newest and largest private residence, which faces Yasawa Beach. A four-bedroom, four-bath oasis, it features a partially covered large lap pool, water walls, a kitchen, lounge area, dining room, and outdoor entertaining spaces. The BeacHouse is great for couples or families, as it offers three king bedrooms with the option of turning two rooms into two twin-bed configurations. The bedrooms have private outdoor showers and sun decks, and the master suit features a beautiful outdoor bath. A large infinity pool is the centerpiece of this wrap-around home, which is steps from the ocean. Meals can be eaten outdoors on the American Oak deck, or inside. Oenophiles will love the 200-bottle wine fridge, while foodies will enjoy hiring one of VOMO’s chefs to prepare on the outdoor barbeque, pizza oven, or teppanyaki plate (a Japanese iron griddle).
In addition to in-room private dining, the Reef Restaurant serves a la carte for each meal, with varying options for lunch and dinner daily. (Dining poolside or under the trees on the beach can also be arranged.) For cocktails, head to Vuda Bar, an open-air option adjacent to the reef, or visit The Rocks, an adults-only bar that overlooks the sand, with views across to sister island, Vomo Laila.
Guests have access to complimentary water activities, including snorkeling in the protected outer reef, which can be accessed directly from the beach or through daily escorted snorkel safaris, utilizing qualified instructors. The 9-hole pitch-and-putt golf course meanders through the coconut groves, while the Kids Village offers supervised activities for children ages three and up, and features toys, a media room, crafts, outdoor play areas, and a cubby house. Little ones under three can be in the care of a Baby Butler for an hourly rate while the parents enjoy some kids-free time.
VOMO’s concierge team helps guests plan personalized activities for the whole group, such as poolside and private residence cocktail parties, Rocks Beach dinners, champagne brunches, gourmet picnics on Vomo Lailai, scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing. Stays include all meals, non-motorized water sports, tennis, daily snorkeling safari, golf, and Thursday cocktail parties. Rates to rent the island start at $53,800 per night for up to 84 people.
British Virgin Islands, guana.com, $$$
One of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, Guana is an 850-acre island with just 20 accommodations. It is absent of bikes, cars, butlers, swim-up bars, or locals (don’t worry, there are staffers to make sure you are taken care of). Owned since 1975 by New York-based physician and businessman, Dr. Henry Jarecki, Guana, for the most part, continues to offer the same old-fashioned getaway that its original owners from the 1930s craved— rooms filled with books, set meal times, four-course dinners, and an “honest bar,” where guests can mix their own drinks (there’s no bartender). The minimum number of persons required is 32 year-round (and maximum is 40), except in August and September, when the minimum is 28. To get here, fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico and connect to Beef Island on a 45-minute plane ride via Seabourne or Cape Air. A short boat ride shuttles guests to Guana.
Accommodations include Sea View rooms with private terraces sprinkled along a scenic ridge and with views of the ocean. Featuring a rustic, chic décor, rooms offer white-washed walls, dark wood furniture, intimate living rooms, and bright floral accents. Some come with a private pool outfitted with lounge chairs. The largest options are the three-bedroom Anegada House and Jost House, which have wraparound terraces and designer infinity pools. Jost House has a Jacuzzi at the foot of the master bedroom, a digital entertainment system, and a fully stocked bar and kitchen.
The island spa is a wooden gazebo set on a raised wooden floor, and is swathed in curtains.
The executive chef, Xavier Arnau Gili, has a culinary resume that includes Zuma and Nobu in London, which means and he brings true imagination to discerning diners. Entrées include ingredients sourced from the organic tropical fruit orchard.
Three-course meals include courses like strawberry and watermelon gazpacho, duck breast with pumpkin puree, pearl onions and asparagus, and white chocolate mousse. Each night, cocktails are served at the Club, an 18th century hilltop building surrounded by white jasmine. Guests also have the option to dine under the stars on a candle-lit terrace.
It’s often said that people bring a long list of activities to Guana, but once they arrive, cancel them to just relax on the beach. For those who have a taste for adventure, however, hike to Long Man’s Point and enjoy a dip in the cliff-side natural pool, or climb up Sugarloaf Mountain, which rises 806-feet and offers breathtaking views. Guana also has the only Hydro tennis court in the British Virgin Islands, as well as an Omni tennis court.
Rentals include three meals per day, open bar, Beach Barbecue and Movie Night, unlimited use of the tennis courts, small sailboats, non-motorized watersports, transfers from Beef Island, and laundry service. Rates start at $23,500 per night, and run to $37,400 (three-night minimum).
British Virgin Island, virginlimitededition.com, $$$$
Richard Branson is not only famous for his Virgin Airways, but also for owning one of the most sought-after destinations in the Caribbean. Part of the British Virgin Islands, Necker can be booked exclusively and for up to 34 guests across its 74 acres. All stays include accommodation, meals and drinks, activities (some exclusions apply) and free wi-fi. It was originally Branson’s family holiday home, where his children spent almost all school breaks, so it’s decidedly child friendly. Here, you will find multiple beaches surrounded by coral reefs and fringed by white sands. The closest international airport is on Tortola (Beef Island), which is a 35-minute flight from San Juan. From there, Necker is 30 minutes from Tortola.
Upon arrival, you have access to top-class food, water activities, modern facilities, and barefoot luxury. Exclusive rental includes use of the Great House, with eight bedrooms and one master suite sleeping a total of 18 guests. The spacious al fresco-style Balinese villa boasts panoramic views of the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans, plus neighboring islands. Each of its eight rooms has a balcony, king beds, and en suite bathrooms. The master suite upstairs features a private outdoor Jacuzzi and outdoor bathroom. There is also a bunkroom that can accommodate up to six additional children and is filled with toys, games, books, and baby essentials. The Great House also has an expansive outdoor terrace with hammocks and sofas, a fully-stocked bar, and four-person Jacuzzi.
Additional accommodation includes six Balinesestyle houses dotted around the island, each sleeping two guests. Bali Beach and Bali Buah can be split into twins, while Bali Hi, Bali Cliff and Bali Beach are built on a cliff and share a plunge pool (but all have private en suite bathrooms). Bali Lo, Bali Buah and Bali Kukila are in the middle of the island, and feature a large private pool. Also in the center of the island are Temple House and Love Temple, sleeping two guests each.
There are multiple dining options on Necker, from dinners on the Great House roof terrace and the floating sushi bar in the beach pool to the Crocodile Pavilion, where guests dine on a solid teak crocodile table. The main beach is where most of the water activities are based, whereas Turtle Beach, accessible by zip line (if you choose) is a more peaceful, palm-fringed option, with hammocks hanging between trees. There is a swim-up bar off the infinity pool, as well as a Jacuzzi on the beach. Activities include kite surfing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, a sailing regatta, and sub winging (diving in the ocean while being towed by a boat). There is also tennis on two floodlit AstroTurf courts, Pilates and yoga classes at sunset, and aromatherapy spa treatments. Rates start at $80,000 per night for up to 34 adults.
Coco Plum Island
Belize, cocoplumcay.com, $$$
This all-inclusive beach resort in Belize is home to the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, hundreds of sand cays, mangrove forests, and coastal lagoons. Fly into Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City and then take a local carrier to Dangriga (which Coco Plum will arrange for guests once a stay is booked). Upon arrival, a staff member will take guests on a 30-minute boat ride to the private island. There is one three-bedroom villa and 18 ocean-front cabanas: 10 standard, four suite-style and four premium, each with balconies overlooking the azure sea.
The three-bedroom, three-bath Overwater Villa accommodates four to six, ideal for couples or for families with teenagers. It features a modern kitchenette, a living room, dining room, and a sunbathing deck surrounded by water for quick dips in the ocean between tanning sessions. The Premium Suite Style Cabanas are the largest, and positioned on the south end of the island for added seclusion. Bedrooms offer king beds, black-out curtains, and floor-to-ceiling windows, and the suite includes a private balcony, kitchenette, bathrooms with walk-in showers, hammocks, and king beds.
Dining options include Coco Palms, which serves Belizean and American fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try local dishes, such as chicken tostados or Garifuna soup (named after the native people on the island), with fish and coconut milk, and dishes are known to not repeat during a week-long stay. The thatched-roof bar of the restaurant includes a large gathering area with lounge chairs. Dinner can also be served on the veranda of each cabana or on the beach by candlelight.
A seven-night, eight-day rental (minimum) for at least 32 guests includes all ocean-front cabanas, meals and drinks, and housekeeping. Rates during the 2017 summer season start at $70,888.