A circle of children hold hands in eerie stillness while nearby, a man sitting at a desk taps blankly at his typewriter.
This surreal world lies beneath the calm waters of Grenada’s Molinere Bay where are number of life-size figures made mainly from concrete sit at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, nibbled by tropical fish.
Hurricane Ivan swept through the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 2004 tearing up trees, houses – in fact, anything that stood in its path. The destruction occurred underwater too. The coral surrounding the island that had made it so appealing to snorkellers and divers was also severely damaged.
Killing two birds with one stone, sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor installed a series of underwater sculptures which also act as artificial reeds on which marine life can develop. They have attracted tourists armed with snorkels and diving gear, easing pressure on other reefs in the area, and have also drawn a wide range of marine life back to these waters.
The sculpture park continues to grow, with artists continuing to add their own work to the surreal space.
Prior to 2017, Saba Rock had developed a reputation as a famous island getaway for celebrities and the like.
And while the Hurricane Irma caused major destruction across the British Virgin Islands, Saba Rock included, it is now back and open for business.
The redesigned Rock has a contemporary aesthetic, with a fresh take on the destination’s nautical lifestyle and features. There are just seven guestrooms, and two suites designed as a chic retreat that plays up the island’s reputation as a kiteboarding and sailing destination.
The island also has an expansive, open-air restaurant, lounge, two very epic-looking bars (including a rooftop sunset bar), spa room, and retail space, that also serves as a museum with artefacts from nearby shipwrecks.
Made famous by diving pioneer Bert Kilbride in the 1960s, we reckon the new Saba Rock might even be just as good as the old one.
Costa Rica is, relatively speaking, a pretty small country. Which makes it the perfect place to cram a heap of experiences into a small timeframe.
Adventure World Travel (AWT) has an epic 12 day journey that takes in the equally epic Tortuguero, Arenal and Corcovado National Parks.
Among the highlights is Pacuare Reserve, a wildlife haven hidden in dense jungle along the Caribbean Sea, and accessible only by boat.
The trip is a Make Travel Matter journey endoresed by the Treadright Foundation – one with a focus on experiences that have a positive social and environmental impact on the destinations (and those who experience them). And that’s a good thing, right? You’re travelling, but you’re also being a bloody legend as well!
As well as intimate wildlife and conservation activities (think turtles, monkeys, macaws and jaguars) you’ll squeeze in absurdly attractive beaches, cloud forests, hot springs, volcanoes and more.
You can find more socially and environmentally positive trips like this one here.
When picturing Baja Club, think old school Mexico combined with modern indulgence like a rooftop bar and opulent swimming pool.
This newly opened hotel in La Paz, Mexico is an example of masterful architectural minimalism, providing luxury but also paying homage to more modest roots.
If you’ve heard of La Paz it might be because it’s the setting for John Steinbeck’s classic 1940s’ novella The Pearl. Located at the bottom of Mexico’s South-Western arm, the city has also been building for some time as a hot-bed for eco-tourism.
Travellers frolic in seaside ‘balnearios’ that line La Paz’s spectacular bay, where whales, whale sharks and dolphins are known to frolic themselves.
The hotel has its own library, as well as a boutique shop. But for us, taking in the Mexican sunset with a tequila or seven on the roof is where it’s at. Get me there now.
You’re shrouded from view by a thicket of greenery thriving beyond your windows. Just moments from your sanctuary are Mayan ruins, a shimmering white coastline and a bohemian beach town. Welcome to eco-friendly jungle living at Tulum Treehouse. Concocted by a coterie of artisans, architects and designers, this private five-bedroom oasis is all about shining the spotlight back on nature: from the white walls to the locally sourced wood, the upcycled furniture, the Oaxacan ceramics and the plush Mexican textiles.
Each room features a wrap-around balcony and a hammock, yet the pièce de résistance is the rooftop – perfect for a mezcal-infused tipple after a day exploring the Yucatan Peninsula’s best assets.
There is only one way to get to the tiny rocky outcrop of Isla Damas, one of three making up Pingüino de Humboldt National Park: hitching a lift with a fisherman from Punta de Choros. There is nothing on this 60-hectare island bar an unmanned lighthouse, a campsite with a couple of toilets and two beaches (La Poza and Las Tijeras) with white sand and azure water, that will make you think you’re kicking it in the Caribbean.
Except the water here is significantly colder, thanks to the current from Antarctica. It meets warmer water flowing down from Peru, making this a playground for marine wildlife, including sea otters, bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles and the Humboldt penguin, the park’s namesake.
South of legendary party town Acapulco you’ll find Playa Ventura, a fishing village with a perfect golden arc of sand. The area sees just a smattering of visitors, including the turtles who lay their eggs on some protected parts of Casa de Piedra Beach, so it’s perfect if you’re after sunshiny days and quiet nights. Catch a wave off the shore, watch the pelicans diving for fish or stare out to sea looking for dolphins, Playa Ventura is one of those beaches you need to get lost to find.
As the sun sets locals cook fresh seafood on barbecues and cold Corona’s are sold at local prices.
Once the sun is down make your way to one of the few bars in the main square. Here you’ll find yourself mixing with the locals hopefully with a local band looking after the soundtrack.
It’s supposed to be a secret, but this boutique retreat is just so appealing we can’t resist spilling the beans. From its perch on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Secret Bay ticks all the boxes – incredible location, creative design and an eco-friendly ethos. Then it piles on more extras than you could possibly squeeze into one week-long stay.
For adventurers there’s diving, kayaking, caving and horse riding into the rainforest. Those looking to chill will be drawn to the waterfalls, white sand beaches and hilltop yoga sessions in warm air scented with guava, sweetsop and pineapple. Best of all there are just six villas, so your downward-facing dog technique is kept between you and the jungle.
All-white everything is the theme of Coco Tulum’s beach club, and we gotta say,this stylish hotel-turned-bar is one of the prettier venues in Mexico’s crowded Yucatán Peninsula. With the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea lapping at the white sand beach, it’s hard for Coco Tulum to look bad, but the team behind the recent refurbishment have really taken things to the next level. It’s still a little bit unpolished but that just adds to its charm, alongside a sense of sophistication and cool confidence.
Think hammocks, bean bags and deck chairs, rowsof hanging fairy lights, and an impressive range of signature cocktails. Plus, recognising a good thing, Coco Tulum has added to the number of its signature over-water swings, meaning there are more seats than they’ve ever had before. The mood is rather chilled-out here, and the music reflects that – so don’t expect any hardcore trance parties that rage into the night. That said, Coco Tulum know how to throw a pretty epic Sunday sesh, and they’re known to get quite lively so it’s best not to lock in plans for the next morning, just in case.
Crumbling colonial buildings and beaten-up Chevrolets. Cigar vendors and nighthawks strolling around Habana Vieja (Old Havana), bottles of beer in hand. Tourists eating smoked corn on the cob while gawping as Havana’s vintage taxis drive by at a decades-old speed.
And music… There is music everywhere. The marriage of Afro beats and Spanish melodies is heard in restaurants, hotels, clubs and through the loudspeakers on the shoulders of men hauling them around.
Communism, locals and tourists say, is the perfect breeding ground for art. “Why become a doctor when I can make the same money as an artist and have more fun?” a musician asks. In the Cuban capital, the weekend starts on Thursday. At night people don’t just stand, they dance. Habaneros may still not have much in the way of material comfort, but they do know how to shimmy and whoop it up from the afternoon till the early morning.
Sinking your teeth into a lemon cake or slurping on large scoops of gelato in Cafe Bohemia’s sizeable courtyard – it opens up to the sixteenth-century La Plaza Vieja – is a beloved pastime. The owners of the cafe are Cuban and Italian with an interesting past. Manager Annalisa Gallina followed her brother (and the cafe’s owner) to Havana after her Cuban sister-in-law predicted “Habana Vieja’s future is pink”. Staff members at the bi-cultural cafe, which is loyal to its Mediterranean roots, bake the bread it uses for its acclaimed sandwiches and rely only on local, organic and seasonal produce.
San Ignacio No 364 (enter between Muralla and Teniente Rey), Habana Vieja havanabohemia.com
Cuba is the birthplace of the classic rum-based cocktails, mojitos and daiquiris (although the Puerto Ricans might have something to say about the origins of the former), but at restaurant/bar El del Frente it’s reinvented gin cocktails that are on a different level. “You should try this – it’s really good!” exclaims one patron. She is pointing to an Emilito, a riff on a pina colada made with gin and sprinkled with chilli. The bartender proposes a Michelada, which is a concoction of tomato, chilli, pickles and other “secret ingredients”. There are hot daiquiris, too, made with gin, pepper mango and cashews. Best of all, you can savour all these at the rooftop bar. Just head to the top of the stairs, where you’ll pass a poster of the late Princess Diana.
El del Frente
303 O’Reilly, Habana Vieja
In the 1950s, a number of young Cubans decided that instead of performing salsa in a typical back-and-forth motion, they would spin each other round in a rotating fashion. And so Cuban salsa was born. This idiosyncratic dance has been demonstrated at a cosy, rustic restaurant called La Reliquia for a few years now. You can feast on Cuban dishes like the lamb roja vieja then take free salsa lessons from Randy, who also manages the place. “My mum taught me how to dance the salsa,” he says. “That’s how Cubans learn to dance.”
Ignacio 260D, Esquina Amargura, Habana Vieja
The Malecón is an eight-kilometre esplanade that encompasses a six-lane roadway, seawall and extensive footpath, all running along the Havana coast. Stretching through the colonial centre of Old Havana to the Vedado neighbourhood, the Malecón is the sort of place you’ll find people strolling, jogging, fishing, tanning or just daydreaming while devouring the infinite azure of the Caribbean Sea. Whatever you decide to do – although a stroll is highly recommended – the Fellini-esque assortment of street vendors will interrupt your bliss. Young men will attempt to sell you planchao (rum), chicharitas platano (banana chips) and granisado (ice with sweet syrup), while women will try to lure you with flowers and teddy bears. “Don’t forget to visit the plaza,” says Isangel, a young man, who – no doubt – often visits the Malecón in pursuit of romantic encounters. It’s at its best as the sun is falling below the horizon, colouring the waves of Havana Bay rich shades of gold and orange.
Privately owned paladares (restaurants) were once illegal in Cuba – today they are not only allowed but increasingly popular, too. Imagine eating grilled fish or Caribbean prawn casserole in a room where Barack Obama, Mick Jagger and Beyoncé have all dined. In 2010, the owner of San Cristóbal, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés, decided to transform the century-old house he’d inherited from his grandmother into a restaurant, and was delighted to greet the Spanish ambassador as his first client. Such is Valdés’ fascination with VIPs, his paladar has both an Obama table and a Jesus table (we’re fairly sure he never dined there, but the table is located near his statue). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself accepting the offer of a cigar and 15-year-old rum from a smiling waiter at the end of your meal.
San Rafael No 469 (enter between
Lealtad and Campanario), Centro Habana
In the business district of Vedado, don’t be surprised if you’re met by a seemingly endless queue. “The place to be,” says one local. “Todos los artes in el mismo espacio,” she continues, having switched to Spanish. She’s saying how all art is assembled in one space at FAC (Fábrica de Arte). This building has been turned into a modern creative labyrinth separated into five areas, some exhibiting fine arts and jewellery while others host fashion shows and live music. There’s always something on, but all the events are listed on the website’s calendar.
Cuban trovadores (itinerant musicians) have relied on their guitars and artistic sensitivity to deliver emotion-charged tunes since the mid-1800s. To see their modern counterparts play, head to La Bombilla Verde. In a darkened, austere apartment with a small bar and terrace, aspiring musicians from across the country serenade guests enjoying tapas and well-priced cocktails. The players like to share with the audience the story behind the songs between melodies, somehow making the experience seem more like a reunion between old friends than a performance.
La Bombilla Verde
Calle 11 No 905 (enter between 6 and 8), Vedado
Fans of the dark and decadent should consider themselves lucky if they get to experience what Habaneros say is the city’s best-kept secret. They call it Elegguá, but most travellers know the same place as the Conga Room. It’s what you might label an underground venue, except that it’s located on the first floor of a residential building. To gain entry, you’ll need to acquire a flyer on the street – although the few people handing out these cherished pieces of paper are rather selective. The prize should you receive one? Rumberos with machetes and knives who will transport you to the depths of the Santería religion and Afro-Cuban folklore. Worry not: you will survive.
The Conga Room
Aguiar #209 (enter between Tejadillo and Empedrado), Habana Vieja