If you’re trying to choose between private-island resorts in the British Virgin Islands, we feel your pain (and a whole lot of envy). Truth is, it’s tough to choose one idyllic isle over another without previewing them beforehand. So we did, comparing three delightful, but very different, retreats. Because all private islands are not created equal. But, thankfully, they’re all great.
Peter Island Resort & Spa
The Basics At 1,800 acres the largest private-island resort in the BVI, Peter Island sets the standard in its category with five beaches (Deadman’s the undisputed star); a pair of restaurants; a spa featuring Ayurvedic therapies; and its own marina. Guests arrive via the resort’s boat on a 25-minute crossing from Tortola, and stay in 52 oceanfront or oceanview suites. Feeling flush? Book one of three over-the-top villas and feel as if you have the island to yourself.
The Vibe It’s rare to find a resort that caters to families as well as couples but Peter Island pulls it off, with a flip-flop-friendly and relaxed environment that, in spite of its ample assets (did we mention those tricked-out villas?), is neither fussy nor formal.
The Musts Romantics should definitely reserve a half-day at Honeymoon Beach, a compact cove limited to only one couple at a time. Staff will drop you off with a picnic and then leave you to your own devices (keep it PG, kids!). During breakfast at Tradewinds restaurant, Jean Kelly’s Famous Coconut-Crusted French Toast (and the inimitable Miss Jean herself) is not to be missed. And the Sunset Loop, a hilltop celebration complete with cocktails, canapés and Caribbean views, is a fitting finale to the day.
The Basics Guana Island is the most private of the BVI's private-island resorts — you can't just swing by for a swim, drink or dinner, as access is restricted to registered guests. This serene 850-acre oasis is 13 minutes by the resort's speedboat from Trellis Bay, Tortola. It's also a nature preserve, with just 15 cottages and three villas tucked into cacti-studded hillsides. Seven beaches mean you'll be spoiled for choice, and 12 miles of hiking trails (plus resident donkeys, flamingos, tortoises and giant namesake iguanas) make this a great choice for nature lovers and active types.
The Vibe Got island-owning friends? Vacation here and feel as if you do. With only a maximum of 40 guests, Guana's clubby but not claustrophobic atmosphere; rooms and villas positioned for privacy; and an abundance of space (only a tiny percentage of the island is developed) make it feel like your private domain.
The Musts The hilly island is a hiker's dream, with trails that range from 40 minutes long to a four-hour odyssey. Scaling Sugar Loaf, at 809 feet Guana's highest point, is a steep but short 40-minutes-each-way adventure, and makes hours spent on White Bay (the island's most popular beach and another must-do) guilt free. Horticulturist Vernon Daniel leads fascinating complimentary tours of the island's organic orchard, and torch-lit dinners are served in the Edenic plot every other week. At $150 per couple the Castaway Experience — which includes drop-off for the day at deserted Bigelow Beach, a picnic lunch, chairs, a parasol and a cellphone — is money well spent.
The Basics Essentially a lively waterfront restaurant and bar, Saba Rock is an all-day attraction for sailors cruising the North Sound, and guests at resorts such as neighboring Bitter End Yacht Club. But beyond its pocket-sized beach and boutique (one of the BVI's best), Saba's secret is seven surprisingly plush suites, complete with soaking tubs, satellite TV, Nespresso machines, complimentary Wi-Fi and stunning sea views from private balconies. Arrive by boat charter from Tortola, public ferry from Virgin Gorda (Saba's water taxi will pick you up from Gun Creek) or simply charter a chopper from St. Thomas or Tortola straight to the water's-edge helipad.
The Vibe “The Rock” opens for business at 8 a.m., and is quickly abuzz with sailors who moor alongside in search of ice — and the rum cocktails to go with it. By lunchtime the open-air lounge and is hopping with barefoot, swimwear-clad visitors and shorts-sporting BVI expats and locals (this is a come-as-you-are kinda joint), and the action continues through happy hour well into the night. But by the wee hours, when staff and patrons have left, the Rock is returned to its handful of guests and tranquility prevails — at least until morning.
The Musts Crowds flock to the daily 5 p.m. feeding of the tarpon, an entertaining spectacle led by “tarpon tamer” Lance Williams. You should, too — and, while you're at it, grab yourself a $5 Painkiller during happy hour. A stone's throw from Virgin Gorda, Prickly Pear and Eustatia, Saba is the perfect launch pad for exploration of the northern BVIs, and boat charters are easily arranged to nearby attractions such as The Baths on Virgin Gorda.