Americas

St Lucia in summary

Stepping off the plane and hitting that comforting warm wall of heat and seeing tropical plants bursting from the hills, you know the week ahead in the Caribbean sunshine is going to be just what you need. 

Whether that’s an adventure soaring through the treetops, beach time, partying at the jump up or tasting endless delicious dishes.  There is something for everyone just over 8 hours away from the UK.  We love our weeklong escapes to the Caribbean and although we would love more, often our time doesn’t allow it.  People travel to Las Vegas for less time and usually for a more hectic time and so 8 hours really isn’t that far for paradise.

We have visited St Lucia a couple of times to explore this wonderful tropical island.  I’m not going to lie, the transfers are not as easy ride, so to speak but they are well worth it.  Unlike some of the other Caribbean islands, St Lucia is green, hilly and feels very genuinely Caribbean.  The roads wind left to right and back up and down and so if you are not good in cars, make sure you get a front seat or, if budget allows, enjoy a helicopter ride and sample the undulating landscape from above.

The island is sprinkled with stunning hotels, basic apartments, larger high end apartments such as The Landings, all inclusive properties and more unique stays such as Boucan by Hotel Chocolat.  There is an option for everyone to enjoy what’s on offer here. 

We have stayed at Sandals Halcyon which is a smaller all-inclusive resort perfectly located between the other two Sandals hotels on the island.  We love the grounds at the hotel which are tropically rich and make the resort a cosy haven.  There is the option of a ground floor or first floor room and this low-rise approach makes The Halycon a home away from home.  The smiling staff, wide ranging culinary options, activities on offer (including the Caribbean’s longest pool!) and beautifully furnished rooms make relaxing here a breeze.  You are also able to explore the other hotels on the island using the free shuttle bus and the Grande is next door to Pigeon Island and the Friday night jump up which shouldn’t be missed.  Also, if you are considering a wedding abroad, the Grande does have the most stunning over water chapel.

We enjoyed kayaking, paddle boarding, Big Mable (!), a boat trip to see the Pitons, Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens (and of course the spa which takes 10 years off your age!) and the Tree Top Adventure Park at Dennery to name just a few.  We sipped fresh coconut water from coconuts picked within the hour and watched intricate sushi dishes being made in front of us whilst also enjoying the dusky sea view below.

Then, after a week of drowning our senses in new experiences, we always reluctantly step back onto the plane and walk through the Narnia wardrobe, returning to our version or normal but already planning our return.

Get in touch today to start planning your next adventure!

toni@holidaysplease.com

07951 219293

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Americas, Reviews, Trips

The Beauty of Bequia

There are specks of paradise in this world which become havens of tranquility, where our souls can truly rest and escape the real world. There are places where we feel part of the family from the moment we step foot inside and where even our tears want to leave us and linger when we must leave. A place where you get to sit under the stars watching movies you grew up with whilst eating popcorn from bowls moulded from earth sprung seeds. We have found our slice of paradise at Bequia Beach Hotel.

large straw umbrella nestled in the sand at Bequia Beach Hotel on the island of Bequia in the Grenadines with two sun loungers looking out to turquoise waters

This perfectly understated hotel is nestled in the South of the island, although hardly a stone’s throw from the North due to the island being no more than 7 square miles. The welcome starts before you reach its unassuming entrance which for us was at the small port. A smile, open welcome and our drinks order taken, we zipped off in our island taxi to find out where we would be staying for the next 4 nights. The taxis on Bequia are not your traditional taxis! Imagine an open back pickup truck with a canopy and side benches. They are brilliant fun and have the most hospitable drivers and everyone on the island knows Uncle Bill!

Mint green shack set up as a shop on the island of Bequia in the Grenadines

Stepping out of our taxi and into the hotel, we were greeted by several staff and taken to the lounge which is a museum of a bygone treasured age. Our sunset drinks with cocktail umbrellas were waiting for us and any weight which we may have had resting upon our shoulders melted away.

peach coloured rum cocktail decorated with an umbrella, slice of pineapple, a cherry and paper straw

We were taken to our beachfront junior suite which felt secluded but was just steps away from the beautiful natural sands. Absolutely no filters needed at this stunning hotel where every joy is simple and nature prevails. The rooms are quirky and are fitted with objects which inject the rooms with personality and the occupants with a smile. Vintage travel posters, boats decorated with sails displaying the Star Spangled Banner and chairs which you can sink into help to make this one of the most cosy, comfortable and stylish hotels we’ve stayed in.

a beachfront junior suite with four poster bed at Bequia Beach Hotel

The pool is set back a little from the beach and has the most comfortable sunbeds dotted around with neatly rolled up towels inviting guests to take a break. Not far away you’ll find the beach bar and if you’re there at the right time, a coconut stand where freshly dropped fruit will quench your thirst. 

turquoise swimming pool at Bequia Beach Hotel in the Grenadines

We stretched our way to younger spines with the incredible yoga instructor, Patricia, who will guide you into position and turn you into your best warrior. If you prefer something more active then why not try one of the more adventurous activities on offer such as kayaking. Paddle up the coast to survey the nearby fishing boats and scan back to the hotel to take it all in from a different angle whilst manoeuvring through turquoise waters.

The Bagatelle restaurant is open for every meal of the day. Not only offering tantalising treats for your tastebuds but also a view to satisfy your memory bank. Staff tend to your every need in the Caribbean way and in the evenings this is transformed into an area to entertain and the sand becomes the dance floor.

cycling on Lower Bay Bequia in the Grenadines

If you’re itching to explore the island, take a bike from the hotel (you’ll be given a helmet) but you may be pushing more than cycling as Bequia is not a flat island. We made the mistake of braving the heat and tired muscles to cycle to Lower Bay. It would have been more pleasant to take the half an hour or so walk but we did enjoy the breeze as we raced down the hills! The hotel has a lovely spot at Jack’s on Princess Margaret Beach with turquoise striped umbrellas gifting shade to its sundrenched occupants. The sea is clear and warm and the hardest thing you’ll do is pick which dish you’ll have for lunch from Jack’s. A walk into town is what you’ll need after tasting too much and it’s only a half an hour easy stroll and a great place to pick up souvenirs.

Hammock stretched between two palm trees at Bequia Beach Hotel on the island of Bequia in the Grenadines

After a day lazing on the beach it’s back to cool off in the pool, to drink in the beautiful gardens, sway in the hammock looking out to sea and sink into your sun lounger whilst dreaming of your next exciting adventure.

We have put together a very short video to give you even more of a taste of this wonderful island.

Get in touch today to start planning your adventure!

toni@holidaysplease.com

07951 219293

Americas

10 things to do in New York this winter!

Stop for drinks on the 8th floor of The Marriott Hotel in Times Square.  It’s not very expensive when you consider its location and the view you get of Times Square.

Catch the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City with the Rockettes from November.  For all Scrooges out there, be warned!  It’s very happy and Christmassy and full of American splendour.  We got tickets on the door.  They were in the very back row but even these were great and we got to sit next to two old New Yorkers who go every year.

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You have to see a show on Broadway when in New York but don’t forget to save yourself some pennies and head to TKTS earlier in the day (the same TKTS you find in Leicester Square).  We got tickets 5 rows back for little over $50 each.  The kiosk opens at 3pm for evening performances (2pm on Tuesdays).

Get your skates on at the Wollman Rink which opens in late October.  It’s the biggest rink in the city and set in Central Park.  Head to Bryant Park for free admission (also open in late October).  You still need to pay for skate hire and a lock for the lockers (!) and so if you have a lock with you (on your suitcase!), you may as well take this as it just may save you a few dollars.  Travel light as lockers are small.

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We found Max Brenner (see the dessert menu!) by accident and what a wonderful accident that was.  A must visit for all chocolate lovers out there.  You can order incredible ice-cream, chocolate pizza, fondue and try the Hug Mug with Mexican spicy chocolate or Italian hot chocolate (this is best dark).

Walk, walk, walk!  There is so much to see in this city, don’t miss out by taking cabs and the subway all the time.  Take in sights such as the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station.  Don’t forget the views back over the city from Brooklyn Bridge and of course Central Park.

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Take a helicopter flight at night and fly around the Statue of Liberty.  Try Liberty Helicopters where you can buy a ‘City Lights Ride’ from $149 pp.

The Statue of Liberty tour takes a long time and so get up early and head for the first boat out at 8:30am from Battery Park taking in Ellis Island on the way back and don’t plan too many other activities for the day.

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Take your credit card for all the shopping there is to be done.  Macys is the largest and most reasonable of all department stores and has a wonderful shop window display nearing Christmas and don’t forget your brown bag from Bloomies.

If you are there for the Rockefeller light switch on (late November/early December), don’t miss it.  It’s known for having a host of fantastic acts.  We saw (or rather heard!) performances from John Legend, Sting and Enya to name a few.  Our tip is to get there early to get a better spot but be very prepared to stand around for a while.

Americas

Canadian Rail Journeys

Canada has a lot of ground to cover and is fortunate that the distances bring stunning views and varying scenery.  This is why a train journey across the land is the perfect way to visit a number of places without missing out on the hidden beauty in between.  There are so many rail journeys that you could take but we have looked at just two to whet your appetite.

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                    Photo by Abdallahh.

1. First Passage to the West: 2 Day Rail Journey

This is the only passenger rail service on this historic route and its construction is one of the most important in Canadian history as it united Canada from east to west.  This journey can be travelled from East to West or West to East.

Eastbound

Day 1 Vancouver to Kamloops

You will experience dramatic changes in scenery, from the green fields of the Fraser River valley through forests and winding river canyons surrounded by the peaks of the Coast and Cascade mountains, to the desert-like environment of the interior.

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Vancouver. Photo by Austin Stanley.

Day 2 Kamloops to Lake Louise or Banff

You will travel along rocky lakeshores, over high mountain passes and through the remarkable tunnels that form part of the rich rail history of the Canadian Rockies. You will see the Kicking Horse Canyon, the Spiral Tunnels and the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies.  Your rail journey ends in Lake Louise or the resort town of Banff with road connections available on to Calgary.

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Kamploops. Photo by Kyle Pearce.

2. The Canadian: 4 Night Rail Journey

Linking Toronto and Vancouver, the Canadian is one of the world’s most legendary and popular rail journeys.  You don’t have to complete the full journey or complete it in one go.  You may choose to break the journey up by visiting Winnipeg or by seeing the Polar bears in Churchill, in Jasper or Edmonton and explore the Rockies.  You can also use it as a one way trip between Vancouver and Jasper, the journey from Kamloops is during the day and the scenery is stunning.

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        Jasper. Photo by Mack Male.

The Canadian runs three times a week in summer and twice a week in winter.

If you are interested in exploring Canada by train, please contact toni@holidaysplease.com or call 07951 219293 to find out more.

Americas

Magical Montreal

The Canadian city of Montreal is like no other.  It’s a unique melting pot of European style architecture, dramatic temperature extremes (spanning -30c to + 30c), a feisty and vibrant political scene, an even more vibrant nightlife scene and a cherished French language and cuisine.  Not to mention some inherently Canadian traits like the city’s passionate devotion to its ice hockey team, the Habs!

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You can easily find an abundance of general tourist information about Montreal on the internet.  So instead of an A to Z lowdown, here are some random gems of local knowledge I’ve picked up from the fun filled three years I’ve spent in this charming city:

  • If you’re visiting in the summer try and arrange your trip to coincide with one of the city’s epic, world-class festivals.  Personally I’d put the Montreal Jazz Festival top of the list, where last year we were fortunate enough to see Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and several other top acts.  The Comedy Festival is also highly recommended and usually attracts several high profile Brits.  The July 2015 line-up includes Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican and Russell Howard amongst others.  The Grand Prix, beer festival and Oshega weekend are also exciting times to plan a visit.
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  • Montreal is great for foodies. Our favourite restaurant is Restaurant de l’institut. It’s often overlooked by tourists as you need to book by email or phone in advance, but if you can organise yourself, it’s well worth it to be served excellent, creative menus by chefs in training (and it has the royal seal of approval after William & Kate visited it!).  Or if you want to splash out even more, Europea restaurant has some of the theatrics of a Heston Blumenthal dinner without quite such an eye watering price tag. For more cheap and cheerful options, Frites Alor and Trois Brasseurs are personal favourites.
  • In the winter there are few things more exhilarating than heading to one of the city’s parks (e.g. Parc la Fontaine) to ice skate on the frozen lakes (although the lack of rails means it’s not recommended for beginners) or driving to one of the ski slopes that are within an hour of the city.  In the summer you can find your adrenaline rush white water rafting down the Lachine rapids or on a segway tour around the Grand Prix track.
ice skating
  • There is a thriving craft beer scene which is worth exploring (just remember to tip, usually $1 per drink). Favourite brewpubs include L’amere a Boire and Benelux. Or if beer’s not your thing, be sure to check out Quebec’s ice cider which makes an excellent digestif.
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  • Aboard the stationary Bota Bota boat, spa lovers can enjoy an open-air jacuzzi boasting a stunning panoramic view of the city. It has lots of the original boat features including cute cubby holes filled with padded cushions that you can curl up in and watch the St Lawrence river drift by.

With a flight time from England of just seven hours, this captivating and cultured city deserves to be added to your travel wishlist!

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Thank you to Suzie Wood for writing this wonderful blog on Montreal and for her beautiful pictures captured throughout her time there.

Africa, Americas, Asia, Australasia, Europe

5 tips for Respectful and Ethical travel

A street art picture in Penang of a little girl riding an adult bike with her brother on the back. The bike is partially painted on to the wall and partially 3D with half the handlebars and basked coming out of the wall.

Tip 1

Travel on foot, bike, bus and train wherever possible when you arrive at your destination.  You never quite get to know a city until you have walked it.  We found a lot of hidden gems in New York thanks to taking only one subway whilst there.

Tip 2

Learn basic phrases in the native language of the country you’re visiting.  This can result in friendlier exchanges, better bartering and you’re learning!  Check out this helpful BBC page.

Tip 3

Be aware of local customs to avoid causing offence and embarrassment.

  1. Thailand – Never disrespect the king or images of him (this includes currency).  Openly doing so can result in imprisonment and possibly the death penalty.
  2. Dubai – Some prescription drugs (including some commonly used anti-depressants) are included on the UAE’s drugs and controlled medicines and you should check the status of your medicines before bringing them into the country (you may need permission or may be prohibited from bringing them in full stop).
  3. Venice – feeding pigeons is against the law and could land you with a fine.
  4. Barbados – it’s an offence to dress in camouflage clothing and you can be fined.

Tip 4

Are you a keen photographer?  Holiday snaps are a lovely souvenir but be careful what you capture.  You should always check the laws of the country you are visiting to make sure you do not come home with a fine too.  Hungary has just introduced a law (March 2014) making it illegal to take a photograph without obtaining permission from everybody in the photo.

Tip 5

Be sparing with the water you use.  Take quick showers, re-use your towels and don’t leave taps running whilst brushing your teeth. 

Americas

Havana Have Fun!

For many, Cuba will be on their list of places to visit.  It’s a big place so don’t expect to be finished within a week.  In fact, you may need to separate breaks or one long one to cover everything you want to.

When we stayed, we visited Havana for 3 nights and Varadero for 7 nights with a long day trip to take in Trinidad, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos.  The time spent in Havana was about right and the day trip broke up our beach break nicely but we felt that we didn’t have anywhere near as much time as we wanted in some of the other places which set us off looking for the perfect Cuban itinerary.  The suggestion below is for 10 nights and covers most places but a second trip may still be required for the south of the island!

Havana

We would recommend staying for 3 nights and our favourite hotels here are Iberostar Parque Central for its fabulous rooftop pool views and The Sevilla which is an historic building and has a charm of faded grandeur.  If you arrive before sunset, take a walk along the Malecon and enjoy the classic cars you will spot around every corner before heading to a Paladar for a homely welcome and great food.  We tried La Guarida.

Spend your first day visiting the famous Havana Club Museum, historic settings such as Plaza de San Francisco, the beautiful 18th Century Cathedral of San Cristóbal de la Habana and of course a tour of a cigar factory (Partagás is our favourite).  You can do this on foot or maybe hire a classic car and be chauffeur driven around this wonderful city.  End with a cocktail at El Floridita, one of Hemingway’s favourite bars!

Enjoy the morning at Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana before hopping on a coco taxi to the Plaza de la Revolution.  Visit Parque John Lennon and his statue on the bench and stop on the way for ice-cream at Coppelia, where locals queue around the block for its great value ice-cream.  If you have time, do visit Plaza Vieja, a beautifully renovated square where you can get a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere.

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Havana to Remedios via Santa Clara

After your 3 night stay in Havana it’s time to move on.  The first stop is Santa Clara, the first major city to be liberated by Catsro’s forces during the revolutionary struggle against Batista in 1958.  You can take a tour of the city before having lunch.  In the afternoon, head to Remedios where you can visit the Sugar Museum and take a ride on a steam train.

We would recommend staying 1 night at the romantic Hotel Mascotte or Hotel Barcelona with its beautiful courtyard.

Remedios to Cienfuegos

Spend day 5 making your way to Cienfuegos and visit the Teatro Tomas Terry, the city’s cigar factory and Parque Jose Marti.  Enjoy your afternoon taking in the Palacio de Valle before enjoying a boat trip around the bay in the evening.  We would recommend basing your night’s stay at Hotel La Union which has fine views of Cinefuegos from its roof terrace.

Cienfuegos to Trinidad

Once in Trinidad, take a tour of the city.  Walk along the cobbled streets, past the pastel buildings, visit the Palacio de Cantero Museum and La Canchanchara Bar.  If you can, climb the bell tower to take some wonderful photos of Trinidad from a different angle.  Stock up on handmade souvenirs and breathe in the wonderful architecture and sights around every corner.  You will have earned your overnight stay at Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad or for a smaller hotel, try Hotel La Ronda.

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Trinidad to Varadero via Santi Spiritus

Explore the ruins of sugar mills and take a tour of the warehouses, manor houses and slave quarters in Valle de los Ingenios before heading to Santi Spiritus, the centre of Cuba and the oldest city in the Cuban interior.  Stretch your legs and enjoy a walking tour before heading to Varadero for an over night stay.  We would recommend staying on at Varadero for at least a further 3 nights before heading home.  You can relax on the beach or take a diving tour if you still want to explore further.  We enjoyed staying at Iberostar Tainos or we could recommend the Royalton Hicacos.

Americas

A brief look at São Luís

Think of Brazil and you’re probably thinking Sugarloaf Mountain, carnival, the favela and the World Cup but there is far more to Brazil than you think.  Occupying almost 48% of South America and bordering every other South American country but for Ecuador and Chile, Brazil gives you a lot of ground to cover and varying experiences along the way.

São Luís is the capital and largest city of the Brazilian state of Maranhão.  It sits in the North East of Brazil on an island surround by pretty beaches (although avoid the sea) and has two main areas, the old town and the new town.  In 1997, the historical centre was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status and brings together approximately three and a half thousand buildings dating from the 17th to 19th centuries.  With a number of diverse cultural events such as the Bumba-Meu-Boi, Tambor-De-Crioula and Divine Holy Spirit festivals, as well as the famous carnival, it’s certainly a place of history and culture you will want to explore.

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        Igreja da Sé. Photo by renataaraujoo.

A selection of things to see and do

Arthur Azevedo Teatro

Opened in 1817, this is the oldest working theatre in the country and the most famous in São Luís.  First time visitors are struck by the beauty of the well-preserved interior architecture, which displayed neoclassical trait

Igreja da Sé

Built in 1762, the Igreja da Sé is dedicated to our Lady of Victory and stands out with its High Altar carved in gold, in the national Portuguese style

Palácio dos Leões

The official residence and headquarters of the Maranhão Government, it is almost 400 years old, housing artistic treasures and relics that deserve to be seen and appreciated; it is named for the bronze lions that guard the entrance.

Where to stay

Hotel Luzeiros São Luis is located in a nice area, overlooks the beach and is very comfortable for a few days whilst you explore the surrounding area.

For a quaint guest house try Casa Lavinia which is very centrally located and is in a colonial style so you can feel part of São Luís whilst you explore its history.

What to eat and drink

Try the traditional dish of arroz-de-cuxá which is a rice based dish served with cuxá, a dish made from a slightly bitter vegetable called vinagreira, shrimp and various seasonings.  Wash this down with Guaraná Jesus (a sweet pink soda with some guaraná extract and a clover and cinnamon flavour).

How to get here

São Luís is 3 hours from Brasilia and 4 hours from São Paulo (by plane).  The closest point of international arrival is the city of Fortaleza in Ceará.

When to visit

The rainy season falls mainly from January to June and temperatures throughout the year are mild averaging 26 degrees.

Americas

A brief guide to Recife

After exploring the delights of Rio, the culture of São Luís and the dream dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses, it’s time for Recife.  Here you will find a mix of good restaurants, culture, history and beaches making it a perfect place to stop off for a few days and if you are lucky enough to be visiting at carnival time, be prepared to let loose and join in.

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    Olinda. Photo by Valdiney Pimenta.

Things to do in Recife

Instituto Ricardo Brennand

A medieval style castle with immense gardens, outdoor sculptures and beautiful fountains which form the scenery created by Ricardo Brennand, a Pernambuco-born collector, and which plays host to items of priceless cultural value.  Open from Tuesday to Sunday 1-5pm and costing approximately £5 per adult.

Visit one of the many beaches

If you like peace and quiet and don’t mind heading slightly further afield, make your way to Coroa do Aviao Beach which is set on an island.  You can treat yourself to some delicious seafood and really relax.  There’s also Porto de Galinhas which is about 65km away but has been awarded the title of the best beach in Brazil a number of times and so is worth a visit.  If you prefer it a little less secluded, try Boa Viagem which is a long sandy beach so you can do a little bit of people watching in between soaking up the sun (but not so great for swimming due to the sharks!).

Visit old Recife

The area is full of points of interest including Marco Zero Square and its panel “The compass rose” by Cicero Dias, the Park of Sculptures Francisco Brennand, buildings from the late 17th century and eclectic buildings from the early 20th century and much more.

Visit Olinda

Declared a World Historical and Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 1982, Olinda fascinates everyone not only for its architecture, but also for its natural beauty.  Located just 6km away from Recife, this is a day trip must.  Be dazzled by the Carmo Church, take a picture perfect snap of the brightly coloured historical houses and enjoy the tranquillity of the São Francisco Convent.

Where to stay

For a spot on Boa Viagem beach, try Hotel Atlante Plaza.  This hotel is all about location but also offers comfort.

If you prefer to be immersed in culture, stay at the Pousada Villa Boa Vista for a good value and well located hotel.

What to eat and drink

Whilst in Recife, there will be lots of different things to try.  We recommend the fried needlefish, peixada, sun dried meat, cassava, sarapatel, bolo de rolo (a cake with very thin layers filled with guava paste), cocada (sweet coconut), negobom (sweet banana) as well as the fresh coconut water of course.

Getting here

From Sao Luis, it’s a 3 hour flight or if you decide to head here from Rio, it’s a 2.5 hour flight.  With both options, it’s then a train journey from the airport into the centre which takes about half an hour.

Americas

Antigua: A beach for every day of the year

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Warm waters lapping onto the white sands which coat the edges of this beautiful island will soothe the soul and provide you with a well earned rest.  You have your pick of beaches, 365 of them to be precise, and a wealth of sea life to keep you occupied in the tropical waters.  If you get bored of watching the herons swoop down for their dinner or admiring Montserrat from afar, try horse riding, a visit to St John’s and don’t forget Nelson’s Dockyard.  Nightlife is a little more low key but the place to be on a Sunday night is Shirley Heights.  Enjoy the BBQ, a few market stalls selling more traditional gifts, music and the most wonderful views over the Dockyard.

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Where to stay

On our visit we stayed at the Blue Heron by Rex Resorts but sadly, it was destroyed in Hurricane season.  However, this hotel was located on the fabulous Turners Beach which is home to Keyonna Beach, an all-inclusive resort, less than 40 steps from the Caribbean Sea.

For something a little more colonial, try The Inn at English Harbour.  Just 2 minutes away from Nelson’s dockyard and with its own white sandy beach and private jetty, this is very much an exclusive resort.

If you want a great view, there is no better than Hermitage Bay and a stay in the Hillside Pool Suites.  Each comes with its own wrap-around covered deck, complete with sun-loungers, double day bed, sofa, small dining table and chairs in addition to the stunning pool.