If ever there were a perfect blend of “Cast Away” remoteness and the luxurious conveniences of a modern, five-star hotel, it can be found on Palm Island in the Grenadines.
After a 3.5-hour flight from Miami to Barbados, an hour-long inter-island flight from Barbados to Union Island, a two-minute drive to a dock, and an eight-minute boat trip, arriving at this 135-acre island resort feels like a scene straight out of HBO’s White Lotus — in the best of ways. I could hear the theme song in my head as we arrived to see the manager and staff waving from the dock, beaming smiles on full display and welcome drinks (a colourful rum concoction) in their hands.
Here’s why this gorgeous island is known as the Maldives of the Caribbean
Likened to the Maldives or French Polynesia, Palm Island looks like the Fiji of the Caribbean, with its velvety green hills ambling skyward from blindingly white sand and water that transitions from crystal-clear to glowing Powerade to denim the further you get from shore. The air is scented with plumeria and salt — your favourite island candle brought to life. It’s little wonder Palm Island Resort & Spa snagged the number three spot on Travel + Leisure’s 2022 World’s Best Awards list of the 25 best hotels in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.
Palm Island, in its current form, hasn’t been around long. The pristine paradise received all the updated conveniences (such as a desalination plant) during an overhaul in 1999. Since then, the resort has been welcoming couples, families, and groups of friends, many of them for decades and most of them British, American, or Canadian.
Nowhere is this decades-long devotion more evident than in the open-air library, where hundreds of books seem to span every genre, culture, language, and era. The next-door TV and internet room is another amusing holdout from the past; Wi-Fi is now available throughout the island.
Originally known as Prune Island, Palm Island was leased for 99 years, beginning in 1966, by Americans John and Mary Caldwell. For USD 1 (INR 83) per year, the Caldwells could lease what was then an uninhabitable arc of land with a swampy interior from the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — as long as they built a hotel to provide employment for locals.
With eyes on the unspoiled beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters, the Caldwells built Palm Island Beach Club, which they ran for the next 30 years. In 1999, the hotel was purchased by the current owners and received extensive renovations, plus the construction of 41 rooms and suites, a spa, and other amenities. Now part of Elite Island Resorts, a collection of unique beachfront properties in the Caribbean, Palm Island Resort is an adult-oriented all-inclusive where all on-site restaurants, bars, and facilities are included in the stay.
Guests can opt for evening dining in either of the two restaurants, Royal Palm or Sunset Grill & Bar, or book a romantic option in one of three secluded speciality spots nearby, including beneath an illuminated heart-shaped tree. Theme, menu, and live entertainment all vary nightly; our favourite by far was the Caribbean barbecue buffet with a steelpan band, tied with the lobster dinner in the gazebo.
Another memorable meal was a picnic lunch at Hammock #4, a beachy tree house of sorts, complete with a shaded upper deck, hammock down below, overwater wooden swings, and a serene setting overlooking a quiet bay.
Outside of meal times, you can do as much or as little as you’d like. There’s a full gym, pool, daily fitness classes, snorkel gear, kayaks, paddleboards, Hobie cats, and nature trails to hike or bike. Optional add-on activities include a sunset sail on the Pink Lady or — a highlight of our trip — a half-day sailing around Tobago Cays Marine Park aboard the Yannis catamaran, with stops at two sparsely populated islands and one tiny, uninhabited one where you’ll spot green turtles while snorkelling. (Laying in the net of a catamaran with the ocean gliding a few feet beneath you is one of the unparalleled pleasures of life.)
On Union Island, you can take kitesurfing lessons, go scuba diving, and more. Or, if you just want to lounge beneath a palm tree and stare out at the sometimes inky, sometimes cerulean sea, no one would blame you.
Of course, no tropical island vacation is complete without some time at the spa, and the one on Palm Island is a dream. Book the Hibiscus Package to spend 2.5 blissful hours with your sweetheart; the treatment begins with a foot wash ritual, then transitions to a beachfront floral bath, scrub, wrap, massage, and facial, all from the trained hands of two Balinese masseuses.
Located outside the hurricane zone and accessible only by boat, Palm Island offers the best of the Caribbean, practically all to yourself. It’s about 10 minutes to drive the entirety of the island via golf cart, but if you’re on foot or bike, it’s ripe for exploration, and much of it remains undeveloped, barely touched. There are five different beaches and more palm trees than you can count, all linked together by sandy paths and a smattering of 43 rooms, suites, and villas around the uncrowded perimeter of the island. It feels anonymous, but it isn’t: An Instagram follower told me that a season of MTV’s hit series Siesta Key was filmed here in 2021.
As far from reality as Palm Island feels, it’s actually pretty accessible, and getting there is half the fun: Flying to the Grenadines at golden hour can only be described as awe-inspiring. The recommended route is a commercial flight to Barbados, then a teeny-tiny Grenadine Alliance flight to Union Island. (If you’re lucky, you’ll also touch down in Canouan or Bequia to drop off a few shared charter passengers on your way.) Upon landing on Union Island, you’ll be met by a driver who will take you all of two minutes to the nearby dock, where a boat awaits to whisk you away on an eight-minute crossing to Palm Island.
If Palm Island is a favoured destination in the Grenadines, the brand-new Seahorse Villa is its crown jewel. It’s isolated at the eastern end of the island, engendering privacy and solitude — it wasn’t until I was supposed to hand in our room key that I realised I never got one; we didn’t lock our doors once during our stay and never thought twice about it.
However, villa guests get their own golf cart, so you can dart back to the more populated end of the island fast (or, at least, as fast as you can go on those bumpy, sandy backroads). You will undoubtedly get lost, even after several days of taking the same routes, but luckily, you can never get too far from where you’re trying to go on an island.
You could bring far more than the four people this 4,000-square-foot villa sleeps and never cross paths unless you wanted to; the white-picket-fenced home has space and more space, plus your own beachfront backyard and, best of all, no other structures in sight.
Crafted using local and reclaimed whitewashed woods with bold pops of blue to mirror the Caribbean beyond, the organically decorated villa is lit with wicker pendant shades set high in vaulted ceilings, creating an undeniably cozy ambience for a tropical island retreat. In the oversized kitchen, the breakfast bar and shelving are made from salvaged ship masts reclaimed from a shipwreck.
There are also outdoor showers, tiled indoor showers with stable doors opening up to views of the ocean, beach cabanas, huge walk-in closets, a half-bath, and — my personal favorite home-away-from-home feature — a laundry room with a washer and dryer. If there’s any way to feel like an island in the Caribbean is all yours, it’s with a stay at the Seahorse Villa.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Courtesy of Elite Island Resorts/Palm Island Resort and Spa