While the English-speaking Caribbean is perennially popular with the UK market, many French and Dutch islands in the region are relatively unknown. Andrew Doherty looks at reasons why you and your clients should consider them.
The French overseas territory of Guadeloupe is made up of five islands: Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, La Desirade, Les Saintes and Marie-Galante. It is accessible from the UK via Paris Orly, where Air France operates direct flights daily.
Visitors will touch down at Pointe-a-Pitre airport on Grand-Terre, home to a plethora of attractions including Le Pays de la Canne – a refurbished sugar cane plant, Fort Fleur d’Epee with its temporary art exhibitions and an underwater trail at Gosier Islet.
Helen Tabois, senior product and marketing manager, Caribbean and Cruise at the Inspiring Travel Company, says Guadeloupe is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts.
“The Soufriere Volcano dominates Basse-Terre, which poses a great challenge for hikers. It also offers canyoning, horse-riding, snorkelling and diving at the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve.
“When active travellers want to relax, they can hop across to the smaller islands such as Marie-Galante by ferry. Here, they will be met with long stretches of golden sand, with barely another visitor in sight. English isn’t widely spoken in Guadeloupe (French is the official language), but this makes it ideal for clients who like to feel they’re off the beaten track.”
Book it: The Inspiring Travel Company offers a Guadeloupe twin centre package from £1,755pp, with four nights at La Creole Beach Hotel and Spa on Grande-Terre and three nights at Le Jardin Malanga on Basse-Terre with flights included.
Curacao is particularly popular with LGBT visitors because of its multitude of gay-friendly hotels and attractions. It is also home to 17 members of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) – more than any other island in the Caribbean.
A constituent country of the kingdom of the Netherlands – along with Aruba and Sint Maarten – the island is situated in the southern Caribbean Sea and can be reached from the UK via Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with KLM, Brussels with Tui and, from November 6, via Frankfurt with Condor.
Muryad de Bruin, regional manager Curacao Tourist Board, Europe, is keen to extol its virtues to the British travel trade.
“Curacao is one of the most beautiful and interesting islands of the Caribbean. It’s outside the hurricane belt and offers a great year-round climate. The island’s traditions shape it to this day, including our language [Papiamento], Tambu music, cookery, religion and spirituality.”
Visitors can experience cultural events, including the Curacao Carnival, the Culinair food festival and Pride Week in September, while adventure seekers can trek to the highest point on the island, Mount Christoffel, go scuba-diving at more than 85 sites or take ATV tours.
Malcolm Davies, product destination manager at Funway Holidays, offers his top-selling tips.
“Curacao’s lively and cosmopolitan capital, Willemstad, is one of the Caribbean’s most picturesque and interesting cities, full of pastel-coloured Dutch colonial buildings. I always suggest guests stay here and make day trips to the nearby sea aquarium, ostrich farm, liqueur distillery and aloe vera plantation.”
Book it: Funway Holidays has seven nights (all-inclusive) at the Sunscape Curacao Resort, Spa & Casino from £1,360pp with flights included.
Unlike the lush tropical forests that cover many other Caribbean islands, Aruba is made up of cactus-strewn landscapes, akin to the deserts of Mexico. Its dream-like vistas include the Bushiribana ruins – the former site of the Aruba Island Gold Mining Company Ltd – and the colossal monolithic boulders of the Ayo rock formations.
Situated 18 miles north of the Venezuelan coastline, it is the easiest of all the French and Dutch Caribbean islands to access from England. Tui flies direct to the capital Oranjestad from Gatwick and Manchester.
Mark Hall, director of product at Tui, says that the direct airlift has been partly responsible for the destination’s increase in popularity. In 2018, it sent 4,940 Brits to Aruba.
“Aruba gets on average just 18 inches of rain per year, and is known to be one of the sunniest of the Caribbean islands,” he says.
“Our hotel offering ensures agents can sell a variety of Tui experiences. From small and friendly properties, which offer an authentic feel, to a selection of four and five-star hotels from our A La Carte collection.”
He recommends the Tui Baby Beach 4x4 Tour (£86), which showcases the island’s “spectacular coastlines and most famous landmarks”, including the Arikok national park and donkey sanctuary.
Book it: Tui offers seven nights at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort with Gatwick flights from £1,426pp. Package is based on a September 20, 2018 departure.
In celebration of World Ocean Day this June, Bonaire announced a development programme to make it the world’s first “Blue Destination” – a designation that will denote its commitment to protecting its ocean resources.
This is particularly important for Bonaire’s most renowned tourism offering, diving. The island is fringed by a coral reef, which was made a marine sanctuary in 1979. Here, clients can explore 86 sites home to 350 species of fish, including the spotted eagle ray and sharpnose puffer.
Bonaire is also famed for its flamingo population, drawn by its bountiful supply of shrimp. Suggest a visit to the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, to spot them feeding in the lagoons. Clients can reach Bonaire from the UK with KLM via Schiphol airport, landing near the capital of Kralendijk.
Although the primary language is Dutch, English is widely spoken on the island too.
Kenan Simmons, vice president of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, says Bonaire is becoming known for its diverse culinary culture. “Visitors should try the lionfish burgers, goat stew, keshi yena (cheese stuffed with seasoned fish) and bolo pretu (black rum cake). Bonaire is also famous for its sea salt, made by drying seawater in the sun, and its sweet Bonaire liqueur made from the kadushi cactus that grows on the island.”
Book it: SLH has nightly rates at the Harbour Village Beach club from £463pp.
An overseas collectivity of France, St Barts lies south-east of Sint Maarten and St Kitts and can be reached from the UK via Antigua on a 45-minute connecting flight with Tradewind Aviation.
The island is renowned for its New Year’s Eve celebrations, which attract the rich and famous for the yacht regatta, glitzy parties and fireworks.
Clients can join the revelries at a host of clubs across the island, including Bar de l’Oubli in the capital of Gustavia and the famous Nikki Beach resort.
Foodies should take note too; St Barts has plenty of high-end restaurants to choose from. French cuisine takes precedence, from the fresh lobster dishes at La Langouste, to fillet steak at the chic beach house setting of Bonito.
Sally Stileman, reservations manager at Caribtours, says agents should recommend a stay at Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, which is reopening after renovations this December.
“The hotel is located on one of the best beaches on the island, Baie des Flamands, and offers world-class Guerlain treatments at the Cheval Blanc Spa. Visitors can also explore the local bars and live music by the harbour in Gustavia, as well as experiencing a range of cultural and film festivals that are held throughout the year.”
Book it: Caribtours has seven nights at the Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France from £2,599pp with flights, lounge access and private transfers included.