Four of the best Caribbean beaches

Joyce Huxley's personal choice of perfect places to get away from it all. Photos by Chris Huxley.

Coco Point, BarbudaGrande Anse beach, GrenadaGrande Anse beach, GrenadaGrande Anse beach, St. LuciaLe Diamant beach, MartiniqueLe Diamant beach, Martinique

GRAND ANSE, GRENADA

Grand Anse is two miles of gleaming white sand beach and sparkling blue sea in south-west Grenada. It is the most popular beach on the island, and many of the hotels are located along it, including the Ramada Renaissance, the largest of Grenada’s hotels. But the hotels are set back a little from the sand, and so are unobtrusive.

Early morning on Grand Anse finds people out jogging at the water’s edge or taking a bathe in the cool water. As the day moves on, beach vendors set up shop, selling trinkets, T-shirts, jewellery. Tourists appear and take up positions under a beach umbrella, or in the growing heat of the sun. Watersports start their daily operations — snorkelling, windsurfing, mini-sailing, water skiing and scuba diving. Water taxis arrive on the beach and offer boat trips to deserted beaches, or a short ride to town. All of this goes on at a sun-slowed, leisurely pace, with no hassle, no problem.

As the sun gets high in the sky, it seems almost that all activity stops, and there is a short siesta. The only movements are those of the barman delivering another cold drink down to the beach. People stir from their stupor as the afternoon proceeds: more watersports, or a walk along the sand, towards the red roofs of St. George’s to the north, or south towards the lush green of Quarantine Point.

As the sun sets, movements are stilled again, and all eyes look west, to the streaked sky of a vivid sunset. As the last glow of the sun leaves the sky, the twinkling stars of the tropical night appear, and the night sounds start.

The days pass too quickly at Grenada’s Grand Anse.

GRAND ANSE, ST LUCIA

Grand Anse means “Big Bay” in French creole, so there are a number of Grand Anses around the Caribbean. St. Lucia’s Grand Anse is one of the island’s longest beaches, a mile of golden sand, and is completely undeveloped.

Just getting there is an adventure. From the capital, Castries, the road climbs out of the city, going up to the cool heights of Bahonneau village in the centre of the island. From here, it twists and turns its way down into the fertile green valley of the Marquis River, then climbs again to the high village of Desbarra. A signpost here indicates that it is still four miles to Grand Anse. At this point, the road deteriorates dramatically, and only a rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle can continue; otherwise you proceed on foot.

Only half a mile from Desbarra comes the first glimpse of the beach through the palm trees, a magnificent sweep of sand pounded by the Atlantic swells. When we reach the beach, we find only two others there, local fishermen digging for crabs for bait. We walk the length of the beach, enjoying the breeze, then plunge into the water and play in the surf. Occasionally, folks bring surfboards and try to master the waves on this beach, but we are content to bodysurf, throwing ourselves with abandon into the rollers.

Turtles nest on this and some of the other deserted beaches of St. Lucia’s north-east coastline. Four different species – loggerhead, green, leatherback and hawksbill turtles — nest on Grand Anse beach. The area is also a bird-watchers paradise, and several unusual species have been found here.

The variety of wildlife and the rugged beauty of this isolated beach have prompted proposals that the area be made into a nature reserve. But for the time being, at least, the poor access ensures that the area is unspoilt, undisturbed, and unvisited by all except the most adventurous of visitors.

COCO POINT, BARBUDA

The flat, scrub-covered island of Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island, boasts 17 miles of pink sand and golden beaches. The most impressive is the eight-mile sweep of beach stretching from Coco Point to Palmetto Point in the south of the island.

Coco Point is the site of two very up-market resorts, the Coco Point Lodge and the larger, and much newer, K Club. But these resorts do not detract from the magnificence of this beach, which is so long that it can never be crowded. To ensure that you have the entire beach to yourself, just go in the summer season — both resorts operate in the winter only. You may still have to share this peaceful haven with a yacht at anchor, but the chances are that yours will be the only footprints in the sand.

When you tire of beach- combing, slip into the cool, clear waters of the bay. There is good snorkelling around the small jetty on the point; a little further offshore, Palencar Reef offers some outstanding scuba diving, with rich, colourful reefs, and the chance to explore one of the many shipwrecks resting on this treacherous coral outcrop.

Tourism has been slow to come to Barbuda, an island with a population of only 1,200. Most visitors come only for the day from Antigua, see the sights, and then return to the larger island. But several new developments are planned, and will make the lovely beaches of this island more accessible to the traveller. If you want to enjoy Coco Point in solitude, plan your visit now.

LE DIAMANT, MARTINIQUE

This beach in the south of Martinique is also known as Grande Anse du Diamant. It is the longest beach on the island, a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of dark volcanic sand. The beach is fringed with palm trees, and consistently catches good winds, so it is a favourite with the windsurfing fraternity. It is also a popular family beach, and at weekends groups will relax and picnic under the swaying palm trees. There are two major hotels, and a number of smaller establishments along the shore.

Everywhere on this beach, the horizon is dominated by the large mass of the Rocher du Diamant, or Diamond Rock. This islet has an interesting history. In 1804, a party of British sailors landed on the rock, and renamed it the HMS Diamond. They managed to hold the rock for 18 months, during which they harassed all the French shipping in the area. In exasperation, it is said, the French loaded a boat with rum and had it run aground on HMS Diamond. Needless to say, they had little trouble routing the British sailors when they attacked shortly after.

While there are still some remains of the British occupying forces on the rock, there are also poisonous snakes, and the crossing can be very rough. Far better to watch the rock from afar, while enjoying fine French cuisine and good wines at a beachside restaurant.