In this age of proliferating duty-free malls and cruise ship throngs, where can the island dreamer still go to get away from it all in the Caribbean? A major travel industry study found that 46 percent of all leisure travelers seek a remote and untouched destination, and 67 percent yearn for a beach experience of any form. But if everyone is going there, is it still possible to find a quiet, idyllic island? It is, and herewith are a handful of Caribbean destinations that maintain pristine status - places that boast authenticity and seclusion without sacrificing the graces of civilized stays.
It's Amsterdam in pastels, one of the largest dry docks in the Western Hemisphere, and a blend of Holland, South America, and Africa. In all the Caribbean, perhaps Curaçao is the most exotic.
"Europeans love it because it's a home away from home," says frequent Dutch visitor Selma Kruimer. "There's so much to do, it's an explorer's island."
That Curaçao isn't posing for the camera at every turn makes a refreshing change. A Dutch possession since the 17th century, it remains a vital trading center. In bustling Willemstad, vendors hawk produce from South American ships at the floating market. A warren of shopping streets backs a facade of gabled rowhouses painted sunny shades of gold and sky blue. In the harbor, the enormous port tends freighters in need of repair.
But the remainder of the 38-mile island is as wild as they come. Fences constructed of cactus poles ring the occasional shack in the desert landscape. Hikers climb 1,240-foot Mt. Christoffel for views to Venezuela. The ocean churns below a cliff-top path to seven remote caverns known as Boca Tabla. And volcanic walls bookend white strands on the calm south-facing beaches of Groot and Kleine Knip.