Seclusion by design on private Guana Island
GUANA ISLAND, British Virgin Islands - So little to do, so many beaches to do it on.
We are on White Bay Beach on this privately owned island, a luxurious dot of hilly land where accommodations range from $695 to $8,100 a night. This half-mile stretch of pure white sand has been dubbed one of the British Virgin Islands’ best beaches and rightfully so.
There are five people to our right; two at a small beach bar, two in lounge chairs, and one swaying in a rope hammock beneath a giant tree. To our left there is nothing but sand and before us, the clearest turquoise waters we have ever seen and the humped island of Tortola beyond. It is January, high season in the Caribbean.
With this many people on the beach, as the staff jokes, it is crowded. But that’s all right - there are six more beaches to lounge on if this one’s too populated for our liking.
It never gets crowded on Guana, an 850-acre island of windswept hills and stunning vistas, where the maximum guest count by design is 32, ensuring privacy and relative isolation on an island where it’s already in abundance. And if you are active, you can play tennis, do watersports, or hike trails. But mostly, it’s a place to unwind, recharge, and relax. Rooms have neither TV nor phone, and it was only recently that Guana installed Internet service.
Guana, named for the iguana shape of one of its promontories, has a service tradition of old-world, low-key luxury created over 75-plus years of family stewardship, starting with Louis and Beth Bigelow of Massachusetts in 1935 and continuing with Henry and Gloria Jarecki of New York since 1975.
There are no marinas or public facilities. You get here by shuttle boat from Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Tortola’s Beef Island and ride a golf cart to check in at the main house high on a hill.
Sprinkled along the island’s mountainous spine are 15 sea-view cottages, florally shrouded, whitewashed affairs furnished in a style borne of the island’s history (it was once a sugarcane plantation owned by American Quakers) with stone architecture and warm, wooden furnishings and louvered doors.
These are the least expensive digs, starting at $695 a night in low season and $1,550 in prime time. No matter the room category, all have spectacular views of as far away as St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Amenities and space ramp up with price but all accommodations include meals, wine with lunch and dinner, afternoon tea, snacks, and Wi-Fi.
Four villas round out the rest of the accommodations. Jost House Villa, with rates of $4,386-$8,100 per night, is a 10,000-square-foot, three-bedroom beauty with a heated infinity pool winding around the house, a patio with Atlantic and Caribbean views, a chef’s kitchen and dining area, whole-house music, and its own staff. The villas are popular for large groups, especially weddings.
If you have the money, or enough friends to spread out the cost, you can rent the entire island for nightly rates of $22,000-$33,975. British singer Joss Stone performed here last year at a private island rental. Though island officials play celebrity visits close to the vest, they said Jimmy Fallon and his bride were guests on Guana in 2007 before marrying on Richard Branson’s Necker Island.
Guana’s most romantic spot has to be the North Beach Villa, the only house on the island’s isolated north side, with a living room, bedroom, and kitchen. It provides exceptional privacy and has a private 1,000-foot-long beach. There is a constant cooling sea breeze here, negating the need for air conditioning, and the cadence of crashing waves is the most effective natural sleep aid ever.
The one-story house rises on stilts amid sea grape trees, and boardwalks bring you to a saltwater pool on one side, a spacious deck on the other. Here, it’s an absolute must to rise early, make a cup of coffee, sit on the deck and witness jaw-dropping Caribbean sunrises in a sky from which pelicans dive and seamlessly slice into the sea in search of their own morning nourishment.
Unless you choose to eat in your villa, meals are taken in the one restaurant in the Great House, with arguably the best dining views in the Caribbean, including from the Queen’s Terrace, so named for the Queen Mother’s 1964 visit, and White Bay Terrace, overlooking bougainvillea-bursting hillsides and White Bay far below. You can also eat in nearby cutouts on walkways near the restaurant, as we did one morning, bathed in sunlight and inhaling scents of sweet jasmine and other nearby flowers, and where we were the subject of stares by some rather large but harmless iguanas.
All meals are a culinary adventure, from breakfast’s mango crepes with mascarpone cream to lunch’s conch fritters. Sunset dinners could include crunchy duck or pan-fried flounder with spicy pineapple salsa. You can dine by candlelight at private tables or at social tables to mingle with other guests. Beach barbecues with live music are held weekly, and there is an occasional crab race as well.
Walk off your indulgences on Guana’s 12 miles of marked trails that crisscross hills and dip into valleys, with bat caves to check out along the way. The most taxing trek is the one to Sugarloaf Mountain’s 806-foot peak. One clear morning, we did a 90-minute jaunt to the top of Iguana Head, with eye-popping views of the Caribbean, Guana itself, and Muskmelon Bay below us.
Among the many exceptional aspects of the island, science is another. In late summer, Guana shuts down to guests and opens up to researchers. Programs here have brought back locally extinct species such as the stout rock iguana. Other species restored or protected here are the red-legged tortoise, bridled quail dove, Caribbean roseate flamingo (they love posing for you by the salt pond), the Eggers’ mallow tree, and a unique bromeliad found nowhere else on earth. Guana’s website calls the island “the only wildlife sanctuary in the world with a cocktail hour.’’
Visit the orchard, where many of the fruits and vegetables served here are grown, lovingly tended to by Dr. Liao, an elderly Chinese gentleman who sings songs of his own poetic creation to his produce and flowers. Drop in and he will hack open a coconut for you to sip from as he sings you his “Papaya Song.’’
Then head back to a beach and quaff a drink on one of the Caribbean’s best places to do nothing in high style.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at email@example.com.