FEATURE

Nonstop Caribbean: Fly Right to the Beach

When the days grow chilly, it's time for a long weekend on the beach. We've compiled a list of every island you can reach nonstop from the mainland U.S. and Canada—because nothing kills the fun like a layover.

Did you know? George Washington worked as a surveyor on Barbados for two months in 1751. The house where he lived is now a museum.

BONAIRE
The action on arid and sparsely populated Bonaire is underwater: The pristine reefs teem with tropical marine life. Divers love it.

Must-do: A scuba trip to one of the island's 86 dive sites, most of which are on the western shore. Hotels can make arrangements. A three-hour "resort course" costs about $50; four-day PADI certification runs around $300.

Where to stay: The 22-room Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer, on the western shore, has a private pier near a snorkeling reef (011-599/717-3333, bellafontebonaire.com, from $125).

CAYMAN ISLANDS
The largest and most populated of the three Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman has long drawn divers eager to get a glimpse of the Cayman Trench--an underwater canyon that plunges to nearly 25,000 feet deep.

Must-do: Snorkel while being surrounded by rays at Stingray City--a string of sandbars in the North Sound. Captain Marvin's Watersports runs three-hour trips that depart from Governor's Harbor (345/945-6975, captainmarvins.com, $40, includes gear).

Where to stay: The Turtle Nest Inn has 10 two-bedroom condos and seven one-bedroom apartments that sleep four (with full kitchens). You can see the ocean from the beds in units 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8. The inn also has one room available for a single (345/ 947-8665, turtlenestinn.com, from $99).

CURAÇAO
The confluence of the Caribbean and the Netherlands is most visible in the vibrant architecture, which marries a tropical palette with Dutch building styles.

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Must-do: The Punda neighborhood in Willemstad, the capital of the Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao's island group), is renowned for its colonial Dutch character and plentiful shopping opportunities.

Where to stay: A colorful collection of airy studios and bungalows, Chogogo Resort overlooks Jan Thiel Beach, which is a few minutes away on foot. Note: A three-night minimum stay is required (011-599/9-747-2844, chogogo.com, from $110).

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
When Christopher Columbus caught a glimpse of Hispaniola--the island that's now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti--during his first expedition to the New World, he declared: "This island is the most beautiful that I have yet seen." The D.R.'s capital is Santo Domingo, on the southern coast; the other entry points from the mainland U.S. are La Romana (in the southeast), Punta Cana (on the east coast), Puerto Plata (in the north), and Santiago (inland, toward the north).

Must-do: A horseback ride on a beach. Your hotel can arrange it.

Where to stay: Adults-only and all-inclusive, BlueBay Villas Doradas in Puerto Plata is great for romance (809/320-3000, bluebayresorts.com, from $240). Near La Romana, the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach has 530 rooms, three pools, four restaurants, and four bars (809/686-5658, wyndham.com, from $260). Bávaro Princess is an 800-room all-inclusive near Punta Cana, with everything a family could want: a pair of swimming pools, six restaurants, and a five-minute walk over to the beach (809/221-2311, princess-hotels.com, from $198).

Did you know? The D.R.'s capital, Santo Domingo, was founded in 1496--making it the oldest continuous European settlement in the New World.

GRENADA
The largest island in a nation that also comprises Carriacou and Petite Martinique, Grenada has a law stating that buildings cannot be taller than a coconut palm tree.

Must-do: Hike the Mount Qua Qua Trail through the rain forest in Grand Etang Forest Reserve; then, top off the trek with a swim in one of the cascade pools at Concord Falls (473/440-6160, $20 for a guided hike for two).

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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