Did you travel all the way to an idyllic Caribbean island only to find yourself watching an NFL game on the big screen at a pool bar surrounded by a bunch of people you could have easily mingled with at a strip mall sports bar back home?
When you’re looking for the convenient comforts of an all-inclusive resort without the crowds, here are five resorts to help you step well outside the all-inclusive box on your next Caribbean vacation.
Jamaica is where the concept of the all-inclusive vacation was born, and there are many properties here that beckon tourists onto their compounds with the lure of flat rates that include alcohol, food and water sports. We’re not saying that’s not a fun way to vacation for some people, but it’s not exactly conducive to getting out and mingling with Jamaicans who are doing things other than just slinging your cocktails.
For something different, make the S Hotel Jamaica in Montego Bay your base for a different kind of Jamaica stay. The 120-room hotel sits directly on beautiful Doctor’s Cave Beach, just five minutes from the airport, and the style mixes Jamaican contemporary art elements with the sophistication of South Beach to perfect effect.
Your fellow guests are a worldly bunch of intrepid travelers, Jamaican ex-pats returning to the island for a visit, style-setters from Kingston and the like. The glass-enclosed sky pool on the rooftop looks like it was made for Instagram and is an excellent place to wade while watching the sunset over the beach below.
Nearby attractions you can reach by rental car or taxi include the spectacular bioluminescent lagoon at Glistening Waters and Rockland Bird Sanctuary in the hills outside town, where you can hand-feed hummingbirds.
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The entire island of Dominica – an English-speaking island between the two French Antilles countries of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean – plays out like an escape from the all-inclusive crowd.
Dominica is the Caribbean at its most pristine and natural. And even after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island in 2017, Dominica’s verdant foliage has already grown back nearly as lush as before.
Newly opened in late 2019 at the edge of a national park on the island’s northeast coast, the Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica fronts a sliver of black sand beach and puts you close to waterfalls and great hiking within the forested headland of Cabrits National Park.
A swim at the bubbly effervescence of Champagne Reef, near the island’s capital in Roseau, is a must — hot volcanic vents beneath the seafloor create the unusual effect. And if you’re certified to dive, absolutely do not miss the chance to submerge on Dominica’s pristine coral-covered walls on a boat dive trip.
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Go against the flow on your next visit to the Dominican Republic and avoid the pervasiveness of all-inclusives in spots like Punta Cana by opting to stay at an independent property with plenty of other perks instead.
Scattered around the island, from Cabarete on the north coast to the Samaná Peninsula further east, is a collection of six independent properties that make up Mint Hotels & Residences. Mint puts the island’s spectacular natural landscapes at your doorstep, instead of just another pool bar and beach covered with Hobie Cats.
All of the properties are stunning, but our favorite of the bunch is Punta Rucia Lodge, where 12 free-standing, A-frame bungalows blend with the natural surrounds of Punta Rucia and epitomize the barefoot luxury Caribbean beach life you’ve come for.
The property has an infinity pool, beachside spa and a private dock from which you can launch a stand-up paddleboard to cruise around or head out by boat launch to tiny Cayo Arena, an offshore island with excellent snorkeling and diving.
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Cancun is chock a block with massive resorts touting the all-inclusive vacation life. Once your plastic wristband is snapped on tightly, however, you may start wondering if the compound vacation life is really for you.
Up the decadence factor and add to your independence, too, by opting to stay at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun, a spectacular luxury property situated right near the ferry dock to Isla Mujeres.
Fiesta Americana is a Mexican-owned hotel chain with many all-inclusive resorts around the country. But the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun isn’t all-inclusive and feels more like a luxury hotel you’d find someplace like the French Riviera — only with excellent Mexican food.
Suites have spacious decks overlooking the pool and Caribbean Sea on a quiet cove at the north end of the Zona Hotelera. The property’s spa, Gem Spa, with its fantastic hydrotherapy circuit, is quite possibly the best in all of the Yucatan.
When you’re up for an adventure, walk a few steps over to Playa Caracol, right next to the hotel, to catch the 30-minute ferry to Isla Mujeres – an offshore island where you can rent golf carts to tool around the back streets, sip a coconut from a street vendor and explore quiet coves for snorkeling at Garrafon Natural Reef Park.
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Between Baha Mar and Atlantis – neither of which are all-inclusive resorts but nonetheless typify mass Caribbean tourism – Nassau can feel overrun with visitors.
For an old-school Bahamas vibe in a quiet setting, set your sights west to Love Beach at Compass Point Beach Resort, where a collection of colorful standalone bungalows sit right at the ocean’s edge fronting an idyllic little stretch of sand.
The hotel has an atmospheric little restaurant and sundowner bar with tables overlooking the water (fresh snapper and Caribbean spiny lobster are usually on the menu).
And it’s just a short stroll out the hotel’s front door to Dino’s Gourmet Conch Salad, a wildly popular roadside stand in the Gambier neighborhood that draws locals for one of the island’s tastiest local treats: conch salad spiked with tropical fruits like mango and pineapple.
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