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For those living in the northern half of the United States — and at last count 124 million of us are residents in the Northeast and the Midwest alone — the ability to exchange snow for white sand is one of life’s most intense and enduring pleasures. Many years ago I lost count of the times I’ve watched a dismal landscape accelerate through a rain-streaked window at JFK to be replaced a few hours later by lush green grass and breeze-ruffled palm trees. This winter, COVID has curtailed our choices, but it is still possible to escape the cold and the dark. Many countries are extremely anxious to see American travelers return and are trying their best to find ways to welcome us back. After researching the current requirements and restrictions, I have identified 10 areas of the world where, with a little planning and a modicum of inconvenience, it is possible to enjoy a blissful respite from winter. Of course some risks still remain, but air travel is now widely considered to be safe if all sensible precautions are observed. And on arrival you will be able to relax on your terrace, perhaps swim in the ocean, and eat outside in the warm-scented air of the tropics.
Most publicity photographs of the British Virgin Islands dwell on luminous white sand and azure sea, but looking back on my numerous visits there, another image invariably comes to mind. From the Ridge Road on Tortola, at an elevation of around 1,500 feet, there is a panoramic view across the glistening archipelago — four main islands and more than 50 islets and cays — that returns to haunt me on dark winter evenings. Often, I have stopped my car to gaze down at the dozens of yachts cruising along the Sir Francis Drake Channel, the principal marine highway of the Virgin Islands and one of the great sailing destinations of the world, and lingered for a quarter of an hour or more, enraptured by the splendor of the scene.
At the time of writing, the BVI are planning to reopen to American travelers on December 1. As with much of the Caribbean, tourism is a mainstay of the islands’ economy, and the financial damage has been severe, not least because the shutdown followed the catastrophic hurricanes of September 2017. One of the resorts that I recommended for many years, Peter Island, remains closed to this day. But other Harper properties like Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Guana Island and Necker Island have recovered and are ready to receive new guests.
Little Dix Bay underwent a complete renovation and now, by all accounts, is better than ever. For me, its situation on a gleaming crescent of white sand, with calm water ideal for a long, leisurely swim, will always set the resort apart. Necker Island was demolished by Hurricane Irma, but a substantial tranche of Richard Branson’s millions has been spent to good effect, and it is ideal once again for those willing to throw money to the trade winds for a sybaritic private island vacation with an extended group of family or friends. And of course, during the COVID pandemic, a chartered yacht is one of the best ways to take a holiday in a controlled and secure environment; the Andrew Harper Travel Office, in conjunction with our partner All Yachts Worldwide, will be happy to provide information about costs and availability.
Predictably, my first trip to the Dominican Republic took me to Punta Cana at the country’s eastern tip, the high-profile resort and residential development pioneered by the late fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. That initial visit was more than 25 years ago now, but the enclave remains an idyllic place in which to enjoy a traditional tropical vacation, surrounded by brightly painted buildings, manicured grounds and expanses of dazzling white sand. Today, I recommend Eden Roc Cap Cana, which comprises 65 accommodations ranging from Beachfront Suites to Ocean Villas. A five-minute drive away, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada golf course is frequently cited as being among the best in the Caribbean. (Its rival for preeminence, Pete Dye’s famed Teeth of the Dog course, lies an hour by car to the southwest.)