Landing on Canouan feels a bit like what people describe as “discovering” a place, one of the holy grails of travel.
Part of it may be the empty airport that makes you feel you’re the first tourist ever to visit the small island in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Or it could be the expanse of untouched verdant land and miles of white sand beaches set against crystal-clear water that has a very specific removed-from-the-world kind of charm, yet is only a short jaunt away from Barbados.
Perhaps this is how the Rockefellers felt when they first came to St. Barths — that they’d found a place so beautiful that they had to rush and tell all their friends?
Three years ago, Canouan, a five-square-mile island with more tortoises than residents, was pronounced by Bloomberg as the place where billionaires go to escape millionaires.
That was even before the Mandarin Oriental rebranded the recently constructed Pink Sands Club in mid-2018 and became one of the most expensive resorts per night in the entire Caribbean. (Rooms start at $1,300 and the rate rarely dips).
And if that doesn’t give you a sense of the clientele coming to the island, consider that the Mandarin owns their own jet, which the majority of guests charter for $4,500 round trip to take them to and from Barbados, the main hub.
The suite-only property — the smallest rooms are 1,200 square feet, complete with a living room that closes off from the bedroom — is decked, head to toe, in white Italian marble, an aesthetic that is more reminiscent of an Italian villa in Portofino, but somehow works well in the Grenadines. The rooms are easily some of the nicest in the entire region.
The Mandarin sits on the 1,200-acre Grenadine Estate, a complex that developer and owner Andrea Pignataro is trying to make into the next “it” destination in the Caribbean.
How he’ll do that is just how others have lured the moneyed crowds to their islands: build luxury hotels and villas.
At the Mandarin, the brand’s first property in the Caribbean, there are 13 villas with 12 more in the works, some of which rented for $70,000 during the peak vacation week between Christmas and New Year.
Pignataro’s vision is that there can’t be too much luxury on Canouan. To that end, there’s intense speculation about an Aman resort coming to Grenadines Estate, the same gated community where the Mandarin is located. (Representatives for Aman declined to comment or confirm any plans.)
Regardless of the entry of another mega-luxury brand like Aman, Canouan is slowly amassing just the right mix of accoutrements for the jet set crowd who may be looking to escape all those familiar faces on St. Barths or Anguilla.
Unlike those more well-known destinations, Canouan is remote and the beach is inside a gated community, which makes it, according to Duarte Correia, the Mandarin Oriental’s general manager, an ideal place for celebrities and high-profile people who don’t want to see or be seen.
“We are super, super private,” he says. (Which is why you probably haven’t heard about their long list of boldface name visitors, although Amy Schumer did post about her babymoon to Canouan.)
More deluxe amenities
Other draws: Canouan has a runway long enough for private jets, a top-tier golf course, arguably some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, and a brand new marina that can house mega yachts.
Two years ago, Dermot Desmond, the Irish billionaire who owns the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados, opened a gleaming $250 million 120-slip marina. While Grenada may still be the yachting capital of the Grenadines, Canouan is quickly becoming a must-stop destination. (Robert Downey Jr.’s yacht was just one of the recent sightings.)
Discerning high-end travelers are taking note.
“There’s been a lot of talk recently about Canouan, particularly among sophisticated clientele looking for a balanced share of luxury and adventure,” says Joan Roca, CEO and founder of the Essentialist travel site. “In the next few years, we expect this under-the-radar hotspot to emerge as the perfect luxury Caribbean micro-island,” he added.
One possible harbinger of the island’s appeal with the .001% was that over Christmas there were 32 private jets at the Canouan airport, Correia says.
What travelers are coming to Canouan for is a bit of a unicorn in the Caribbean: unspoiled nature in a place not many have heard of, let alone set foot on. With only two commercial flights a day and charters costing over $7,000, it certainly limits the type of traveler who can afford to get there. And, incidentally, makes transportation to St. Barths look like a bargain.
But you can see why people who can afford it will try to get to this unspoiled paradise.
Sailing out to the neighboring Tobago Cays, one of the Grenadines’ must-visit destinations (and filming site of “Pirates of the Caribbean”), visitors will discover five small uninhabited islands and a protected coral reef where there is no fishing allowed, offering some of the best snorkeling in the world.
The feeling is as close to “Castaway” as you’ll find anywhere in the region. Roca says he sees in Canouan an island that can potentially hark back to the early days of Caribbean adventures, with its remoteness being its best characteristic.
Naturally, all this buzz and development has sparked the question. “Is Canouan the next St. Barths, Antigua or Turks and Caicos?
“Ideally the island will not be the next anything, but instead become its own thing,” says Correia.
Where to stay
Hotel options on Canouan are limited. The Mandarin Oriental (rooms from $1,300) is clearly the island’s most luxurious accommodation.
For a less pricy option, the boutique Tamarind Beach Hotel is located more in the center of town (a contrast to the gated community surrounding the Mandarin Oriental).
Their restaurant, Pirate’s Cove, has a wood-burning pizza oven that is popular with locals and visitors looking for a more low-key dining option. Rates can start around $200 in the off-season and go up from there.
If you’re looking to go the villa route, Canouan Estate, part of the Leading Hotels of the World, offers 17 villas, ranging from two to eight bedrooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows and their own infinity-edge swimming pools.
The villas have access to five beaches — the closest is Shell beach — and four restaurants close to the villas. Canouan Estate can arrange diving expeditions, boat trips, tennis, a private chef and a day of golf. Starting rates vary by property size and dates.