Some of the Caribbean's smallest islands let you get away from crowds.
Just getting to them can be an adventure. Hundred-foot cliffs line Saba's quarter-mile-long airstrip, for example, making for a white-knuckle landing. Ferries are the main and sometimes only way to islands, including St. John, and you generally don't need a reservation. From unspoiled beaches to ruins of sugar plantations, inside you'll find what five of the smallest islands offer.
St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Size: 28 square miles.
Population: about 5,000.
Getting there: Fly to St. Thomas, U.S.Virgin Islands, then taxi over to the Charlotte Amalie waterfront (about $7) or Red Hook (about $14) to catch a ferry to Cruz Bay. From Red Hook, passenger ferries (www.stjohnusvi .com/ferry.html) take 20 minutes (about $10 round trip); from Charlotte Amalie, 40-45 minutes (about $22 round trip). Or take a car ferry ($42-$50 round trip, including passengers). Ferry info: www.vinow.com/ stjohn/getting_there.
Best for: Nature lovers and families.
What to do: Hike the Reef Bay Trail in Virgin Islands National Park. … Explore more than 35 beaches, including Trunk Bay, renowned for its snorkeling trail. … Go bird-watching; there are 140 species, including an abundance of hummingbirds. … Dodge wild goats while trekking from Salt Pond Bay to Ram Head Point. … See the Annaberg Plantation sugar mill ruins. … Snorkel, dive, sail, kayak and windsurf; ride horses and donkeys.
Lodging: St. John has everything from park camping to exclusive resorts. B&Bs include Garden by the Sea (www.gardenbythesea.com, $160) and Hillcrest Guesthouse (www.hill creststjohn.com; from $195), where a tropical garden includes an Amish gazebo. The Caneel Bay resort (www.caneelbay.com; from $395) has 166 luxe rooms, sans phones and TVs. Camping at Cinnamon Bay (www.cin namonbay.com) costs $30 for a bare tent site, or $64 including tent; cottages start at $100.
Details: 800-372-8784; www.usvi tourism.vi.
Size: 5 square miles.
Getting there: Fly to St. Maarten, then either fly (12 minutes) or take a ferry (80 minutes).
The only airline that goes to Saba is Winair (www.fly-Winair.com; from $186 round trip); ferries are the Edge (www.stmaarten-activities.com; $100 round trip) and the Dawn (www.sa bactransport.com; $90 round trip).
Best for: Divers, who can explore Saba Marine Park, and hikers.
What to do: Shop for Saba lace, made locally since the 1870s, and Saba Spice rum-and-herb liquor. … Visit the Harry L. Johnson Museum, a former sea captain's cottage with Victorian furnishings and artifacts from archaeological sites. … Choose from 15 eateries, ranging from Pop's Place Snack Bar to the elegant Willard's.
Lodging: About 120 rooms are available in eight small hotels, several villas and 14 cottages.
Options include Scout's Place and Hotel (www.sabadivers.com; rooms from $76). Daphne's Cottage (www.sabadaphnecottage.com; $130), built in 1850, is in a Windwardside neighborhood. The House on the Path (www.houseonthepath.com; $175) is 1,500 feet above the sea and a five-minute hike from neighbors and vehicles.
Size: 35 square miles.
Getting there: Fly to San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Antigua or St. Maarten, then catch a smaller carrier. For example, from Antigua it's a one-hour flight on LIAT (www.liat.com; $95 and up, round trip). Or take a 20-minute ferry (www.anguil la-vacation.com/getting_here1.htm; $24-$30 round trip) from Marigot, St. Maartin, to Blowing Point, Anguilla.
Best for: Sunbathers, who can choose from 33 uncrowded white-sand beaches.
What to do: Snorkel and sail. … Hike to Koal Keel, a former sugar and cotton plantation, and Sandy Ground, an old salt factory. … Ride horses on deserted beaches. … Meet the locals, including fishermen, boat builders and sailors.
Lodging: Choose from 21 hotels, guesthouses and mini-resorts, plus about 30 villas and condos. Low-end options include the Sea View Apartments (www.inns.ai/seaview; $60 year-round). Villa Bellamare on Shoal Bay Beach (www.bellamare.ai; from $320) and Eden House Villa (www.edenhousevilla.com; from $1,810 a week) are two midrange choices.
Details: 877-426-4845; www.anguil la-vacation.com.
Size: 8 square miles.
Getting there: Fly to San Juan, Guadeloupe or St. Maarten, then catch a smaller carrier. From St. Maarten, it's a 15-minute flight on Saint Barth Commuter (www.stbarthcommuter.com; about $161-$298 round trip) or Winair (www.fly-Winair.com; about $293 round trip). From St. Maarten, ferries include the 45-minute Rapid Explorer (www.sbhonline.com/Rapid_Explor er.htm; $125 round trip) or the Edge (www.stmaarten-activities.com; $90 round trip).
Best for: Fans of seashell-covered beaches (rare in the Caribbean), a French vibe, nightclubbing and celebrity-spotting.
What to do: Windsurf, water-ski, sail. … Fish for barracuda and blue marlin. … Play on 14 white-sand beaches, many secluded. … Stop in Corossol, where women in Breton sunbonnets weave palms, and see the 7,000-seashell collection at the Inter-oceans Museum. … Shop duty-free for Hermes and Cartier in Gustavia. … Eat crepes at sidewalk cafes. … Enjoy smoke-free air: Smoking is forbidden in enclosed public spaces.
Lodging: About half the beds are in houses and apartments, including Villa Casa Coco (www.casacoco.fr; from $1,600 a week) near Gustavia and Salines Garden beach cottages (www.salinesgarden.com; from $128 a night).
The island's family-run hotels include the 21-room Tropical Hotel (www.st-barths.com/tropical-hotel; from $184) and Le Village St. Jean (www.villagestjeanhotel.com; from $186), where cottages and rooms are in a tropical garden.
Size: 36 square miles.
Getting there:Fly to St. Maarten, San Juan, Antigua or St. Kitts, then take a smaller plane or ferry. From St. Maarten, catch a 10-minute flight on Winair (www.fly-Winair.com; $236). Or, from the St. Kitts airport, take a taxi to the ferry (www.nevisnaturally.com/sea transportation.htm), which costs about $19 round trip.
Best for: Beach and watersports lovers, as well as nature, history and archaeology enthusiasts.
What to do: Hike to the top of a 3,300-foot extinct volcano. … Listen to monkeys chatter on a rain forest hike. … Visit the sleepy Victorian capital, Charlestown. … Smell orchids at the Botanical Garden. … Scuba around shipwrecks. … Tour Herbert Heights Village's thatched-roof cottages. … Ride horses along the 9-mile Upper Round Road Trail. … Visit refurbished plantation houses and see ruins of sugar plantations.
Lodging: With 416 hotel rooms and suites and more than 100 villas, options range from apartments and guesthouses to historic plantation inns and a 5-star resort.
Options include the Hermitage Plantation Inn (www.hermitagene vis.com; from $170), the stone-cut buildings of Old Manor Hotel (www.oldmanornevis.com; $290-$380) and the Banyan Tree B&B (www.banyantreebandb.com; from $135), a working farm with Barbados Blackberry sheep.
Details: 866-556-3847; www.nevis naturally.com.