Few places to stay in the British Virgin Islands could promise a more truly virginal experience than Guana Island. Of its 850 acres, just a tiny portion has been developed into a laidback luxury resort, offering a maximum of 35 guests the chance to totally unplug between coconut palms and an epic beach they’ll have all to themselves.
The first thing you’ll see upon approaching Guana Island by boat is its jaw-dropping White Bay beach, the main stretch of sand cocktail-sipping guests will laze away on during their stay. Beyond that, a large freshwater lake and forested hills make for a handsome backdrop upon which just a few white cottages sit embedded by nature. We’d argue that what you see within your first thirty minutes on the island is virtually all there is to it in terms of human-made structures: there are a mere 18 rooms and villas here, and everywhere you look, chlorophyll-filled views of tropical flora or the ocean await.
Unless you’re one of the lucky few people who have snapped up a private island in the BVI, Guana Island is likely the closest you’ll get to having your own little islet in the British overseas territory. To this day, this place feels like an escape from the world, which is only fitting seeing the island was first bought by Massachusetts couple Beth and Louis Bigelow, who sought to live on their own terms, building just six stone buildings here in 1934. Under the Bigelow’s ownership, Guana famously became the shooting location for the film classic ‘Virgin Island’, starring Sidney Poitier, and later attracted a visit by the Queen Mother herself.
In 1975, new owners Henry and Gloria Jarecki took over with the intention to keep Guana Island the undisturbed and little-developed paradise it’s come to be known as, while using it as a sanctuary for local species. The fruits of their efforts greeted us on arrival; from Caribbean roseate flamingos and white-crowned pigeons to remarkably mellow stout iguanas, a critically endangered lizard species that can only be found on nearby Anegada and Guana (since the introduction of eight adults in the 1980s, Guana’s population has increased to over 300 individuals). Also part of the welcome committee were a few of the resort’s ever-smiling staff members, who handed us a much-appreciated refreshing towel as we stepped off the island’s pier and put us in the back of a golf buggy en route to the Clubhouse.
It’s here that visiting islanders enjoy their meals, although we wouldn’t exactly call the Clubhouse a ‘restaurant’ per se. Things being as informal as they are on Guana, guests tend to arrive around the same time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the island’s rhythm being largely informed by sunrise and sunset (both of which, conveniently, are on full display from many accommodations). We found ourselves mingling with fellow visitors in the adjacent open-air lounge, where live music and a help-yourself-to-whatever bar make evenings a social affair, providing a good excuse to arrive early and find the most interesting fellow ‘castaways’ to talk to – which you’re going to want to do, seeing as you’ll likely end up dining at one of the communal tables, where everyone talks to everyone and it’s easy to make friends.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
Make sure to stop by the island’s beautiful orchard, where over 40 varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers (many of which are served at the Clubhouse) are grown. Guana’s charming landscapist Lennon gave us an insightful and entertaining tour during which we tasted our way through no small number of guavas, rose apples and even mineral-rich moringa seeds. It’d be rude not to!
Its culinary offering is an extension of the hotel’s easygoing vibe. You won’t find any menus at Guana Island, but ever-changing buffets mean no one will go hungry. This even includes those who, like ourselves, have dietary requirements. Sure, as vegans, we were a little more restricted than others, but overall, the staff took good care of us and we quite enjoyed being surprised at mealtimes: from cauliflower wings and lentil stews to plant-based panna cotta and cakes for dessert, everything we had was simple but scrumptious. Breakfast was a little more basic overall, although the friendly team conjured up some scrambled tofu for us before returning to the kitchen where they sang at the top of their lungs as we studied our placemat, which detailed some of the island’s wonderful flora and fauna – this sentence alone might give you an idea of just how authentic of a Caribbean hideaway Guana Island has managed to stay.
Fans of this relaxed spirit will appreciate the island’s accommodation, too. There are five pool villas for families and groups of friends, although we stayed in one of the pretty cottages. No two rooms here are alike, which gives the resort a village-like feel. Our accommodation, Grenada II, was the only two-storey option, coming with a private porch and a location at the very top of the resort, which meant we woke up to panoramic views of the sea. Although we appreciated certain amenities like L’Occitane en Provence toiletries and a spacious lounge area on the ground floor, our room was basic by luxury standards: there were no bedside sockets or a shaving mirror in the bathroom, for instance, and our AC was fairly noisy while the wooden shutters weren’t exactly airtight (which was great news for the island’s mosquito population, but not for us).
We’d like to think that given some love and attention, the property could offer an experience that matches the needs of discerning travellers without losing any of its rustic charm. In any case, if you argued that the latter was part of what makes Guana Island so loveable of a place to stay, you wouldn’t be wrong. In the Clubhouse, sun-bleached watercolours painted all the way back in the 1930s nod to the property’s history, and we enjoyed spending some time here to flick through the many photo albums depicting guests who have visited over the decades. You could also opt to spend the day being more active, with everything from tennis and volleyball to croquet, ping-pong, badminton and all sorts of water sports equipment being on offer (or simply head down to the quirky ‘bush telephone’ near the Clubhouse and ask to be dropped off at White Bay, where divine piña coladas and loungers await on the beach).
There’s a small spa built into the flowering bushes just off the beach, too, and although we didn’t get to experience this, the treatments available – from hot stone massages to facials and full body wraps using organic produce from the island’s orchard – sound as heavenly as you’d expect from a wellness space just steps away from the glittering sea. Our stay on Guana Island certainly helped us disconnect even without a massage. This is a place that’s been developed far more gently by its owners, who regard it a tropical retreat from the world, than it would’ve been, had the island been purchased by one of the many corporate hotel brands which no doubt would pay good money to turn Guana into the Caribbean’s next glitzy luxury resort with private residences and destination restaurants. In its current set-up, the property is an antidote to soulless hospitality. It’d be impossible not to adore it for that.