A Canouan vista

Journey to Canouan

An insider’s tour of a stunning Caribbean Island

Canouan Accommodations
Canouan Estate Villas & Residences (Courtesy of Canouan Estate Villas & Residences)

In a world where information travels at the speed of light, and “best-kept secrets” aren’t kept for very long, finding a true hidden gem feels like the ultimate luxury.

Enter Canouan, a three-and-a-half-mile-long Caribbean island in the small archipelago nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

This under-the-radar destination is so exclusive it’s become known as the place where billionaires go to escape millionaires. The island’s charming little airport, less than one hour from Barbados, is small but mighty. With nearly 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) of runway, it can accommodate even the largest private jet.

Once one arrives, the little isle delivers on every front, from the bottom of its white sandy beaches to the tops of its lush emerald green peaks. With its unsurpassed resorts, experiences and dining coupled with its private island mystique, this little-known sanctuary is poised to unseat Mustique as the discerning traveler’s tropical hideaway of choice. 

Canouan is the Arawakan word for “turtle,” and it wasn’t so long ago that the reptilian creatures were the island’s primary residents. The handful of human inhabitants were mostly fishermen, and running water was considered a luxury. The arrival of an Italian developer with a vision, in the early 1990s, changed everything. He created an infrastructure that lured similarly resourced jet-setters to the small island, and five years ago the destination received the ultimate stamp of approval when the Mandarin Oriental chose to open its first Caribbean outpost here. 

The Mandarin Oriental, Canouan is a breathtaking property with 26 suites and 13 villas nestled into the hillside, each one with expansive ocean views and indulgent marble baths. At 5,400 square feet the white-marble-laden Lagoon Villa is the largest on the property, with four en suite bedrooms, an infinity pool and a full service kitchen—where, for an extra fee, you can have a private chef cater to your every culinary need. For everything else, there is an attentive butler at your service. If your aesthetic tastes veer to the more minimal, the chic two- and three-bedroom villas with their private infinity pools and organic ethos are an elegant, equally stunning alternative.  

A Canouan Vista
The magic of Canouan (Courtesy of Canouan Estate Villas & Residences)

When you’re ready for a little pampering visit the hotel’s plush spa. Its 10 hillside treatment palapas provide a serene setting for your indulgence of choice, or you can opt to partake at one of two overwater palapas, a rarity in the region.  

For the ultimate in privacy and space, do as Cindy Crawford did and abscond to the Canouan Estate Resort & Villas’ signature residence, Il Sogno. The 5.6-acre estate boasts 6,850 square feet of living space spread across four private pavilions and enjoys unparalleled views of the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Mount Royal and the southern Grenadine islands. You’ll have a golf cart at your disposal for easy-breezy navigation of the resort’s 1,200 acres of tropical paradise.  

For those arriving by sea, or with a penchant for proximity to yacht life, the Sandy Lane Yacht Club & Residences has bright, airy suites and villas, each within easy reach of the mega-yachts that berth in its $250-million marina. Dermot Desmond, the Irish real estate mogul who helped usher the yacht club into existence, claims the views from these villas are the best in the Caribbean.  

Sandy Lane Yacht Club
An view of Sandy Lane Yacht Club and Marina (Courtesy Sandy Lane Yacht Club)

If you didn’t arrive on your own super-yacht, renting a boat for a memorable trip to the Tobago Cays is a must. The Cays are comprised of five uninhabited islets surrounded by coral reefs. Understandably, Johnny Depp filmed scenes here for Pirates of the Caribbean. The crystal-clear waters are teeming with schools of fish and green sea turtles congregate just below the surface, making this protected marine park one of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving locations. While you’re out boating you may encounter fishermen aboard colorful catamarans who will offer to catch you a lobster and grill it to perfection on one of these teeny deserted isles. 

Once back on Canouan, don’t miss the opportunity to trek to the peak of Mount Royal. Guided hikes are the best way to enjoy the steep climb through dense forests to the mountain’s summit, which, at 877 feet (267 meters), is the highest point on the island. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the ocean and your island neighbors. If a proper round of golf is your favorite way to sport, tee off on the island’s Jim Fazio-designed par-72, 18-hole championship course. It’s the only golf course in the Grenadines and, according to Golf Digest, is one of the world’s finest.  

Canoan golf course
Canouan’s Jim Fazio-designed, 18-hole championship golf course (Courtesy of Canouan Estate Villas & Residences)

When it’s time to dine, the premier options on the island are at the water’s edge. L’Ance Guyac Beach Club at the Canouan Estate Resort & Villas is one of the island’s best places to grab a bite in a most soothing and private way. Located on a secluded beach where every table, from those nestled under palapas on the sand to the comfortable banquettes on the recycled wood terrace, has equally inspiring ocean views. Arrive in time to watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail at the bar or follow the tiki torches after dark for a decidedly romantic entrée. Chef  Sudira Iwayan builds his menu around the local fishermen’s daily catch, but for those more turf inclined, the grilled beef tenderloin is a delicious mainstay. 

L’Ance Guyac Beach Club
One of many gorgeous beaches of Canouan at the L’Ance Guyac Beach Club (Courtesy of Canouan Estate Villas & Residences)

For a more casual dining experience, golf cart over to the Shell Beach Bar & Grill, where poke bowls and fish tacos can be enjoyed under swaying palms on one of the island’s top beaches. Other excellent dining options include Shenanigans at the Sandy Lane Yacht Club & Residences, where you can indulge in ceviche and the catch of the day in view of your yacht. If you’re feeling a little rowdy, join the yachties and their guests at Scruffy’s, the club’s celebrated beach bar. Tables here are outfitted with built-in beer buckets, the better to keep your Hairoun lager icy cold. 

At this point in your stay, you’ll likely feel as though you’ve stumbled upon the ideal tropical escape, free from the trappings of more heavily trafficked tourist destinations—and you’d be right... for now. The secret’s slowly getting out: Soho House recently opened its first Caribbean club on the island’s western shore, and it’s rumored that more luxury developments are on the way. But at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, Canouan remains an unspoiled ecosystem where only a privileged, in-the-know few indulge their secluded island fantasies. Welcome to the club.

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