The Caribbean’s Best Hidden Treasures

A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich?

“We got hit pretty hard,” says Greg, a 60-year-old man at the marina. “We were all gone. Our boats were out of the water. My grandson, age 9, was playing in the surf. We saw him go under the water and heard him screaming.” Greg is holding a young boy’s hand and looking for signs of life.

By contrast, this is one of the best kept secrets in the Caribbean. The sleepy town of Vaca Quemada is the main hub for the Caribbean islands’ lobster fishing industry. It’s also home to a rich and strange collection of odd characters: wealthy retirees, eccentric retirees, ex-pats from out of nowhere. They have a unique bond that makes them an intriguing study in the economics of the American dream–but also a harbinger of what’s to come not only on the islands but in the growing numbers of foreign millionaires who are trying to turn the Caribbean into a new playground.

Greg, who is spending a week there, says it’s the best place in the world to come for a week or two, a week filled with the sort of relaxation that only life in the tropics can provide. But that’s exactly what he doesn’t get. “It’s so quiet here right now,” he says, looking at the beach’s deserted stretch. “I’m used to the hustle and bustle of cities.”

A few miles away in Bimini, the island where Henry David Thoreau stayed as a guest of the governor, the luxury hotels are full and business has been booming since the storms two weeks ago. But they’re full for different reasons. “Business is down here,” says Peter, a lobsterman who has come in from the mainland in his 40-foot sailboat. “The storm did a lot of damage. We’ve been picking up the pieces.”

It’s a sign of just how popular these islands are that they have become the hottest travel location, with hotels going up everywhere from Miami to San Juan. There’s just one oddity: the hotels are mostly in Spanish, not English. “

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