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Somewhere Warmer: Beach Escapes to Get You Ready for Spring

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With cold temperatures lingering back East, it’s only natural that planning a beach getaway would quickly make its way to the top of any to-do list. For East Coasters, the stylish-yet-understated Harbour Island in the Bahamas is a relatively quick flight (usually through Miami) and offers plenty of hours for sunning on its Pink Sand Beach, leisurely dinners featuring freshly-caught seafood, and a lively music scene come sundown. (Karaoke, anyone?) Meanwhile, on the Yucatan Peninsula, while Tulum has certainly changed over the last few years, this boho stretch of shoreline remains an easy drive from Cancun and guarantees beached-out bliss in the form of white sand beaches, secret taco stands, and crystal-clear waters for a long weekend. Here, our guide for exactly how to warm up, what to pack, and how to unwind once you get there.

Harbour Island

This three-mile-long cay off Eleuthera is packed with old-fashioned Caribbean charm and incredibly friendly and chatty Bahamians, who are more than happy to share the secrets for the best conch salad, where catch the sunset, and even, if you ask nicely, the most serene swimming holes. Most guests access the network of 18th-century frangipani lined streets via golf cart or bike, adding to the island’s easygoing vibe. The island is bustling from November through July, and is mostly closed from August through October when everything shuts down.

    STAY

    • Bahama House

      Bahama House

      Dunmore Street, Dunmore Town | 970.349.7761

      The result of a masterful renovation and takeover by the luxury adventure collective, Eleven Experience, the Bahama House is tucked into a restored 1800s pale-pink painted stone building in the heart of Dunmore Town. Guests are swept from the main airport in Eleuthera over to Harbour Island (about five minutes by water taxi). The eleven-room property, which includes two cottages, typically requires a full buy-out to stay here, making it a solid option for families traveling together or those craving a bit more privacy. Each room is unique, reminiscent of 1930s Palm Beach design (think vintage lamps, found antiques, bold Ikats and seagrass rugs, four-poster rattan beds, and a cacophony of block-printed textiles). The generously-sized bathrooms are a beauty lover’s dream, flooded with light, and feature hand-stamped Costa Rican tile floors. Many of the rooms offer views of the harbor and the freshwater swimming pool, and there are so many wraparound verandas and delightful little nooks and crannies for lounging you’d be hard pressed to take advantage of every single one during your visit. At night, don’t miss a nightcap in the jewelbox-sized Rum Bar, where you can sample spirits from all over the Caribbean. An on-site staff will do everything from cook your meals to arrange excursions to the Pink Sand Beach, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, and horseback riding. Bonus: a stay at the property includes round-the-clock access to the Scorpion, a 38-foot Rib boat for island tours.

      Photo: Alex Fenlon/Eleven Experience

    • Ocean View Club

      Ocean View Club

      Dunmore Town | 242.333.2276

      Lovingly referred to as Pip’s Place by locals, the Ocean View Club has the intimacy of a B&B and the understated luxury of a boutique hotel, but is nothing like the over-the-top Caribbean resorts you might find on other islands. Ben Simmons and Charlie Phelan took over Ocean View Club from Ben’s mother, Pip, who’d been running the hotel since the 70s, back in 2013. (Fact: Ben’s parents were married in Room Nine some 35-plus years ago.) The young couple has added a few modern trappings, Wi-Fi in the rooms among them, plus given the 14-room hideaway a tasteful refresh. Rooms are still as regulars will remember them: light and airy, with white painted floors, some with balconies that open up to the Pink Sand Beach down below. (For those who love a clawfoot tub, book the Kitchen Cottage, which has a highly Instagrammable canary yellow one.) Guests can indulge in the local drink of choice, a Goombay Smash at the hotel bar, which still runs on the honor system to this day. Also on our radar: The Other Side, an intimate, luxuriously nomadic, and blessedly unplugged seven-room property that Charlie and Ben just opened up across the way in Eleuthera. The design, which centers around communal and private sleeping tents, hardwood floors, and four-poster beds, is reminiscent of a scene from Out of Africa.

      DO

      • Snorkeling

        Snorkeling

        Cistern Rock, which hugs the southern end of the island, is a good spot for beginners and families, while the snorkeling off Man Island and Devil’s Backbone, a three-mile-stretch on the north end, are best suited for the slightly more adventurous. Valentine’s Dive Center, situated at the marina, offers daily afternoon trips as well as morning lessons and partners with Bahama House for undersea excursions.

        Photo: Alex Fenlon/Eleven Experience

      • Horseback Riding on the Pink Sand Beach

        Horseback Riding on the Pink Sand Beach

        Harbour Island is known for its powdery Pink Sand Beach, and while there are many ways to enjoy it, horseback riding is perhaps one of the most special. Ask your guide for a detour to see the “Lone Tree” on Girls Bank on the harbor side of the island. Rumor has it the tree washed up on shore upright some 20 years ago after Hurricane Andrew. It has remained intact, drifting ever-so-slightly with the tide and has served as the backdrop for countless photo shoots ever since. Properties on the island like Bahama House will arrange an hour-long excursion for guests through local outfit BB Horseback Riding, which has four Bahamian horses for use. Our suggestion? Go at sunset when the sand has a pearly iridescent quality and have a glass of rosé on the beach before heading back to town for dinner.

        Photo: Alex Fenlon/Eleven Experience

      EAT

      • The Rock House

        The Rock House

        Bay Street, Dunmore Town | 242.333.2053

        While the island is decidedly laid-back, a night out at the Rock House is special, in the sense that you’ll want to be a bit dressed up. (It reminds us of a restaurant you’d find in, say, Miami.) For dinner, this former private residence has tables set up around the swimming pool or on the terrace, which has ample ceiling fans and overlooks the bay. Goop go-to event planner Stef Cove, who visits the island often, says it’s her favorite for drinks at sunset. This is a white tablecloth kind of spot, so the menu is appropriately fine-dining centric with an emphasis on seafood. There’s a delicious Junkanoo pasta as well as a solid Jumbo crab cake. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, save room for Miss Eva’s Bahamian Rum Cake, which is served a la mode with a rum butter sauce.

      • Sip Sip

        Sip Sip

        Dunmore Town | 242.333.3316

        For those who have been going to Harbour Island for years, Sip Sip is the OG. (The name comes from two Briland pastimes: drinking and gossiping.) Lunch outside on the umbrella-shaded deck overlooking the Atlantic is truly worth the oftentimes long wait. The lobster quesadilla is the best and the most decadent thing on the menu, but they’re also known for their conch and white-bean chili. And since they don’t take reservations, it’s best to get there by 11:30am for a chance of getting a table while you’re still hungry.

      • Ocean Tally

        Ocean Tally

        Whale Pt. Dr. | 242.359.7676

        Driving up to Ocean Tally kind of feels like you’ve been transplanted to Greece—the imposing white limestone-like façade is a stark contrast to the bright blue skies and the waves of the Atlantic crashing in the background. The Ocean Tally Grill, which is currently just open for lunch on weekends, is run by charming proprietor Annette, whose small-but-filling menu includes stone crab, locally-caught lobster salad, and a delicious clam chowder. For dessert, go for the vanilla ice cream, which is soaked in Myers Dark Rum. Should you fall in love with the property, they’ve recently opened up three guest rooms for visitors.

      • The Dunmore

        The Dunmore

        Dunmore | 242.333.2200

        Just a stone’s throw from the Pink Sand Beach, the Dunmore, a charming beach-club-turned-hotel is worth a visit for dinner, particularly since decorator Amanda Lindroth gave it an update. In an intimate dining room, where the walls are lined with vintage sailing photographs and lanterns hanging from the vaulted ceiling, Chef Philip Armbrister serves up a largely Caribbean-inflected seafood heavy menu including lobster ravioli in a truffle oil and a miso grouper filet. Littles are permitted in the dining room for dinner, but they must be seated by 6:30pm.

      • Arthur's Bakery

        Arthur's Bakery

        Corner of Crown and Dunmore Streets, Dunmore Town | 242. 333.2285

        Bahamians know their pastries—both sweet and savory. Thankfully, Arthur’s does them all well, but it’s the apple turnover and jalapeno-and-cheese bread, which are the things to order. Another treat? The banana pancakes. At lunch, the sandwiches make a great grab-and-go if you’re headed to the beach. Arthur is one of the friendliest guys on the island, and his wife Anna is something of a local celebrity known for her highly-addictive key lime pie. They’re closed on Sundays.

      • The Landing Restaurant

        The Landing Restaurant

        Bay Street, Dunmore Town | 242.333.2707

        There’s a decidedly weathered Colonial charm when you step foot inside the Landing, a former 19th-century residence, which, after it had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Floyd, was taken over by decorator and local resident India Hicks. Inside, the British decorator applies her signature airy touch and love of pattern to the property, which in addition to a fantastic restaurant, includes twelve suites. Dinner in the garden surrounded by twinkling lights and fragrant plants is as special as it sounds: Chef Madelen Pedican, who has been in the kitchen here for fifteen years, delivers a menu of polished seafood dishes. It’s worth starting with the lobster ravioli and the Stone Crab Stack, served with crisp wontons and sweet soy sauce. Finish off the night with a Ginger Fro, made with ginger-infused vodkas.

      SHOP

      • Dake's Shoppe

        Dake's Shoppe

        Crowne Street, Dunmore Town | 242.333.3045

        After you polish off a stack of a banana pancakes up the block at Arthur’s Bakery, it’s worth indulging in some retail therapy at Dake’s. Here, in a quaint white house with red trim, is a one-stop-shop for resort-friendly pieces as well as charming keepsakes to bring home. (Don’t miss the hand-painted watercolors by NYC artist Chris Sharp, who has been visiting the Bahamas for the last twenty years.) We love the breezy dresses by Loup Charmant and printed caftans by Megan Park. There’s a sweet selection of jewelry, including glass bead cuffs Etkie Becca made for layering too. For the guys, the pattered Inedgo Africa button-downs are great on the beach. PSA: If you find yourself shopping with a less-than-interested SO, there are two comfy Mexican-style hanging chairs outside on the front porch.

      • Sugar Mill Trading Co.

        Sugar Mill Trading Co.

        Bay Street, Dunmore Town | 242.333.3558

        Interior designer India Hicks, who has lived on the island for nearly twenty years, runs this charming resort-ready boutique on Bay Street with her friend Linda Griffin. Behind a dark red door and black-and-white striped awning is a rotating treasure trove of warm-weather finds to help you quickly acclimate to the island life, including Roberta Roller Rabbit cover-ups, pom-pom tasseled necklaces, and oversized sun hats with cheeky embroidery like, “Do Not Disturb.”

      • Blue Rooster

        Blue Rooster

        King Street, Dunmore Town | 242.333.2240

        Inside what looks like a life-size dollhouse on King Street, owners Gabrielle Kenedy and John Fondas pack their darling little shop with just about everything you want to wear on holiday: There are embroidered tunics from Antik Batik and gauzy dresses from Mes Demoiselles, plus a nice assortment of wearable costume jewelry.

      • Miss Mae's

        Miss Mae's

        Dunmore Street, Dunmore Town | 242. 333.2002

        Named for its original owner, Miss Mae Sturrup, this tiny shop, which opens up to a beautiful courtyard in the back is marked by an eye-catching teal façade. Run by Pip Simmons (of the Ocean View Club), the boutique features a tasteful edit of hard-to-find menswear-inspired shirts from French label Gallego Desporte, the prettiest pin-up-worthy retro swimsuits from the French line Lilibon, and block-printed caftans from Milanese textile maker Lisa Corti (above).

      Packing List

        Tulum

        It’s been a few years since Tulum was the official “undiscovered” beach town on everyone’s minds, and in the time since then, the town’s developed a bit, with several new hotels and restaurants to round out the sleepy beach town’s offerings. In short, it’s made the transition from a brand-new to a classic destination, and for good reason—the hotels are luxurious without feeling pretentious, the food is caught-it-this-morning fresh, and the pristine beaches (with that spectacular Caribbean sand) stretch for miles in both directions. And that’s before you even think about planning a trip to Chichén Itzá.

          STAY

          • Papaya Playa

            Papaya Playa

            Km 4.5 Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila | +52.984.871.1160

            Descriptions of Papaya Playa sometimes read more like a utopic community than a luxurious resort—and somehow, the owners (the hotel is a collaboration between Design Hotels and a long-time Tulum hotelier) have accomplished a bit of both. The hotel has an aggressive environmental agenda, reaching for zero emissions and “zero contamination” by 2018, an initiative that’s brought an innovative solar-powered energy setup and wastewater treatment as well as an organic garden with banana, coconut, and cashew trees, and gorgeous decór pieces sourced from Mexican craftsmen. The rooms themselves are minimalist (think neutral color schemes, save for pops of woven color in handmade pillows, with simple wooden furnishings), which lets the focus remain on the stunning ocean and impeccably kept grounds, visible from every patio and multiple outdoor jacuzzis. The hotel also understands itself as a gathering place for creatives, so it’s not unusual to stumble upon a reading or musical performance in the beachside amphitheater, or a name-brand DJ from the states at the beach club. Neither takes away from the serene vibe of their famous spa, which is complete with a juice bar, vegan taco stand, yoga classes, and traditional Temazcal ceremonies.

          • Hotel Azulik

            Hotel Azulik

            Carretera Tulum Ruinas Km 5, Zona Hotelera | +52.984.145.7598

            This adults-only resort was designed to blend into the jungle, and that’s exactly what the architecture does—it’s not unusual to climb windy wooden ladders or over suspended netting to get to your room (or, in the case of the latter, to your dinner table at the wood and macrame-covered restaurant, KinToh). The whole operation is very of-the-earth, in the best possible way: Walkways are suspended on stilts “so the trees can grow freely,” the entire place is lit by candlelight to keep from disturbing sea turtles nesting on the beach, and each room is outfitted with a stunning mosaic tub since, as the website proclaims, “the shower is the invention of the rushed man.” They even have a private cenote you can explore on the property. In the total, the effect is exceedingly romantic, particularly as each villa looks out over the ocean via suspended swings and tubs built into the patio.

          DO

          • Go Snorkeling in a Cenote

            Go Snorkeling in a Cenote

            The Yucatan is famous for gorgeous watering holes called cenotes—a geographic specificity here, where limestone rock collapses into cavernous sinkholes, creating access to fresh groundwater underneath. Sacred to the Mayans, they vary greatly in size, some open to the air, and others more enclosed like water-filled caves. Many are filled with colorful fish and other marine life, so they make for great snorkeling, and a few of the darker, more complex caves are actually diving destinations. That said, it’s also easy to find cenotes that are best suited to floating around and jumping off ledges. There are thousands in the region and they’re easy to access, so ask your concierge for a recommendation. A note—be sure to wear biodegradable sunscreen when you’re swimming, as toxic products can disturb the delicate marine life.

            Photo: Pavel Kirillov

          • Visit the Tulum Ruins

            Visit the Tulum Ruins

            In pre-Columbian times, Tulum was a major port city, and the Mayan ruins here represent one of relatively few sites that are actually on the water. Visiting them is a requirement, even on a short trip, since it takes practically no effort—they’re easily accessed by bike, compact enough to explore in an hour or so, and perched above one of the most perfect swimming beaches in the area. If you have even one extra day, though, it’s more than worth taking the two-hour trek to Chichén Itzá to the north.

            Photo: Mark Bonica

          • Yoga Classes at Yoga Shala

            Yoga Classes at Yoga Shala

            Boca Paila Km. 7.5, +52.984.141.8116

            Yoga Shala runs incredible yoga retreats year-round, but one of the best things about their classes is that they’re open to the public, so you can stop by for a few downward dogs (and to sweat out the tequila) no matter where you’re staying. Check the calendar in advance for their teacher exchange—they routinely bring some of the best teachers from around the world to teach special classes.

          • Spa Session at Be Tulum

            Spa Session at Be Tulum

            Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila Km.10, Zona Hotelera | +52.984.803.2243

            This hotel, on the southern edge of the beach (not far from the UNESCO-protected Sian Ka’an biosphere), earned a reputation for their amazing wellness program, which includes yoga and meditation classes in their treetop yoga studio and a spa that grows sacred herbs and medicinal plants for use in treatments right on the rooftop. They also do incredible temazcal ceremonies—traditional pre-Hispanic Mexican sweat lodge sessions led by Mayan healers. There are open ceremonies during every full moon, but you can also arrange a private ceremony with your own group.

          EAT

          • Hartwood

            Hartwood

            Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen | info@hartwoodtulum.com

            Ironically, the best restaurant in Tulum is owned and operated by expats: Husband-wife pair Eric Werner, chef, and Mya Henry, front of house, moved from Brooklyn, where they worked at Peasant and Vinegar Hill House, respectively. Life south of the border is treating them well, and Hartwood has had more accolades than any other restaurant in town, gaining a reputation for perfectly cooked fish that’s caught fresh daily and stunning cuts of meat that Werner cooks on an open fire or over a hot grill. (The menu is influenced by both Mexican and American cuisines.) Foodies will universally tell you to come here for the menu, but we also like it for the romantic ambience, as the dining space is open-air, and lit exclusively by tiki torches.

            Photo: Gentl & Hyers from Hartwood (Artisan) © 2015. by Erica Werner and Mya Henry

          • Gitano

            Gitano

            Boca Paila Rd., Km. 7.5, Tulum Beach Rd. | reservations@gitanotulum.com

            Gitano, which translates to English as “gypsy bar,” lives up to its name, with a magical patio that’s gently covered by trees, each dripping in lanterns and twinkle lights, and a neon sign that looks more like something you’d find in LA than the Yucatan. Like many restaurants here, the focus is on hyper-fresh fish and produce, and menu offers sophisticated takes on Mexican classics like ceviche with young coconut, grouper, and zucchini; pomelo salad with salted shrimp and pecans; and, famously, a whole-roasted fish done simply with tomatillo salsa and cilantro. It’s a great pick if you’re planning a night out—after dinner, the staff turns on a disco ball and the entire space crowds into a lively mezcal bar where there’s dancing and drinking until 1am.

          • Posada Margherita

            Posada Margherita

            Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila km. 4.5 | reservation@posadamargherita.com

            Located beach-side in the hotel of the same name, Posada Margherita is owned by an Italian family that serves fresh, fish-focused Mediterranean dishes. There’s no set menu, as the chef creates rotating specials based on the day’s catch and the daily haul from the vegetable garden, but there’s almost always a homemade pasta (the dish that made them famous). Don’t miss the cocktails, which are served overflowing with fresh-picked herbs.

          • Casa Jaguar

            Casa Jaguar

            Carretera Tulum Boca Paila 7.5km | +52.998.222.2749

            Not unlike Gitano, Posada Margherita is probably best known for its cocktails (try the Tikal, a mezcal drink made with coconut milk that’s like a modern/Mexican/perfect take on a piña colada), in part because the dining area quickly becomes a dance floor around 10pm. And while the party at their bar, Todos Santos, is one of Tulum’s best, it’s a mistake to dismiss the food here. Go for ridiculously fresh mango ceviche, a daily catch wrapped in leaves, and a way shorter line than Hartwood.

          • El Tábano

            El Tábano

            Carretera Tulum Boca Paila, Km. 7. | +52.984.134.8725

            This cozy spot (nestled into the jungle side of the beach road) changes their chalkboard menu daily based on what’s in season, or what fresh catch was available for the day. A little more laid-back than some of the other restaurants in town, it’s decorated with a hodge-podge of antiques and handmade furniture from the region, to a romantically haphazard effect. Regulars told us to order the gazpacho, the tacos, and the plaintain rolls, which usually exist on the menu in some form.

          • Cetli

            Cetli

            Calle Polar Poniente | +52.984.108.0681

            Unlike the other restaurants on our list, Cetli is located in Tulum’s adorable little town, which is easily accessed by bike from most hotels—it’s also the only one that’s indoors, which can be a blessing when your legs need a break from the area’s relentless mosquitoes. The place is run by Mexico-City-born (but not long-time local) Claudia Perez, who cooks in the traditional style of her grandmother, so order classic dishes like cheese empanadas, salads (served in coconut shells), enchiladas, and mole. Before dinner, take a few minutes to check out her boutique of the same name, which is a great place to pick up hand-embroidered blouses and other craft goods.

          SHOP

          • Coqui Coqui Boutique at Coba

            Coqui Coqui Boutique at Coba

            Coqui Coqui Coba, +52.985.102.9000

            Though a confusing dispute over land ownership has shuttered the beloved Tulum hotel since last summer, you can still get a piece of their signature, and original, aesthetic at their residence in Coba, about forty-five minutes north. It’s worth it alone for the shopping—there’s a gorgeous chocolate boutique, which includes a lifestyle section with an expertly curated mix of clothes and accessories from local designers. Keep an eye out for pieces from Hacienda Montaecristo, the Yucatan-inspired line by Francesca Bonato, Nicholas Melville’s crazy-stylish, Italian-born wife. (Another reason to make the trek is the gorgeous nearby Coba ruins, which can easily be seen in a few hours.)

          • Caravana

            Caravana

            Carretera Tulum Ruinas Boca Paila, Km 7.5, Tulum Playa | +52.985.119.0361

            Started by the founders of Hacienda Montaecristo (which includes not only Francesca Bonato, but also her Italian design partner Jacopo Janniello Ravagnan), this open-air boutique is made from canvas army tents. In addition to their line of amazing linen coverups and bohemian midi-dresses, you’ll find locally made leather goods, scarves, home goods, and jewelry. As both owners are avid international travelers, they also carry some select vintage jewelry, books, and other treasures from their adventures abroad.

          • La Troupe

            La Troupe

            Carretera Tulum Boca Paila | +52.984.1471.178

            Nestled onto the beach road not far from Caravana, the unifying theme at La Troupe is that everything they carry is handmade, from ponchos and coverups, to embroidered decorative pillows, to handmade leather goods. Take note: There’s an adorable section of children’s clothing, if you’re looking for souvenirs to bring home to the littles.

          • Josa

            Josa

            CarreteraTulum- Boca Paila km 7.5 | +52.984.115.8441

            Based in Mexico, Josa is the dual project of New York-based Joanne Salt and Monterrey, Mexico-based Ana Cabello. While the fledgling line has a full product range now, they’re most famous for their bohemian kaftans, done in every color and pattern imaginable. Their fabrics are wrinkle-resistant, and they have some great longer dresses that work well for dinner—a lifesaver in the instance that a suitcase got lost in transit.

          Packing List

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