The Carib-Bare-an Experience
Maybe you're a confirmed, card-carrying naturist (the politically correct term for "nudist.") Maybe you'd just like to try out a clothing-optional vacation – but as far away from home as possible.
This winter, the Caribbean will beckon many sun-hungry Canadians. Here are some natural options to consider:
When devastating hurricanes hit the northeastern Caribbean in 1995, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, the dually-owned French/Dutch protectorate, was not exempt. Club Orient, the naturist resort on the French side, was heavily damaged, but reopened the following year, with several new beachfront chalets (made of poured concrete) and many reinforced mini-suites, bringing the total accommodation to 137 units of varying sizes.
The clothing-optional crowd congregates mostly on the southern portion of Orient Beach, but the long sandy expanse is constantly busy, with sports, kiosks, and a wide variety of restaurants and bars.
A popular feature has always been Club Orient's nude day cruises to the nearby uninhabited islet of Tintamarre aboard the Tiko-Tiko, a 12-metre catamaran. The trip, which costs about $140 (Cdn.) includes a gourmet lunch with French wines and liqueurs, use of snorkelling equipment, swimming and sunning on a deserted island.
Compared with other hotels which may offer breakfast or an all-inclusive plan, Club Orient is pricey.
The least expensive studio chalet or mini suite is $316 per night from Boxing Day to March 15, with no meals included. Beachfront chalets are an average of $550 and even Internet access is expensive. It's the price you pay for leaving your clothes at home.
Orient Beach is a beauty, however, and hundreds of tourists staying at other hotels on the island make the pilgrimage there at least once. It is, after all, a public beach.
Some cruise ship passengers who request this shore excursion are unceremoniously dumped for the day in the middle of Orient Beach – nudes on their right, textiles on their left. Guess where they go first.
Not to worry. For once, you'll be in the majority as they snake their way along the beach, surreptitiously glancing at the bronzed bodies. You almost feel sorry for them.
CAYO LARGO, CUBA
You won't see huge cruise ships stopping at the breathtaking sandy beaches on the tiny island of Cayo Largo, a Cuban possession about 130 kilometres south of Havana.
There are few day trippers but you'll meet other Canadians (especially from Québec), Argentinians, Italians and Germans. They've been enjoying the back-to-nature beaches here for several years.
There is no designated nude beach but you can remove your swimsuit at the beaches of Villa Lindaman, Villa Soledad, the east side of Sol Pelicano and the west side of Sol Cayo Largo. Or just find your own deserted beach.
As Toni and Dave, a couple from St. Bruno, Québec, wrote on a Caribbean online chat group: "You do get what you pay for because you are flying there, with hotel transfers, sleeping in a clean room, drinking yourself into a stupor (should you wish to), and eating until you almost explode.
You can do this in a high-season period for less than $1,200 at a four-star level. With that in mind, I have no complaints about the food, room, bar, beach or service. Try getting all that at an auberge in Québec for a week."
Buffet breakfasts and dinners, liquor and sometimes lunches are included with your package tour price, as are aquafit classes, Spanish and Cuban dance lessons, and some sports, depending on your choice of hotel.
But people really come to Cayo Largo to unwind. No casinos, next to nothing in the way of nightlife or shopping, no crime, museums, historical sites or political propaganda. Bike rentals are a bargain and a great way to see the tiny island.
Pelicans, egrets, land crabs, iguanas, turtles and gulls live permanently on Cayo Largo, whereas hotel workers are housed in a village and return to the "big" island of Cuba after a couple of weeks' work.
Near-perfect swimming, beachcombing, sunning and snorkelling are the most strenuous activities here.
It is the Caribbean as Columbus once saw it.
The only "official" clothing optional resort in the Netherlands Antilles is the Sorobon Beach Resort on the sunny island of Bonaire, off the northern coast of Venezuela.
The island is dry and stark, with wild donkeys sleeping on or beside the road, flocks of pink flamingos, oddly-shaped cacti and constant trade winds.
The Sorobon Beach Resort has 28 one-bedroom chalets, one two-bedroom unit and one three-bedroom house.
They all face shallow Lac Bay and the Caribbean Sea. No chalet is more than 45 metres from the water.
A favourite of first-time naturists, the Sorobon's beach is private and for resort guests only.
At its busiest, the Sorobon will only have about 75 guests. People from other hotels may be admitted onto the beach for a fee.
Chalets have full kitchens, solar-heated water, air conditioning, free Wi-Fi in some (and an office computer for guests to check email), and patios and terraces with hammocks. The units don't have TVs, telephones or radios.
A nude snorkelling cruise, yoga on the beach, massage, boules, a games room, a bar and restaurant, and other activities and diversions are offered.
Bonaire's protected reefs have some of the finest scuba diving in the world. Snorkellers also rave about the underwater life and vegetation.
Jamaica has a few hotels and resorts where bathing suits are not required.
Hedonism II and Hedonism III have nude and "prude" beaches and areas but are known for their party atmosphere and may not be to everyone's taste.
The all-inclusive Grand Lido Braco has an au naturel section of guestrooms, pools and beach that is highly regarded by card-carrying naturists.
Warren and Ruth, a couple from northern California, wrote about their seventh vacation at Grand Lido Braco on an online chat group for naturists.
"When we were there earlier this year, we saw three people trying to have a game of pool volleyball on the clothed side (of the resort). No one else was interested. On the nude side, we were playing with so many people that we were practically shoulder to shoulder."
It's amazing how much friendlier people can be when you are not wearing designer clothing or jewellery.
You have very little to hide when you're nude, and since we all come in different shapes and sizes, just relax and enjoy your clothing-optional vacation.