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Why a Caribbean Vacation—and Investment—is Back on the Cards

With their resilience to COVID-19, the Caribbean islands are proving to be a great place to visit, as well as invest in, say local real estate experts

Oprah Winfrey has a mansion in Antigua; Keith Richards trades rock ’n’ roll for rest and relaxation at his Turks and Caicos property; and Beyoncé, Bon Jovi, and Gwen Stefani are regulars on the beaches of St. Barthélemy. A Caribbean vacation has always beckoned and bewitched. Anyone who ever visits yearns to return, and many elite investors do just that, adding a Caribbean property to their portfolio.

Although the region is currently experiencing its hurricane season, as its swift recovery following the devastating storms of 2017 showed, the Caribbean is resilient. Case in point: St Barthélemy: “Despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, the St. Barths market recovered well and most of the transactions contracted prior to its passage successfully closed,” says Christian Wattiau, chairman of Sibarth Real Estate. “This included the sale of the Girasol Estate, which we closed for $67 million, only three months after the hurricane.”

A sanctuary of privacy and luxury on the Atlantic coast of St. Barthélemy, Girasol’s main villa (seen here)—with its own natural lagoon—is hidden within a tropical oasis replete with 600 exotic plant species.
Originally built by banker Benjamin de Rothschild, the Girasol Estate on the Atlantic coast of St. Barthélemy sold in a record-breaking deal in 2017—in spite of the impact of Hurricane Irma on the region.

Tourism was up last year, and prospective visitor numbers for 2020 were looking very healthy—”in the winter 2019/20 season we also saw a significant increase in activity in real estate, with more demands and stronger interest,” Wattiau adds. And then COVID-19 happened. But, while the Caribbean region has been affected, low coronavirus figures are making it an attractive post-lockdown destination.

Fabrice Moizan, general manager of Eden Rock St Barths, says the exclusive resort’s second season, which began in October, has “a whole host of reinforced health and sanitary procedures in place. We only have 37 rooms spread across the grounds—perfectly set up for social distancing. We’ve also seen a rise in families and groups booking private villas with personal chefs. Few places can offer the same combination of privacy, safety, and luxury, especially in these times.”

The pool of an Eden Rock villa – the perfect Caribbean vacation
You can now check into one of the 140 secluded and private vacation homes available through Eden Rock Villa Rental. Bookings include round-the-clock concierge services.

Interestingly, hurricanes and the pandemic have stimulated the real estate market, says Edward Childs, director of Smiths Gore B.V.I. Limited, so now is a good time to buy. “After Irma, many overseas investors banked their insurance settlements and sold their properties, which boosted the property market,” he says. “COVID-19 has had a similar effect: investors are seeking residences in regions where virus numbers are low, and that is motivating sellers to exit.”

The region is easily accessible and offers seclusion and privacy. Each island has its own character, history, and flavor—Rick Moeser

Robert Greenwood, director of Turks and Caicos-based Regency, has also seen revived interest. “Investors need a safe-haven property, away from dense cities. We are like a castle surrounded by a moat, with the airport as our drawbridge.”

Rosewood Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda
Rosewood Little Dix Bay resort, the vision of Laurance Rockefeller, comprises a handful of cottages tucked unobtrusively into the landscape of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

While COVID-19 may have added wind to the market’s sails, it is the Caribbean’s endless charms that are the enduring magnet. “It’s a region of huge diversity and beauty,” says Rick Moeser, Executive Director, Christie’s International Real Estate. “It is easily accessible, very well served by many public airports and private jet terminals, and offers seclusion and privacy. Each island has its own character, history, and flavor. Sure, you’ll find gorgeous beaches and landscapes, and incredible tax incentives wherever you go, but the differences between the islands outnumber the similarities. If you’re after world-class dining, you’ll love St. Barths, with its French culture and sophistication. If you’d prefer to fly the U.S. flag, then you should consider the U.S. Virgin Islands. For traditional island vernacular, there’s Antigua.”

The Caribbean’s favorable fiscal policies are an undeniable attraction. Tax neutrality in the Cayman Islands, for example, means zero corporate, income, capital gains, inheritance, sales, or recurring property liability, while the British Virgin Islands levy no company or personal tax. “Homeowners who are resident but not working here don’t have to pay additional taxes,” says Childs, “and there is no capital gains or estate tax due either.” Additionally, its legal currency, as in Turks and Caicos and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the US dollar, so there are no issues with currency exchange for American investors.

The view over the pool from Villa Champagne in Antigua
Two-thirds of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a national park featuring plantation ruins, ancient petroglyphs, and coral reefs, as well as snow-white beaches. Image: Getty Images

Antigua’s Citizenship by Investment program—whereby investors in real estate can become eligible for Antiguan citizenship—is an especially attractive proposition. “Citizens of Antigua aren’t subject to income tax, capital gains tax, or inheritance tax and are also granted visa-free entry to over 165 countries worldwide,” explains Justin White, head of sales for Anchor Antigua Realty Ltd. “In a time where having a safe haven has never been more important, it makes sense for all discerning buyers to consider both their citizenship and real estate options.”

The Caribbean is like a castle surrounded by a moat, with the airport as our drawbridge—Robert Greenwood

Those favorable fiscal conditions, says Peter Briggs, a broker at John Foster Real Estate in the U.S. Virgin Islands, “are just some of many reasons to visit. Other factors include frequent direct flights from many American gateway cities, excellent healthcare and schools, and tropical landscapes offering great hiking, biking, and diving. St. Croix now has one of the Caribbean’s best farm- and sea-to-table dining scenes, St. Thomas is known for its marinas, and most of St. John is a national park. Then there’s Water Island, a tiny gem that’s the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life.”

Scuba diver near a Hawksbill turtle off Grand Cayman
Opportunities for diving abound in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, home of the hawksbill turtle. Image: Getty Images

In the Cayman Islands, Sue Nickason, vice president of marketing and sales for Provenance Properties Cayman Islands, lists some of the countless factors that appeal to investors. “It’s second to none for outdoor living, with an exceptional marine environment and some of the best diving in the world. It is considered the culinary capital of the Caribbean and has a multicultural community, with more than 135 nationalities represented in a community of 65,000 full-time residents, and it’s extremely safe.” She adds that prime neighborhoods include Salt Creek, Crystal Harbour, Canal Point, and South Sound, but opportunities abound elsewhere, too.

“Our low population density, ease of isolation, warm weather, and attractive tax incentives, make Antigua, and the Caribbean as a whole, an attractive place to live in an otherwise difficult time,” adds White. “Our small island nations truly provide a safe haven—and safe-haven real estate is on the rise.”

On the Market

Villa Champagne in Galley Bay Heights, Antigua and Barbuda

The view from the Villa's covered patio
Designed and built by a renowned Italian architect, Villa Champagne offers 6,000 square feet (557 sq m) of floor space along with an alfresco dining area on its expansive covered patio, and a stunning infinity-edge swimming pool.

Situated in one of the island’s most prestigious locations, Villa Champagne enjoys breathtaking views of the waterfront hillside and Deep Bay. The luxurious five-bedroom residence spans approximately half an acre (0.2 ha) and features landscaped gardens, as well as indoor and outdoor lounging and dining spaces, a designer kitchen, and home gym. On the market with Anchor Antigua Realty Ltd, it is an exquisite example of a property that would allow its new owners to qualify for the island’s Citizenship by Investment program.

Point House in Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos

Point House in Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos, Caribbean-
One of just 12 private estates on the island, Point House is adjacent to a nature reserve and has unobstructed views of the beach.

A refined beachfront estate of more than 7,000 sq ft (650 sq m), this is one of just 12 properties on the private island of Parrot Cay. Sitting alongside a nature reserve, with glorious beach views, the majestic home boasts walls of glass, stone floors, and a pared-back aesthetic. Bathed in natural light and on the market with Regency, it offers the quintessential indoor–outdoor lifestyle.

Villa RKK in Petit Saline, St. Barthélemy

Villa RKK in Petit Saline, St Barth, Caribbean
The infinity-edge pool at this tropical sanctuary provides a refreshing escape and is surrounded by spectacular ocean views.

With sublime vistas across Lorient Bay, this tropical enclave offers privacy and splendor in abundance. Exuding opulence, both the dining room and lounge open to a terrace with an infinity-edge pool, while paths lead through gardens to the lavish master retreat with its sea-view bath and plunge pool. On the market with Sibarth Real Estate.

Banner image: View from the Sense Spa at the Rosewood Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.