Checking In and Checking Out

A Turks and Caicos Private Island Retreat as Good as It Sounds

by Daniel Schwartz
Villas along the Atlantic coast. Photos courtesy of Ambergris Cay.

TURKS AND CAICOS - Do you have access to a private jet? Do you dream of traveling like a cast member on Succession? Are you planning a special getaway and want somewhere utterly remote and romantic? If you fall into any of these categories, you will want your people to book a trip for you to Ambergris Cay, a spectacular all-inclusive private island resort tucked away on the southeast edge of Turks and Caicos.

Originally a community of private homeowners, the exclusive isle has just ten beachfront suites and eight privately owned and individually designed villas nestled around the shoreline. (There are more villas on the island, they’re just not part of the rental pool open to the public.) Other than that — and a conservative footprint of facilities — the island is largely undeveloped.

And that’s what makes it so special.

Your main mode of transportation: golf cart. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.
Morning Star villa.

There are more than 1,100 acres of mostly untouched land here, carpeted in tropical shrubs, bonsai forests, cactus gardens, and ancient mangroves. A number of fascinating fauna call this place home, including rare migratory birds, endangered sea turtles, and the world’s largest remaining population of Turks and Caicos rock iguanas, which you’ll find sunbathing just about everywhere on the island. Legend has it Christopher Columbus touched down here before landing in Hispaniola, and there are still ruins from when the original pirates of the Caribbean used the island to stockpile treasure after the American Revolutionary War.

I stayed here with a group in April, in the island’s biggest villa, and it felt like years were added back to my life. I kicked off mornings with sun salutations overlooking turquoise waters, tennis lessons with a pro, and nourishing breakfast spreads prepared by the private chef at our villa. I filled up my afternoons exploring the island’s network of trails, sunbathing on white-sand beaches, lazing around the infinity pool, and day drinking on a floating bar off Little Ambergris Cay, a practically deserted island nearby where we enjoyed a delicious Caribbean beach barbecue with jerk chicken, lamb chops, grilled veggies, and the most incredible potato salad.

Columbus Beach on the left; the resort pool at sunset on the right. Photos by Daniel Schwartz.
Views from the terrace (left) and the pool deck (right) at Dream Pavillion.

Sunset was a special time, when the peaceful island was somehow even more serene, and was spent clinking glasses on the scenic terrace atop our villa, overlooking the ocean by the warm glow of tiki torches at the restaurant, or bobbing out at sea on a private boat ride. After the first day, the staff had our drink order memorized and always made sure we were topped up. This same level of service extended to dinner — and every other aspect of our stay. Our dedicated island host (each suite or villa gets its own) was always on hand to help arrange activities, coordinate meals, or offer a pick-up if we needed a ride around the island.

Now, a word to the (penny) wise: Ambergris Cay is not cheap. In season, beachfront suites run about $3,000 a night, while nightly villa rates are north of $7,000. But compared to other luxury heavy hitters in TCI (Amanyara, COMO Parrot Cay, Long Bay Beach Club), it’s actually a great value with all meals and drinks (yes, even top-shelf alcohol) and activities for the whole family included. This extra applies if you’re booking a villa, which could cost twice as much at other properties and, thanks to 24-hour service, requires very little in terms of self-maintenance.

Poseidon villa.
Land’s End villa.
Land’s End villa.

The trade-off (if there is one) at Ambergris Cay is that you’re more remote — there’s no regular air or water service to and from Provo, only chartered flights — and there’s less of a resort scene. But that’s exactly why you come here. To get away from it all. To roam around without worrying about seeing or being seen. To immerse yourself in nature without the crowds. And to experience private island living, even if it’s just for a few days.

The approach to Ambergris Cay. Private-plane friendly.
The beach at the Club House.

Checking In

Ambergris Cay may feel completely lost at sea, but it’s remarkably convenient to access from New York and many North American hubs. You fly into Providenciales International Airport (PLS), where a driver arranged by the resort transfers you to Blue Heron FBO, a private jet facility ten minutes away. From there, you board a small plane for a complimentary twenty-minute flight over those famous turquoise-blue waters to Ambergris Cay. Boarding a 10 a.m. flight from JFK, I was at the resort by 3 p.m. If you’re flying private, you can skip a few steps and fly directly to the island, home to one of the longest runways in the Caribbean.

Sunset at Poseidon villa.

The Vibe
Think Pirates of the Caribbean meets The White Lotus. At times, it feels like you’re the only one on the island, which is marvelous if you’re looking for privacy or want to immerse yourself in the stunning windswept landscape. But you never feel lonely: Fellow guests are all smiles and the staff is always a phone call away. You can dress up for dinner, but no one’s keeping score if you keep it resort casual. At the end of the day, it’s just you and iguanas out here.

The pool deck at Dream Pavillion.
The courtyard with pool, fire pit, and bar setup at Dream Pavillion. The room the author stayed in overlooks the pool on the left of the frame.
The private beach at Dream Pavillion.

This Place Is Perfect For
Honeymooners looking for a secluded, refined, romantic escape. Groups and families who want a beachfront villa vacation with the perks of an all-inclusive. Well-heeled travelers looking to unwind in nature with every single creature comfort made available to them.

The eight beachfront villas are individually designed with coastal chic decor and come with a host of luxurious amenities, including heated pools, rooftop bars, fire pits, kitchens stocked daily with refreshments, telescopes and binoculars for stargazing and bird and whale watching, washers and dryers, and electric golf carts for getting around the island. Some are better for families; others are better located near certain facilities. All are stunning. Lands End, a lighthouse-inspired villa on the island’s southernmost point, is the most unique and offers views of the Humpback whale migration during the winter.

We stayed at Dream Pavillion, the largest and most luxurious villa on the island (and perhaps all of Turks and Caicos). It sleeps twelve with six bedrooms, a lush private garden, two swimming pools, expansive sundecks, multiple dining areas, a rooftop sunset terrace, and its own private beach with a deck, shower, and foot wash. It’s also the only villa to include a private chef and butler, as well as a service kitchen that can accommodate Kosher meals, for an added fee.

There are also ten recently added beachfront pool suites within walking distance to the main bar, restaurant, and pool, each with a king-size bed, living area, and covered veranda that opens up to a private heated plunge right on the sand. Bordered on either side by lush tropical foliage, these elegantly designed suites feel sexy and secluded and perfect for couples, though they can also accommodate families with up to two children (10 years or younger).

A guest room at Morning Star villa.
A beachfront pool suite.

Food + Drink
There are two restaurants on the island: Calico, which serves breakfast and dinner, and Salt Rakers at The Club House, which does lunch and the occasional themed dinner. Mahoney’s, the whiskey bar at Calico, does all kinds of drinks, which can also enjoy during the day by the pool. For a special meal at Calico, you can arrange for a private dinner by the water, complete with your own bonfire, or reserve the chef’s table for a special menu prepared right in front of you. Of course, if you’re staying at Dream Pavillion, you can enjoy all of your meals without ever leaving the villa — overlooking the ocean, by the pool, or in your air-conditioned dining room.

Salt Rakers at The Club House.
Mahoney’s bar (left) and private dining by the water at Calico. Photos by Daniel Schwartz.

The food here is excellent. Chef Sebastian Palmer draws inspiration for the ever-changing menus from his travels across ten countries and seventeen kitchens (the most recent of which was nearby at Amanyara). A pan-Asian feast one night gave way to Italian the next — and sushi the night after. Breakfast was great: We fueled up daily on egg omelets, congee with shredded chicken, chilaquiles, avocado toast, smoothies, coffee, fresh fruit juices, and more.

The fitness pavilion with yoga up top and a state-of-the-art gym below.
Tennis and pickleball courts.

What's On Site
Whether you’re looking to work up a sweat, immerse yourself in nature, unwind and unplug, or kick back and catch some rays, there’s something for everyone on the island. I started every morning at the fitness center, which has a state-of-the-art gym and a yoga pavilion with stunning ocean views, or the tennis courts taking lessons with a pro. Others chose to hit the trails, which are great for running, hiking, biking, and getting up close to the island’s flora and fauna. 

There are secluded surf beaches on the Atlantic coast and serene swimming beaches on the Caribbean side, as well as a resort pool with food and drink service from Calico for sunbathing with your fellow islanders. The Club House, where lunch is served, has its own calm beach and is great for families. There are beach, board, and arcade games; water toys like Hobie cats, SUP boards, and water trampolines; and loungers and fire pits for soaking up the atmosphere.

The Club House, which has a restaurant, plus games and activities for adults and kids.
The Hangover bar floating off the shore of Little Ambergris Cay. Once you get your drink, you can walk through the shallow water over to the beach. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

For an added fee, you can arrange activities like deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, whale-watching excursions, and private boat cruises, all of which depart from the marina, which is located next to a rest stop for migratory flamingos visiting from the Dominican Republic. This is also where you can catch a ride to Little Ambergris Cay, a neighboring island home to The Hangover, a tiki bar floating just off-shore. This was easily my favorite excursion and felt like a real Castaway moment. Rounding out the offerings is a small spa with treatment cabanas for massages and facials.

Drawbacks: You’re on a small island out at sea. Your closest neighbors are 14 miles away. If you’re looking for a scene, you’re better off staying in or closer to Provo.

The infinity pool at Dream Pavillion.

Standout Detail: All the villas are impeccably designed, but Dream Pavillion is the star. The views from the ocean-facing rooms are mesmerizing. The pools — one in the interior courtyard right as you walk in; the other overlooking the ocean — are just plain sexy. And if you opt for the private chef, you can eat whatever you want, wherever you want, anytime. That’s a seriously nice perk.

Find It

Ambergris Cay
Private Island, Turks and Caicos

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