A fair bit of the Caribbean's allure is being immersed in the primal elements of sun and sea, letting the natural forces strip away the stress and pretence of daily life.
For some, the immersion is total; even the last fig leaf of a string bikini or a Speedo is too much to bear. And so they go bare: nude recreation away from home, aka the nakation, is booming, not just among leftover hippies from the Boomer generation, but among their adult kids and Gen X travellers too. A survey by the American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR) found that 23% of Millennials and 18% of Gen X-ers are interested in nude travel.
So where to go and what to do? Nudity on most public beaches is a no-no, even in the casual Caribbean. Many islands have strong fundamentalist Christian cultures and, while they may turn a blind eye to snow-crazed Americans getting naked on out-of-the-way beaches, as in the U.S., there's a time and a place.
Those times and places have multiplied, and naturists who were once confined to the occasional romp on a secluded strand can now indulge in other clothing-optional activities. Not surprisingly, a lot of the action takes place near clothing-optional resorts or on the high seas.
Just remember to bring sturdy shoes, a hat and a lot of sunscreen.
Going Dutch in St. Maarten
Half French and half Dutch, St. Martin/Maarten has long been a mecca for naturists. First-timers have been known to refer to Orient Beach as Disoriented Beach due to the high level of visual distraction. Local tour company SXM Deals is now offering clothing-optional snorkelling excursions aboard a 38-foot powerboat. Even the crew sheds their shorts to make everyone feel comfortable as they head to the reef for nude snorkelling. That's followed by a BBQ on the clothing-optional Happy Beach and a cruise back around to the Dutch side of the island for afternoon cocktails.
My Oh Maya!
The Mak Nuk naturist condo community near Tulum is a relative newcomer to the clothing-optional scene in Mexico and they have some new ideas for bare-bottom adventurers. These include a trip to a jungle cenote for some skinny dipping. Cenotes are roughly circular sinkholes filled with spring water. The water is cool - a constant 75 degrees year-round - and gin clear. There's a rope swing and plenty of screening foliage around the rim.
You can't get much closer to becoming a fish than bubbling along in the buff. Paya Bay on the island of Roatán in Honduras is a naturist resort that offers a buffet of options for buff buffs. You can hike the resort's 22 acres, take a trip to Pigeon Cay for sunbathing and snorkelling or you can sign up for nude scuba. To be perfectly clear, you'll still need to wear a tank and mask, but you're free to lose the wet suit - just keep your eyes open for fire coral. Paya Bay also offers nude yoga in a peaceful pavilion overlooking the beach.
You've heard of celebrity cruises and fan cruises and sports star cruises, so it should be no surprise there are nude cruises. The big cruise lines are only too happy when a travel agency offers to buy out one of their sailings and fill the ship with naturists. While there are a few far Pacific itineraries, the bulk of nude cruises depart from Florida for the Caribbean. The activities aren't all that different from a conventional cruise - lots of eating, cabaret shows and lounging by the pool - with the addition of adult-oriented theme parties.
Technically, this refers to renting a sail or powerboat without a captain and doing your own thing, but in this case, the term does uncover a truth. Once you're out on your rented boat, you can do pretty much whatever you want. The most popular place to rent a bareboat is in the British Virgin Islands, but there are boats available throughout the region. If you're not up to reefing the lines yourself, there are charter operators who'll do the sailing for you and could care less what you do or don't wear while underway. There are also boats that charter specifically for clothing-optional day sails. Naturist sailing specialists for week-long trips include Boat in the Buff
Clothing optional resorts were considered quite scandalous when they first opened, but the concept proved itself and naturist resorts have multiplied. Some, such as Hedonism II, are "adult-oriented" while others, including Club Orient, are for families. And while some offer no more than the opportunity to stroll and sunbathe in the nude altogether, others organise clothing-optional off-property adventures for the guests.