There's no better backdrop to show off swimsuits than on a beach or sandy island, and in 2018 Sports Illustrated headed south to four of the most scenic ones in the Caribbean and some of the best places to visit in Central America.
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editor MJ Day wrote in her introduction, "I’m proud that the Swimsuit Issue, born decades ago as the ultimate vehicle of escapism, now also reflects the rich beauty of diversity. Dark, light, curvy, slim, tall, short—all types of beauty are worthy of celebration."
She added, "Almost every photograph in the rich history of Swimsuit has had two stars: a model and a locale that in its natural glory is just as striking as the subject...Every on-location shoot for Swimsuit 2018 took place in the Caribbean, our way of honoring a region that last fall saw its pristine beaches and proud people devastated by storms."
Learn about the beaches in Aruba, the Bahamas, Belize, and Nevis where Sports Illustrated's 2018 models frolicked—and so can you!
Days that are consistently in the 80s, miles of clean beaches, refreshing trade winds, and a location well south of the hurricane belt make Aruba one of the most popular Caribbean islands for travelers.
For its 2018 swimsuit shoot, Sports Illustrated exported five outstanding athletes to Aruban sands: snowboarding queen Brenna Huckaby, tennis aces Sloane Stephens and Genie Bouchard, golfer Paige Spiranac, and Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics Aly Reisman all posed in suits skimpier than their regular sports gear and still looked fantastic.
Where They Stayed
The Sports Illustrated team chose Tierra del Sol Resort & Golf to accommodate the athletes. It isn't a traditional hotel; rather than offering rooms and suites, Tierra del Sol rents 32 condos, villas, and estate homes that provide more space and privacy than typical island lodging.
Tierra del Sol only has one main restaurant, so try the overwater Pinchos Grill & Bar for something different. If it looks familiar and seems very romantic, you may be a fan of The Bachelor; it was the setting for a segment on the program.
Sports Illustrated brought eight full-time models to Aruba as well, including former cover girl Kate Upton. They bunked at the family-friendly Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, which was the first major resort built on the island.
Popular with honeymoon couples and other romantics, these hotels are also worth considering:
- Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is the island's only childfree property. The low-rise units lead to a wide, secluded stretch of Eagle Beach.
- Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino fronts Palm Beach noted for its warm water and uncrowded sands. At dusk, stroll down, wiggle your toes, and steal a kiss under a palapa as the sun sets. This family-friendly hotel offers a reprieve from children inside its casino.
- The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba is the island's only true luxury property. What makes it exceptional is the first-class service that it provides, along with a 5,000-square-foot spa and 24-hour casino.
What to Do
Take a tour in a glass-bottom boat that reveals what lies beneath the dazzling waters. Snorkelers and scuba divers who head for the California and Antilla shipwrecks can get even closer views of underwater life. Spend some time on a sailboat for a relaxing day out at sea.
Finding the best places to eat in Aruba can be hard because it has more than 100 restaurants, many of which reflect the myriad cultures that settled here. But don't expect the food to be cheap on this desert-like island; nearly everything has to be imported.
Haute Harbor Island
Cover model Danielle Herrington and five others struck poses wearing little more than smiles on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. Like Bermuda, this island's sand is a gorgeous shade of coral pink. It appears to stretch endlessly on the turquoise waters that lap the island's eastern shore.
Where They Stayed
The 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models overnighted at Pink Sands Resort, which has 25 one-story, luxury cottages spread on 20 acres and has welcomed guests for many years. If the idea of riding a horse bareback on the beach appeals, there's a stable close to the resort.
What to Do
Known to sailing and fishing enthusiasts and less developed than other islands in the Bahamas' chain of 700, Harbour Island has long been a retreat of the rich and stylish who treasure their privacy. Designer Diane von Furstenberg has owned a Harbour Island house for decades.
The only mode of island transport is via golf buggy. It looks like an outpost of heaven as you traverse the few roads, which are dotted with pastel cottages and scented with bougainvillea, frangipani, and hibiscus flowers.
Head to the west coast to snorkel. Devil's Backbone, one of the island's coral reefs, is home to stingrays and turtles as well as many colorful tropical fish species.
Couples in search of more action in the islands should check out Baha Mar in Nassau. This Bahamas newcomer is home to three hotels: the sexy SLS Baha Mar, the luxurious Rosewood Baha Mar, and the 1,800-room, something-for-everyone Grand Hyatt Baha Mar.
The development features an ESPA Spa, casino with ocean views, a Jack Nicklaus golf course, and a variety of lounges and restaurants.
On the eastern coast of Central America, Belize fronts the Caribbean Sea. Stunning beach resorts on warm and calm waters, a bird-filled jungle, and the majestic ruins of the once-mighty Mayan empire await couples.
Where They Stayed
Sports Illustrated transported models, cast and crew to Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, one of Hilton Hotels' Curio Collection and the largest resort in Belize. It's located on the island of Ambergris Caye off the coast.
More than a hotel, the property is a chic village created from the ground up and draws guests due to its location as well as its spa, yoga studio, Japanese restaurant, and farmers market.
Thanks to the glorious Belize Barrier Reef off Ambergris Caye—the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere—the country is heaven for scuba diving and snorkeling. The reef is just a 10-minute boat ride from the hotel. Also, close by, Hol Chan Marine Reserve consists of coral reefs and a huge number of tropical fish that have no fear of humans in the water.
Also worth experiencing, the 407-foot-deep Great Blue Hole was called one of the world's top scuba diving sites by Jacques Cousteau.
Whether you prefer the beach, the jungle, or a combination of the two, Belize is home to some lovely hotels and resorts. Among them are:
- Five Sisters Lodge - An eco-lodge surrounded by five waterfalls that cascade into clear, natural pools where guests can swim.
- Kanantik Reef and Jungle Resort - Located where the Caribbean and the rain forest meet, it offers total quiet (no phones, no TV) and seclusion.
- Mata Chica - Each villa is built above the sand and named after the color it is painted—banana, kiwi, mango, et cetera—and has its own whimsical personality plus a porch with a hammock and double doors that open toward the water.
- Cayo Espanto lies off the western side of Ambergris Caye island and has just seven two-story beach houses, each with a private plunge pool.
What to Do
In addition to the undersea treasures, Belize is home to Caracol, a fascinating 500-year-old Mayan city rediscovered in the jungle less than a century ago. It contains the tallest human-made structure in the country, the Caana pyramid.
Couples who hike or bike from the jungle archaeological site to Rio On Pools encounter cooling waterfalls to refresh in. Of course, make sure to stay safe when traveling to Belize.
With six swimsuit models, including Ashley Graham, Sports Illustrated flew cast and crew to Nevis to shoot its 2018 Swimsuit Issue.
A peaceful, palm-shaded, five-by-seven-mile tropical isle perfect for honeymoons and romance, Nevis personifies the fantasy of a beach escape unmarred by overdevelopment. Crystal-clear waters, gardens and flowering trees, solitude (there are a limited number of hotel rooms on the island), a mountain view no matter where you are, excellent restaurants, and a wealth of land and water sports comprise its allure.
And the romantic history of Nevis speaks to lovers across the ages: It was here that a famous naval officer, Captain Horatio Nelson, met, wooed, and wedded the refined and resourceful Fanny Nisbet.
Where They Stayed
At one time, Nevis was divided into sugar plantations, where fortunes were made by British colonists on the backs of African slaves. On the site of a former one, Hermitage Plantation Inn hosted the Sports Illustrated team.
The family-owned property consists of gingerbread-style houses that contain four-poster beds and a patio or balcony slung with an inviting hammock. On the slopes of Mt. Nevis, it is a distance from the beach.
- Golden Rock is owned by American artist Brice Marden, who visits a few times a year and keeps a studio here. The inn's splashes of whimsy and bright colors are done under the artist’s care.
- Nisbet Plantation is a hideaway for lovers, it dates back to 1780 and is the only former plantation inn located on the beach.
- Montpelier Plantation Inn is another one-time sugar mill that was converted into a small hotel and now is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group.
- Four Seasons Resort is a 350-acre, family-friendly luxury resort on Pinney's Beach that maintains a freshwater pool reserved for adults. A walk south on Pinney’s Beach brings you to Sunshine’s, a barefoot, bathing suit, T-shirt and shorts hangout famous for its Killer Bee rum-and-passion-fruit cocktail.
What to Do
Spend a day in paradise sailing, water-skiing, windsurfing, scuba diving, horseback riding, golfing, or simply perfecting your tans. If you're feeling adventurous, you can climb Nevis Peak. Nightlife is loose and unstructured, and the best place to hear authentic Caribbean music is at a local pub.