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Guana Island

Guana Island comes alive

The short boat ride from Tortola’s Trellis Bay to Guana Island’s White Bay exposes a familiar view I’ve admired from Tortola’s north shore beaches countless times.

Around its eastern Monkey Point, Guna Island reveals its dramatic iguana rock head and its sugar-fine White Bay belly. But instead of enjoying the mystical island from afar for a fleeting moment, today I get to experience all its splendors for my personal enjoyment.

From the short dock that leads to White Bay, I’m greeted by assistant manager Andrea Starkey, who leads us to our golf cart buggies that act as our transport across the island’s few, quaint roadways. As we board the buggies, I look down into the bright blue water; a vast shoal of shining Caribbean herring look back at me. The waters are teeming with life. I’d soon find out that so is the rest of the island. 


Andrea suggests a scenic introductory tour of the island to help me get acquainted with this starkly unique Virgin Island. We first traverse through the nine acres of flatland that lead to the orchard and past the salt pond to the North Shore. As a Tortola resident and regular visitor to the VI’s outer islands and cays, I’m still taken aback by the serene and unscathed ambiance as we navigate the smooth terrain.

From the island’s flats we travel a short, flora-canopied trail that opens in dramatic form to the island’s salt pond. In its foreground, ruins from an 18th century Quaker sugar mill stand as a reminder of Guana’s past and its inhabitants that likely first developed the island. To the mill’s side, a blooming flamboyant tree shades a romantic nook that overlooks the pond and its lurid flamingo inhabitants. Today, nine feathery friends wade in the warm and mineral-rich waters. While three are considered full-time residents of the pond, six have flown over from either Necker Island or Anegada. In the mid eighties, Guana’s current owners, Henry and Gloria Jarecki, worked hard to bring flamingos to Anegada, where they have since successfully mated and now call several BVI salt ponds home.

The Jareckis, who’ve owned Guna Island since 1975, have brought their environmental ethos to the islands and have made every effort to bring their idea of preservation to Guana. They’ve since declared the island a nature reserve and turn it over to a group of researchers for two months of the year—August and September—when they study its unique land and marine life. As a result, Guana boasts one of the largest catalogued ecosystems in the Caribbean. According to longtime Guana researcher Dr James “Skip” Lazell, who wrote the literal book on the island’s natural history (Island: Fact and Theory in Nature), “Guana has more flora and fauna than any island of its size yet studied in the Caribbean, and possibly the world.” As I explore the islands 850 budding, chirping and crawling acres, I can see how this could be true.


As we continue onto the Island’s rugged north shore, we stop by the recently refurbished Jost House. Before entering, we stop to feed the endangered red-legged tortoises, which are also on the verge of being successfully reintroduced to their new setting. The large and curious creatures wobble toward Andrea as she cautiously feeds them hibiscus blossoms—a favourite treat.


We make our way into the large and luxurious Jost House, which Andrea explains as a prided yet unique villa for visitors who prefer a more extravagant stay while tucked away among nature’s wonders. The other retreats on the island, which can collectively accommodate as many as 32 guests at a time, maintain a rustic yet comfortable charm, true to its previous founder’s vision. Upon the neighbouring peek, the cozy line of hillside bungalows and the resort’s clubhouse line the terrain once inhabited by the 18th century Quaker estate. As we stand poolside on the lavish deck outside of the recently refurbished Jost House, I admire the entire resort and question whether I would prefer the luxurious amenities of the Jost House, or the historic charm on the neighbouring hill.

As we continue onward, over another rolling hill and through pathways tunneled by neatly manicured tree limbs, we reach the island’s dramatic North Beach. The windward facing bay is bordered by imposing cliffs of volcanic stone that fall abruptly into rocky shallows. Its shoreline is completely consumed by sea treasures left behind by shellfish and sharks. There, amid the resort’s most secluded location, a one-bedroom cottage finds a prime setting for privacy-seeking honeymooners.

As we make our way back to the main resort, Andrea questions what I’d like to do with the rest of the day. Like the inquisitive tourist that I am today, I decide to play the part and explore the nature reserve on my own. First, though, we dine on a lunch buffet on the clubhouse’s verandah, where I chat with Howard Watson, the lead architect and construction manager of the island. As the previous director of OBMI, Watson was called upon to lead the reconstruction and refurbishing efforts of the resort; over the past three decades he has led operations on Guana. As a longtime resident on Guana, Howard has a firm grasp on the island’s history and knows the type of visitor the unique destination attracts.

“We attract those visitors that aren’t looking fort the luxury of the Peter and Necker Islands,” he explains. “It’s the nature of the place that brings people in, and you can see that simply by walking around. It’s echoed in the fact that those [who]stay here become firm friends in their stay, and they find this common interest that is based in the natural beauty in the place.”

Howard described Guana as “an island of substance,” and said that he kept this very idea in mind when doing renovations to the resort.

“I’ve kept it all very modest; that’s the [Jarecki] mantra,” he says. “Also, they want to keep the place understated and low-key, so the island itself is the intrinsically beautiful part of the experience.”


After a delicious lunch centered on Cajun shrimp and famed Guana chili, I hit the road—then the trails. Guana’s dramatic and lively terrain has been transected by 27 different trails, each leading to awe-inspiring panoramas of the Virgin Island. Each trail has been methodically cut and manicured to expose all the hidden beauties that lie within the island’s undisturbed bush. After trekking through a few of the island’s impressive trails, I meet Dr Liao Weiping, the Chinese gardener and naturalist who came to the island more than 20 years ago and has since been responsible for mapping out its trails and tending to its orchard. Approaching 80 years of age, the charismatic and unstoppable Dr Liao retains an undying love for Guana Island. I meet Dr Liao in the orchard, where he explains his strong friendship with the Jarecki family, and the story of how he came to work at the resort after meeting Henry Jarecki in China. We share a basket of breadfruit, mangoes, sugar cane and plantain as he smiles wide and shares his tall stories. He often breaks into song to express his original poetry professing his love for Guana. His affinity for the island is contagious.

With amazement, I listen as he describes how he has spent more than two dec ades carving out the trails leading through Guana’s deep and sometimes rugged interiors. “The trail comes from my eye,” he says with his thick Mandarin accent. “I need to find some beautiful tree—some special rock. My eye will follow me there and that’s how I make a trail.”

I return for dinner after dusk and meet with a few of the resort’s guests. Two couples have just been married and chose Guana as a romantic retreat. They speak glowingly of a vacation quiet enough to enjoy the simplicities and complexities of nature and of each other. I also speak with a family who seems to be enjoying all of the adventures of the island. The mother, still in her trainers and wearing the look of exhaustion from a day of hiking and kayaking, says she needs a shower before sitting for dinner. The children bypass the community iPad to share a coffee table book about private islands around the world.

I sit for lobster dinner with Andrea as we share a bottle of wine and discuss the day’s activities. The Tortola resident explains to me that she will be living on the island for the next couple months to help with operations. I voice my jealousy. Although Tortola and Guana share the Virgin Islands family name, I remember what Dr Skip Lazelle said about Guana and think to myself that there really is no place on Earth quite like it. Tonight, to the lullabies of coqui frogs, I sleep in pure bliss, knowing that I will be back on Tortola tomorrow. I know, though, that just like with years past, Guana will remain pristine and unscathed, ripe for future adventures.

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