May 18, 2011
Here at Virgin Atlantic we’re enormous fans of the Caribbean, and as much as we relish relaxing on the islands’ beautiful beaches and lapping up the view, we also love looking beyond the palm trees and seeing what else there is to offer. Regular vtravelled contributor David Whitley gets off the beaten track and discovers that the Caribbean has played host to many a famous face…
“It’s not just tourists who enjoy hanging out in the Caribbean – Hollywood film crews will find any excuse to go there, too. Whether it’s James Bond, Jack Sparrow or Red and Andy from The Shawshank Redemption, many of our favourite movie characters have set foot in the West Indies. Why not follow in their footsteps?”
Despite almost 50 years of Bond films since, the scene of a bikini-clad Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Dr No is still one of the most iconic in the series. Yet most people who go looking for the beach in question never find it – instead they end up at James Bond Beach, 20 minutes from Ocho Rios. This one is so named because Ian Fleming’s house overlooked it.
The filming was actually done at Laughing Waters beach. It’s at the bottom of Dunn’s River Falls, which also featured in Dr No and is one of the few cascades in the world that goes directly into the sea. Most hotels and taxi drivers will arrange tours from Ocho Rios to climb the falls, which can get quite crowded when the cruise ships are in. The falls also featured in the Tom Cruise cheese-fest, Cocktail.
It’s not just Jamaica that Bond has a penchant for – he keeps making his way to the Bahamas too. Much of Thunderball and its remake, Never Say Never Again, were shot there.
It’s the diving scenes that both flicks are famous for. Two wrecks – the Vulcan bomber in Thunderball and the Tears of Allah in Never Say Never Again – can be found off the coast of Nassau, New Providence Island. There’s also Thunderball Grotto off Staniel Cay, where you can snorkel or dive.
The Bahamas Diving Association is the best first stop for organising dives to the Bond sites. Meanwhile, those wanting to stay where 007 stayed can try to book Villa 1085 at the One and Only Ocean Club, Paradise Island. These were Bond’s none-too-shabby digs in Casino Royale.
The final scene of the prison classic sees Red walk across a Mexican beach to his old pal Andy, who is fiddling with a boat. It wasn’t filmed in Mexico at all, however, but in St Croix.
The beach is a two-mile crescent on the island’s southwestern tip, called Sandy Point, and is part of a national wildlife refuge as a major turtle hatching ground. It is therefore closed to visitors on weekdays and during the turtle nesting season.
The nearest settlement is Frederikstad and the relative isolation and limited opening hours keep it beautifully quiet. Just don’t expect parasols and sunloungers.
The tiny village of Wallilabou in western St Vincent was the major filming location for the first movie. Many of the Port Royal sets still remain, if in a somewhat dilapidated state.
Vincy Aviation offers tours of other Pirates locations in the Grenadines while Erika’s can arrange day excursions on the Scaramouche, an old schooner that featured in the film.
For the second instalment of the trilogy, much of the filming was done in Dominica. Hampstead Beach in the northwest is where Jack Sparrow is chased by the locals, while the cannibal village scenes were shot at High Meadow in the south. Taxi drivers are more than happy to put together impromptu tours, while eco-lodges can arrange boat trips up the Indian River – which is where the characters went to visit the voodoo lady.
Jodie Foster’s alien-obsessed character in Contact begins on her quest for extra-terrestrial life at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This isn’t just movie magic, the place does exist and it’s home to the world’s largest radio telescope.
A giant dish in the middle of a forest, however, makes it look a little like a Bond villain’s base. It’s no surprise, therefore, that 007 has made the observatory one of his many Caribbean haunts. Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean fought each other on the giant antenna that sticks out of the dish.
The observatory is open to visitors, and the tours explain its role as an “ear to space”. Numerous tour companies head out there from San Juan.