Club Med Columbus Isle: A Resort For People Who Hate Resorts
On our honeymoon, my husband and I had a fancy over-the-water suite booked at a sleepy resort in the Philippines, the rewarding finale to a trip where we mostly slept in beachside huts. Two nights into our five-night stay, we fell victim to cabin fever and planned an escape, abandoning the resort in favour of the town of El Nido, where our new room was located in a vaguely murderish motel and boasted a showerhead with an electric waterheater plugged directly into it—hindsight is 20/20? BUT at least we were in the centre of the hustle and bustle! It was an adventure! (One that was potentially going to get us electrocuted, but these are the risks you take.)
However, I was quick to put my resort reservations aside when I headed to Club Med Columbus Isle in San Salvador, Bahamas a few weeks ago. A Google search revealed San Salvador to be tropical paradise, and from what little I knew of Club Med words like “European”, “luxe”, and “deeply tanned” came to mind.
The isle of San Salvador is located on the Atlantic side of the Bahamas, about 200 miles southeast of Nassau. This little sliver of land’s claim to fame hearkens all the way back to 1492, when Christopher Columbus spotted it on his voyage to the Americas (mistaking it for the East Indies, whoops!), hence Club Med’s use of the “Columbus Isle” moniker. As I wandered through the resort’s pool area, which opens up into a spectacular beachfront replete with turquoise waves and bleached white sand, I immediately understood why CC would’ve leapt at the chance to come ashore.
It was this picturesque setting that also attracted the eyes of the Club Med conglomerate. Deemed a bacchanalian party scene in the swinging ’60s and ’70s, Club Med’s primary focus today is on family fun. Many Club Meds offer supervised Kids Clubs, where little ones can spend the day frolicking with pals their own age while mom and dad have an opportunity to catch their own R&R.
The suites at Columbus Isle are located in charming Colonial-style houses painted in hyper-pigmented primaries, sprawled out along the idyllic mile-long expanse of Bonefish Bay. There is also the Sea Centre (comprised of the dive shop and recently renovated fitness centre), spa by L’Occitane, and several bars and restaurants, including the newly opened upscale La Pinta Lounge, which offers seated service and a delectable spread of tapas and fresh local seafood. All of this constitutes the Club Med “village.”
The rich history that imbues the Club Med name is not mere speculation—a brief observance of the mainly French clientele revealed that it is indeed a much-loved brand among the francophone set, in many cases spanning multiple familial generations. Those who vacationed at the resorts with their parents as children return now with their own kids. There is a distinct culture that permeates the grounds, from the multilingual GOs (that’s gentil organisateurs to the uninitiated, translating to “gracious hosts”—chic, non?), to the themed dress codes, to the wild dance routines that everyone somehow seems to know (choreography led by the GOs and aptly titled “Crazy Signs” since everyone is flailing about). There’s also a general sense of good vibes being passed around: People are relaxed, friendly, and, as I suspected, deeply tanned.
The atmosphere is casual, although for those looking to take the all-inclusive experience to the next level, there are a multitude of additional luxuries available for purchase. I tried a combination Swedish/deep tissue massage at the aforementioned L’Occitane spa, where I was lathered in luscious oils and kneaded into limb-melting nirvana. I emerged from my treatment lavender-scented and limp as a noodle, ready to slide into my all-white ensemble for the evening’s festivities.
Aside from the infectious nightly dance-a-thons, my favourite part of the trip was undoubtedly the incredible diving expedition we took with Seafari. After an on-land lesson explaining the basics, we suited up and shipped out on the dive boat, headed for deeper waters. I’d snorkelled a few times before and figured that diving would be similar, but after donning my massive air tank and inflatable vest, I began to have second thoughts. Our instructor must’ve seen me internally screaming, as she spoke with a soothing Yogi calm and tactfully guided us into the beryl blue depths below. Once submerged along the sea floor, gravity dissolved and left us suspended in the clear waters, free to observe gloriously coloured parades of parrotfish, barracuda, groupers, rays and intricately veined brain coral. We floated along the edge of a cavernous seawall, peering down into the unknown abyss below. A meditative serenity infused our senses while the surface roiled above, now long forgotten along with any earlier trepidation.
The abundance of reefs and local marine life is one of the Bahamas most valuable natural exports, catapulting diving to the “must do” section of your itinerary. Beginner diving lessons are offered at an extra cost, but it is undoubtedly one of best travelling investments you will ever make.
For the less adventurous, there are still a wide variety of activities available to take part in, including outdoor yoga, tennis, beach volleyball, kayaking, snorkelling, sailing, water skiing, windsurfing and paddle boarding. The pursuit of leisure is most definitely what’s on the menu at Club Med, but only after a day of hard-won activity.
In the end, my resort skepticism melted faster than a piña colada in the Caribbean sun. I succumbed to Club Med’s siren call, revelling in the surprisingly gourmet buffets (beef bourguignon, anyone?), attentive service, gorgeous scenery and active lifestyle. I even checked my scruples and took part in some of the choreographed dancing. Turns out, being relaxed enough to let yourself go is its own thrilling adventure.