Escaping to a luxe private island resort often entails decamping to far-flung locales like Fiji, The Maldives or Belize. Even if you have the budget to splurge on such a rarefied getaway, it can be a huge hassle to get there.
Savvy travelers who would rather skip a 16-hour flight to French Polynesia can instead luxuriate at an exotic island paradise right here in the U.S. on Little Palm Island, a lush destination dotted with 30 thatched roof bungalows in the lower Florida Keys.
This acclaimed 4.5-acre retreat on Little Torch Key is less than 30 miles from the touristy bustle of Key West, but it feels like a different planet. The adults-only resort first launched as Little Palm Island in 1988, and after being ravaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017, was rebuilt in 2020 with the goal of becoming America’s premier private island getaway.
Little Palm Island is accessible only by boat or seaplane. To get there by car from Key West, you’ll need to take U.S. Highway 1 North to Mile Marker 28.5, turn onto Pirate’s Road, then roll into the parking lot of Little Palm’s “Welcome Station” and departure dock, where guests check in and board a ferry to the island.
The resort’s signature coconut rum-spiked “Gumby Slumber” cocktails are offered to passengers before the 15-minute trip on the hotel’s handsome wooden motor yacht, The Truman, a nod to the former president and sometime Key West resident who frequented the property when it was still known as Little Munson Island.
Nowadays, guests arriving at Little Palm Island are greeted by a gorgeous mosaic of sandbars, mangroves, and coconut-bearing palm trees swaying in a warm tropical breeze.
Walk along the crushed seashell paths that traverse the resort’s jungle-like foliage and you may encounter tiny Key deer, scurrying iguanas, and countless species of birds, including herons, pelicans and egrets that spend their days diving for fish near the beachfront.
The exclusive property’s spacious thatched roof bungalows are brimming with a classic British West Indies design aesthetic and luxe amenities like outdoor showers, private decks, vaulted ceilings, copper bathtubs, four-poster beds and elegant tropical-chic decor.
Many of these bungalows boast sweeping ocean views, and all are adorned with charming wooden signs etched with guests’ names.
As LPI is capped to just 60 guests, you may not encounter anyone when you amble to the pool to chill out in a cabana, sit under a scalloped beach umbrella or take a complimentary kayak or stand-up paddleboard for a quick trip around the mangroves.
More adventurous guests can indulge in aquatic off-island activities like snorkeling and scuba diving at Looe Key Reef—the world’s third-largest barrier reef—located just a short boat ride from the island.
Rod-and-reel enthusiasts have the enviable options of choosing from spearfishing, deep-sea fishing, reef and wreck fishing and, perhaps best of all, backcountry flats fishing for the elusive, hard-fighting local “Big Three” of bonefish, tarpon and permit. Other excursions include dolphin encounters, seaplane day trips, tandem skydiving and eco-tours.
Guests who’d rather just chill out and relax would do well to book an appointment at the property’s newly-renovated spa. SpaTerre is housed in a striking open-air, two-story atrium and offers soothing treatments ranging from CBD-infused massages to sound therapy treatments on a quartz sand table.
The island’s sole restaurant, a reliably good eatery called The Dining Room, has indoor and outdoor seating perfect for sunset views, and serves guests poolside, on the beach, and via room service.
Standout dishes include locally sourced seafood favorites like fresh pink Key West shrimp cocktail, cracked stone crab claws, spicy tuna tacos, grilled black grouper, and, naturally, an excellent slice of Key Lime Pie.
There’s also a formidable list of fine wines and plenty of Kaluga caviar to gorge on if you’re in the mood to inflate your bill further before checking out. With rooms starting at $1,900 per night, Little Palm is ideal for special occasions like a celebratory couple’s getaway, or as the site of an idyllic wedding location.
It’s no wonder that LPI recently made Condé Nast Traveler’s 2021 Hot List, as well as being named among the “Top 10 Resorts in the U.S.” and “Top 50 Resorts in the World” in the travel bible’s Readers Choice Awards.
If you’re looking for a less budget-busting Keys experience, check into LPI’s more affordable sister property, Ocean Key Resort, conveniently situated near Key West Harbor and party-hearty Duval Street. But for a truly special and relaxing vacation, Little Palm Island deserves its elite status as a bucket-list-worthy destination.
For booking information, visit littlepalmisland.com.