Finding Shangri-La

In The Caribbean Sea

By Robin Jay

parrot-cayMythical utopia ‘Shangri-La’’ was a fictitious isolated paradise untouched by the outside world described in Lost Horizon by British novelist James Hilton in 1993. But recently I discovered a very real heaven-on-earth utopia that Hilton would surely have agreed exemplifies his Shangri-La vision: Parrot Cay by COMO – a largely undeveloped 1000-acre private island resort serenely tucked in the Caribbean Sea in the Turks and Caicos.

Let the Adventure Begin
It was a misty Friday morning on May 6 as we boarded a 70-minute flight from Miami to Providenciales, the main island in the Turks and Caicos (TCI), which is one of 8 principal islands and 40 small cays. The TCI name stems from indigenous ‘Turk’s’ head cactus and  ‘Caicos,’ meaning ‘string of islands.’ Depending on which history book you reference,
either Christopher Columbus or Ponce de Leon discovered the islands in 1592. In 1766, the Bahamas colonized the TCI, which Jamaica later annexed in 1874, before England
sanctioned them a British Crown Colony in the 1970s.

52159391-H1-Two_Bedroom_Beach_House_Bedroom_2Upon arriving in Providenciales, a guide whisked us off to a pier for a 35-minute speedboat ride to Parrot Cay, which COMO transformed into an inhabited resort island in 1998. The sea – a mesmerizing vivid turquoise hue – held our gaze all the way! Approaching Parrot Cay, we could see waving hands and smiles of the crew waiting to greet us. Ningsih, a charming Balinese lady, introduced herself as our butler.
We climbed aboard her golf cart, the only form of guest transportation on the island other than bicycles.

In a maze of cactus and thickly entwined scrub, Ningsih deftly scooted us along a four-foot-wide path, weaving us through banana and coconut plantations toward our destination. She explained that Parrot Cay is a green, self-sustaining municipality, generating its own electricity and freshwater resources. The resort itself is made up of a principal building set back from the beach. Here you’ll find reception, concierge, the resort shop, bar, Terrace restaurant, and library with Internet access, a pool table and private veranda. Separate structures include the Shambhala Retreat Spa and yoga pavilions.

Our accommodations resided apart from the main building. Ningsih taxied us up a hill, shrouded by lush fauna on a path lined with fire-lit tiki torches. She brought the golf cart to a halt in front of a glorious weathered-wood-clad, three-bedroom beach villa – our home for the next four days. Incidentally, it’s the same villa Bruce Willis – the first private home owner on Parrot Cay – stayed in while he was building his own beach mansion.

As we entered our villa, an aroma of eucalyptus oil invigorated our senses and an iced bottle of champagne implored ‘let’s celebrate.’ The interior aesthetic offered an inviting, contemporary look with a colonial style finish with neutral sun-bleached oak floors, white tongue-and-groove vaulted beam ceilings, teak furnishings, pale Caicos stone with soft white cottons covering chairs and couches, candles and orchids, and four-poster beds with white-netting drapes overlooking glass doors that opened toward the ocean. We felt as if we were sleeping in a fairy tale.

Our ‘backyard’ comprised a private beach paradise, just steps from our personal plunge pool, cabana, several outdoor Balinese daybeds (enough for a nap in a different place every day of our stay!), baby-powder-soft sand and a stunning oceanfront view with a seemingly endless horizon. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Lotus Restaurant

Lotus Restaurant

At Parrot Cay, guests may visit one of two restaurants – an Asian-influenced Lotus Restaurant or the Italian inspired Terrace in the main hotel building. On Friday night, a soft rain blanketed the island, so we chose to dine in our villa. The heavenly ‘Shambhala’ menu offered fresh, healthy options. We enjoyed west-coast oysters, grilled chicken and spicy vegetables, and steamed sea bass. First glance of our dishes took our breath away because they appeared ‘technicolor’ vivid from their freshness and innovative cooking techniques. Ningsih concluded our meal with a delightfully frothy cappuccino she expertly crafted in our villa’s kitchen.


Terrace Restaurant

On Saturday morning, we awoke to Ningsih bringing us a lavish breakfast of nut muesli with fresh berries and almond milk, along with fresh juices and fruit. At 9 a.m., she drove us to the COMO Shambhala Retreat spa for our morning massage. Buapan, my Thai therapist, instinctively knew every pressure point on my body that begged for relief. Divine!

Back at the villa, we had time for a wondrous walk on the velvety white sand beach while collecting seashells like excited young children. Later, Ningsih served lunch beneath the thatched-roof Lotus Restaurant overlooking the main resort’s infinity pool and beach, where guests may enjoy non-motorized watercraft, like canoes and stand-up paddleboards. My favorite lunch dishes were the Shambhala Maki Sushi, prepared with ground raw walnuts instead of rice, and the cold watermelon and basil soup – mmm!

We next ventured one mile south to Rocky Point, where Parrot Cay Estates by COMO is located, encompassing the largest villas owned by private individuals but let and managed by the hotel. We toured ‘The Sanctuary’ owned by fashion designer Donna Karan, which includes a main house with three bedrooms and two four-bedroom guesthouses that visitors can rent together or separately. We also toured a pristine three-house compound called ‘Love Pumpkin,’ decorated with all things ‘Bali’ by owners Allan and Melissa Geller. (Be sure to look for a special feature story about ‘Love Pumpkin’ in the fall edition of Opulence – and discover the Geller’s compelling story you won’t soon forget!)

Sunday was a most magnificent Mother’s Day in the company of Mother Nature. We lounged all day seaside in the sun, not a care in the world. That evening, we enjoyed fine dining at the main building’s Terrace Restaurant with Sheila Ali, Executive Assistant at COMO. We feasted on butternut squash soup, grilled prawns, succulent lamb chops and coconut ice cream made from coconuts harvested on the island’s plantation. We were delighted to learn the Shambhala menu is available at any COMO property – of which there is one in Miami Beach at the Metropolitan Hotel. Now, we can enjoy Maki Sushi anytime. But rest
assured Parrot Cay – we’ll be back!


Finding Shangri-La