In an increasingly overdeveloped Caribbean, tiny Barbuda — the under-the-radar, 62-square-mile sibling of the better-known Antigua — feels like a place out of time.
Getting there is part of the appeal: the island’s season runs from November through July, and though short charter flights are available from Antigua, most visitors make the trip via a 90-minute ferry ride. Days are spent kayaking or paddleboarding among the mangroves, bird-watching at the frigate-bird sanctuary, and lounging on the pink-sand beaches.
It’s this sense of seclusion and connection to the land that made Robert De Niro, who first visited 30 years ago, fall in love with Barbuda. And it’s what inspired De Niro and his partners to open Nobu Barbuda, the latest Caribbean outpost of the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant brand on Princess Diana Beach in December 2020. (She famously vacationed on the island several times.) Nobu’s signature black miso cod is one of the draws, but guests can also book private cabanas with butler service at the beach club, added in January 2022, or indulge in a six-course omakase experience at sunset.
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Now De Niro’s team is taking things to new heights with Nobu Beach Inn. While the full property—which will have two- and three-bedroom bungalows, each with its own private pool and most with direct beach access—is scheduled to open in 2025, a two-bedroom cottage is open for VIP Nobu Barbuda guests this season, by invitation only.
Other changes are slowly coming to Barbuda. Plans for a new international airport are under way (the current Codrington Airport, which was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017, is serviced by private jets, charter flights, and helicopters), and an 18-hole golf course is under construction.
But for now, the island retains its relaxed atmosphere. There are no mega-resorts, but instead, a pair of away-from-it all, family-run oases. Barbuda Cottages has eight villas perched on stilts over the sugar-white sands at Coral Group Bay, a crescent beach that’s often empty. Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel, a solar-powered beachfront property with eight identical cottages that were constructed in Bali, also has a delightfully disconnected feel.
De Niro hopes the arrival of the Nobu inn will introduce others to the privacy and community spirit of Barbuda that he first felt decades ago. “This project holds a special place in my heart,” he told T+L. “I want it to be that memorable destination that people come back to year after year.”
A version of this story first appeared in the February 2024 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline “Fresh Catch.”