A Ghanaian word, jumby means ‘playful spirit’, and legend has it that Jumby Bay, a private island two miles off the coast of Antigua, has its own resident spook, Sam, the son of a plantation owner.  Anecdotes about Sam are traded in conspiratorial tones, which seems fitting, as the island’s reputation is built on word of mouth, rather than canny marketing or celebrity endorsement.  But things are changing, and this autumn, interested parties can request information on available property, although a cloak of mystery will remain in place for all but extremely serious buyers.

The island’s hotel has been an exclusive destination since it started attracting British holidaymakers in the 1980s, some of whom decided they wanted a permanent home here.  In 1998, the homeowners bought the entire island from the previous owner and created the Jumby Bay Island Company (JBIC), which now owns and controls the island, with each homeowner as a shareholder.  Each homeowner has a single share in JBIC, which owns the island and all its assets in entirety. 

The island is very low density, with only 56 homes ever to be built on the island, 49 of which already exist, including 18 attached villas.  All of the remaining seven plots are now privately owned and only four are ever likely to be developed.  When homes are available for sale, prices start at US$5mn and rise to US$30mn+.

Each house varies immensely as a reflection of the tastes of the owner, from sprawling old plantation houses to classic beach villas writ large, made of wood and painted in clean, light colours.  The attached villas have three or four bedrooms and the larger homes can accommodate several family groups, each in a separate guest suite or guest house.  Libraries, games rooms, infinity pools and pool complexes abound.

These houses are private dwellings first and foremost, but they also command some of the highest rentals in the Caribbean – between $4,000 and $14,000 per night – and owners often end up with high profile guests:  Robert de Niro is a regular at one of the houses, a property built with a definite Italian twist, with a cinema room, a tennis court, a gym and a croquet lawn as well as a giant swimming pool with a pergola fronted onto Pasture Beach. 

Eagles Landing, with its own private beach and jetty, is a 10,000 sq ft house sitting on one of the largest plots on the island.  The current owner is a huge tennis fan, so the court is extremely high spec, and the gym is close by in its own private building.  The house sleeps 12 and has an African influence in its design.  The bedroom suites have spectacular views of the Caribbean. The infinity pool looks out towards nearby Bird and Guiana Islands and sits above the beach.  The house, which also has an extended private dock allowing for larger boat mooring, is currently on the market for about $25mn.  Another great property on the market is brand-new Harbour Heights, with a guide price of $22mn.

‘What we have here is quite unique’, says sales manager Andrew Robson.  ‘Such proximity to an international airport and the vibrancy of Antigua on the one hand and such complete privacy, and security on the other with homeowners sharing ownership and control of the entire island – there’s nowhere in the world quite like it.’

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts was appointed in 2002 to manage the hotel, including guests staying in private homes.  A $26.5mn renovation will be completed in December. 

Most property owners have their own staff, who do food and drink shopping on their behalf, at their expense, and receive a bill when they leave.

Homeowners have access to all facilities on the island, including the hotel restaurants, bars and spa.  As the resort is all-inclusive, owners sign for everything they have in the restaurants and receive a monthly bill.

The amenities rival those of the smartest international boltholes in the world, but the difference is that Jumby aims to keep its air of relaxed fun – think barefoot luxury without any pretension.  There are no cars on the island – everyone travels on bikes or in golf buggies, many of them personalised by their owners.

In addition to the hotel tennis courts, many homes have their own courts and friendly competitions take place year round.  Croquet is another popular sport, with pitches scattered around the island.  There is a putting green in front of the Estate House.

Jumby Bay attracts keen sailors, who enjoy the many international class events held in Antigua.  Boats can be moored in the island’s private, 10-slip marina. The hotel has its own hobie cats which are available to homeowners and guests alike. Snorkelling and diving opportunities also abound with regular excursions leaving from the island itself.

The rare Hawksbill turtles on Pasture Bay have existed since the end of the Jurassic period, over 150 million years ago. To protect them, one of the longest running and most successful environmental research projects in the world has been operating on Jumby Bay since 1986.

Under the auspices of the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Group (WIDECAST), the island’s residents’ association supports two researchers who stay on the island every year between May and November, and they welcome visitors and provide a fascinating opportunity to see, touch and learn more about these rare turtles. 

Living up to their exclusive reputation, the island’s owners are never going to sell property through the usual channels.  In a world in which we constantly risk spoiling the next ‘unspoilt’ destination, buying here guarantees entry into an exclusive club, happily situated in a well-protected, never-changing island idyll. 

For more information about property on Jumby Bay, telephone +1 (268) 764 5808, email andrew@jumbybayrealestate.com or visit www.jumbybayrealestate.com