Wild Lotus Glamping innovated luxury glamping in the Caribbean. When visitors to Antigua happen upon our beautiful lotus tents sitting a few steps from the beach, we are often asked how it all started. Here’s a first person account of our struggles and continuing triumph as the Caribbean’s first luxury glamping resort.
A Family Affair
Over the past 3 years, together with my daughter, Chloe, and my husband Paul, we have curated a tiny piece of paradise, Valley Church Beach Antigua, into a site for amazing luxury beach glamping.
When we began our main goal was to connect with anyone wanting to leave the familiar behind and search for a sense of freedom in the Caribbean.
Who Am I?
I’m Vennetta Johnson and I’m much the same as many other professionals from colder climes who have washed up on the shores of a Caribbean island tired of the rat race and looking for both purpose and joy in life.
From the first time I set foot in Antigua I fell in love. Everything about the island enthralled me, from the turquoise water everywhere, to the way the leaves on the palm trees branched out as if in welcome to weary souls. The people also took me in with open arms. I immediately felt a kinship that I treasure even today.
Giving up a career in the UK and forging a path in the Caribbean has certainly not been easy. Without the germ of a business idea and the support of my family I would never have come so far.
So, How Did I Come up With the Idea of a Glamping Beach Resort in the Caribbean?
I guess that I am, and always will be, a public servant at heart. My first professional training was in psychiatric nursing. At the height of my career, I was a Director of Adult Social Services and an Assistant Chief Executive for large local authorities, planning and managing public services in cities across the UK.
If you’re familiar with Edgar Schein’s work you will not be surprised to know that service, pure challenge, and autonomy are my career anchors. These values go some way in explaining my commitment to sustainable tourism, and how I would create the first glamping site in the Caribbean.
However, it was a conflux of life events-- the death of my parents, dissatisfaction with my career and a desire to explore my heritage- that was the catalyst for change.
I can’t honestly say that there was an Aha! moment, or a detailed plan. It is only now as I reflect that I see a series of decisions that were seemingly unconnected at the time but that were all adding up to a decision to retire to the Caribbean.
Wild Lotus Montserrat - The Beginning Of A Beautiful Story
I do seem to get the greatest satisfaction out of trying to solve seemingly unsolvable social problems. And I always find a novel way to do so.
I had worked out that by virtue of its dependency on the UK, Montserrat was in the European Union. The EU has a fantastic youth exchange programme that enables young people from different EU countries to live together for up to 3 weeks to tackle a shared social problem.
Here lay the opportunity to express our social purpose on a remote Caribbean island. Within a few months of leaving my job I was bound for Montserrat.
For the first time in its 20-year history, the EU exchange programme connected young people from mainland Europe to those in its overseas territories. We found an abandoned campsite in the rainforest, renovated it and set it up with lovely Lotus Belle tents. Then we brought together young people from Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, Poland, Montserrat and the UK to experience exotic rainforest glamping and exchange perspectives.
It was in the middle of one such youth camp as I was listening to Chloe think out loud about green therapy and the healing power of nature, that the idea of creating a space where urbanites get to truly connect with nature began to take shape.
Days later Hurricane Maria struck. Within hours it went from a category 2 to a category 4 hurricane. The campsite was quickly evacuated, and all the young people safely moved to hurricane shelters. But there was no time to take down the tents.
20th September, 2017 was the longest night of my life. Try to imagine standing on the platform at an underground station, transfixed by the roar and turbulence of an on-coming high speed train. This is the sound of 120 mph hurricane winds, and the succession of terrifying crescendos were relentless throughout the night.
Montserrat did not bear the worst of the storm. Maria wrought catastrophic devastation across the Caribbean taking over 3,000 lives, leaving housing and tourism infrastructure beyond repair, and practically eradicating the vegetation.
It was with my heart in my throat that I approached the campsite the next morning. Incredulously, every one of our five Lotus Belle tents were still standing. To this day I still do not understand how. Perhaps their circular design and the 30 stakes anchoring them to the ground, combined with the shelter of the rainforest canopy protected them. I don’t know.
I was now in awe of nature, but knew that the Lotus Belle tents would work. My resolve to establish glamping as a sustainable tourism product was underscored. We loved the wildlife of the rainforest, we borrowed ‘lotus’ from the Lotus belle tents and right there, directly after hurricane Maria the concept of Wild Lotus Camp was born.
Montserrat has huge potential but with the dead hand of British rule, poor infrastructure and lackluster politicians, all that has been achieved in the 25 years since the volcanic eruptions is a succession of tourism strategy documents gathering dust.
Sadly, we moved on from Montserrat and began to look for other sites in Antigua that had a similar natural wilderness feel, to set up a new camp.
Wild Lotus Glamping Antigua
Valley Church Beach is one of the most stunning beaches in Antigua. It’s a ½ mile stretch of pure golden sand with not a concrete hotel in sight. Although this is a very popular beach, once the cruise ship visitors return to the port the gate is locked before sunset and the beach is all but deserted.
At the far end of the beach there is a beach bar and a restaurant, The Nest, run by the landowners, Elvis and Neil. The restaurant and washrooms were all the infrastructure we needed to set up the new Wild Lotus Camp. Once negotiations were completed, we brought the tents over and set them up on Valley Church Beach.
We had our first customer, Jasmine, in November 2017, just two months after hurricane Maria in Montserrat.
Finding Our Tribe
Now in our third season, having served hundreds of customers from all walks of life, we are looking to find our tribe.
If you've stayed with us, share this blog with anyone you know who loves the Caribbean and might love glamping too. We want to truly create magical experiences for lovers, family and friends to connect. We also want to promote the health benefits of the outdoors and host retreats focused on wellness and nature. Check out our beach glamping accommodations and experiences to see if you connect with what we do.
If you do, do plan a stay with us!
Vennetta, Chloe & Paul