St Vincent and the Grenadines

St Vincent and the Grenadines

St Vincent and the Grenandines is a nation that encompasses 32 islands and cays (pronounced ‘keys’, meaning little islands) with only 9 of these being populated. All the islands are volcanic, with deep bays and inlets where clear aquamarine waters lap on fine white-sand beaches. They are some of the most beautiful and unspoiled islands in the world.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is next door to, but not legally connected to Grenada in any way. These special islands have a similar feel to the British Virgins in that you can easily sail or motor from one to the other without the hassle of changing jurisdictions. The similarity ends there in that these islands are still less developed and far less “discovered” than the BVI.

There is a clear focus in the Grenadines on protecting natural beauty and tranquillity by way of national parks and conservation areas. (There is also a rule throughout most of the Grenadines prohibiting the use of jet skis, aquascooters, or spearfishing.) Yachties who love nature will find these islands perfect for hiking, bird-watching, snorkelling and diving. There is amazing variety of tropical fish in the shallow-water reefs around the islands, many kinds of dolphin and whales as well.

Even though temperatures are high all year round (76-85 degrees F), but there are steady breezes thanks to the trade winds in the islands. The prevailing winds and currents are north to south, especially in the winter months. It is very comfortable to sail southward from St. Vincent down to Union Island, with the wind and the swell. Steaming north can be more of a struggle but the islands are close together and a round trip can easily be accomplished in a week to ten days. But…the main point of the Grenadines is not to “accomplish” anything. As one visitor put it, “There is never enough nothing to do….”

ST. VINCENT

St Vincent is a rugged, hilly volcanic bit of real estate that still houses a 3,000-foot volcano named La Soufriere, which last erupted in 1979. There are no white sand beaches to attract tourists, and, thus, the island has remained largely unspoiled. The interior is undeveloped and, in a sense, nothing but “wild nature”. There are not even roads crossing the island. A true “eco-tourist” will enjoy climbing the volcano (about two and a half hours) or taking a trip by boat to the Falls of Baleine on the north end of the island. The Owia Salt Pond is also worth a visit. As you swim tranquilly in this enormous pool, surrounded by lava deposits and reefs. Water pours in as waves crash on the barriers surrounding the pool. For the less adventuresome, the Botanical Gardens near Kingstown are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere (established in 1762) and quite beautiful. There are still specimens of breadfruit left by the famous Captain Bligh. Nature enthusiasts should visit the Buccament Valley’s Vermont Nature Trails. There are more than 35 species of birds, many species of wildlife including iguana and armadillo and more than 250 plant species.

BEQUIA (pronounced Beck-way)

Bequia is a lush paradise complete with quiet lagoons, gorgeous reefs and long stretches of near-deserted beaches. This beautiful island is only about eight miles from Kingstown or Blue Lagoon in St. Vincent. Bequia is the largest of the Grenadines (7 square miles) and has a rich history of boatbuilding and whaling. For years it was only possible to get to Bequia on a ferry from St. Vincent or a private boat so the island has maintained a very authentic West Indian character.

The main stopping point for yachts is Admiralty Bay/Port Elizabeth. There is a long walkway around the bay with various local shops, bars and restaurants. Try the Gingerbread Café, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and also sells gourmet specialty goods including wine, coffee and caviar…or Auberge Des Grenadines, famous for fresh lobster…or Frangiapani (right on the water), known for lobster (grilled lobster, lobster cocktails etc), curried conch and its Thursday night “jump-up” and barbeque. A little outside of town, Le Petit Jardin is a special treat. Its owner/chef trained at the Culinary Institute in the US, but his style is definitely mouth-watering French gourmet. At the southernmost end of town is the Plantation House, an old West Indian-style plantation resort with cottages and a restaurant and bar.

Yachties looking for exercise and a magnificent view of the surrounding islands can hike up the 900 foot “hill” known as “The Mountain”. Another interesting place to visit the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, founded to save the Hawksbill turtle from extinction. Finally, there is “Moonhole”, an experimental, ecological development of 20 “free form” homes with no window or door, just “openings”. All the houses conform to the hillside with no “straight lines”. One house has a tree growing in the living room. (Tours are only available on Tuesdays; call 458-3068)

MUSTIQUE

This island hideaway (only 3 miles long and a mile and a half wide) is about fifteen miles from St. Vincent and ten from the West Cay of Bequia. Mustique is a privately-owned island sprinkled with only about 90 homes, many belonging to the rich and famous. Gently sloping manicured lawns and beautifully kept houses are characteristic of the island. The best way to get around is to rent a “mule” (heavy duty golf cart) or a motorbike (Mustique Mechanical Systems (488-8555).

Probably the most famous New Year’s Eve party in the Caribbean occurs at Basil’s Bar (ph# 784-488-8350 email: basils@caribsurf.com). Basil’s also hosts a Blues Festival each year (from January 19-February 5 in 2007) and a Wednesday night bbq buffet and “jump-up” with a steel band. Yachties in search of a drink, a great sunset and a little Caribbean music dinghy right up to the pier where Basil’s is located. You can buy a kaftan (for which Basil’s is known) in shop adjacent to the restaurant.

Cotton House, formerly a suger mill was completely renovated in 2004, is the only resort on the island. It is small with only 20 rooms, and like just about everything in Mustique, offers complete luxury in a small, private setting. (http://www.cottonhouseresort.com/)

For provisions, try Corea’s Food Store or the Mustique General Store in the harbor. (The harbor is quaint and boats hosting more than 25 people are not allowed in.) There is a lovely French pattiserie, Sweetie Pie Bakery that sells baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat.

CANOUAN

A crescent-shaped island surrounded by wide shallows and coral, Canouan was quiet and virtually untouched until Italian developers bought it some years ago. Now it hosts a large Raffles resort, the Tamarind Beach Hotel and Yacht Club, the Villa Monte Carlo Casino, the Amrita Spa  and the Trump International Golf Club. If you have had enough tranquility, it is the perfect place for an afternoon on the golf course or evening at the casino!

TOBAGO CAYS

Further to the south are the Tobago Cays, famous for amazing snorkeling and for the filming of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Dead Man’s Chest”. This cluster of cays inside a rim of reef (Horseshoe Reef) are becoming more popular but are still far less crowded than places like the Baths in the BVI. Every morning, the “bread man” will come around to your boat offering bread and ice, two necessities. Sometimes, there will be fishermen offering fresh fish or lobster (beware the underweight/illegal lobsters!). Islanders sometimes host beach parties or bbq’s, but the Cays are by and large a natural phenomenon and remain a completely undeveloped national park. Be sure you are well provisioned before going in. Once there, soak up the beautiful sights around you, both under the water and above.

MAYREAU

Mayreau is a tiny island with only 262 inhabitants, 35 miles or 4-5 hours south of St. Vincent. Saltwhistle Bay in Mayreau is not to be missed. It is one of the most perfect beaches in all of the Grenadines. If you arrive too late in the day during high season, you will have to anchor in Saline Bay on the far side of the island (a nice hike over the crest of large hill). (Beware of anchoring anywhere near the ferry that docks at the enormous concrete pier over to one side. It comes barreling into the bay and will take no notice of anything in its path).

Saltwhistle Bay is home to a spectacular resort called the Saltwhistle Bay Club (www.saltwhistle.com ph: 784-458-8444). Visiting yachties are welcome to lounge and swim at the beach (pretty much like being in a postcard that is too good to be true). For a luxury experience, reserve well in advance for cocktails at the Saltwhistle bar and dinner at the stone tables under the trees at the beach. For a little “local flavor” or a less expensive dining experience, walk up and over the hill to some of the local bars and restaurants. The food is fresh and delicious, and the people of the island are very welcoming and friendly.

PALM ISLAND

Just a mile to the west of Union Island and south of the Tobago Cays is Palm Island. There is a narrow strip of sand just off the island, which looks like what you always imagined a deserted would be. Many of the palms that were planted here have been stripped off by hurricanes. You can anchor and go snorkeling in an area that is protected and clean.

Palm Island itself is home to an upscale resort called Royal Palm and a chi-chi beach bar and restaurant. Yachties can reserve for lunch or dinner. (www.palmislandresorts.com ph: 784-458-8824) The “main event” on the island is still Casuarina Beach, one of the prettiest in the West Indies.

PETIT ST VINCENT

This tiny island has a beautiful, quiet little “cottage” resort (22 cottages). Each cottage has a flagpole and when the guests want room service, they run up a flag! There are no televisions, telephones or even room keys. The resort’s bar and restaurant will accept a few groups of yachting guests each night. The only way to get a place at the bar and a table is to reserve well in advance. (www.psvresort.com ph 954-963-7401).

UNION ISLAND

The last of the Grenadines, Union Island is 4-5 hours or 40 miles from St Vincent. It can easily be seen from miles away because of its famous peak, Mt. Parnassus (866 feet). The main town of Clifton is a bustling, “happening” spot. There is an open-air fruit and vegetable market in the main square and a number of grocery stores. There is also one lovely gourmet store, which sells fabulous wine, coffee, olive oil, bread and chocolate. There are several local restaurants/bars overlooking the harbor including Lambi’s and the Anchorage Yacht Club. In May, the island celebrates the beginning of the planting season with the Maroon Festival. Easterval is held each year during the four days around Easter.

In the harbor of Union Island, there is a tiny bar on a man-made island called Happy Island. Happy you will be when you stop in there for a cocktail at sunset. Just tie your dinghy up and enjoy!

On the far side of the island in Chatham Bay, there is a crescent beach (quite nice but not a spectacular white sand beach like the one at Saltwhistle Bay) where “Shark Attack”, a Union Island local has a beach barbeque featuring pork and lobster. (Reservations 784-2694). Just make sure you bring your own plate and cutlery, get near the front of the buffet line (or you will miss the grilled lobster) and ask Shark Attack the price of the dinner before it is time to pay (prices can drift upward as the night goes on). There is a steel band and dancing after dinner.

Grenada

The nation of Grenada consists of a string of volcanic islands: two larger ones, Grenada and Carriacou, and a number of smaller ones including Petit Martinique, Rhonde Island, Diamond Island, Large Island, Saline Island, and Frigate Island.

GRENADA

The island of Grenada, known as the Spice Isle because it produces a third of the world’s nutmeg, is home to spectacular natural scenery and a system of national parks and conservation areas. Many say that its capital, St. George’s, with its horseshoe harbor is the most picturesque in the Caribbean. Getting there is an effort. If you are at Union Island (part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines), you need to check out with customs then sail over to Hillsborough in Carriacou (part of Grenada). This is more or less a daylong process. Then the sail down to True Blue Bay in Grenada is 4-7 hours, depending on wind and current. (Going north is harder and longer, definitely 7 hours, because the ride is against wide and current.) Although Grenada is a long trip (unlike the short distances island to island in the Grenadines), there is a lot to do once you get there. It is definitely a haven for eco-tourism and nature lovers. When you approach Grenada from the water, all you see is mountains and lush rainforest…green, green, green with few indications of human impact. The island is known for its crater lakes, including Grand Etang Lake, and its large extinct volcano, Mt. Qua-Qua. There are a number of large nature preserves including the Grand Etang Forest, the 450-acre Lavera National Park and the La Sagesse Nature Area. Hikes range from easy 15-minute jaunts to rigorous expeditions of several hours. The trails are well maintained and documented in guidebooks. The Forest Reserve also provides certified guides (trip leaders). Grenada is literally a naturalist’s and birdwatcher’s paradise.

For sand and sun, there are 45 beaches on the island of Grenada. All must guaranteed public access. The most famous is Grand Anse Beach, a two-mile long expanse of sand on the west side of the island. Just south of Grand Anse is Morne Rouge Beach, a calm, secluded beach (although you can still rent beach chairs) that is perfect for relaxing. In the same area is the beach at the Aquarium Beach Club, which is also calm and great for snorkelling. Bathway Beach on the northeastern end of the island is another large, popular beach that is easily accessible. Perhaps a more interesting choice is La Sagesse Beach. Its water is calm (unlike the beaches on the Atlantic side of the island. The beach is located in the La Sagesse “Nature Resort” (which includes a lovely open air restaurant La Sagesse, Tel. 444-6458)

For other dining options, try the Aquarium Beach Club and Restaurant at Point Salines near the airport (http://www.skyviews.com/grenada/aquarium/index.html Point Salines Beach; Tel. 444-1410 Open daily, except Monday, 10am-11pm. Wednesday night specials and Sunday Beach BBQ.). It is on a pristine beach on the west side of the island. You can spend the afternoon at the beach club, have a cocktail at sunset, and then enjoy a lovely dinner looking out over the water. The local seafood and their special pumpkin and ginger soup are their specialties, along with steaks shipped in from the US. This may be the best place to eat on the island

Another excellent restaurant is at the True Blue Resort and Marina (http://www.truebluebay.com/ Tel. 444-2000). The menu and the quality are similar to that of the Aquarium with an addition of some Mexican specialties since one of the owners, Madalegna Fielden, is Mexican. The service is generally excellent, even on a crowded night.

For a true “dining on the beach” experience, you cannot do better than Coconut Beach on Grand Anse beach. The owner/manager, Dennot “Scratch” McIntyre will probably stop by your table to chat. He serves delicious French/Creole food and local lobster. Tel. 444-4644 Open daily, except Tue., 12noon-10pm. Reservations advised.BBQ and live music Wed., Fri., and Sun. in season.

If you are anchored in Prickly Bay, your best choice is probably The Red Crab. There are no views from inside the bay and the bugs can be fierce after dusk. The food and service are good but there may be better places to go. If you are up for Chinese, try Choo Light in L’anse aux Epines, which is within walking distance of Prickly Bay. The Choo Family are the owner/managers and take pride in the food and experience that they offer.

Tel. 444-2196 Open Mon. to Sat. 11am-3pm and 6pm-11pm; Sun. and holidays 5pm-11pm.

At Morne Rouge Beach near St. George’s, try Canboulay. It specializes in “contemporary” West Indian food. Tel. 444-4401 Reservations are necessary.

On St. George’s main street, The Carenage, you will find the Nutmeg, a favorite of both locals and yachties. Tel: 440-2539. Don’t miss the nutmeg rum punch, the lambi (broiled or grilled conch) or the pumpkin soup.

For a slightly different atmosphere and a waterfront view, try the authentic experience of Deyna’s on Melville St. serving “home cooking” and local specialties. Be sure to order a famous “Lime Squash” at the bar. Tel. 440-6795 Open daily, 7:30am-10pm, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

CARRIACOU

Hillsborough and Tyrrel Bay and the two main stops for boaters, Hillsborough for checking in with customs and provisioning and Tyrrel Bay as a possible overnight anchorage. Hillsborough is a bustling town with a tourist office and a number of banks, grocery stores, hardware stores, etc.. It is a “real”, working West Indian town. Yachties love the De Seaman’s Bar, an old-fashioned general store and rum shop.

For a delicious meal try Calalloo By the Sea (Tel: 443-8004, closed on Sundays; reservations recommended for dinner). Another good choice is the The Silver Beach Hotel’s restaurant (Tel. 443-7337), also on the water. It hosts a happy hour from 5-7pm.

In Tyrrel Bay, there is a fun pizzeria (that is also an internet café), a few small grocery stores, and some very “local” restaurants. If you are there near a holiday like New Year’s, everything will be closed and the only thing moving on the one dirt street of the town will be the goats. Carriacou, even more so than Union Island or other spots in the Grenadines, has a decidedly “third world” feel. If you are looking for this experience, you will love Carriacou but be well advised that there is no equivalent of Saltwhistle Bay anywhere to be found.

PETIT MARTINIQUE

Petit Martinique is a tiny, little island near Carriacou with no white sand beaches or other features to attract tourists. Like Carriacou, if you want to go somewhere that is completely authentic and not “touristy”, this will be an interesting stop.

About Tom Virden

Founder, Boatbookings.com

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