St. Vincent/Grenadines

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Travel Guide, Winter 1995-1996

St. Vincent/Grenadines
By Jonathan Runge

If the British Virgin Islands are the junior college of Caribbean sailing, the Grenadines are graduate school: Relatively long stretches of open water between the 30-odd islands south of St. Vincent make for some of the most challenging cruising in the West Indies. When the trade winds blow in from the northeast, sail downwind from St. Vincent to Union Island or Grenada--basically a broad reach for the whole trip. You can leave the boat and fly home from there; there's a drop-off fee (minimum, $700), but it's worth it to avoid the tough upwind beat back to St. Vincent. Book your bareboat through Massachusetts-based Swift Yacht Charters ($2,200-$6,000 per week; 800-866-8340). Crewed charters cost $3,500- $16,000 per week, with boats ranging from 40 to 110 feet.

St. Vincent
Banana and coconut plantations, bamboo forests, and volcanic ridges provide inspiring views for hikers on mountainous St. Vincent, especially those heading up 4,023-foot Soufrière Volcano. The most defined trail (about three miles) is on the eastern slope, about an hour's drive from Kingstown, the capital. The western slope is more challenging and requires a guide; call the tourist board in Kingstown (809-457-1502) for a list of outfitters.

Some say St. Vincent is the diving sleeper of the Caribbean, with relatively undiscovered reefs and walls on the leeward side. Among the best sites are New Guinea Reef (a wall dive where you see black and soft corals and sea horses), The Forest (look for ten-foot gorgonians) and the Seimstrand (a three-wreck dive). Go with Dive St. Vincent (two-tank dive, $90; ten-dive package, $400; 809-457-4928) or St. Vincent Dive Experience (six-dive package, $195; ten dives, $325; 809-457-5130).

For simple digs, try the Umbrella Beach Hotel (doubles, $48; 809-458-4651), four miles north of Kingstown on small, pleasant Villa Beach, with a great French restaurant next door. Two hundred yards across the water is the deluxe Young Island Resort (doubles, $450, breakfast and dinner included; 809-458-4826), occupying its own 25-acre island. A less expensive alternative is Petit Byahaut (doubles, $125-$145 per person, all meals included; 809-457-7008), with floored tents tucked away in a 50-acre valley on the west side of the island and accessible only by boat.

To get a fix on this tiny island, plant yourself at the bar of the Frangipani Inn on Admiralty Bay in Port Elizabeth, the only town, and let managers Lou and Marie fill you in on the local gossip while you watch the ebb and flow of waterfront activity.

You won't need a car--you can get just about anywhere on this seven-square-mile island on foot. The walk to Spring and Industry, about 45 minutes from Port Elizabeth, takes you up a small mountain on a rutted road and over to the windward side to a beautiful palm plantation with ruins of a sugar mill. At the end of the beach at Industry, there are cow paths that lead to the grasslands of Bequia Head, a full-day trip.

The best beaches--golden sand, scant development--are at Lower Bay, Industry, and Hope Bay, all of them good sites for diving and boardsailing. Diving is especially good off the west coast; try West Cay Wall, a sheer, 130-footer where you'll see black corals, eagle rays, and nurse sharks, or nearby Devil's Table, a 40- to 90-foot slope. Dive Bequia in Admiralty Bay (two-tank dive, $90; one-week package, $599, including lodging, unlimited dives, and transfers; call 800-327-6709) can take you there. Boardsailors prefer Friendship Bay on the southeast coast, with its steady 15- to 20-knot winds and good rental board selection at Paradise Windsurfing (board rental, $65 per day, $220 per week; 809-457-3142) at the Friendship Bay Resort.

The best places to stay are the aforementioned Frangipani (doubles, $55-$130; 809-458-3255), a 20-minute drive or short water-taxi ride (about $4) from the Lower Bay beaches, and the Plantation House (doubles, $140-$290, breakfast included; 800-223-9832), a more luxurious resort in Admiralty Bay on a small beach.

A low-key hideaway for rock stars and royals (H.R.H. Princess Margaret has a house here), Mustique offers more R and R than action: You can walk the three-mile length of the island, swim, snorkel, or hoist a few at Basil's Beach Bar--the only hangout on the island.The beaches are everything you'd expect--powdery white sand, aquamarine water, no people.

Stay at the Cotton House (doubles, $325-$550, breakfast and dinner included; 800-223-1108), a converted eighteenth-century stone warehouse with 24 elegant rooms and a private beach. About 45 villas and houses are available to rent through the Mustique Company ($2,500 to $15,000 per week; 800-225-4255). Budget travelers will go for the Firefly Guest House (doubles, $95, breakfast included; 809-456-3414) in a simple villa overlooking Britannia Bay.

This quiet, crescent-shaped island is home to deserted coves, beaches to die for, a handful of hotels--and not much else. The newest resort (it opened in January 1995) is the Tamarind Beach Hotel and Yacht Club (doubles $200-$300, all-inclusive; 800-223-1108), on Grand Bay Beach, Canouan's prettiest. Other resorts include the deluxe Canouan Beach Hotel (doubles, $316 per person, all-inclusive; 809-458-8888) with bungalows on a beautiful beach at South Glossy Bay, and the Villa Le Bijou (doubles, $120- $140, breakfast and dinner included; 809-458-8025), about a ten-minute walk from Grand Bay Beach. Diving amid the turtles, sharks, and corals of Friendship and Grand Bay reefs can be arranged through either hotel.

See also:

The Rum File

All-Inclusive Resorts

Islands You've Never Heard Of

Getting There and Around

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