St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Carefree Caribbean
By Kent E. St. John
Senior Travel Editor
I believe that there were sequels to “Pirates of the Caribbean” just so Johnny Depp and the film crew could return to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I don’t blame them.
The huge revenues might have helped, but believe me, any time spent on the SVG is priceless. Many rockers and stars have for years hunkered down on Mustique, but the truth is anyone can feel special in SVG without an income of ten figures.
However, if you do fit the big buck circuit, feel free to rent Mick Jagger’s bungalow on Mustique.
I, a mere mortal, found the Islands to be the perfect place to relive long-ago memories of a carefree Caribbean; slip on some topsiders and cast away.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines have an island for everyone and for me, several were perfect fits. Most guide books call it sleepy, but I prefer pliable.
If jet setting is your thing, fine. It is doable, but most head down to reconnect with the pirate or child inside all of us. You can even return with some doubloons if you play your cards right.
It seems impossible that so much terrain could be squeezed into so little landmass but St. Vincent is lush, mountainous and languid; perhaps its nickname as the mainland fits. There are not many places where an active volcano, verdant rainforests, and a quaint shopping district can all be visited in a day.
After an afternoon hike to the tumbling Trinity Falls, I truly enjoyed sitting on the deck of the Grenadine House deck to watch lights snap on one by one in Kingstown below.
My dinner of chicken stuffed with plantains in a sauce of local fruits is the perfect twist of Caribbean wit. I even broke with the Caribbean tradition of rum consumption by having a wonderful scotch and soda afterward at the small but perfect bar.
Sleep came easy and the crow of roosters actually the perfect alarm clock the next morning.
In my case I was heading out to explore some of the Grenadines by flying SVG Airlines to Union Island — the Tobago Cays awaited. I returned to St. Vincent several times over the next few days; after all, it is the mainland.
Getting Sea Legs
After a short flight that skimmed over various SVG islands, I landed on Union Island to hook up with a catamaran run by Captain Yannis. Union Island is a great base for the SVG’s most southern isles.
We passed by the elite Palm Island, perfectly pretty with a price that matched. Later our boat would stop, and beaches are open to all.
Perhaps more suited to a pirate was a stop at Mayreau, 1.5 square miles of island paradise. The island has only 300 residents in a small village. Electricity is a recent arrival.
As our catamaran entered Saltwhistle Bay, the bright white beach momentarily blinded me, and not much moved but swaying palms. Mayreau is truly as far from civilization one can get on an inhabited island in the Caribbean, in a perfect way. Liming and chilling are the main activities.
The afternoon plan was to sail to the SVG’s Marine Park, the Tobago Cays. It was a superb plan. Five uninhabited islets placed within a horseshoe reef provide a great sailing experience.
Each islet has sandy white beaches and in fact it was on Petit Tabac where Depp, as Captain Jack Sparrow, was marooned — lucky Captain Jack.
One last treat in the Tobago Cays was a stop at the turtle-watching area at the beach around Baradel. In the marked-off area you can snorkel with the hawksbill sea turtles. In the clear waters watching them glide through their paces, it is best when they aren’t chased; keep around six feet away and enjoy the show.
On the way back to Union Island we dropped anchor off of Palm Island for a swim and a glimpse of a pricy resort, all in all it seemed tame compared to our day of barefooting aboard the Yanni. As the sun sank we headed to Union and our less pricy but fabulous Big Sand and its cozy cottage-style dwellings.
Big Sand, Big Sleep
When exploring the Southern Grenadines, Union Island is the best spot to drop anchor. It has the closest airport to Tobago and Mayreau. It also has a funky town filled with shops and places to provision. Though English is the main language it is in Union that the lilts of Caribbean words blend in.
We, however, decided to hang at the Big Sand, a delightful hotel on its own beach, with its rooms facing the setting sun. For about a third of the price of a room on Palm Island, the accommodations were more like cottages complete with kitchens.
We also opted to eat dinner on the small open deck where local dishes were served at great prices. When a small boat beached and a fisherman jumped out with two large dorados, I had no doubt that we had made the right choice.
The morning rapidly approached and I managed to fit in a quick swim before heading to the tiny airport for a flight back to St. Vincent. We were to board a different vessel for some sailing to Bequia and time waits for no one, even a pirate.
Sailing in Luxury
A quick dash from the airport and we boarded our four-bedroom cat at Sunsail’s own marina and resort, the Lagoon Hotel and Marina. Our boat was sleek and sexy, perfect for our jaunt to Bequia.
Just about nine miles across some open waters lay my favorite Island in the SVG, Bequia (Beekwee). Our boat made me feel as if I was at least a one-hit-wonder; it had everything a newbie scoundrel of the seas could want. She did us proud as we headed into Port Elizabeth, one of the Caribbean’s most picturesque bays.
I was feeling like an A-Lister when we moored near Lower Bay with its great sandy beach, perfect for snorkeling.
Knowing we were going to return via a ferry later in the trip, we lounged like royalty occasionally jumping from the bow. We did dinghy to the beach to have some libations at a Bequia institution, Dawn’s Shack. Other than that we enjoyed waking dreams.
On our sail back to the mainland, we sailed through some squalls, grateful for a seasoned captain and a fully provisioned bar. Still, the thrill of a fine vessel plowing through rough seas only sparked my spinnaker, we were headed to Young’s Island where the Depp man himself bedded down.
A few hundred feet off of St. Vincent is a 35-acre island that is also a resort, with that special “back a bit in time” feel. Young’s Island need not change one bit; it is paradise personified. The island is filled with trees such as mango, almond, coffee, and nutmeg, below grow ginger, hibiscus, and ferns. The cottage-style lodgings are very comfortable in a homey style that modern resorts just don’t have anymore.
A great sign of a resort is when everyone meets at dinner after checking in and all are raving about their rooms — this was the case at Young’s Island. We even got a tour of Johnny Depp’s room, which one of our party stayed in. All rooms have enclosed outdoor showers, a fantastic way to shower.
Privacy prevails throughout except maybe for the swim-up bar on the sea just past the beach. As with all legendary places, there is a legend behind Young’s: it was once owned by a Carib Indian chief who traded the island for a black stallion. It rivals the Manhattan legend of being sold for twenty-four dollars.
Back to Bequia
Our return to Bequia the next day was on the frequent ferry that runs between SV and the island. No lounging on a yacht this day; we went to check out whaling and boat-building traditions.
There are also a number of Scottish descendants who populate the place. Today most of the building is of exquisitely crafted model replicas of schooners and whaling is limited to a more ceremonial type once a year and by rowboat.
Port Elizabeth is a laid-back town with shops and restaurants, most along the shore. The bay attracts yachtsmen from all over the world because of its U shape and deep clear waters. It has the feel of a town where you’re bound to meet people from around the world, all just looking to kick back and relax.
My choice to hang out would be Frangipani, a small hotel with an excellent bar right on the water. Afterward, visit some sights such as St. Mary’s Anglican Church built out of limestone and ballast bricks or Hamilton Fort, they will take you back to the days when real buccaneers ruled and not on the screen.
I thought a lot about my trip to SVG on the ferry back to the mainland, sparked by our last stop in Bequia at Brother Orton King’s Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. There Brother cares for Hawksbill sea turtles from birth to about 18 months; he has cared for them since 1995.
Funding is done strictly by donations. It is a labor of love. His eyes reflected the care for SVG that I continually encountered on my trip. It is a special look only found in special places.
As the sun sank into the Caribbean we all grew quiet, each lost in thought. Some of nature’s spectacles demand it (and more) on occasion.
In this instance, I pledged to return to the SVG Islands. I will make sure it isn’t just a “bucket wish” promise. I felt lucky to have one more night on Young’s Island to further reflect; that was worth more than a pirate’s booty than this scoundrel deserves.
Each and every place I stayed on SVG had a special appeal and at I price that I thought worth the doubloons. Here are links to them.
For more accommodations, check out unique St. Vincent hotels.
It is inevitable that time on the SVG will put you beneath white sails. Here is where you can find links to mine:
Find interesting tours in St. Vincent.
Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary: Help Orten (Brother) King’s crusade.
If you are a fan of Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean there’s a website about his experiences on SVG.