13 FEB 2019: From roadside mangos and bananas to secluded black and white sand beaches, and dips in local rivers and under waterfalls, St. Vincent and The Grenadines (SVG) is the epitome of simplicity. Coming relatively “late” to tourism compared to other countries in the region, SVG has avoided many of the pitfalls of some of its neighbours – such as over-tourism – says SVG tourism director Glen Beache.

“Our tagline is ‘The Caribbean you’re looking for,’” he says. “When you say ‘Caribbean,’ the image that comes to mind is coconut trees, mangos, lush vegetation, beaches, and that’s what we are: we have the simplicity of the Caribbean to offer. People can have a real experience of what it’s like to be a Vincentian.

But don’t simply take him at his word, just ask a local – someone not paid to say such things, Beache laughs.

So, we did.

“We’re a small island, but we’re very big in our hearts,” says Zenshorn Currency, a resident of St. Vincent, which is the main island of the 32 that make up SVG. “The beauty is incredible – there are plenty of beaches, waterfalls and adventure,” he says. Not to mention water, water everywhere.

But, “It’s the beaches, not the glass towers that set us apart,” says Currency’s girlfriend, Ashleigh Gibson. “Cooking on the beach, roasting fish in tinfoil … you come here for comfort.”

And the people. “That’s what really sells the islands,” Gibson enthuses. “We’re very friendly. I work at the fish market and people come there and look at it like it’s amazing. But this is my life. We try to teach people about the fish.”

SVG hospitality officer Marlon Joseph touts the capital: “lively, colourful Kingstown,” with its historic buildings and Friday and Saturday markets, but also the island’s small fishing villages and winding roads through “lush, lush, lush terrain.”

Joseph suggests that Grenadines-bound visitors spend a couple of days at least on St. Vincent before heading off to go island-hopping, which can include diving, snorkelling, sailing and a myriad of eco experiences on the islands.

“For sure,” Currency concurs. “If you don’t go, you’ll miss out.” After all, adds Gibson, “Everyone is actually amazing.”

So, where to go in the St. Vincent and The Grenadines, which is located in the West Indies due east of Barbados and stretches for 85 km between St. Lucia in the north and Grenada in the south? Consider the following official primer, including some hotel/resort recommendations based on a recent visit by Travel Industry Today:

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is the primary gateway to SVG and is served year-round by Air Canada Rouge (including a second seasonal flight through April 28). Picturesque Kingstown features the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere; St. George’s Anglican Cathedral built in the early 1800s; vibrant Market Square, abundant with fresh produce and fruits; and Fort Charlotte, some 120 m. above Kingstown Bay. Eco-tourists can climb the imposing La Soufriere volcano at 1,220 m.; drive along the Leeward coastline to Darkview Falls (don’t forget the swim suit); or hike the Vermont Nature Trails for bountiful birdwatching.

• Where to stay: Located 180 m. off the southern coast of St. Vincent via a three-minute water taxi ride, Young Island is a 5.25-hectare private island resort that features 29 spectacular beachfront and hillside cottages with open-air showers, beachside dining under thatched kiosks, and a full-service spa. In 2003, the cast of the film Pirates of the Caribbean, including Johnny Depp, stayed here, and today, the resort continues to welcome various celebrities and dignitaries (a Canadian tennis star was there when we were recently), though GM Bianca Porter says, “this is definitely not a party place,” but rather a retreat for people interested in recharging and (off-island) adventure and sailing. There are no TVs in the villas and wait staff ring a bell to signal the dinner hour. A five-night “Stranded in Style” package says it all.

Bequia

Quieter than St. Vincent, the largest of island in the Grenadine chain is a “best kept secret” in the Caribbean. Accessible by only by public ferry (about an hour from the “mainland”) or private boat, visitors can explore tiny Port Elizabeth with its waterfront restaurants serving West Indian fare, boutique lodging, and quaint shops such as Sargeant Brothers Model Boat Shop. Activities are plenty: beach-going, hiking, sailing, or visiting the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, where one might meet owner and retired fisherman Orton King, who raises and releases baby Hawkbill turtles. Panoramic views of the town from the 18th century Fort Hamilton are not to be missed, while inspired sorts will see even more when hiking to the top of Mt. Peggy. However, Cherian Thomas of Jack’s Beach Bar also points out that Bequia is the ideal peaceful getaway, especially during the off-season. “If you want to hear crickets chirp, if you want to hear a pin drop, come here,” she says. “Some people say we’re 20 years behind, I say it’s 50!”

• Where to stay: Bequia Beach Hotel is one of the primary accommodation options on the island. Located on Bequia’s third best beach, owner Bengt Mortstedt says the resort aims to provide a laid back “Caribbean the way it used to be” vibe, yet with full onsite amenities, such as two pools, restaurant and nightly entertainment. Another option is the waterfront Plantation House, which recently introduced a “five-, six-, seven-, eight-,” star luxury sibling, the secluded The Liming, which opened in December and includes US$10,000/night mansion accommodations.

Mustique

It’s fitting that the name of this island sounds exactly like “mystique” as the privately-owned island has long been the Caribbean hideaway for many of the world’s high-profile names, celebrities and royal families. Mustique is a place for clients to get away from it all in style, with a collection of luxury villas where personal chefs, maids and gardeners cater to their vacation whims. There’s only one full-service hotel, Cotton House, and one five-room guesthouse, Firefly, ensuring that high-end clients won’t have to jockey for the best spot on the beach. Bryan Adams reportedly has a villa on the island that can be rented for US$30,000/week.

Canouan

The crescent-shaped island – the name means “land of the tortoises” – is serviced by ferries and is accessible by air from St. Vincent, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Martinique. Much of the 12-sq.-km island has been taken over by two private resorts, the luxury Canouan Estate and more affordable Tamarind Beach Hotel & Yacht Club, along with a stunning 18-hole golf course and new marina. The highest peak, Mount Royal, climbs to 240 m. above while sand beaches are protected by a huge reef. Snorkeling and scuba diving here is particularly impressive with wide shallows and colourful undersea life. Slightly less elite than Mustique or St. Barts, Canouan boasts a hip reputation as an undiscovered gem that may not remain so for long.

• Where to stay: The former Pink Sands (and once upon a time, Raffles) is a new exclusive Mandarin Oriental, having opened in 2018. Overlooking Godahl Beach, the brand’s first Caribbean property features palatial two- to four-bedroom villas, 26 marbled suites, along with several atmospheric restaurants and a posh spa. Activities include golf, snorkelling, diving and hiking, but resort manager Christopher Eastman says, “This is boat country down here. That’s how you do it! Stay a couple of days in Bequia and then sail down here.”

Mayreau

With no airport, 250 locals and a single, unnamed village that offers commanding views of the neighbouring islands, Mayreau is possibly the most rustic island in the Grenadine chain. It attracts mostly day-trippers, who arrive by yacht to explore the breathtaking white sand beaches and calm, turquoise waters. Saltwhistle Bay is a popular anchorage for visiting yachts. The windward side is not ideal for swimming but is internationally regarded as a prime windsurfing and kite surfing location. Local restaurants and bars serve up locally caught seafood and island libations.

Union Island

Union Island’s verdant topography greets visitors with a striking and picturesque array of mountain peaks and ridges, jutting up into the sky for one of the most photo-worthy profiles in the Caribbean. The main port of Clifton is regularly serviced by a ferry from St. Vincent, and is abundant with yachts, fishing boats, as well as visitors to the nearby Tobago Cays, Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent. Continuing south, the town of Ashton is another idyllic location for an authentic Caribbean experience. Pro Center, locating beside the harbour, teaches kitesurfing.

Palm Island

Accessible by short boat ride from Union Island, “tiny, perfect, Palm Island,” has a few small private cottages (a couple of them owned by Canadians) and one big resort. Despite its size, only 55 hectares, it is one of the best known and popular islands in the chain.

Where to stay: Offering only 43 guestrooms, Palm Island Resort promises that guests won’t ever have to wait in line or shuttle through a crowd. With the exception of sunset sails or scuba diving and snorkeling day trips to the nearby Tobago Cays, guests rarely leave the island, content to take advantage of the island’s five white sand beaches and 4.5-star resort’s two restaurants, watersports, tennis courts, salon and spa, and activities like beach barbecue, afternoon tea and beach cinema under the stars. There are also three nature trails teaming with bird life, indigenous iguanas and lush foliage for walkers and bikers (bikes are offered by the resort) and greenhouse turtle sanctuary to explore. “There’s a relaxed atmosphere and activities are not in your face,” says assistant manager Ed Evans, who adds, “We’re not a Club Med.” Popular with French Canadians, the Elite Islands Resorts member is now offered by Air Canada Vacations and hopes to expand its profile in English Canada.

Petit St. Vincent (PSV)

Another island-resort, lavish Petit St. Vincent (commonly known as PSV) boasts 47 hectares, surrounded by 3.2 km. of white sand beaches and dotted with 22 exclusive cottages—but no airport, telephones, TVs, or even keys to the accommodations. Of course, that doesn’t mean guests have to rough, given their spacious cottages set right on the beach or any of the island’s picturesque sea-facing bluffs, with a ratio of two staff members for every guest. When guests need room service, they attract attention by hoisting a small yellow flag on a bamboo pole outside the front door; if they don’t want to be disturbed they run up the red flag instead. Guests can also enjoy the new hillside spa with four treatment rooms overlooking the water. Additionally, the resort’s new beach restaurant serves light Mediterranean-inspired fare and drinks.

Tobago Cays

Tourists from the neighbouring islands and those just sailing by make the trip out to this collection of five islands for the snorkeling and scuba, which rank among the best in the world. The cays—Petit Rameau, Baradel, Petit Bateau, Jamesby and Petit Tabac— qualify as a protected marine reserve that is surrounded and shielded by an enormous horseshoe reef, fostering some of the most vibrant, colourful and diverse ecosystems of undersea life in the Caribbean. Visitors can spot turtles on the beaches and swim freely with them in the main lagoon. One of the islands was used as the setting for an exiled/marooned Captain Jack in Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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