S E T T I N G T H E S C E N E
I have undertaken many trips on cruise ships throughout the Caribbean. But St. Vincent was one of the very few islands I had not seen. Frankly, I’m happy I didn’t see the islands this way, it would have certainly taken away from the experience. In trying to better understand the size and scope of the country, reviewed numerous articles, vlogs, wikis and other sources and decided to make the visit not just about the main island but try my best in the few days I had, to get a good sampling of as many islands that I could see, each with their own story and experience. This led me on a 4 Islands in 4 days: Meeting the Pirates, Whalers, Billionaires & Celebrities of St. Vincent, in the process getting a better sense of the more unique personalities and dimensions of these beautiful islands in the Southern Caribbean. More personally, St. Vincent became my 150th Country and the last country to visit in the Western Hemisphere!!
COVID TESTING: COVID is a moving target and each week there are new protocols. For this trip I simply had to show my vaccine status and a negative PCR (72 hours before arrival) not only for my final destination, but for the layovers including Trinidad & Tobago. We got our test at CRL Labs in the center of Kingstown but there are quite a few options that are quick, clean and convenient.
FLIGHTS: For this trip I decided to first fly into NYC and then to St. Vincent. By doing this the cost AND time of the trip was reduced by 30-40%. Note the less layovers you have the better for you in terms of minimizing missed connections, lost bags, and delays. More on this in the travel hacks.
ACCOMMODATIONS: We decided the best option for the island was Airbnb since hotels were not that unique, overpriced or not in ideal locations. We stumbled on Sapphire Apartments in St. Vincent owned by Ronel and his wife Fran, who became good friends (more on that later). We also got an Airbnb in Canouan, which worked out well. So in St. Vincent I do recommend that you look into Airbnbs when in the country.
CAR RENTAL: For the first few days in St. Vincent we decided to rent a car. Picked it up from the airport and drove to more remote parts of the island. Look, for the purposes of getting to those harder to reach spots it worked out, but overall driving in St. Vincent is absolutely no joke. First google maps is a mess and will send you down the wrong way on one way streets, send you on super circuitous routes and overall cause you A LOT of stress. Secondly, all routes are one lane so if any car stops in the lane (and local transport minivans stop ALL THE TIME for passengers in the middle of the road) this can cause massive back-up and dangerous situations. So rent a car at your own risk knowing that its not going to be easy, but it will save you overall time and money instead of taking taxis or public transport.
FERRIES: If chartering a yacht or flying private are not within your budget then you will have to resort to ferries (or infrequent commercial flights) to get to the different islands. This makes things tricky because the schedule can be super tough to figure out. For example, I had to literally call two ferry companies and the local tourist office before I left for St. Vincent to figure out whether I can get a ferry to Canouan on Wednesday that returns me to the main island on Thursday (Bequia Express is a solid company with may options. There are about 4 companies). Surprising, it was really hard to figure all this out online since the schedules were outdated or completely wrong.
To get the most out of the islands and the country as a whole I decided to visit four distinctly different yet relatively accessible islands in 4 days, while keeping budget in mind. The result are the following islands that were not only different in terms of terrain, history, and vibe but also some of the unique characters and personalities that frequented or still frequent these islands!
ST. VINCENT: Pirates
There is a lot to see on the main island due to its long history, diverse geography, and many cultures and beliefs (for example, the current Prime Minister is of Portuguese descent and has been in power for over 20 years, and the country is one of the few that recognizes Taiwan, while applauding traditionally socialist leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez). With the limited time we had in St. Vincent, we had to carefully choose the highlights to see.
Kingstown: A crowded capital, we spent time walking the streets especially the more historic parts of Kingstown. Some highlights were the churches and cobblestone streets, incredible variety of wild fruit trees everywhere (mangos, breadfruit, papua, avocado, soaso, and so many others), farmers market, botanical gardens and Fort Charlotte (neither of which I had time to visit). Just outside the city, I went running in ET Joshua, the old airport that was decommissioned in 2017, which has an amazing view at the end of the runway, as well as a number of different villages along the coast and in the nearby valleys.
And in terms of food check out Melting Pot at the Ferry Terminal for a solid breakfast, 4 Shells Fish Joint for great fish, and Mangoz for the view (and for the overproof rum, which definitely kicked my butt even though I had a more watered down version in the form of a sunrise). We were also very fortunate to see some local Soca bands rehearse for the upcoming summer carnival (apparently lasts 11 days!!). Music was absolute fire (make sure to check out the vlog!)!
La Soufriere: The highest point on the island is La Soufriere, which is also a semi-active volcano. In fact, it erupted in April 2021 (thankfully no one was hurt) but the ash landed as far away as Barbados. I was eager to do the hiking trail but was told the Leeward side (west coast) was dangerous and unkept and advised to do the hike from the east Windward side (east coast). While many take a guide, I decided to wing it and so we drove up the coast just past Georgetown and then went inland to a point call Bamboo Range (about an hour from Kingstown) where we left the car (Alltrails maps this out fairly well). There were signs warding off tourists from the trail but locals said it was ok and the government just didn’t want to deal with any issues.
The hike takes 2.5 hours up with a 1600+ foot elevation gain, so it’s no joke. I decided to push myself to do it in 1.5 hours. As one would expect the terrain was raw and lush at the bottom but got a lot more sparse and dry towards the top because of the recent eruption, but wow is it a sight to see! Magical at the top of it!
Now coming down is NO JOKE especially if you don’t take a designated path. For some reason we were slipping and sliding (hurt my finger badly) on very loose gravel and earth because of the volcanic nature of the terrain. All that said, it was definitely worth the trek! And if you can, take a guide to be on the safe side and go early to avoid getting lost and giving yourself plenty of time on the hike.
Plus the bay itself is super nice to swim in. If you have time, push it to Darkview Falls about 30 minutes from the bay.
It is said that Bequia is a Tiny Island with a Huge Heart! But in reality it’s the largest of the Grenadine islands, about 40 minutes by ferry. Once we got to the island I set out to explore the little town, which is quiet and unassuming. There are a number of nice well known restaurants in the area but many were quiet or closed because it was the low season (May). I did go to the local fruit market, which was nice since they let me taste some of the local fruit.
I then wanted to learn more about the whaling tradition on the island. Turns out the local government allows whalers to hunt 4 humpback whales per season and all the parts of the whale are used, bones, fat, meat etc. I checked out Sargeant’s Boat Modeling shop which focuses on the boats used for whaling and one of Tim Sargeant (son of the founders) gave me a historical overview of this old tradition. Definitely worth a visit.
Our final stop was to check out the various beaches. So we set out past the tranquil bay along the Belmont walkway to Princess Margaret beach, which has a cool restaurant (Jack’s Beach Bar) and just beautiful white sands. At the end is a really cool rock formation with a nice tide pool. We then hiked up and over into Lower bay beach, which frankly was even nicer and quiet with incredibly blue, clear water. As I said, it was low season so things were quiet but we did make a stop at Mango’s which has a very nice ambiance on the waterfront.
In all, there are other parts of the island to explore, but we stuck to what was walking distance since it was just a quick day trip. That said, it’s definitely worth a visit since it so close to St. Vincent and has more beautiful beaches than any you would find on the main island!
For a change of pace and to really venture down the island chain, we decided to explore Canouan. Known as where the billionaires go to escape the millionaires that are on the other islands. Half the island has become a resort while the other half remains public land. And truly you can see the disparity of income between those on the island – one side is completely private and hard to reach while the other has goats, chickens, dogs, and even turtles (its actually known as Turtle Island) just roaming the streets.
After renting a great golf cart from Whistling Frog Cart Rentals (first time every driving one, but won’t be the last, because they are super fun and easy to drive) and getting a coffee from Nicola (awesome boss lady just next to the pier where the ferries land) we headed to our airbnb (Ocean Lover’s Apartment rented by Zico), which had an amazing view. We then drove around to acquaint ourselves to the island and getting glimpse of both sides (water was magical and apparently the reef off the island is the longest natural reef in the Caribbean).
We then went to Soho House for dinner. Note, it is a very quiet time of year so it may not be easy to get in but at that time there was almost no one around. After swimming in the calm bay we called it an early night since we planned to see the sunrise the next morning. The next day, we drove to see the sunrise (spectacular view from windward bay) and then third three times to get into the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is super off limits on the side of the island that is all a private resort area (formerly it was where the main city of the island was based but then it was moved to the center of the island). On the third try they finally let us in and even gave us a private tour. Such a beautiful hotel and truly we saw how the 1% live lol! Well worth it if you can somehow figure out a way to get in.
Canouan is a unique island because of the differences in income mixed the raw beauty of the island. What makes it also unique is the proximity to Tobago Cays which is amazing for snorkeling and a central point between all the Grenadines. During the high season it may not be as fun especially if you can not get access to the whole island.
YOUNG ISLAND: Celebrities
Young island is a private island with a 50 year old resort that takes up the entire island. While it is only 100-200 meters from St. Vincent, it is still secluded to ensure the privacy of guests in the 20+ cottages. During the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean, most of the A-list actors stayed there including Johnny Deep. So this is a great place for those who want to get away can go without having to trek too far south (though from what I hear Mustique island may be a more trendy, bougie, private island where the rich and famous celebrities go but its more of a hike south).
We took a water ferry there (I decided to swim the distance) and walked around the cottages, which looked older from a different era. We then had a nice lunch and had a chance to then take a water taxi to the other side of the island to see the Fort Duvernette on the rock and the natural bay surrounding it. All that said, it’s well landscaped and natural, and if you have time definitely worth visiting during a trip to St. Vincent.
St. Vincent has 32 islands of which 10 are inhabited and each has its own charm and personality. I choose these four but there are so many more to see, like Union island (as well as man-made Happy Island or Palm Island nearby), Mustique island and Mayreau. That said, this is a unique place not only because of the variety, but because of the food, music, culture and of course the people, Ronel, who were incredibly welcoming, hospitable and inviting. So make your way to St. Vincent and its family of Grenadine islands to get the best of Caribbean culture, variety and vibes!
One the kindest affirmations to why I am so passionate about Final50 was said to me by someone I met in St. Vincent: “you have inspired us to do more traveling…Your energy and love for life is truly endearing.”
USING BROWSERS TO FILL GOV’T FORMS: If you are trying to fill out a government document, like for the Ministry of Health for COVID, and the form looks all funky (misaligned boxes, no buttons, weird fonts) then try different browsers as the form may not be compatible with your preferred browser. This can also cause an issue when trying to upload the final form. For example, I was trying to fill out the Trinidad health form using Chrome and it was a mess. After spending 10 minutes on it on my phone it failed. Turns out it was made for Safari and when I used that browser it worked like a charm.
DON’T WEAR CAMOUFLAGE!: So I didn’t know this but some countries won’t allow you to wear camouflage attire/swag in the country unless you are in the military! No joke! I was in Trindad transiting and I was stopped and told that had I stayed longer then a day they would essentially confiscate my camo joggers. So while it may be convenient to travel in Camo, avoid it when traveling through airports or border crossings!
FLIGHT PATHS: Try to look to see, where you can travel to for cheap and use that as your new starting point to find a cheaper more direct route to where you want to go rather then just start the itinerary from your home base. Here is what I mean. When I looked at flights from LA to SVD, the costs were regularly $1500 with 30+ hours in route. So I decided to break up the journey thereby reducing overall time and significantly reducing cost. Flights from LA to NYC are frequent and you can get cheap ones from $200-$300. Then we had more options to fly to St. Vincent (had to search a bunch of U.S. launch points including Miami, Newark, Ft. Lauderdale and JFK was the cheapest and most direct).
BRING CASH: While the main places on the island take credit cards, many bars, restaurants, public transport, amenities etc simply don’t. Thankfully the currency (EC) is pegged to the dollar and so dollar is king on the island. So make sure to have cash on hand where ever you go.
COVID TESTING ON LAYOVERS: Always look into the requirements of the layover because those can really derail your trip. For example one island doesn’t require a PCR while another requires only an Rapid Antigen or just a vaccination. So look for the one that has the most stringent requirements and go with that. Keep in mind the rules of a Rapid Antigen test (required 24 hours before travel) if your flight gets delayed for more then 24 hours. This was the case on the way back to the U.S. where we had to stop in Trinidad and Barbados because we had a flight cancellation and so our return went from 12 hours to 28 hours. Thankfully, they let us through but if it was a longer return that may not have been the case.
If you are still reading this blog, then that makes me super happy and may mean you like what you are reading and may want to read more. In that case, may I recommend the “Chasing Waterfalls in Nature’s Island: DOMINICA” Blog, which I think you will very much enjoy!
~ Stay Curious. And I look forward to seeing you on my next Final50 Journey! ~