Including - How to get from Grenada (Carriacou) to St Vincent and the Grenadines (Union Is) on a budget.
Through long, cold Tasmanian winters fantasies of tropical islands are commonplace. There is generally no specific place in mind – it's the image that's important. Long, white sand beaches and clean, calm water; palm, mango and banana trees, and lots of other lush greenery; cold beers, fresh seafood, Caribbean music (reggae will do) and plenty of friendly locals. But most of all warmth, lots of warm weather (with a gentle sea breeze).
Well, it turns out that this anonymous tropical fantasy has a name, and it's name is Grenada.
Also thrown into this mix is what has to be one of the Caribbean's most attractive and manageable towns, St George's. It holds about half of the island's 100,000 population. It's busy but not manic and is situated on a pretty harbour inlet, the Carenage,
For those that need a geographical pointer Grenada is to the north of Trinidad and Tobago and to the south of St Vincent and the Grenadines and is part of the Windward Islands group in the SE Caribbean. The Lonely Planet site has a good map of Grenada and useful information - click here.
Grenada is an independent country, an ex-British colony and English is the national language. The country is made up three main islands: Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique.
In continuing our island hopping through the Caribbean we flew from Barbados to Grenada. We had one week in the country and quickly discovered that we really needed a month if we were to really get to know Grenada.
Unfortunately a week was all we had, so we did our best to make the most of it. Here's our tips for a whirlwind visit to Grenada.
If you want more options the Grenada Tourism Authority's site is good - click here.
St George's – the Capital
St George's is an interesting town to wander around. We spent an afternoon there. We visited Fort George which was built by the French in 1705. It sits on a hill at the entrance to the Carenage (harbour).
Most of the buildings on the site are dilapidated, but it's worth the climb up for the view of the town, harbour and coastline. There is a charge of $US2.
We also went to the small Grenada National Museum in the centre of town. We found the history of the pre-colonial period and Amerindian population, along with the history of slavery of interest. Entry $US5.
Other sights include the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Church, which was restored after Hurricane Ivan all but destroyed it in 2004.
The Carenage is a small inlet that is part of the harbour and it provides an attractive stroll with the colourful buildings as the backdrop.
There's a lively market precinct near to the bus terminal and reggae music can be heard in abundance. Enjoy the vibe.
We also stayed 3 nights in St Georges with an AirBnB host which made for a good base for accessing the Underwater Sculpture Park and Grand Etang National Park by local bus.
The Southern Beaches – Morne Rouge and Grand Anse
The beaches to the south of St George's are some of Grenada's best, particularly Morne Rouge and Grand Anse. Good stretches of white sand and clear, blue water.
We spent a couple of days in this area and did some snorkelling. Some, but not heaps, of marine life. But pleasant enough and uncrowded.
A drinks and dining option that we enjoyed is Umbrellas Beach Bar and Restaurant at Morne Rouge Beach. A good spot to try the local rum and the food was tasty. Try the carriacou love bites (battered fish pieces) if you just want a snack. It's ranked the number 1 restaurant in Grenada by TripAdvisor.
We stayed at the Siesta Hotel (less than $US100 per night). Very comfortable, close to the beach and also five minutes walk to Spiceland Mall Shopping Centre so we could do small self catering.
Underwater Sculpture Park
The Underwater Sculpture Park at Moliniere Bay, a short bus ride to the north of St George's, is just that, a park underwater where you can view around 80 sculptures on the floor of the bay in depths ranging from 2 to 8 metres. When we visited visibility was patchy and, as we were snorkelling and not with diving gear we struggled to see the sculptures beyond the 4 metre depth mark. But it was fun swimming around the small bay looking for the different pieces and then finding some. We saw a mermaid, a circle of a dozen people standing, a Amerindian carving and a number of others.
To get there take bus number 8 to Dragon Bay from the terminal in St George's. The bus costs 2.5 EC/$US1. From where the bus drops you off it's a short walk to Dragon Bay, which is the next bay north of Moliniere Bay. Local chaps with boats will offer to take you and show you where the sculptress are for around 50 EC. We chose to go unguided, which is fine. We walked to the end of the beach and struggled along a rocky section with the tide in until we got to a small cut through that led to Moliniere Bay. From here we were able to snorkel out to the sculptures.
Apparently there is supposed to be a charge of $US1 but we didn't see anyone to collect it.
Grand Etang National Park
In the middle of Grenada, high up in the mountains, is Grand Etang National Park. As a contrast to beaches and busy town life the green slopes, lakes and falls of Grand Etang are a nice contrast.
We took the number 6 bus to the park entrance (10 EC/$US 4). Park entry was 5EC. There is a view point 5 minutes walk from the entrance which gives vistas down to the east coast and the town of Grenville.
After checking this out we did the circuit walk of the lake – Grand Etang Lake. This was an interesting rainforest walk. But be warned, if it is the wet season (we were at the beginning of the wet) it can be very boggy. You need good walking shoes or gumboots to do it. It is more of a forest walk than a lake walk as you only see the lake at the beginning and end of the 1.5 hour circuit.
After the lake walk we headed down the road (what turned out to be about 3 km, not the 1.6 that was advertised) to the Seven Sisters Falls Walk. This is accessed through private property so the owner charges EC5 to visit the falls. (He has a small ticket office and issues 'real' tickets and also sells refreshments).
It's a 15-20 minute walk to the first of the falls - St Margaret's Falls. Here we were able to have a pleasant dip to remove the accumulate sweat from the walk to get here.
It was starting to get a bit late in the day, so we decided to leave the other six sisters for another time (and the track looked steep and slippery after St Margaret’s).
Heading back to the road we flagged down a number 6 bus and arrived back in St George's.
Carriacou, to the north of the main island is the second biggest island in the nation of Grenada, but it's not very big. With a population around 9,000 it's also not overly crowded.
It's a popular day trip or weekender from St George's and takes around 2.5 hours on the Ospreyline ferry (one way 60EC/$US25). It makes the run each day.
We took the trip one way as we were heading next to Union Island, the most southerly of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The main town is Hillsborough and it is the location of the ferry terminal. Hillsborough's beach is pleasant and worth a dip. We were there on a Sunday so most of the shops and local cafe/restaurants were closed. But the Mermaid Hotel and Restaurant on the main street was open so we dined there and enjoyed a beverage on the deck while admiring the sea view.
What we Missed out on
What we have described here are just a few of the things that Grenada has to offer. We would have liked to have gone up the west coast to the northern tip of the island and then come back down the east side visiting the towns of Gouyave, Sauteurs and Grenville. If time had permitted a trip to Grenada's third island, Petit Martinique would have been included. But with the few days we had there we thoroughly enjoyed it and were glad that we went.
Getting from Grenada to St Vincent and the Grenadines by Boat
One of the trickier 'island hops' in the Caribbean is to get from Grenada (specifically Carriacou) to St Vincent and the Grenadines (ie Union Island, the most southerly of the Grenadines).
You can see one from the other – they are not far apart. But it is an international border and there are no regular ferries doing the run.
Our research indicated two naval options – hire a private boat with costs likely to be around $US200 – 300 or try to get a ride on the Lady JJ which does a cargo and passenger run a couple of times a week. (You can also fly but the prices quoted for the short flight were outrageously expensive, similar to the private boat charter).
Grenada Tourism Authority, Carriacou office, were very helpful. They emailed me information on the Lady JJ including a link to a page with cost and schedule information. Click here if you want to access the Using the Lady JJ link.
As luck would have it, they crossed from Union to Carriacou and back on Mondays and Thursdays and we wanted to go on a Monday. I emailed the captain, Troy, and he replied that they would meet us at Grenada Immigration on Monday morning.
We had been warned on several blogs that the paperwork process would be a lot slower than the actual crossing and this turned out to be true. We did the necessary formalities in the morning and then had a long wait (until 4pm) before the Lady JJ was ready to sail – but sail she did.
The crossing took around 1.5 hours. After docking Troy took us to the Immigration and Customs offices which are at the airport (10 minutes drive). Once this was done we had officially arrived in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Oh yes, the cost: the fare on the Lady JJ was 50 EC per person and 10 EC per person for driving us to customs and then to our guesthouse – total 60 EC each or about $US25. A good result.