St Vincent

St Vincent is green and fertile with a lush rainforest and mountainous interior, beautiful volcanic beaches and fishing villages, coconut groves and banana plantations. It is widely known for the superb sailing conditions provided by its 32 sister islands and cays and most visitors spend some time on a yacht, even if only for a day. Bareboat and crewed yachts are available for wherever you want to go. There are also very competitive regattas and yacht races held throughout the year, accompanied by a lot of parties and social events.

Getting there

There are no direct flights from Europe or North America but same day connecting flights are available through Antigua, Barbados, Puerto Rico and Trinidad.
Grenadine Airways
offer daily shared charter services from Barbados to St Vincent, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan and Union Island. Many people arrive on
yachts, having sailed across the Atlantic or through the Caribbean. There is an informal international ferry on a wooden fishing boat between Union Island and Carriacou (Grenada).

Getting around

Flights within the Grenadines are cheap and reliable.
Grenadine Airways
, an alliance of
SVG Air
,
Trans Island Air
and
Mustique Airways
, fly daily scheduled services from St Vincent to Bequia, Mustique, Canouan and Union Island. There are several ferries between St Vincent and Bequia, while the mail boat, the
Barracouda
, links St Vincent with Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau and Union Island with a twice weekly service. Most, but not all, of the islands have a cheap bus service, which can be a minibus or a pick-up truck with seats in the back. Car hire is available on St Vincent and Bequia.

Kingstown

The capital, Kingstown, stands on a sheltered bay and is surrounded on all sides by steep, green hills, with houses perched all the way up. However, it is a generally unattractive port city with the waterfront dominated by the container port, cruise ship terminal, fish market and bus station. There is no promenade along the seafront and buildings along the reclaimed land look inland rather than out to sea. Nevertheless, an active beautification association is making huge strides in cleaning up the city, with overgrown bridges repaired or rebuilt, buildings painted and re-roofed and plants maintained. Some buildings have been demolished. The most attractive and historical buildings are inland along the three main parallel streets,
Bay Street
,
Long Lane
and
Grenville/Halifax Street
, also known as Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street.

Kingstown is known as the 'city of arcades' and it is possible to walk around most of the centre under cover. There are even building regulations to encourage the practice in new construction. The shopping and business area is no more than two blocks wide, running between Bay Street and Halifax Street/Grenville Street. The
New Kingstown Fish Market
, built with Japanese aid, was opened in 1990 near the Police Headquarters. This complex, known as Little Tokyo, has car parking and is the point of departure for minibuses to all parts of the island. On Halifax Street at the junction with South River Road is the
Old Public Library
, an old stone building with a pillared portico.

The
Market Square
in front of the Court House is the hub of activity. A new covered market with cream and brown horizontal stripes has been built from Upper Bay to Halifax Street. Fruit and vegetables are downstairs and clothing is upstairs. In the middle of the market building is a circular area where farmers sell their produce on Fridays.

Kingstown has two
cathedrals
, St George's (Anglican) and St Mary's (Roman Catholic).
St George's
, consecrated in 1820, has an airy nave and a pale blue gallery running around the north, west and south sides. It became a cathedral in 1877 when the Diocese of the Windward Islands was constituted and the chancel and transepts date from 1880 to 1887. The cupula was blown down by a hurricane in 1898 and after that battlements were added to the tower. There is an interesting floor plaque in the nave, now covered by carpet, commemorating a general who died fighting the Caribs. Other interesting features include a memorial to Sir Charles Brisbane (1772-1829) who captured Curaçao. A lovely stained-glass window in the south transept was reputedly commissioned by Queen Victoria on the death of her grandson. She took exception to angels in red rather than the traditional white and it was put into storage in St Paul's Cathedral. It was brought to St Vincent in the 1930s.
St Mary's
is of far less sober construction, with different styles, Flemish, Moorish, Byzantine and Romanesque, all in dark grey stone, crowded together on the church, presbytery and school. Building went on throughout the 19th century, with renovation in the 1940s. The exterior of the church is highly decorated but dark and grim, while the interior is dull in comparison but quite light and pretty. The
Methodist church
, dating from 1841, also has a fine interior, with a circular balcony. Its construction was financed largely through the efforts of freed slaves. There is a little bell tower at the south end, erected in 1907.

The
Botanical Gardens
just below Government House and the Prime Minister's residence are well worth a visit and are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere . The
Nicholas Wildlife Complex
, has parrots, agouti, Barbados green monkey and St Vincent parrot, but they aren't very well housed.

Fort Charlotte
(completed 1805) is on the promontory on the north side of Kingstown Bay, 636 ft above sea level, 15 minutes drive out of town (EC$1.50 from bus terminal to village below, if you ask the driver he might take you into the fort for EC$1-2, worth it if it is hot). Although the fort was designed to fend off attacks from the sea, the main threat was the Black Caribs and many of its 34 guns (some of which are still in place) therefore faced inland. The gatehouse, 1806, was where Major Champion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was killed on 13 October 1824 by Private Ballasty. The murderer was executed at the scene of the crime. In the old barrack rooms, a series of paintings shows the early history of St Vincent. Painted by William Linzest Prescott in 1972, they suffer from poor lighting and their condition is deteriorating. There is also a coastguard lookout which controls the comings and goings of ships entering the port. Below, the ruins of a military hospital can be seen, as well as a bathing pool at sea level on the end of the point, used when the fort housed people suffering from yaws. The
National Trust of St Vincent and the Grenadines
, has further information.

Leeward coast

The Leeward Highway is a dramatic drive along the west coast towards La Soufrière; there are lush valleys and magnificent seaviews. It is a very crumpled landscape and the road is steep and twisty. The road leaves Kingstown and initially heads inland. There are views down into Campden Park Bay, to a deep water port complex and flour mill. The road passes through the small village of Questelles before rejoining the coast briefly at Buccament Bay and down into Layou where there are a few excellent examples of gingerbread houses.

About a mile after Questelles look for the
Vermont Nature Trail
sign, then turn right up the Buccament Valley to Peniston and Vermont. The car park at 975 ft is close to the Vermont Nature Centre. Buses from Kingston go to Peniston from where it is a long walk. Get a trail map from the information hut on the right. A guide is not necessary unless you want scientific information as you walk along this marvellous trail. There is a rest stop at 1,350 ft, and a Parrot Lookout Platform at 1,450 ft, probably the best place to see the St Vincent parrot. Be prepared for rain, mosquitoes and chiggars, use insect repellent.

There are some interesting
petroglyphs
and
rock carvings
dating back to the Siboney, Arawak and Carib eras. The best known are just north of Layou, carved on a huge boulder next to a stream.

Passing Mount Wynne and Peter's Hope,
Barrouallie
is the next village of any size. It is a fishing village and on the beach are fishing boats, nets, pigs and chickens scratching about. The local speciality catch is 'black fish', in reality a short-finned pilot whale, which grows to about 18 ft. Here, in the playground of the Anglican secondary school, there is a petroglyph dated at 800 BC, known as the
Ogham Stone
. One theory claims that it is in Celtic script. If the children are not in class they will highlight the picture in white chalk for you. The road also passes through the remains of a sugar mill (the furnace chimney is still standing) and then heads inland from the popular anchorage and restaurant at Wallilabou Bay. A stone gateway marks the entrance to the
Wallilabou Falls
(Wally-la-boo). You can swim here but the falls are not much more than a spurt (6 ft at the most). There are no changing rooms. On the opposite side of the road is a nutmeg plantation.

Wallilabou Bay was one of the settings for one of the
Pirates of the Caribbean
 movies, with copies of 18th-century piers and storage houses being built here to replicate Port Royal in Jamaica. Many of the Grenadine islands were also used for location shooting, including Union Island, the Tobago Cays and Petit Tabac, where Captain Sparrow and Elizabeth were marooned by Barbossa at the end of the film. Stephen Russell, the owner of the land on which the reconstruction of Port Royal stands, wants to turn the shooting location into a theme park.

The road goes inland along the
Wallilabou Valley
before quickly rising over the ridge into the North Leeward district. Another pretty beach is reached at
Cumberland
and the road climbs quickly to
Coulls Hill
with perhaps the best view on the coast. The road is most attractive through
Chateaubelair
(restaurant, use their facilities to change for a swim and have a snack), skirting Petit Bordel (drugs-financed speed boats on the beach) with small islands offshore, to
Richmond
and
Wallibou beach
. There are some beach facilities at Wallibou.

A boat trip to the
Baleine Falls
(on the northwest coast) is recommended. A few minutes up a river which originates on Soufrière, you come to the falls. At the base is a natural swimming pool. You can climb up the side behind the falls and then jump off into the pool. It is possible to reach the falls on foot, but it is easier to take an excursion by motor boat.

Windward coast

The Queens Drive takes you into the hills south of Kingstown and gives splendid views all around. The Marriaqua Valley with its numerous streams is particularly beautiful. In the valley, beyond Mesopotamia (commonly known as Mespo), the lush, tropical gardens of
Montreal
 are worth a visit; anthuriums are grown commercially for the domestic market. The owner, Timothy Vaughn, is a well-known landscape gardener in Europe and this is his first tropical garden, full of organic flowers and colourful foliage, with glorious views of Argyll and Mesopotamia Valley. It is designed in three sections, one of which includes a wild garden leading down to a river and a pool where you can swim.

The road meets the
Windward Highway
at Peruvian Vale. It gets progressively drier as the road goes north hugging yellow sandstone cliffs which contrast with the white waves surging in towards the black volcanic beaches. A number of banana packaging stations are passed especially around Colonarie. There is a particularly impressive view of the coast just after the
Black Point tunnel
. The tunnel is 350 ft long and was constructed by Colonel Thomas Browne using Carib and African slaves in 1815. It was blasted through volcanic rock from one bay to the other and the drill holes are still visible, as are storage rooms and recesses for candles. It is very atmospheric and there are a few bats as well as people washing in the water which pours out of the rock. It provided an important link with the sugar estates in the north and sugar was hauled through the tunnel to be loaded on to boats in Byera Bay. Black sand Byera Beach is the longest in St Vincent and the sea is rough, but in the days of the sugar plantations the coast curved round more giving protection to shipping and there was a jetty. You cannot see the tunnel from the road, which goes over the top. Turn towards the sea between the gas station and the river down a dirt road which leads to Black Point Recreation Site where cricket is played and people gather for Easter Monday celebrations.

Georgetown
is almost like a ghost town, an economically depressed area since the loss of sea cotton and arrowroot and now there are problems with bananas. The
St Vincent Rum Distiller
, a restaurant and guesthouse, does good business from visitors to the volcano. North of here is parrot territory with cooling rivers and deep pools.

The road to
Sandy Bay
(beyond Georgetown), where St Vincent's remaining Black Caribs live, is now good, however, you have to cross the Dry River, a jumble of rocks, grit, rubbish and dead wood swept down from the mountains above, which sometimes is not dry and therefore not passable. Rocks and sand are extracted for the building industry. Sandy Bay is poor but beyond it is an even poorer village along a rough dirt road,
Owia
. Here is
Salt Pond
, a natural area of tidal pools filled with small marine life. The rough Atlantic crashes around the huge boulders and lava formations and it is very picturesque. The villagers have planted flowers and made steps down to the Salt Pond area. There is also an arrowroot processing factory which can be visited. Past Owia is
Fancy
, the poorest village on the island, also Black Carib and very isolated, reached by a rough jeep track which makes a nice walk. Baleine Falls are a two-mile hike from here around the tip of the island, rugged and not for the unadventurous. Fishing boats can be hired in Fancy to collect you (do not pay in advance).

The south

The airport is just southeast of Kingstown at
Arnos Vale
, a residential area where there is also a sports complex. The road runs round the runway and down towards the coast at Indian Bay. There are several hotels in this area, stretching along the seafront to Calliaqua Bay. It is very pleasant, with light sand beaches, Young Island just offshore, Bequia in the distance and dozens of moored yachts. Many people stay here rather than in the capital, as it is an easy commute into Kingstown if you need to go in, while there are marinas, dive shops, the best restaurants and watersports facilities here. The southeast of the island is drier and has different vegetation and birdlife.

Beaches and activities

St Vincent has splendid, safe beaches on the leeward side, most of which have volcanic black sand. The lightest coloured sand can be found on the south coast in the Villa area, where there are several hotels, watersports and marinas. At
Sunsail Lagoon
in Calliaqua there is a lovely long, crescent-shaped beach,
Canash
, which is perfect for young children. Further round the rocks, there are two more beaches becoming progressively more golden the closer to the point you get. Just offshore is
Young Island
, which has a small, golden sand, 'improved' beach. The windward coast is rockier with rolling surf and strong currents, making it dangerous for swimming.
Brighton Salt Pond
beach has lovely swimming conditions most days and magically clear water. Cruise ships sometimes bring their guests here. All beaches are public. Some are difficult to reach by road, but boat trips can be arranged to the less accessible beauty spots such as
Breakers Beach
, Prospect.

Diving

The underwater wildlife around St Vincent and the Grenadines is varied and beautiful. There are many types and colours of coral, including black coral at a depth of only 30 ft in places. On the New Guinea Reef (Petit Byahaut) you can find three types of black coral in six different colours. The coral is protected so do not remove any. There are 10 marine protected areas including the northeast coast of St Vincent (and the Devil's Table in Bequia, Isle à Quatre, all Mustique, the east coast of Canouan, all of Mayreau, the Tobago Cays, the whole of Palm Island, Petit St Vincent and the surrounding reefs). However, the protected areas are very poorly policed and there are no marine park fees. Spearfishing is strictly forbidden to visitors and no one is allowed to spear a lobster. Buying lobster out of season (1 May-30 September) is illegal as is buying a female lobster with eggs. Fishing for your own consumption is allowed outside the protected areas.

There is reef diving, wall diving, drift diving and wrecks to explore. The St Vincent reefs are fairly deep, at 55-90 ft, so scuba diving is more rewarding than snorkelling. Dive sites include
Bottle Reef
,
the Forest
,
the Garden
,
New Guinea Reef
and
the Wall
. In Kingstown Harbour there are three wrecks at one site, the
Semistrand
, another cargo freighter and an ancient wreck stirred up by Hurricane Hugo, as well as two cannons, a large anchor and several bathtubs.

Hiking

The highest peak on the island,
La Soufrière
volcano, rises to about 4,000 ft. In 1970 an island reared up out of the lake in the crater; it smokes and the water round it is very warm. Hiking to the volcano is very popular, but you must leave very early in the morning and allow a full day for the trip. Take water and insect repellent. About two miles north of Georgetown (van from Kingstown to Georgetown EC$4, you can ask the driver to make a detour to the start of the trail for an extra charge) on the Windward side you cross the Dry River, then take a left fork and walk/drive through banana plantations to where the trail begins. It takes about three hours to reach the crater edge and it is a strenuous hike along a marked trail, the first three miles are through the Rabacca plantation, then up, along Bamboo Ridge and all the way to the crater's magnificent edge; the top can be cloudy, windy, cold and rainy, take adequate clothing and footwear.

An easier climb is up
Mount St Andrew
, near Kingstown. A tarmac track runs up to the radio mast on the summit of the peak, at 2,413 ft, passing first through banana and vegetable gardens and then through forest. There are no parrots but it is particularly good for the Antillean crested hummingbird and black hawks. The view from the summit covers the Grenadines and the Vermont and Mesopotamia valleys. To reach the track either take a van running along the Leeward Highway and ask to be put down at the junction with the Mount St Andrew road, or walk from Kingstown.

Sailing

Sailing is excellent, indeed it was yachtsmen who first popularized the Grenadines and it is one of the best ways to see the islands. You can take day charter boats, easily arranged through hotels, or charter your own boat. There is a variety of boats for skippered day charters. Talk to the operators about size and predicted wind conditions if you are inclined towards seasickness. The large catamarans are usually quite stable so that you will hardly know you are on a boat, but they take quite large groups. If you hire a local yacht or motor boat for a day, make sure that the captain has life jackets and other safety equipment (eg a radio) on board and that he is properly insured. This may seem obvious, but do not take anything for granted and be prepared to ask lots of questions. A tourist and his son taking a short hop boat ride between islands recently found themselves drifting hopelessly off course when the boat's engine failed. The captain had no radio and they were eventually found several days later at death's door off the Venezuelan coast.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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