Saint Vincent & the Grenadines Travel Guide
Date Visited: April 2015
If you are looking for a chain of stunningly beautiful Caribbean islands surrounded by turquoise waters then St. Vincent and the Grenadines is for you. This is a sailing, diving and snorkeling paradise.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an island group located in the southern portion of the Windward Islands. The country is also known simply as St. Vincent.
The country consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, which are a chain of smaller islands stretching south from Saint Vincent Island to Grenada.
A short distance north of Saint Vincent lies Saint Lucia, to the east Barbados. Grenada (Carriacou island) is a short boat ride to the south from Union Island, the only other country you can reach by public boat from St. Vincent.
The islands were originally settled by Carib Indians who resisted European occupation until the French arrived in 1719 from neighbouring Martinque. Eventually the British took control of the islands, but subsequently lost it again to the French. The British eventually regained control and maintained it until independence in 1979. The island was the last of the Windwards to be granted independence.
The French and British used African slaves to work plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton and cocoa. The descendants of these slaves comprise the majority (66%) of the population today. The total population is just over 100,000 people.
As with other Anglo Caribbean islands, after slavery ended the British imported indentured labourers from India. Descendants of these labourers make up another portion of the population and today add spice, literally, to the local cuisine.
Saint Vincent Island
The main island of Saint Vincent is 26km long and 15km wide. The island is rugged and volcanic, the windward side (Atlantic side) is very rocky and steep, while the leeward side (Caribbean side) has more sandy beaches and bays.
Saint Vincent’s highest peak is La Soufrière volcano at 1,234m. This is prone to erupt from time to time, the last eruption being in 1979.
The capital and largest city, Kingstown (population: 15,500 ) is located on the south side of the island.
To fully explore the island by car you will need 2-3 days. From Kingstown you have one road along the east coast and one along the west coast. You should allow one full day to explore each side of the island.
The capital and largest city was originally founded by French settlers in 1722.
Set on a hill on the northern outskirts of the city are the Botanical Gardens. They were established in 1765 by General Robert Melville, Governor of the British Caribbean. Captain Bligh (of the Bounty) brought breadfruit seeds to St. Vincent from Tahiti. This was imported as a food source to feed the slaves.
Today breadfruit is a staple on many Caribbean islands. A descendant of the first tree is in the garden. I would recommend paying for a guided visit. Jeffery, who is both knowledgable and entertaining will provide information on all the tropical plants in the garden.
You can also see the elusive St. Vincent parrots, which are kept in enclosures in the garden.
Also worth visiting in the capital is St. George’s Angelican Cathedral, the colourful market and Fort Charlotte (located 200m above the coast on the outskirts of town). Kingstown is quiet in the evening with few dining options available.
From Kingstown you have the option of driving north along the rugged and wild east coast (exposed Atlantic side) where you can see lava flows from La Soufrière volcano.
Alternatively you can drive along the calmer east coast (protected Caribbean side) where you will find better swimming beaches.
Bequia (pronounced ‘bek-waa‘), meaning ‘island of clouds’ in Arawak, is a charming island and makes for a pleasant day trip from Kingstown. You can reach the island on the Jaden Sun, leaving Kingstown in the morning and returning late in the afternoon – See the ‘Getting Around‘ section below.
The island is a favourite retirement location for Americans and Europeans who have opened cafes, restaurants and guest houses but there are enough locals in residence to ensure a Vincentian flavour remains.
Bequia is small enough that you can cover most sites on foot in a day.
Taxis are also available from the port, which is located in the charming main town of Port Elizabeth. This is where you will find shops, restaurants, cafes and accommodation. A short walk from town you will find the family run model boat shops—Sargeant Brothers Model Boat Shop and Mauvin’s Model Boat Shop. Model boat building is a speciality of the island.
For the best views of town, head up the hill to the 18th century Fort Hamilton.
Just north of Union Island lie this group of five small cays. The cays are surrounded and protected by a horse-shoe shaped reef. The snorkeling and diving here is stunning, you have to see this to believe it. The water visibility is incredible. There is a huge variety of marine life including turtles, who can be seen feeding on the sea grass in the main lagoon.
The best way to reach the keys is via a boat day-trip from Union island. The trips normally include a lobster lunch on one of the keys, where you can watch sting rays patrolling the shallow waters off the main beach.
Union Island is the southern most of the Grenadine islands within the territory of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The remaining islands in the chain lie in Grenada – a short boat ride to the south.
The main town and port is Clifton. The fast ferry – Jaden Sun – connects Union island with Mayreau, Bequia and Saint Vincent islands on a daily basis – see the ‘Getting Around‘ section below.
You can reach Carriacou (Grenada) via private water taxi – see the ‘Getting There‘ section below.
Most places on Union island can be covered on foot but taxis are also available from the port. This is a good place to organise a day-trip to nearby Tobago Cays.
A short boat ride from Union island is the man-made Happy island. The island consists of a bar where you can get an excellent rum punch topped with freshly grated nutmeg. When I travelled in the Caribbean I carried my own grater and nutmeg in case of emergencies.
Carribean Rum Punch Receipe
1/2 oz. lime juice
4 oz. orange juice
4 oz. pineapple juice
1 1/2 oz. dark rum
1 1/2 oz. light rum
A little grenadine for color
Mix ingredients together, pour over ice and sprinkle with nutmeg and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
On Saint Vincent I stayed at the charming Cobblestone Inn, located in downtown Kingstown. I would recommend this as a great base in the capital.
On Union island there are accommodation options in Clifton catering to all budgets. I stayed on a nice sandy beach a short walk from town but unfortunately I would not recommend the hotel.
If you prefer to book in advance, it’s best to book using booking.com
Like neighbouring Grenada, restaurants on the island offer Calaloo soup (a leafy vegetable similar to spinach) and lots of local seafood.
As with the other Anglo Caribbean Islands, Chinese and Indian cuisine is also available.
Some nationalities require visas for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.
International flights arrive at E.T. Joshua Airport, located in Arnos Vale, 2km south of Kingstown. This tiny airport is a hub for Grenadine Airways, Mustique Airways and S.V.G. Air.
At the time of my visit, work was progressing on the new facility –Argyle International, which is located on the east coast, 8km from Kingstown. Construction commenced in 2008 and is expected to be completed in 2016.
The following airline provides international connections to St. Vincent and the Grenadines:
- LIAT to Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada and Saint Lucia
There are no scheduled international ferry services, however private operators connect Carriacou island (Grenada) to Union Island (St. Vincent and the Grenadines). The journey time is approximately 45mins. Ask around in either port for the captains of these boats.
The only other way to arrive by sea is by private yacht or cruise ship.
Mini-buses operate on St. Vincent and taxis are available.
The best option for exploring the main island is to hire a car. There are rental companies at the airport and in Kingstown. If driving, you will first need to buy a temporary St. Vincent drivers license from the main police station in Kingstown.
Public transport on the smaller islands is non-existent. You either walk, hitch a ride or take a taxi.
A daily ferry – the Jaden Sun – connects most of the Grenadines to St. Vincent. The ferry is operated by Jaden Inc – check their website for current schedules and prices.