Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides (2016)
Known as the Spice Island of the Caribbean, this aromatic island, most famous for nutmeg, and now for cocoa, has mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and white-sand beaches well worth exploring.
Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station
Levera National Park
Grand Etang National Park
A colorful gem of an island, Grenada (“gre-nay-dah”) is, by any definition, small. Only 21 by 12 miles (35 by 20km) in size, it seems bigger than it really is, partly because its mountainous interior looms large and is slow to cross, and partly because its landscape is so varied. Its fertility is largely thanks to the 160ins (406cm) of rain deposited on the island’s interior each year by the trade winds. This creates lush and often impenetrable rainforest, streams that cascade down to the sea, and ideal conditions for the generations of small farmers who have worked their smallholdings since the British freed the slaves in 1834.
Grenada Board of Tourism
In 2004, the island was struck directly by Hurricane Ivan, which uprooted trees, caused damage to 90 percent of the buildings, and devastated crops. However, the land is astonishingly fertile; bananas, cocoa, citrus, mangoes, and coconuts grow in dense groves or by the roadside. Farther up in the interior, ferns and mahogany trees drip in the humidity.
Known as the Spice Island of the Caribbean, it is nutmeg that gives Grenada its most delicious and distinctive aroma. Nutmeg has been grown here since the 1780s when the British brought it over from East India and, together with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, replaced sugar as the island’s main export. Mature nutmeg trees were destroyed by the hurricane and cocoa is now the main crop, but the replanting of nutmeg is ongoing and the crop is still important. Known affectionately as the “retirement tree” as it is thought to guarantee a comfortable old age, the nutmeg tree drops an apricot-like fruit which splits when ripe to reveal its seed and the surrounding red membrane, which makes the separate spice, mace.
Grand Anse Beach, Grenada.
The prettiest capital
Few would disagree that the capital, St George’s 1 [map], is a fine town and has retained its picturesque charm and small-town warmth.
The Queen’s Park Stadium, just north of St George’s, was refurbished and its seating capacity increased to 20,000 for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007. The island is also home to the West Indies’ Cricket Academy.
The geography of St George’s is unusually attractive, as the town is built around the rim of a volcanic crater, which forms its almost landlocked harbor, and over a promontory, giving a variety of views. There are steep hills, steps, and twisting streets, making driving tricky and even walking challenging. From around the waterfront Carenage, edged with solid stone warehouses, the town rises steeply, houses, churches, and forts ringing the inner horseshoe bay. Over the promontory, where the French-built Fort George (www.forts.org; daily) commands panoramic views of the town and harbor, is another part of town, joined to the Carenage by the 100-year-old Sendall Tunnel. Here, the cruise ship terminal on the Esplanade disgorges thousands of visitors into the town. One of their first stops, Market Square, is the scene of hectic and colorful activity on Saturday morning as farmers bring their vanloads of yams, mangoes, and bananas to town. This is also the place to find spices, crafts, nutmeg oil, nutmeg soap, and cocoa balls.
Delicate French provincial architecture rubs shoulders with robust Georgian stonework, a happy consequence of Grenada changing colonial hands several times in the 18th century. Pink fish-scale roof tiles date from the time when they crossed the Atlantic as ballast in French ships. Pastel-colored wooden houses clinging to the hillsides contrast with the dour stone ruins of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk’s belfry and the imposing walls of Fort George.
The small Grenada National Museum (corner Young and Monckton streets; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-1pm), near the Sendall Tunnel, is housed in the former French barracks, built in 1704. The British used parts of it as a prison, then later the ground floor was a warehouse and upstairs became the Antilles Hotel. The exhibits are a varied mixture of dusty relics from all stages of Grenada’s history, including the “Cuban crisis.” One of the best ways to pass the time is simply to sit and admire the view, toward sea or mountains, preferably from the shady terrace of the waterside Nutmeg, famous for its rum punches.
The town exudes history, but most Grenadians prefer not to discuss the events of October 1983, which brought their island brief notoriety. In 1979, a group of radicals turfed out the eccentric and dictatorial Prime Minister Eric Gairy in a bloodless coup. Four and a half years of People’s Revolutionary Government, led by the charismatic Maurice Bishop, ensued and long overdue reforms were introduced. But Grenada’s “revo” disintegrated as a hardline faction tried to snatch power. Bishop was arrested, freed by a crowd, and then, in scenes of appalling brutality, was executed with several supporters in the courtyard of Fort George. The US, long suspicious of Grenada’s links with Castro’s Cuba, seized the opportunity to invade. More than 6,000 US Marines landed in what is euphemistically known as “the intervention.”
It seems long ago, but the scars remain. Several of those convicted of the murders have been released, while some remain in jail in Fort Frederick on Richmond Hill. Others still mourn their dead.
Spice of Grenadian life
The center of Grenada’s nutmeg industry is Gouyave 2 [map] (pronounced “warve”), on the west coast about 6 miles (10km) north of St George’s. A ramshackle one-street fishing community, populated by as many goats as people, it has a pungent Nutmeg Processing Station (Mon-Fri), where visitors can see the grading, drying, and packing process. The town is also home to a laid-back weekly evening fish fry, known as Fish Friday, where visitors can enjoy Grenadian fish specialties and local music. Just before Gouyave, down a dirt track, is the crumbling Dougaldston Spice Estate (Mon-Fri; free), once a prosperous plantation but now fallen on hard times. Small bags of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves are on sale here for a few dollars.
In October 1961, a fire ripped through the Italian cruise liner Bianca C in St George’s harbor. Boats of all types rushed to the rescue, saving the 400 passengers, and the ship’s owners erected a bronze statue, Christ of the Deep, in their honor. The ship is now the largest wreck dive in the Caribbean.
The seed of the nutmeg tree.
Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications
From Gouyave the road follows the coast north, providing spectacular sea views, before turning inland through several poor villages to the small north-coast town of Sauteurs 3 [map]. The French name (literally “Leapers”) recalls a grisly moment in Grenada’s colonial past when French forces surrounded the last community of indigenous Caribs in 1651. Rather than surrender, the 40 Caribs jumped from the 100ft (30-meter) cliff into the sea below. On the promontory by St Patrick’s church there you can peer down onto the rocks and spray.
Serious hikers can take a 5-hour walk in the Grand Etang National Park to Concord Falls, where it’s possible to swim, and on to Fedon’s Camp, where a rebel planter held out against the British in 1795. The good news is there is a bus back to St George’s from nearby Concord.
A rough road leads east out of Sauteurs to the Levera National Park 4 [map], a wild and varied area of scrubland, mangrove, and palm-lined beach. From the hilltop there are spectacular views of the offshore and uninhabited Sugar Loaf, Green, and Sandy islands. Bathway Beach, looking out to Sandy Island, is a normally deserted expanse of white sand, where seagrapes provide welcome shade. Currents are strong, despite a protective reef, but there is a 33ft (10-meter)-long natural rock pool, perfect for swimming.
Staff at the Grenada Chocolate Company.
Grenada Cocolate Company
A working plantation
The main road south of Sauteurs takes you to the Morne Fendue Plantation House, a gray stone house. Drive south for 15 minutes and between Hermitage and Tivoli there is a turn-off to Belmont Estate 5 [map] (tel: 473-442 9524; www.belmontestate.net; Sun-Fri 8am-4pm), a working plantation offering tours of the organic farm, goat dairy farm, gardens, heritage museum, and cocoa processing facilities, while there is also a restaurant for lunch, using fruit, vegetables, goat’s cheese, and chocolate from the property, and also offering specialties such as callaloo and pepperpot. Formerly a nutmeg plantation, its trees were severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan and production on Grenada declined by about 75 percent. Cocoa has since replaced it as the island’s main crop. The organic cocoa produced here (and by other local organic farmers) is used to make the exquisite, prize-winning chocolate produced by the Grenada Chocolate Factory (www.grenadachocolate.com). If you buy some, don’t be worried about it melting in the heat of the tropics. It is so pure that it doesn’t melt, but if you are concerned, buy the cocoa powder instead. Just east of here is the River Antoine Rum Distillery 6 [map] (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm), where guided tours demonstrate 18th-century rum distilling techniques based on a water-powered cane crusher. From here it is a short drive to Lake Antoine, a lonely crater lake teeming with birdlife.
An unusual and very popular visitor attraction on Grenada is the Underwater Sculpture Park in Molinière Bay (www.grenadaunderwatersculpture.com), some 2 miles (3km) north of St George’s. Started in 2006, it has grown to include some 100 sculptures, influenced by the island’s history, folklore, and culture. In mid-2015 a new sculpture of the Nutmeg Princess, based on Grenada’s fairytale and designed by Lene Kilde, was added to the park. Created predominantly from reinforced concrete, the sculptures act as an artificial reef, to be enjoyed by snorkelers and scuba divers, and more will be added. Boat tours are offered (about a 10-minute ride from St George’s), or you can get there by land (south from Dragon Bay). There is a beach at one end of the bay.
Nature in the raw
At Grenville, a sprawling, rather unattractive town with a dirty beach on the east coast, the picturesque coastal road leads to La Sagesse Nature Centre 7 [map], about 10 miles (16km) south. Here, you drive through a banana plantation before arriving at a shaded beach, overlooked by a small guesthouse and restaurant terrace. Within walking distance is a microcosm of Caribbean coastal ecology: a mangrove estuary, salt pond, coral reefs, and cactus woodlands.
But Grenada’s natural tour de force is the Grand Etang National Park 8 [map], an area that covers the mountainous backbone of the island, from Mount St Catherine (2,755ft/840 meters) to Mount Sinai (2,306ft/703 meters). The Grenville-St George’s road winds tortuously up into rainforest and occasional warm mist. About halfway is Grand Etang itself, a water-filled volcanic crater at 1,900ft (580 meters). Legend has it that the lake is bottomless, and certainly few feel the urge to swim in the strangely still water.
The best views on Carriacou are from the Princess Royal Hospital, built on top of a hill in 1907-9 to cope with an outbreak of malaria, as it was too windy up there for mosquitoes yet quiet enough for convalescence.
A Visitors’ Center has information on the surrounding flora and fauna, and there are well-marked hiking trails which take from 15 minutes to 3 hours to complete. It is wet, sweaty, and sometimes slippery high in the mountains, but walkers will be rewarded with panoramic views and sightings of orchids, hawks, and even opossums (considered a delicacy locally).
On the way back to St George’s it is worth making a half-mile detour to Annandale Falls 9 [map], where a stream drops 50ft (15 meters) into a pool used for swimming. The site attracts fair numbers of self-appointed “guides” as well as those eager to sell spices.
The southern tail of the island is comprised of a series of inlets, promontories, and beaches. The most celebrated of these is Grand Anse ) [map], several miles of perfect white sand fringed with palm trees and hibiscus hedges. This is the tourist strip, with hotels bordering the beach and a road of restaurants and shops running parallel. Smaller and more secluded is Morne Rouge, lying in a protected cove farther round, and then there are smaller, emptier beaches delighting in the evocative names of Portici, Magazine, and Pink Gin Beach. East of Maurice Bishop airport (claimed by the US, in the Cold War days of 1983, to have been built by Cuba as part of its expansionist designs in the Caribbean) on the south coast are Prickly Bay, with the popular Spice Island Marina, and True Blue Bay, also with yachting facilities and water sports. The Lance aux Épines peninsula has many luxury homes alongside smart hotels such as The Calabash, whose lawns sweep down to the beach. In Woodlands Valley is the award-winning Clarks Court Rum Distillery (tel: 473-444 5363; www.clarkescourtrum.com; tours Mon-Fri 8am-4pm), the largest on the island. The 15-minute tour explains the production process and includes old steam engines from the 19th century, finishing with a tasting session. Numerous paths wind around the headlands and inlets of the southern coast, leading to some interesting bays and isolated bathing spots, all the way to La Sagesse.
Grenada’s two even smaller island dependencies, Carriacou ! [map] and Petit Martinique, a 3-4-hour boat ride off the northeastern coast, are a haven for those who want to get away from it all. You can fly, but taking the ferry up the coast of Grenada and into Carriacou’s natural harbor is an experience to be savored. Carriacou is famous for wooden boat-building, the African-influenced Big Drum dance, and (some say) smuggling; tiny, volcanic Petit Martinique also has a reputation for illicit supplies of whisky.
An old hut near the Caribbean Lagoon.
The main town on Carriacou is Hillsborough (pop. 1,000) on the west side of the island. It was first used by the British as a launch pad for Admiral Ralph Abercrombie and his fleet of 150 ships on their way to take Trinidad in 1796. Today’s sailors still come in search of safe harbor, either in Hillsborough or in Tyrrel Bay in the west. The Carriacou Museum (Paterson Street, tel: 473-443 8288; www.carriacoumuseum.org; call for hours), housed in a restored cotton gin mill, contains exhibits from Amerindian settlements, British and French occupation of the islands, and an African section.
Carriacou Regatta, held annually over Emancipation weekend.
Horizon Yacht Charters
On the northeast coast, Windward has a Scottish heritage and used to be the center for boat building. You can still see some activity, although many of the craftsmen have moved to Tyrrel Bay. The techniques haven’t changed since a boat builder from Glasgow first started making boats from local white cedar without the use of power tools, but the timber is now imported. The sturdy schooners and fishing boats can be seen racing in the Carriacou Regatta in August, over Emancipation weekend. Started in 1965 for local boats, it has developed into a major Caribbean event and attracts competition from other islands’ working boats. Big Drum dances, lots of other activities, and competitions are organized, and a party atmosphere reigns. Petit Martinique also has a Whitsuntide Regatta, for sailors and boat builders, with onshore competitions and festivities such as tug-of-war, beer drinking, and the greasy pole. Boat building and fishing (or working at the Petit St Vincent resort across the narrow channel) are the main occupations of Petit Martinicans, who are descended from French fishermen, Glaswegian boat builders, pirates, and slaves.
Maroon culture, as celebrated in the Maroon and Regional String Band Festival, is about giving thanks to the source of all life, emphasizing community and sharing.
The other major event on Carriacou is the 3-day Maroon and Regional String Band Festival, at the end of April (www.carriacoumaroon.com). Designed to keep local musical traditions alive, string bands from other islands, from Tortola to Tobago, take part as well. String bands are popular on the island and can be heard at most social functions and at the Parang Festival at Christmas. The African origins of Maroon culture are depicted through drumming, singing, eating of smoked food, and other rituals. Local food and drinks are an integral part of the accompanying entertainment.