With winter also comes the time of the year for a long-haul trip to the sunshine. After the rather clean Caribbean experience of Barbados last year, I was keen to experience the real West Indies this time, without the tourist towers and the clean cut restaurants to please the American or Canadian resort travelers. Don’t get me wrong- Barbados was a great memory the way we travel led the island, staying in a guest house – but I wanted to see more.
So, the chose final destination: Grenada. A small island dubbed the “Spice Isle” amongst its Caribbean brothers and sisters, it sits at the end of the chain of Caribbean islands, close to the coast of Venezuela. It’s a breath-taking little place, consisting 70% of jungle and natural reserves, with small, colourful wooden huts nestled in the hills and mountains. Tourisms hasn’t really hit off on the island as of yet, it gets mainly populated by the huge cruise ships, which dock for a couple a days as week and swamp the beaches for a couple of hours here and there. Apart from that, the island is more on the quieter side when it comes to tourism with only a couple of resorts near Grand Anse. It does have a university, which gives it this unique mix of locals, tourists and students.
I’m not one for top tips, but here a couple of things we did to have a pretty authentic and active Caribbean holiday on an island less traveled:
Mix it up!
We split our time between 2 very unique places at two different spots of the island to be able to experience both: the jungle and the natural reserves, versus the beach plus civilisation. Kimo’s Place in Windsor Forest is perfect: set in the mountains of the parish of St. David, surrounded by Kimo’s famous vegetable garden, you are living right in the midst of the locals. Don’t expect good roads – we literally bouncy castled it down the hill. Up in the mountains, the temperature is a bit cooler than by the coast, and a strong wind blows. You will most definitely be on the menu for the mosquitos every night from 4pm onwards – but this is all made up by the great authentic apartment and the amazing views.
The closest beach is La Sagesse
, a 15 minute drive on another pot-holed road. It’s worth it though, the beach is a quiet oasis under palm trees with shade for the lunch hours. Postcard perfect really.
By the beach is also a hotel restaurant, which serves a different lunch menu every day with excellent local fish and home-grown vegetables. It’s not over-run and also frequented by locals, which says a lot!
2nd pit-stop was the Caribbean Cottage Club – note, this is NOT a tourist resort but 4 wooden cottages nestled at the bottom of a hill in St. George parish, just 15 minutes walk shy of Grand Anse beach. The cottages are run by Karina, a temperamental Italian with her family, and the properties are set in a beautiful tropical garden with countless rare tropical birds. You want a mango for breakfast? Just go and pick it! What makes this oasis perfect is its simplicity of wooden huts and the great views. You can cook your own Caribbean meals and enjoy it with a view of the sea on your private little wooden terrace. No tourists, just travelers and mosquitos to keep you company. Note, they have quite a large selection of pets, so if you don’t like a cat keeping your chair warm over night on the terrace, this is not the place for you.
Get some wheels to experience the potholes!
Kimo was kind enough to rent us a small car for the few days we stayed with him, and we took the opportunity to explore the North and East coast of the island. If you are a bit of a screamish drive, Grenada is probably not the best place for you to get behind the wheel: pot hole after pot hole, stomach churning zigzag roads only, which the locals take like the devil – and then there are the dogs. Grenada seems to have a huge population of dogs (stray and owned), who don’t really care that you’d like to get on with you day by using the road, which they tend to use as their prime sunbathing spot. So to be a Grenadian driver you need: good nerves, good driving skills, a firm stomach, patience and a bit of good humour. Use your arms more than your indicators, people tend to wave you around a corner than use indicators or blinkers.
Places to visit up north are Bathaway Beach and Levera Beach, with a great view of the Sugar Loaf, a private island right at the tip of Grenada. You meet kind people all over the island, who are keen to have a chat with you, find out more about you and tell you proudly about the island and their parish. There is so much passion in the Grenadians about their little piece of paradise, it’s absolutely heart warming!
Become a two-legged explorer
As keen hikers and outdoor adventurers, we really wanted to get to the heart of the island and explore its natural beauty. Again, not a fan of big groups stampeding through the forest, we eventually found a local guide, Vaughn, who took us on two 5 hour hikes: a Cross Country hike, starting off at the Great Etang lake (a volcanic crater lake), climbing the volcanic crater up to Mount Qua Qua (nearly 2,300 ft), then down through the deepest jungle to the Concorde Waterfalls for a swim. The 2nd hike was climbing mount St. Catherine, Grenada’s highest mountain of 2,700ft. An incredible experience, you end up climbing on all fours up the thick jungle, using every muscle in your body to end up with your head in the clouds – literally! These hikes are probably one of the top 10 things I’ve done so far whilst traveling – and again, it is not for the faint hearted. You wade through mud for the first couple of hours – don’t even try to not get dirty, there is no escape, and you might as well use your bum to slide here and there. You cross streams for the next hour, knee high in water in your trainers. And you have Vaughn – an absolute treasure of a guide. Born and bread in Grenada, it’s like hiking with a friend, not a guide you never met before. HE has extensive knowledge of the island (not just the touristy stuff you hear at every corner) and a screamingly good sense of humour! After spending 10 hours with him and his cutless in the jungle, we felt like we made a friend for life.
Vaughn in his element
The view from Mt. Qua Qua
Grand Etang lage, a volcanic creater