Tiny Grenada will soon be back on the map when Sandals opens later this year, but the fragrant island has more to offer (or is it less) than large all-inclusive resorts
The drive from my house in West London to Gatwick airport to board the flight to the Caribbean was longer than the drive across the full length of Grenada. At 21 miles long, the island is small but packs in all the essentials we expect from this part of the world, great year-round weather, lovely beaches, colonial architecture and Oh! That heavenly smell
Known as the Spice Island because of the smells of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove that fill the air, Grenada has a quaint old-fashioned feel. Despite that, it has established itself as one of the Caribbean’s premier diving and sailing destinations. Verdant rainforests, vibrant spice markets, historic forts and plantations and activities such as river tubing – where one rides on top of an inner tube on the water – and hiking are some of the attractions. A hike through the Grand Etang rainforest affords a glimpse of the country’s Mona monkey. Several troops of Mona monkeys roam the forests of Grenada. Mona monkeys are not native to the Western Hemisphere but instead were introduced from Africa.
Above all; the island’s tranquillity and unspoiled character reveal the authentic Caribbean, although in many people’s minds the island will always be remembered for the brief US invasion in 1983 after the country’s takeover by the socialist People’s Revolutionary Government. These days Grenada is quiet and sedate and, although independent from the UK since 1974, it still carries the names of the four British patron saints in its parishes and village names.
I returned to Grenada this year ten years since my last trip in 2003. Twelve months afterward, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan had paid a visit and flattened much of this pretty Caribbean island. Although tenacious little Grenada has recovered most of its old verve and energy, it was still sad to walk around the capital, St George’s, the other week. Once hailed as having the ‘prettiest harbor in the Caribbean’ many of the capital’s churches and fine old Georgian buildings are still left roofless. The Grenadians have found it difficult to finance the repairs needed following the disaster. But although tourism has been in decline for some years, that is set to change later this year with the opening of Sandals which has taken over the old La Source hotel. Not everyone welcomes the move – Grenada has for many years been one of the Caribbean islands that have resisted the all-inclusive chains. On the other hand, the opening will herald increased airlift and much-needed publicity to put Grenada back on the map.
Top things to do in Grenada
SPICE UP YOUR LIFE
Grenada is the second largest producer of nutmegs in the world, accounting for about a third of the world’s supply. Visit one of the processing plants such as Grenville, or visit the historic Belmont estate which is a real eco-adventure. The River Antoine Rum Distillery is the oldest water propelled functioning rum distillery in this part of the world, using methods little changed since the 1800s.
While I was relaxing at the boutique True Blue bay hotel, my husband, a keen Scuba diver, was under the Grenadian water. Here lies the former luxury liner Bianca C, one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, a 600-foot long cruise ship which sank in 1961. The Moliere Underwater sculpture park serves a double function as an underwater art gallery and artificial reef. Other famous dives include Shakem, another wreck which sank in 2001: Shark Reef which is teeming with sharks, turtles and other marine life and Purple Rain Reef which gets its name from the large schools of Creole Wrasses and purple vase sponges which live here.
Above the water, this former British colony offers charming architecture, and St George’s, despite the roofless buildings, still has 300-year-old Fort George the oldest structure in the country with a maze of tunnels and ramparts. The National Museum is another worthwhile stop which occupies an area first used as a garrison. A few steps away is the 340-foot Sendall Tunnel, constructed by former governor Walter Sendall after he observes the plight of porters and horse-drawn carriages slipping on the unpaved streets. I strolled around on Saturday morning when the colorful spice market is in full swing. At sundown, keep your eyes peeled for Grenada’s famous ‘green flash’ – an optical illusion best experienced with a local rum sundowner in hand.
The high spot of my recent trip was a nighttime excursion to see turtles nesting. Gigantic female leatherback turtles lumber ashore Levera Beach in the north of the island to the same spot where they hatched themselves some years before. They then dig a hole where they lay their eggs. We watched one female lay 96 eggs before covering her tracks and heading back into the ocean. This fascinating activity usually occurs between March and May each year, and six weeks afterward the golf-ball like eggs hatch. The tiny hatchlings then start their perilous journey to the sea. It is possible for visitors to return to see the hatchlings, but few of them survive, sadly. When I visited researchers from the local university were on hand to monitor and document the proceedings.
Not to be missed is a trip to Grenada’s Out islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique known for their sleepy island charm. In August the regatta on Carriacou celebrates the indigenous art of boat building handed down by Scottish and Irish ancestors and racing focuses on these locally built workboats.
From the UK, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic service Grenada weekly with direct flights from London’s Gatwick Airport.