Those who are of a similar age to us may remember the murder of Maurice Bishop, Grenada’s then Prime Minister, and subsequent invasion by US troops in 1983. Even though these events happened over 30 years ago, there are still remnants dotted around the island: from the plaque at Fort George in Grenada’s capital St George’s that marks the very spot where Maurice Bishop and several of his closest allies were shot to two crumbling Cubana and Aeroflot planes next to the runway at old Pearls Airport.
The country of Grenada is actually made up of several islands, the main (and inhabited) ones being Grenada itself – often called the Spice Isle for the nutmeg plantations it had before Hurricane Ivan destroyed them in 2004 – and the Southern Grenadine islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique.
Grenadians seem to be very proud of their island nation… perhaps because of the events 30+ years ago. The colours of green, red and yellow are literally everywhere: garden walls, electricity poles, even stones or conch shells marking the side of the road are painted in the national colours.
Equally proud are they of Kirani James, Grenada’s first-ever Olympic medallist and a national hero in his home country. At just 19, he won the 400m at the 2012 Olympics in London and came second at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. At the airport, a big sign “Welcome to Kirani Country” greeted us, and the newly built Athletics Stadium in St George’s – only opened a week before we arrived – was named after him.
What did we get up to?
In total, we spent nine nights in Grenada, splitting our time between Grenada (six nights) and Carriacou (three nights). To get from one to the other, we took the Osprey, a daily catamaran ferry that leaves St George’s from the Carenage opposite the fire station. Tickets (XCD60 per person) can be bought in advance in a small office on Wharf Road (near the corner with Young Street) or at the boat just before departure. The catamaran is significantly smaller than the one servicing the Trinidad and Tobago route. It makes the trip in (at times quite bumpy) two hours.
Arriving on the Easter weekend meant that we took it easy for the first few days. We had chosen to stay in a short-term rental apartment in walking distance from the airport, with a number of beaches nearby that we went to check out: Dr Grooms Beach, Parc A Beouf Beach, Magazine Beach, Grand Anse and Mourne Rouge Bay. Another day, we ventured into St George’s, roaming around Fort George and Market Hill, walking through the Sendall Tunnel and along the Carenage, one of the two bays that make up St George’s harbour. As in Bridgetown, we discovered a local eatery where we had a nice fried fish lunch (XCD21 for a big meal and juice). We didn’t note the name but it’s at the corner of Grenville Street and Market Hill, overlooking the small market square.
We also hired a scooter for two days. Paul has a motorcycle licence but hadn’t ridden one in more than 25 years. The roads are pretty decent in Grenada, and the drivers are a tad less crazy than in some other places (with the exception of those driving minivan buses). Road signage is not the best but friendly locals that are happy to show you the way make up for it.
- On our first day, we drove once around the whole island in anti-clockwise direction… 120km in total. The journey took us through beautiful countryside, two sizeable towns (Grenville on the East coast and Gouyave on the West coast) and countless villages. We checked out the old planes at Pearls Airport – the landing strip is now used for drag racing and kite flying events, passed the River Antoine Rum Distillery (with the only water wheel still in use in the Caribbean) and stopped at Lake Antoine – a gorgeous crater lake on the North-East coast. After lunch at Bathway Beach, we headed first North to Sauteurs where Carib families jumped off a cliff rather than being colonised by the French, then along the West Coast back down to St George’s.
- The second day, we headed inland and into the mountains. It was a bit scary at first but our little scooter did well on the steep, windy roads (being new with good brakes and thanks to Paul’s riding skills). Our destination for the day was the Grand Etang Forest Reserve, near the centre of Grenada. The interior of Grenada is covered in lush rainforest. You could feel the temperature dropping the further up we travelled. There are several hiking trails in the Forest Reserve, including the climb up to Mt Qua Qua (one of the highest mountains in Grenada) and a hike to the Seven Sisters (seven waterfalls near the settlement of St Margaret). We chose an easier trail, a 90-minute hike around Grand Etang Lake. The trail was not well maintained, quite muddy in parts and had hardly any signage but it was worthwhile nevertheless. It rained on and off in the mountains and was quite misty by the time we left just after lunch, so if you plan to go make your way up there early. There is also another waterfall nearby (Annandale Falls), but thanks to missing signage, we couldn’t find the turn-off on our way back.
Even though my butt and feet fell asleep on numerous occasions, we had a lot of fun doing our scooter tour. While the minivan buses service (almost) any place on the island (the free Skyviews map shows the routes and numbers), they generally race from A to B and are usually packed with people, so you can’t see a thing. Having the scooter enabled us to slowly travel around the place, stop when we wanted to and be more immersed in local life. Plus it was considerably cheaper than hiring a car.
Ten times smaller than the Spice Isle and thankfully not a destination of cruise ships, the Island of Reefs (which Carriacou means in Arawak) was a very different experience.
We had rented a studio apartment overlooking Tyrell Bay. Our host had provided some geolocation coordinates but that didn’t make finding the house any easier. A guy in a 4WD who happened to go past saw our lost expressions and stopped. He knew immediately whom we were staying with, got us to jump in and drove us the few hundred metres to the property. This pretty much sums up the Kayaks, the people of Carriacou… kind and happy to help out.
With Tyrell Bay just down the road, we thought we’d spend the afternoon at the beach. First, though, we needed some lunch. We had met a nice lady, Karen (owner of Simply Carriacou Island Tours), at our accommodation in Grenada. Originally from the UK, she had lived on Carriacou for ten years, and she recommended a few places. Following her advice, we had lunch at Lazy Turtle, run by UK couple Shayne and Sue who moved to Carriacou four years ago. The restaurant not only serves delicious pizza but other dishes as well. I had Lionfish Chowder for example, and they also had us try a new dish Lionfish in Herb Crust. We had watched a documentary a while ago about lionfish and the damage they cause to coral reefs. Back then, we also learned that you can eat them if you remove their poisonous spines. As beautiful as they are to look at in the water, they are delicious on a plate.
As soon as we had paid for our lunch, it started to rain. It didn’t look as if it would clear up anytime soon, so we decided to scrap the afternoon plans at the beach and walk home instead (in the rain)… the right decision as it turned out. It was still raining by nightfall. The rain provided some more pleasant temperatures, and as our apartment didn’t have insect screens, it also brought us a tiny visitor: a frog the size of my thumbnail.
The next morning, we decided to explore the island by public transport and on foot. Carriacou has three bus routes: #10 covers the South-Western part of the island (including Tyrell Bay, Paradise Beach and the airport), #11 the North-Eastern part and #12 services the centre including Grand Bay on the East Coast (all for XCD3.50 each per trip). Taking the #10 bus into Hillsborough, we swapped to #12, which took us up to Mt Royal from where we could see all the way to Grenada in the South. Walking back down to Hillsborough, we were rewarded by gorgeous views of the West and East (including Grand Bay and Petite Martinique). We even bumped into an almost white iguana.
Back in Hillsborough, we had lunch at La Playa, a small restaurant/bar right on the water’s edge. Next was the #11 bus, which took us all the way to Petite Carenage Bay. The beach is backed by mangroves and absolutely stunning. From here, we could see as far north as the Grenadine island of Canouan. We would have loved to stop and snorkel, but we wanted to hike the North-Western side of the island and stop at Anse La Roche instead. Just as we reached the northernmost house on the island, the road suddenly stopped. From here, it’s a dirt track through the forest back towards Hillsborough. There was some shade along the path and a nice breeze which made the hike a bit more bearable in the afternoon heat. Sadly, signage on Carriacou is not much better than on Grenada, so we missed Anse La Roche. We only bumped into a marker 100m after the path down to the beach (and didn’t want to backtrack).
In the late afternoon/evening (it was a Saturday) we heard drums being played somewhere along Tyrell Bay. When we heard them again the following afternoon, we followed them down to the beach. Turns out, four guys were playing the drums at DJ’s Bar (and had done so also at Lumbi Queen – another recommendation by Karen – the night before). A cold beer in hand, we enjoyed our last sunset on the island to the sound of drums and songs… a priceless experience. When the band took a break, we chatted to one of them, Kenroy Noel (aka the stick man – at one point, he also performed a stick dance). Turns out he lives in Zurich from May to December and returns to Carriacou during the Swiss winter.
We weren’t totally safe from scams though in Grenada either, perpetrated by yet another minivan bus guy shortly after our arrival: Minivan bus drivers are usually accompanied by another guy (sometimes just a kid) whose task it is to maximise the revenue per trip. So they shout out along the route trying to find passengers, squeeze more passengers into the van even if it’s full already (you literally sit on top of each other in peak times – personal space is defined differently in the Caribbean) and collect the money. So, here is us hailing down minivan #1: Hello guys, come in. Where are you from? New Zealand. Ahhh, the country of the Black Caps [everyone is cricket fanatic here]. Is it your first time in Grenada? It is, indeed. What do you think? Do you like our country? So far yes, but we only arrived 30 minutes ago [big mistake]. You’ll love Grenada, my friend. You’ll love it. Thanks to Paul’s cheerful honesty, a trip that should have cost XCD5 for the two of us turned into XCD8.50 (not much, but still annoying). Coincidentally, we took the same minivan bus on our very last trip (to the ferry), and not recognising us, he tried the same spiel again (unsuccessful this time).
Another difference to Tobago: Police or security staff was stationed at major tourist sights… not so much to protect the sights but the tourists (from being pestered by locals) as the policeman securing the planes at Pearls Airport told us. We did get pestered by people in Downtown St George’s near the bus terminal and around the Carenage, but only two or three times, and Paul’s friendly but firm No, thank you did the trick.
Similar in size also to Barbados but significantly less developed, Grenada shared the genuine friendliness of the people, but entry fees were very affordable even though St George’s is a cruise ship stop.
Paul named Carriacou our favourite small island. From the moment we got off the ferry, the encounter with the guy who helped us find our accommodation, our host Denzel, our chats with Shayne and Kenroy… There is such a good vibe on the island, we were sad to leave. Carriacou is a place where we could easily spend a few weeks, slowly exploring the beaches we didn’t get to spend time at (such as Petit Carenage Bay, Anse La Roche, Paradise Beach or Sandy Island – above and below water) and the many more hiking trails in the centre of the island that we didn’t get to do. After having experienced the drums, we were also sad to miss the annual Maroon and String Band Music Festival – we arrived a week too early :-(Grenada and especially Carriacou – we will be back.