St Vincent and the Grenadines: Caribbean island hopping
Carriacou (Grenada), April 6th 2015

When we were planning our trip through the Caribbean, we were immediately attracted to the island nation called St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). A country of which we had never heard before and which consists of 32 islands in the southern part of the Lesser Antilles. It is also one of the countries where you can hop from one island to the other by take public boats. Before we went to SVG we had high expectations of the country and fortunately, the country has not disappointed us.

St Vincent and the Grenadines consists of the main island of St Vincent and a long string of smaller islands to the south, called the Grenadines. St Vincent is the economic heart of this island nation, but sees relatively few tourists. Many people fly to St Vincent and leave immediately by boat or small propeller plane to one of the paradisiacal Grenadines, to spend their holidays there. This is unfortunate, because St Vincent has much to offer. The island is for more than 30 percent covered by rainforest and it has the 1200m high Soufriere volcano that can be climbed in a few hours. Unfortunately, we could not make this climb because of the rainy weather, but the walks in the Vermont Nature Reserve, were also very worthwhile. Kingstown, the capital of the country, is in our opinion one of the nicest towns in the Caribbean. Colorful colonial houses adorn the streets which are filled with market stalls. Small huts serve as bars. In rickety wooden structures with plastic sheets as a roof, people are hanging around with a bottle of beer in their hand at ten o'clock in the morning. These are probably the places where the average cruise boat tourist does not feel at ease. It looks all a bit shabby and you won’t see the polished image that many people have of a dream vacation in the Caribbean. However, the people are friendly and always up for a chat. Many have lived temporarily in Canada, the United States or England and they like to talk about the harsh winters in those countries. They tell you about the first time they walked through the freezing cold and how much it had hurt when they tried to warm their hands under running hot water. "Ye have to learn that kind of things, man" they will tell you with a broad smile. Unsurprisingly, most are happy to be back in the tropics.

The colourful centre of Kingstown, the capital town of St. Vincent & The Grenadines

From St Vincent there are daily public boats to Bequia, a Grenadine island which is only ten kilometers away from St Vincent. Despite the short distance, there is a big difference between the islands. Bequia is a real tourist destination and especially popular with the "yachties". Yachties are people who travel with a rented or their own yacht from island to island where they moor in picturesque bays. Picturesque bays abound in these areas and since SVG consists of many different islands, it is a perfect destination to hop from island to island, without having to deal with customs issues. Port Elizabeth is the main town of the Bequia and you can find everything a yachtie needs: jetties, supermarkets, fuel and lots of cafes and restaurants to socialize with other yachties. For the average traveler, it's observe what is going on. One yacht is even more impressive than the other and on the terraces you can overhear people telling what their journey has been so far. Kingstown rarely appears on their itinerary and one yachtie says that this is because it is too dangerous. "There are only local people in Kingstown" he says with a fearful face. His friend nods and then we know we're not in the right bar. Travelling in a country while making every effort to avoid the locals, is not our way of traveling. We spend our days on Bequia by exploring the small island on foot. The south coast is dotted with ordinary villages and small fishing ports. On the northeastern coast lie some fine resorts and vacation homes. The views over the coastline are beautiful everywhere.

From Bequia, we returned for a few days to St Vincent to go to Union Island afterwards. On most days there is a so-called fast ferry, which travels the distance of about 65 kilometers in a few hours. However, on Tuesdays you depend on the Gem Star. The crossing with the Gem Star is an experience in itself. It is a very local affair. The boat is more a freighter than a passenger boat, but passengers are more than welcome and can sit comfortably on the upper decks and in the small interior spaces. That bit of comfort is more than welcome, because the journey is long. One day beforehand, we had informed for the estimated departure and arrival times. The boatman told us that we would leave around noon and that we would have to travel for seven or eight hours. Eventually, we left Kingstown with two and a half hour delay, due to the large amount of cargo that had to be loaded. The ship is used to supply the islands with everything from soft drinks to construction materials. Perhaps the most time consuming, are the people who put small packets on the freight deck for family members on the other islands. They put the name and address of the recipient on the box, but nothing is sorted. As the boat goes via the islands Canouan and Mayreau to Union, at every stop one has to search which packages should get off the ship. One could say, that there is still room for logistical improvement. It's fun to watch the spectacle from a distance, but we were glad that we had prepared ourselves mentally for a long trip and substantial delays. Two Canadian ladies had the official schedule of the tourist information in their mind and thought they would arrive in Union within four hours of departure. At ten o'clock in the evening, we finally entered the port of Union.

The helper of a route taxi in Kingstown is looking for additional passengers

At Union we have spent one full day. The main town of Clifton seemed the epicenter for the yachties, who whiled away their days sipping Nespresso coffee (EUR 4) and French wines. The town looked like a movie set with its perfect Caribbean colored houses, perfect market stalls and music of Bob Marley from each sound box. The roles were clear: all the customers in the restaurants were tourists and all the staff was local. On the outskirts of the town, local taxi drivers enjoyed a beer at a tiny bar. It felt like we were not really welcome here. They were probably thinking, "we are all day among the tourists; we would rather spend our free time with friends". There is nothing wrong with that.

A few kilometers from Clifton, is the town of Ashton. Here we were once again the only tourists in town and it was easy to notice the difference in the way people react towards us. A public boat departs from Ashton every Monday and Thursday to Carriacou, an island that belongs to Grenada. People were very helpful to explain how it all works. We needed to be at the jetty at seven o'clock in the morning and just wait until enough cargo and passengers are there before the boat sets off. Since there is no immigration office in Ashton and since the immigration in Clifton does not open until nine o'clock in the morning, we were told to get our passports stamped a day earlier. No sooner said than done. With the right stamps in our passports, we arrived a day later at a quarter to seven at the jetty. The small sailboat seemed ready, but the servant who works on the boat showed us where we can get coffee. It would still take some time. In a small wooden cabin one made us two large cups of coffee (EUR 0.70). In order to ensure quality and heat some silver foil was put on the cups as an extra service. An old lady asked whether we were going to Carriacou and she wished us a blessed trip. On the jetty, we heard some fellow passengers complain about the delay that is caused by two people from Grenada, who didn’t organize their immigration properly. They didn’t collect their stamps the day before. Referring to us they chatter "The two white men come all the way from Europe and they know how to follow the rules." After a few hours, the boat trip could begin. Sailing on a small sailing boat over the blue sea; this must be one of the most beautiful forms of public transport. This is the kind of island hopping in the Caribbean like it was meant to be!

Us on the ferry from St. Vincent to Bequia
This is the Caribbean beach most people dream of (Bequia)
Caraibbean architecture in Port Elizabeth (Bequia)
The ferry to Canouan and Union Island is mostly loaded by hand

The tiny public boat that brought us from Union Island to Carriacou (Grenada)

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