Looking for paradise in miniature? Plan a perfect day-trip to an island off an island – idyllic outcrops easily accessible by ferry, where life is even more laid-back. Lizzie Williams pops over to Carriacou, and suggests three more of the Caribbean’s most tempting tiny isles
Rolling into the car park of Paradise Beach, I was a little sceptical. It takes some nerve to name any beach ‘Paradise’, especially given how many beautiful beaches there are in the Caribbean. Could this spot on Carriacou’s L’Esterre Bay really live up to its name?
But after following the path through the scrub, there it was: a spectacular beach that had it all. Shady seagrape trees, soft, white sand, immaculately clear waves gently tousling the shore. There were no high-rise hotels, no rows of sunbeds, no hassling vendors. Just a long stretch of flour-fine sand defined by turquoise water and a few fishing boats and yachts bobbing peacefully in the bay.
With warm grains between my toes and a sigh of relaxation, I walked the length of the virtually deserted beach. A tropicbird, its tail flowing like a bridal veil, floated by, and the only sounds were the folding and receding waves and the plaintive call of a mangrove cuckoo. It was incredibly lovely; so lovely, in fact, that I was very tempted not to catch the afternoon ferry back to Grenada at all…
Just 32km north of Grenada, and part of the tri-island nation that also includes Petit Martinique, Carriacou is the most southerly island in the Grenadines. Named Kayryouacou (‘island of reefs’) by the indigenous Kalinago, it’s home to around 8,000 people and is still relatively untouched by tourism, with a laid-back and slow-paced vibe, and a culture that remains authentic and unspoilt.
Also, at 34 sq km, Carriacou is so small that you can drive around the entire island in an hour, and walk just about anywhere. This makes it a great day-trip from Grenada: the return ferry journey gives you nearly five hours on the island. That’s enough time to hop in a taxi or minibus for a tour of an hour or two, a good lunch somewhere, and time on the beach.
The adventure begins
Ferries leave St George’s at 9am and take 90 minutes to reach Hillsborough. The crossing offers tremendous views of Grenada’s west coast before crossing the white-capped swells in the passageway between the two islands. It then drifts gently into the calm, glassy topaz water at the jetty of tiny Hillsborough, Carriacou’s main settlement. Townsfolk gather at the jetty to pick up mangoes, limes, bananas and gossip from Grenada, while women grill chicken and corn for hungry passengers as they alight.
Hillsborough dates back to 1796, when naval commander Sir Ralph Abercromby set up camp to attack the Spanish in the Americas. Today, the main street is a row of modest restaurants, rum shops, grocery stores and guesthouses. The friendly residents share the space amicably, and view their home with pride – it won’t take long before you’ll find yourself enjoying good conversation.
Hillsborough Beach stretches for a decent distance north and is especially charming in the afternoons when school kids come down to swim and play. The little Carriacou Museum (www.carriacoumuseum.org) has exhibits on Amerindian history plus household items and pottery from the colonial era.
Jump in a minibus to take one of the two routes around the island, or commandeer one as a taxi, and take in a few sights. A tour could include Carriacou’s central hill, the location of the hospital, an old sugar mill and a few cannons from where there are stunning views to Grenada in the south and the Grenadines to the north.
Admire the yachts and perhaps stop at one of the shore-side cafés in horseshoe-shaped, mangrove-lined Tyrell Bay. There are some good restaurants here: set in a converted old boathouse on the water’s edge, Slipway (www.slipwayrestaurantcarriacou.com) offers tasty seafood; Lazy Turtle Pizzeria & Bar (www.lazyturtlewi.com), right on the beach, gets lively in the evenings. In the village of Windward, watch traditional timber boats (Carriacou ‘sloops’) being built in the shade of almond trees on the beach, and see the island’s fishing fleet under sail offshore.
Don’t miss Paradise Beach – go walking, swimming and snorkelling, and claim a chair in the sand at Carriacou’s favourite beach bar, Off the Hook Bar & Grill, a colourfully rustic spot serving grilled mahi mahi, lambi (conch) and lobster, pizza, sandwiches, cold beer and cocktails. The challenge then is tearing yourself away to catch the ferry back to Grenada…
Carriacou is a delightful day-trip, but even better for a weekend break. If you have the time, stay a little longer. Perhaps book into the Mermaid Beach Hotel (www.mermaidhotelcarriacou.com), just five minutes’ walk from the ferry, which has comfortable, spacious rooms and a restaurant on a deck over the beach. Or try Ade’s Dream (www.adesdream.com), a friendly, family-run guesthouse on Hillsborough’s main street, with 16 self-catering studios. A number of cottages and villas are available to rent; try Simply Carriacou (www.simplycarriacou.com).
Staying for a few days will give you time to explore more. Walk through the woodlands to the secluded beach at Anse La Roche, with its dazzling views across the strait to Union Island and the yachts rounding the headland – you can go by water taxi if you’re not a hiker. Alternatively, hire a boat to go snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters at Sandy Island, a quintessential Robinson Crusoe spit of land dotted with coconut palms in Hillsborough Bay. Scuba divers will be in heaven: sites such as Sister Rocks and Mabouya Whirlpool reward divers with corals, stingrays, nurse sharks and schools of colourful fish (book with www.arawakdivers.com or www.deeferdiving.com).
Need to know
Osprey Lines’ (www.ospreylines.com) Grenada-Carriacou ferry departs from St George’s daily at 9am (Sunday 8am); crossings to Hillsborough take 90 minutes. The ferry returns at 3.30pm. One-way fares: US$31 (adults), US$19 (children 5-12), US$4 (under-5s). Hillsborough-Petite Martinique ferries take 20 minutes.
3 more islands off islands
Try this tempting trio for terrific day-trips and long weekend breaks
• In a nutshell… A small, flat isle 25km south-east of Guadeloupe. Find sugarcane fields, old windmills, quiet beaches and a peaceful vibe (pictured above).
• What to do in a day?
– Learn about the history of Marie-Galante at hilltop Château Murat, with its museum, windmill and pretty gardens. Now partly restored, in the 19th century it was the grandest sugar mansion in Guadeloupe.
– Feel the bone-white sand between your toes at Plage de la Feuillère. With coconut palms and a lagoon protected by coral reefs, it’s considered the most beautiful of the ten beaches on the island.
– Taste Marie-Galante’s award-winning rums and take a tour to see the rum-making process at one of the three historical distilleries: Domaine de Bellevue, Distillerie Poisson and Distillerie Bielle.
– Find an umbrella and beach chair at Plage de Petite Anse, a long, golden beach sheltered by seagrape trees, with brilliantly translucent water perfect for swimming and snorkelling, and restaurants for créole lunches.
– Admire the Great Gueule Gouffre (‘Mouth of the Giant’), a natural rock arch where the Atlantic waves crash dramatically against the eroded rocks, and enjoy the views across to Grande-Terre on Guadeloupe.
• Getting there and around: Several daily ferries serve Grand-Bourg and Saint-Louis from Pointe-à-Pitre and St François on Guadeloupe (45-60 minutes). Val Ferry (www.valferry.fr) and Comatrile (www.comatrile.com) are two of the operators; return fares from €42/€32 adult/child. Marie-Galante’s highlights can be seen on a day-trip; taxis and buses take about 30 minutes to cross between Grand-Bourg, Saint-Louis and Capesterre.
• In a nutshell… A lush, hilly outcrop of the Grenadines, 14km south of St Vincent, with authentic culture, good looks and real heart.
• What to do in a day?
– Stroll along Belmont Walkway from the ferry in tiny capital Port Elizabeth for views of Admiralty Bay dotted with colourful fishing boats and smart yachts.
– Walk around the headland on the Princess Point Trail to the spectacular Princess Margaret Beach for the perfect white sands, clear sea and a seafood lunch at Jack’s Bar.
– Join the locals for a game of cricket on the flat sands of Lower Bay, or go snorkelling on the offshore reef, then relax on a beach lounger with a cocktail at De Reef beach bar.
– Take a taxi through coconut groves to Park Bay and the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, a project for the conservation of hawksbill turtles founded and maintained by former fisherman Orton ‘Brother’ King.
– Head south to the broad sweep of golden sand at Friendship Bay to learn about the island’s seafaring heritage at the small Bequia Maritime Museum.
• Getting there and around: Bequia Express (www.bequiaexpress.com) and Admiralty Transport Company (www.admiraltytransport.com) run daily ferries from Kingstown in St Vincent to Bequia (60 minutes); return fares from US$17. Bequia’s ‘dollar vans’ (open-backed taxis) gather near the ferry jetty, while watertaxis go to the southern beaches. You can visit on a day-trip from St Vincent.
• In a nutshell… A super circular isle sitting just off St Kitts, rising to a mist-swirled dormant volcano and dotted with plantations.
• What to do in a day?
– Begin by exploring Charlestown, where the ferry pulls in. The island’s main hub is a gorgeous cluster of Georgian architecture – explore Walwyn and Memorial Squares, and enjoy the bay views while sipping a homemade lemonade at Café des Arts.
– Then make an anti-clockwise circuit of the island. Possible stops include the Horatio Nelson Museum and Montpelier Great House (where Nelson married Fanny Nisbet), the wild beaches of Gingerland, ruined Cottle Church and good snorkelling at Mosquito Bay.
– Finish up on the beautiful, sugar-fine sand of 6.5km-long Pinney’s Beach. The classy Lime Beach Bar is a good place for a simple grilled lunch.
– Alternatively, the energetic might want to climb 985m-high Nevis Peak. It’s a tough slog, and takes around four to five hours to get up and down. A guide is essential – try Nevis Adventure Tours (www.nevisadventuretours.com).
• Getting there and around: Several ferries run from St Kitts to Nevis; there’s one around every two hours and the journey takes 40 minutes. One-way fares cost from US$9.25. The main road, which loops around Nevis, is only 32km long; hire a car, taxi or bicycle. Minivans leave from Charlestown, a short walk from the ferry, and run around the island.
• Lizzie Williams is the author of several Footprint guides to the Caribbean region