Since the Argyle International Airport opened in 2017, an increasing number of international airlines are now operating non-stop flights to St Vincent and The Grenadines, one of the Caribbean islands in the Lesser Antilles. And like on my recent visit, stay-over tourists have the opportunity to island-hop St Vincent and The Grenadines, which comprises 32 islands and cays. The main islands for island hopping in St Vincent and The Grenadines include the mainland St Vincent along with Young Island, Bequia Island, Mustique Island, Canouan Island, Petit St Vincent, Palm Island, Mayreau Island, and Union Island.
1. Saint Vincent Island
Saint Vincent is the largest of the islands and gateway for most who visit St Vincent and The Grenadines. At 133 square miles, Saint Vincent has close to a hundred thousand population, many of whom are descendants of the Garifuna and Kalinago peoples. Saint Vincent has a lush green mountainous landscape with many waterfalls, dense rainforests, and an active volcano La Soufrière, which you can hike. Beyond hiking La Soufriere Cross Country Trail, some of the top things to do in Saint Vincent include:
* Exploring the capital city of Kingstown with rough cobblestone streets and historic buildings
* Visiting Fort Charlotte which provides a fantastic view of Kingstown and The Grenadines to the south
* Exploring St Vincent & The Grenadines Botanical Gardens which dates back to 1765 and is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere
* Taking a drive along the Leeward Highway admiring the colorful fishing villages on way to Dark View Falls which has two main waterfalls, one above the other, cascading down a pair of high cliff faces and plunging into natural pools
* Visiting the harbor of ‘Port Royal’ which was built at Wallilabou Bay as a film set for the opening scenes of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie
* Taking a tour of St Vincent Distillery which makes the award-winning Captain Blight XO rum and Sunset Overproof rum Ursula (Me!) at Dark View Falls in St Vincent.
2. Young Island in The Grenadines
Beyond exploring the mainland of Saint Vincent, which has a vibrant mix of Native, European, African, and Caribbean history, one of the first in The Grenadines to consider visiting is Young Island. A small private island shaped like a heart, Young Island is located just south of St Vincent at the entrance of Calliaqua Bay and just a 25-minute scenic drive from Argyle International Airport. Once at the docks, its a short 5-minute boat ride across the water to Young Island. At just 12.6 acres, Young Island houses a private luxury resort with 29 cottages. The resort is enhanced by the beautiful white sand beach and is an excellent base for those who want to explore St Vincent or relax on a private island with pool, hiking trails, tennis court and complimentary water sports equipment including kayaks, paddleboats, snorkels, masks, and flippers. Young Island Resort has had a number of famous guests over the years including Johnny Depp who stayed there while filming the movie Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.
3. Bequia Island in The Grenadines
Bequia at seven square miles is the largest island in The Grenadines and is located nine miles from St Vincent. With a population approaching five thousand, its a good mix of local culture and luxury tourist developments like beachfront boutique resort, Bequia Beach Hotel. Watersports, including diving and snorkeling, are popular in Bequia. The principal town of Port Elizabeth is fantastic for a walk around Belmont Walkway and Front Street (otherwise known as High Street or Main Street), halting at the numerous colorful shops and eateries like Bequia Pizza Hut.
Other top things to do in Bequia, a haven for yachts cruising in the Grenadines, include visiting Fort Hamilton; named after Alexander Hamilton who was born in Nevis and went on to become one of the US founding fathers. Fort Hamilton was constructed in the 1700s to protect Admiralty Bay from attacks by French raiders and American privateers. Today, Fort Hamilton is a great place to take in the spectacular views of Port Elizabeth and famous beaches in Bequia like the Princess Margaret Beach.
A relatively new tourist attraction in Bequia is the Bequia Boat Museum overlooking Friendship Bay. On display at the Bequia Boat Museum are four different whaling boats including a 36-foot Amerindian canoe, two 26 foot Bequia–built whaleboats and a 12 foot Bequia whaleboat tender. There is also a range of whaling signage, photographs and hunting equipment including harpoons, lances, bombs, guns and other tools and implements. It should be noted that through an agreement with the International Whaling Commission, whaling in Bequia continues today using traditional methods, but they are limited to four catches per year. Also, the Bequia whalers do not sell any edible product outside of St. Vincent and The Grenadines.
4. Mustique Island in The Grenadines
At just two square miles and seventeen miles from St Vincent, the Caribbean island of Mustique is one of the more well known in The Grenadines. The island was purchased in 1958 for £45,000 by Colin Tennant who later became the 3rd Baron Glenconner. A couple of years after Tennant acquired Mustique with designs to develop a cotton estate, he gifted a plot of the land to Princess Margaret (sister of Queen Elizabeth II) who built the Les Jolies Eaux villa designed by Oliver Messel. Princess Margaret having a home on the island, brought an incredible amount of media attention to Mustique and it subsequently transformed into an exclusive sanctuary for the rich and famous with just over 100 private villas.
Via the Mustique Company was set up in the 1960s to manage the island, you can rent out Les Jolies Eaux along with many of the other private luxury villas on Mustique including Clonsilla the first built by Colin Tennant. Most come with household staff, including butlers, housekeepers, maids, chef, gardeners, etc. Mustique Island does have a full-service hotel, Cotton House which was also designed by Oliver Messel who was a leading British theatre stage designer. Located in Endeavour Bay, Cotton House with seventeen rooms (a mix of luxury suites and cottages) has a beautifully designed Great Room Bar and Veranda Restaurant which is a great place for celebrity spotting during the December to April high season! Cotton House host cocktail drinks every Tuesday night, which attracts most visitors on the island.
As far as things to do in Mustique, which has a population of just under twelve hundred, there are numerous hiking trails that can be explored via walking or horseback. Plus, Mustique has quite a few beautiful white sand beaches and of course multiple ocean activities including fishing, sailing and scuba diving at some of the best spots in the Caribbean. The Cotton House hotel also has a tennis court and a Spa & Wellness area with four treatment rooms!
5. Canouan Island in The Grenadines
Located south of Bequia and Mustique, Canouan Island at 3.2 square miles is twenty-nine miles away from St Vincent. Surrounded by a barrier reef, Canouan Island offers some of the most diverse diving in the Caribbean. It also has some of the best white beaches in The Grenadines including at Windward Bay, Friendship Bay, and Carenage Bay — home to the luxury 5-star Mandarin Oriental Canouan resort. Built on the hillside above Godahl beach, the pretty in pink Mandarin Oriental Canouan spread across 1,200 acres has just 26 suites and 13 villas and is ideal for those who want an all-inclusive luxury resort away from the crowds. Near to the hotel is the Canouan Kids Clubs and the world-class Jim Fazio designed 18 hole championship golf course.
The other main attraction in Canouan, across from the airport which is primarily used by private jets of all sizes is the Sandy Lane Yacht Club & Residences owned by Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond. With a European look to the main pavilion, Sandy Lane Yacht Club & Residences has 120 berths for yachts ranging in size from 10 to 100+ meters. Beyond the berths, the marina has shower and laundry facilities, a grocery store and rooms available for rent. There are also several restaurants including newly opened Foxy Jack’s Bar & Restaurant, Shenanigans Restaurant & Beach Club and Scruffy’s Bar.
Overall, Canouan is an island bursting with new developments, including plans for more luxury villas and facilities on the Canouan Estate to attract the “billionaires looking to escape the millionaires” on nearby Mustique Island. But driving through the town of Charlestown to get to the Mandarin Oriental Canouan, couldn’t help but notice the vast disparity in wealth. So hopefully, alongside the new developments looking to attract billionaires, there will be more community-enhancing developments like the modern School Campus with new primary school, library, computer lab, auditorium, canteen, and secondary school.
6. Petit St Vincent Island in The Grenadines
Another of the private islands in The Grenadines is Petit St Vincent which at 115 acres in size is 44 miles away from St Vincent. On the island is the Petit St Vincent Resort which initially opened December 1968 and has just 22 spacious one-bedroom cottages and two beachfront villas. With membership in both the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and the National Geographic Unique Lodges of The World, Petit St Vincent Resort is considered an exclusive haven for barefoot luxury and outdoor relaxation as most of the rooms are without televisions, telephones, and Wi-Fi though this will change soon based on customer demand.
Beyond hanging out at the beach, walking/hiking around the island, and taking a yoga class at one of two yoga pavilions, one of the more relaxing things to do on Petit St Vincent known locally as PSV is take in a spa treatment from the Balinese-run luxury spa and wellness center. Foodies will also love the creative and locally-inspired cuisine on offer at Petit St Vincent Resort, which is at the level experienced at top restaurants in Paris or New York. No surprise then that the resort has a wine cellar with over 6,000 different wines. They also regularly have culinary events hosted by visiting chefs, wine, rum, and spirits experts. In fact, while there, the owner of the West Indies Beer Company was over from Grenada, giving a tasting of their exotic beers and ciders.
What is surprising is that the Petit St Vincent Resort doesn’t have a pool; however, the calm waters along the two miles of white sand beaches are quite inviting. And for those who love water sports, there is a state of the art dive center catering to divers and snorkelers operated by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary Jacques-Yes Costeau.
7. Palm Island in The Grenadines
Forty-one miles away from Vincent is Palm Island, another of the idyllic private islands in The Grenadines. Around the 135-acres island are hundreds of coconut palm trees along with five pristine white sand beaches. The coconut palm trees were planted by John and Mary Caldwell who originally leased the island in 1966 for 99 years from the government of St Vincent and The Grenadines for just US$1 per year. The lease was incredibly generous as the government bought into the vision to clear the swampy island formerly called Prune Island and then build a hotel and airport providing employment to locals on the neighboring islands in The Grenadines. The small airport on Palm Island closed in 1974 when neighboring Union Island opened a much bigger airport.
Palm Island is now much developed with an all-inclusive luxury resort that has forty-three guest rooms, two restaurants (the Royal Palm Restaurant and the Sunset Grill) along with a couple of bars. Also, Palm Island Resort & Spa has a freshwater swimming pool along with other amenities such as bikes for cycling around the island, a fitness center, tennis court and equipment for a range of non-motorized water sports. The spa opened which opened in 2016, is also one of the main attractions with a beautiful range of botanical oils and lotions, including some made from hibiscus flowers. What I particularly love about Palm Island, which is very pristine, are the hiking trails and the plethora of wildlife around the island, in particular, the adorable land turtles, hermit crabs, and native land iguanas, some of whom I encountered walking around the island.
8. Mayreau Island in The Grenadines
Mayreau Island at one square mile has a population just under 300 people who primarily make their living from fishing and catering to tourists who visit the island. A short distance from Palm Island, we visited Mayreau Island one afternoon on our way to the Baradal Turtle Sanctuary in the Tobago Cays Marine Park to spot and swim with the green and hawksbill turtles. Thus time on Mayreau Island was limited, but I particularly loved the rustic nature and general vibe of the beach at Saltwhistle Bay. There is a mix of rickety beach bars and restaurants, plus stalls selling colorful towels, t-shirts and a range of trinkets.
The pace and energy at the beach on Mayreau Island felt more authentically Caribbean, so wasn’t really surprised that the waters were somewhat crowded with anchored boats and charter yachts. Plus there were quite a few people on the beach staying at the only hotel on island 3-star Saltwhistle Bay Club Resort. So definitely one to revisit to hike up Station Hill to the nameless town and take in the scenery. Also, using as a base for further exploration of the Tobago Cays Marine Park.
9. Tobago Cays Marine Park
The Tobago Cays Marine Park is not one island but an archipelago of five small islands and extensive coral reefs known as the “Jewel in the Crown” of the Southern Grenadines. The Tobago Cays include Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau, Baradal, Petit Tabac and Jamesby which are all uninhabited. They are a popular attraction for yachts sailing The Grenadines, cruise ship passengers and tourists staying at nearby islands including Union Island, Palm Island, Petit St Vincent, and Mayreau Island. As on my recent visit, the focus is on diving and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Tobago Cays Marine Park to see fish and other wildlife, in particular, the green and hawksbill turtles. Fans of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl also like to explore Petit Tabac as its the island where Captain Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth ended up on when forced to walk the plank.
10. Union Island In The Grenadines
Union Island was the last of the islands visited in The Grenadines. With a population just under 3,000, Union Island is three square miles and thirty-six miles away from St Vincent. Located in the heart of the Southern Grenadines, it has a similar vibe as Bequia Island with a good mix of locals and tourists, though a bit more rough around the edges. Perhaps in part because while tourism is vital to the growth of the island’s economy, many of the island’s inhabitants are still involved with farming and fishing.
Like the other islands in The Grenadines, sailing, diving and snorkeling are the top things to do while visiting Union Island. That said, one of the newly opened attractions in Union Island not to be missed is the recently restored Ashton Lagoon, the largest mangrove forest and lagoon in St Vincent and The Grenadines. And through the restoration efforts undertaken by Sustainable Grenadines (SUSGREN), there are now 3000 newly planted red mangrove trees, two wildlife viewing towers, and numerous nature trails. This complements the other hiking trails on the island, including a visit to The Fort which offers a panoramic view of Union Island.
Another relatively new attraction on Union Island, on Kite Beach near Clifton Harbor, is the JT Pro Center’s Kitesurfing School. It was founded by professional Kitesurfer Jeremie Tronet and is now considered one of the best kitesurfing schools in the world. Their Full Moon Beach Parties during December and April each year are also becoming a major draw attracting both locals and tourists.
How To Get To St Vincent and The Grenadines
Argyle International Airport with a 9,000 ft long runway is the main airport in St Vincent and The Grenadines. The airlines that fly direct from the United States to Argyle International Airport include Caribbean Airlines from New York and American Airlines from Miami. From Canada, there are direct flights from Toronto to the Argyle International Airport in St Vincent via Air Canada Rouge and Sunwing Airlines.
From Europe, you will need to fly via British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Condor Airlines or Air France to the neighboring islands of Grenada, Saint Lucia or Barbados and then take a short LIAT or Caribbean Airlines flight to St Vincent. Note that Saint Lucia is north of St Vincent & The Grenadines, Grenada is south and Barbados is to the east.
For island hopping in The Grenadines, Mustique Airways, SVG Air, Grenadines Airways and One Caribbean offer charters and scheduled services to airports on Bequia Island, Mustique Island, Canouan Island, and Union Island. For those with a private jet, the gateway to The Grenadines is Canouan Airport as the runway is 5,875 ft and so capable of dealing with most jets including Boeing B737 and Airbus A320. Mustique Airways plane at Mustique Airport in The Grenadines.
An alternative to charter flights for island hopping in The Grenadines is using the ferry services:
* M/V Bequia Express and Admiral Ferries provides regular ferry services between Kingstown, St Vincent, and Bequia. The journey time is typically one hour. Fare is EC$25 one way.
* M/V Barracuda and M/V Gem Star provides ferry services from Kingstown, St Vincent to Canouan Island, Mayreau Island, and Union Island. The journey time for the full distance is approximately three hours. Depending on journey length, the fare is between EC$30 and EC$50 one way.
* M/V Endeavour provides ferry service from Kingstown, St Vincent to Mustique Island. The journey time is around two hours. Fare is EC$25 one way.
Island hopping in The Grenadines via ferry is much cheaper than charter flights, but not all routes are daily, so careful planning would be required. During my trip, I took:
* A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Barbados and then a LIAT flight to Saint Vincent
* From Saint Vincent, I took the hour-long ferry to Bequia Island
* From Bequia Island, I took a 15-minute charter flight from Mustique Airways to Mustique Island
* From Mustique Island, I took a 15-minute charter flight from Mustique Airways to Canouan Island
* From Canouan Island, I boarded a catamaran boat for an hour and a half journey to Petit St Vincent
* From Petit St Vincent, I took a 10-minute boat ride over to Palm Island
* From Palm Island took a return boat ride to Tobago Cays Marine Park stopping over at Mayreau Island
* From Palm Island, I took a 10-minute boat Union Island
* From Union Island, I took a 45-minute scheduled flight from Mustique Airways to Barbados and then a Virgin Atlantic flight back to London
Now I wouldn’t recommend visiting all inhabited islands in one trip unless of course, you’ve got all the time in the world and can explore at a leisurely pace. That said, it should be noted that if you are staying at one of the luxury hotels in The Grenadines, they will work with you to arrange transportation direct from St Vincent or one of the neighboring Caribbean islands. Many have exclusive partnerships with charter jet companies allowing for a seamless transfer between the international airport (most from Barbados) and hotel.
With that, which of the islands above will you be visiting on your next Caribbean vacation? The mainland of Saint Vincent with numerous adventure and ecotourism attractions? Or perhaps one of the picturesque islands in The Grenadines staying at a luxury resort while enjoying land and sea attractions? You really can’t go wrong as St Vincent & The Grenadines has much of the classic Caribbean charm and the people are welcoming!