The ultimate guide to Grenada – above and beneath the waves
Pretty much every Caribbean island offers a tropical paradise of movie-screen proportions, but it’s one of the archipelago’s smallest and most southerly nations that truly punches above its weight. Grenada offers the blissful beaches, roadside bars and impossibly warm ocean you might expect, but it’s also layered with a rich culture, delectable cuisine and lush, tropical landscape that demand further exploration.
And it doesn’t stop there. Famed for its expansive underwater ecosystem, Grenada is known as the wreck diving capital of the Caribbean. Its coastline waters (particularly in the southwest) nurse the sunken secrets of at least 14 ships, including the famed luxury cruise liner, the Bianca C, while the sea floor’s undulating topography sports numerous natural reefs bursting with marine life.
Few other Caribbean islands can claim such riches on land and off, so there’s no better place to put your feet up… or immerse them in warm waters. Ally Wybrew reports.
If you’ve come to the Caribbean, chances are sun, sea and sand are part of the plan. Head to the 1.5-mile-long Grand Anse beach (opening image) for snorkelling, sunbathing and a soft-footed stroll to a soundtrack you’d usually need a subscription for. Hotels and villas sit unobtrusively behind the palms and almond trees that line its edge, broken up occasionally by buzzy local eateries – grab a stool on the decking of Umbrella’s Beach Bar and tuck into a generous serving of grilled jerk chicken and spicy BBQ shrimp. The north end of Grand Anse meets St George’s, the island’s capital, a picturesque town whose three elevated churches show the time from every direction (although clock-watching isn’t high on anyone’s list here). Two harbours teem with vessels, from flaking fishing boats to superyachts, and have trasnformed over time: the Port Louis Marina started out as the caldera of a dormant volcano, evolved into a lagoon, and was then dredged to become a marina offering berths for boats up to 90m long.
Arrive hungry at Patrick’s Homestyle restaurant, a decades-old roadside eatery on the edge of the marina. Order the 28-dish tapas spread and enjoy Caribbean favourites including stir-fried rabbit, manicou (local opossum) and iguana in turmeric sauce. If a rum punch feels a bit, well, punchy, wash the delicacies down with a ‘Ting with a sting’, the local grapefruit-flavoured soft drink given an edge with a shot of rum.
Most of Grenada’s dive schools are situated in the southwest, where the temperate Caribbean and unpredictable Atlantic currents blend for an exciting range of underwater sites. You don’t need to go deep to reap rewards here, so less experienced divers have plenty of options. Book a day out with Aquanauts for a short boat trip to the plentiful reefs of Flamingo Bay, Dragon Bay and Happy Valley or visit one of the area’s many wrecks. Veronica L is a particular highlight: lying in the shallows off the coast of Grand Anse beach, it delivers good visibility, plentiful coral growth and neighbours a significantly sized reef. On the island’s southerly side, the 73m-long King Mitch (a WWII minesweeper-turned-cargo ship) sits on its side just over 30 metres down, delivering a dramatic dive for advanced visitors, with the opportunity to spot sleeping nurse sharks and spiny lobsters.
Whatever your experience level, Dive Grenada owner Phil Saye’s artificial reef is a must-see. Close enough to the Grand Anse shoreline to snorkel to, his collection of 49 breezeblock ‘pyramids’ are a restoration project in full swing. Just three metres deep, they’re covered in elkhorn coral, slipper lobsters, fireworms and a flurry of fish and other marine life.
An hour’s drive north from St George’s, Grenada becomes a wilder, more rugged affair. Up past waterfalls, cocoa farms and rum factories lies Levera Bay, a stretch of sand perpendicular to the more tourist-friendly Bathway beach. Yet, between February and July, it’s Levera where the magic happens. Book a turtle-watching trip to witness enormous leatherbacks lumber up sandy inclines and laboriously dig cylindrical holes in which to lay their precious cargo of around 100 eggs. Under moonlight and backdropped by the silhouette of the pyramidal Sugar Loaf Island offshore, it’s an eerie affair. Sightings aren’t guaranteed and visitors can be in for a long night, so pack snacks.
Behind the beach is the extensive Levera National Park, home to all manner of flora and fauna and including a mangrove swamp brimming with an impressive array of bird life. It’s also a great place to take in spectacular views of Carriacou and Petite Martinique – Grenada’s sister islands – courtesy of the 258m-high Welcome Stone.
Avid adventurers should make time to see the Carib Stones, a series of pre-Columbian engraved rocks scattered across the island that are most easily viewed at Duquesne Bay on the northwestern coast and inland amid the rainforest surrounding Mount Rich. With some stones dating back to roughly AD700, and collectively featuring more than 100 individual petroglyphs, they’re a fascinating glimpse into the island’s long history.
When it comes to underwater wonders in northern Grenada, there really is only one place for it: Carriacou. Grenada’s less-inhabited neighbour offers a wealth of wildlife in a variety of drift, wreck and wall dives. The Balancing Rock – a reef dive with a bit of surge – is a particular highlight, featuring a large slab of stone that moves hypnotically back and forth against the reef wall in time with the current.
Off the western coast, nestled between two other stellar dive sites (Deep Blue and Barracuda Point), divers will find The Sister Rocks. A 50m wall sporting a good amount of current, it’s a haven for nurse sharks, hawksbill turtles and even barracuda – not to mention plenty of soft corals and sponges.
While visiting, give in to those hunter-gatherer urges. Lionfish hunting is vital to the preservation of the local ecosystem, as the invasive species’ presence in the Caribbean threatens native marine life. Fortunately, the attractive but deadly fish are relatively easy to hunt (unafraid of predators, they float static in reef alcoves) and taste delicious, so enquire with a dive school about bringing spears and cylinders with you to gain a new skill, earn a tasty meal and contribute to the continuation of Grenada’s incredible marine life.
Wherever rum ranks in your list of favoured spirits, a visit to Grenada’s oldest (and, it claims, continuously operating) producer is essential. Opened in 1785, River Antoine Rum Distillery uses the same machinery today that it did hundreds of years ago, including a fully functioning 8m-high waterwheel. A tour reveals the painstaking creative process in real time: cane juice is squashed out by the wheel, loaded into a crusher, filtered through wicker mats, heated in huge copper bowls and eventually bottled – all by hand. The result is the heady Rivers Royale Grenadian Rum, which is highly sought after around the world.
Explore another visceral piece of Grenadian history seven kilometres down the coast: Pearls Airport, a disused airstrip that served as a military base for the Allies during World War II. It was also a key location in the 1983 US invasion of Grenada, and the wrecks of two captured planes – an AN-26 Cubana Airlines turboprop and AN-2R biplane gifted to the Grenadians from the Soviet Union – remain in skeletal states here. It’s a unique place: both a reminder of a turbulent time in Grenada’s past, and a modern day drag racing location and hotspot for aerophiles.
A little inland, visitors can enjoy a host of natural treasures. Imbibe the pungent scent of sulphur springs, experience the jungle slopes of Mount St Catherine with river tubing, or bask in the misty grandeur of Royal Mount Carmel Waterfalls, a 70m cascade (the tallest on the island) tumbling into plunge pools beneath (if falls are your thing, check out Royalty Taxi Tours, which does day trips from St George’s to five of the island’s finest falls).
As with everywhere on the island, food stops are abundant and flavourful. Park up in Grenville, Grenada’s second largest town, on a Saturday, when the marketplace is packed with fresh fish, spices, pepper sauce, woven mats, baskets and locally made textiles. Or dine in the ultimate Caribbean setting at La Sagesse – an open-air restaurant set amid tropical palms overlooking the ocean. Try the lambi creole (conch in tomato sauce and local spices), sesame wasabi tuna and Grenadian chocolate mousse, before wandering on to the enclosed beach for a refreshing post-meal dip.
The East coast of Grenada is the only coast where dive sites are less prolific. Due to the strong Atlantic winds and currents, there aren’t many schools in the area that will take visitors. For very experienced or tech divers, though, there are a few treasures, particularly as the faster moving waters attract various breeds of shark, rays and turtles. Ask dive schools for recommendations.
One undulating road snakes up the west coast from the capital, flanked by the striking Caribbean to the west and sloping tropical terrain to the east. Rich green callaloo crowds the roadside, backed by clove, banana, cocoa and the occasional carambola tree, which produces a curiously ridged, mildly poisonous starfruit used to make sharp five finger juice.
Concord Waterfalls is a great first stop; a beautiful and easily accessible spot equipped with changing rooms, showers and local stalls selling honey, spices and handcrafted jewellery. Recharge in its freshwater pool before grabbing some souvenirs for the road.
Pop by the buzzy town of Gouyave, aka the ‘fishing mecca of Grenada’ (it’s claimed every resident is connected to the fishing industry), at the end of the week to enjoy ‘Fish Friday’, which brings live entertainment and stalls serving a huge array of fish dishes.
No trip is complete without sampling some of the island’s irresistible chocolate. Try the Diamond Factory on the northwest coast in the ‘sunset city’ of Victoria, where a free 45-minute tour and tasting reveals the secrets of the bean to bar production (visit in the week to watch the process or go on a Saturday for an overview). The gift shop sells bars in slabs as big as 2lb (so save room in your suitcase) as well as offering delicious cocoa-based beverages including thick banana and chocolate smoothies and 70 per cent cocoa hot chocolate.
Grenada’s west coast teems with colourful reefs, walls and marine life, but two locations not to miss are Gouyave’s coral reef restoration project and the Underwater Sculpture Park near Molinere, both easily accessible via southern dive schools.
Gouyave’s coral renewal project is a collection of underwater, metal ‘trees’ to which various pieces of endangered coral have been attached and are regrowing. Once large enough, they’re transplanted on to natural reefs in the hope of regenerating endangered species – such as elkhorn and staghorn coral. Not only is it working, but the project has attracted significant marine life, with moray eels, stingrays, wrasse and lobster now calling it home. If boating up from the south, ask to stop at the lesser-known dive site The Cove on the way. It houses an exciting reef home to hawksbill turtles, 2m-long moray eels and more.
To the south, British artist Jason deCaires Taylor’s 800sqm underwater sculpture park features 75 artworks modelled on local people. DeCaires Taylor’s ‘museum’ comments on various social topics including our ever-changing methods of communication and our relationship with the natural world. Unlike its companion park in Lanzarote (which is set across flat sea floor) individual sculptures (including The Lost Correspondent, Woman Praying and Christ of the Deep) are dotted throughout corridors created by reef walls, making it an exploratory dive over soft and hard corals punctuated by haunting statues.
Where to stay
Mount Cinnamon Resort & Beach Club
Book a stay
Grenada has some of the most stunning beaches in the Caribbean, so where better to stay than right above the island’s most famous one? Nestled on a hilltop amongst lush tropical gardens, this boutique hotel sits atop Grand Anse Beach, known for its soft white sand and calm turquoise waters. It’s not hard to imagine the incredible sea views that the resort’s 28 luxury villas and suites offer, which guests can take in from their private balconies. Not to mention that each spacious, sun-kissed accommodation has its own breakfast bar and full-sized kitchen, assuming one is not already dining at the hotel’s restaurants on fresh, seasonal local dishes. Take a foodie break to play beach volleyball or tennis and later unwind at the fabulous spa.
Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa
Book a stay
Those who love unique bespoke experiences (think cooked-to-order breakfasts served on the beach) need look no further than this award-winning, family-owned paradise. Part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux hotel group, its 30 designer suites surround Eden-style gardens and look towards the secluded, white-sand beach at Prickly Bay, where guests can enjoy complimentary non-motorised water sports. Diving, yoga and bocce ball are also popular, plus there are just as many opportunities to indulge as there are to keep active, from being pampered at the spa to getting a taste of the island’s flavours at Rhodes Restaurant. Culinary demonstrations and rum tastings are an everyday affair here, confirming that the tailored offerings really are quite special.
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