Bequia – St. Vincent and the Grenadines
A list of all that there isn’t on the island of Bequia tells you as much, if not more, than a run-down of what is present on this gorgeous Caribbean jewel. Obviously and wonderfully absent is the traffic, the sprawling resorts, the crowds, high rise buildings and the hard-sell. In its place is a Caribbean offering as the antique postcards might show –practically empty white sand beaches dotted with waving coconut palms and edged with warm blue waters, pocket-sized settlements where everyone seems to greet you with a smile as you pass through and a definite air of slow-paced carefree living.
Having said all of this and despite its size of just seven miles by two miles which registers as little more than a dot on maps, Bequia has a wealth of attractions for its visitors beyond the obvious lazing about sipping cocktails on bleached-white sands. Second largest of the thirty or so islands which make up the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this remote treasure can perhaps best be summed up with the tagline used by its official tourist body –’The Big Little Island’.
Officially still part of the British Commonwealth, Bequia’s main town is Port Elizabeth and this sleepy little capital with its scenic harbor is as bustling as it gets on an island which didn’t have electricity until the 1960s and still doesn’t really have main roads to speak of. Admiralty Bay is typically full of yachters who have come to refuel both their craft and themselves as they take advantage of the many bars and restaurants in Port Elizabeth and the beaches nearby. In this aspect Bequia has a little of everything –from rustic beach shacks serving homely island fare to gourmet standard venues where you can dine on open-air terraces with stunning views.
When it comes to ways to fill your tropical island hours you have a diverse menu of choice. Hike the hills and mountain range trails to immerse yourself in nature or take a beautiful stroll directly from Port Elizabeth on a coast-hugging boardwalk. Perhaps, instead, you would prefer to explore the colonial past at Fort Hamilton or as you wander amid the evocatively crumbling ruins of an old sugar mill? From touring fruit plantations to marveling at the exquisite craftsmanship of beautiful model boats and from hopping across to neighboring islands to discovering something of the island’s rich seafaring heritage, Bequia can be both a remote hideaway and a multi-activity adventure.
When night falls you can listen to steel pan tunes as you work your way through a cocktail or two, feast on seafood as the waters lap feet from your table or swap some stories and rum punches at the beach with the locals who are known for a warmth and welcome unrivaled throughout the Caribbean.
A Morning on Bequia
Begin your morning breathing in some of that pure Bequia sea-air as you wander the lovely Belmont Boardwalk or make your way to Fort Hamilton for some dazzling views of the island.Once you’ve taken a pause for coffee you can head out to the historic Firefly Plantation to taste oranges, grapefruits and bananas straight from the trees and wander amid the tropical lushness of an 18th century sugar cane estate.
The Belmont Boardwalk and Princess Margaret Trail
Begin your morning with some gorgeous sea-views along a beautiful coastline-hugging walkway which exists thanks to the vision and dedication of a group of islanders known as Action Bequia. Part stone steps, part wooden stairways set spectacularly against the cliff face and part over-water causeway secured by concrete piers to the seabed, this tranquility-infused hike is now, if you choose to walk its entire length, three miles long. The result of several phases of work beginning in 2014, the Princess Margaret Trail stretches from the site of Fort Hamilton, passes through Port Elizabeth, takes you onto the paradise beach of St. Margaret and then continues to the equally gorgeous beach of Lower Bay
In 2016 hurricane Matthew destroyed parts of the trail which had been completed only a year earlier. Despite such a set-back, Action Bequia dusted themselves down and got right onto not just simply repairing the walkway but making improvements that would stand up to any future forces of nature thrown at it and all is now as good as new.
f you don’t want to take on the entire length you can simply cover the stretch which links Port Elizabeth to Princess Margaret Beach. Although this section can technically be covered in about 15 minutes it is far more likely to take longer if you enjoy all there is to see along the way. Even those who have walked this trail many times say it constantly takes your breath away so no doubt you will be pausing many times to drink in the many shades of turquoise and aquamarine, to linger for a while at one of the bench seats or stop to take 101 photographs of perfect Caribbean scenery.If you find yourself in need of a break or refreshment as you roam you’ll find plenty of drinks and snacks vendors as well as restaurants and bars dotted along the way.
Although the walk in itself is a major highlight so too is what awaits at the other end. Princess Margaret Beach –so named for Queen Elizabeth II’s sister who swam here in the 1950s –is as idyllic as it gets anywhere in the Caribbean. Backed by lush tropical greenery, the powdery white sand is lapped by calm crystal clear waters which merge into incredible blues and despite being arguably the island’s most beautiful beach it isn’t unusual to have it to yourself.
If you do decide to cover the trail in its entirety you can also take in one of Bequia’s historic leftovers. On the headland which forms the north shore of Admiralty Bay where Port Elizabeth is located can be found the free-to-visit Fort Hamilton –a gun emplacement battery set up by the British in the 18th century. Set atop a hill and commanding far-reaching views of any watercraft approaching the deep natural harbor, Fort Hamilton protected the British colonizers not just from the French but also served as a defense against the pirate ships which frequented these waters too. The French and English cannon you will see here are authentic relics of the period, some of them recovered from their resting places on the seabed following naval battles in the area. A local legend regarding the fort relates how one cannon misfire from here hit the south-west corner of Bequia, creating the two small cays which exist today and are visible from this hilltop perch. The fort ruins are not extensive but what really makes a visit here worthwhile are the magnificent views across the bay, full of yachts and small colorful craft lying at anchor. If you’d like to visit the fort but are feeling a little lazy it is also possible to drive here and spend some time taking in the beautiful sea-view panoramas.
Morning Coffee on Bequia
After having strolled all or part of the beautiful coastal boardwalk you will have earned a refreshment break. You can, if you choose, slot in a coffee break at Princess Margaret Beach which has a few options sprinkled along its beautiful sands such as Jack’s Beach Bar at its northern end. If you decide to make your way back to Port Elizabeth, you will have even more options. One of these is the lovely Gingerbread Hotel and Cafe-located on the boardwalk, a couple of hundred meters south of the ferry dock. A collection of tables and chairs are spread beneath the leafy shade of a huge almond tree, just steps from the water’s edge. As you rest your legs to enjoy fresh juices, coffees or teas you will have a front row seat to gaze across a swathe of sea filled with Caribbean blues and watch the comings and goings of the yachts and other watercraft in the bay. The Gingerbread also has a range of home-baked treats to go with your coffee including cinnamon buns which tend to draw rave reviews.
Another Port Elizabeth charmer for coffee is the lemon-yellow Chameleon Cafe whose shaded open-front interior sits behind a collection of potted tropical plants. This cheerful and friendly spot overlooks Front Street and is kitted out with bench sofas and stools covered with bright cushions. With its freshly ground coffee menu the Chameleon is a good choice for those who appreciate a bit of quality while the other refreshments on offer here include some great smoothies and tropical juices. There is also a range of fresh-baked goods for those who need to refuel after the morning’s explorations
The Firefly Plantation and Sugar-Mill Ruins
After spending the first portion of the morning taking in the beauty of coastal scenery you can finish your morning surrounded by lush tropical greenery and orchards laden with exotic fruit at the historic Firefly Plantation –just two miles north of Port Elizabeth’s dock.
With a history which stretches back to 1789 -the era of rich sugar cane estates on Bequia –the Firefly Plantation is still today a working plantation but many things have changed since those earliest days when plantation work forces were principally made up of slaves forcibly brought to the Caribbean from Africa. Sugar cane crops such as those at the Firefly Plantation went into decline following emancipation in 1838 and farming, boat-building, fishing and rum production became the island’s main industries with nothing of the cruel practice of enforced labor as before.
Today the Firefly Plantation covers a large swathe of hillside territory where a multitude of fruits and spices are grown in both completely natural settings and cultivated orchards. Oranges, grapefruit, banana, guava, cherries, breadfruit, plums and mangoes are just some of what you will find on this lovely 30 acres.
Tours of the plantation can be taken with its head groundsman and besides simply being a gorgeous place to stroll you will be able to sample a variety of fruits straight from the tree as well as learning something of how the various fruit, vegetable, herb, spice and flower crops are grown, harvested and used. As you wander you will also discover something of the estate’s rich history, most obvious as you meander amid the ruins of the sugar mill which was built almost three centuries ago. You can even have a go yourself at crushing the sugar cane to extract the syrupy juice from which the refined products eventually come.
The Firefly Plantation also happens to be the home of Grenadine Wild Sea Salt and during your time here you can watch some of the processes involved in creating this product along with tasting some of the flavored gourmet salts for yourself.
Lunch on Bequia
For its size Bequia has an incredible number of places to keep you fed no matter whether you want casual or gourmet food and surroundings and no matter whether you prefer to sample some authentic island dishes or have a craving for international cuisine.
For the most convenient lunch spot of all you can head to the Firefly Plantation’s very own and especially charming restaurant once you have finished strolling the banana fields, cherry orchards, palm groves and cinnamon crops on the estate. Tucked into the hillside, the lovely Firefly Restaurant places you so that you can continue to gaze upon the lush greenery of the plantation with the added bonus of the Caribbean Sea forming a backdrop. The restaurant and bar are formed by a picturesque open-sided bare stone and timber building where you can lunch in the shade of the pavilion at heavy wood tables or there are a few smaller tables set apart out front for a completely alfresco meal. A decidedly tranquil lunch option, Firefly’s modern Caribbean-themed fare features a multitude of produce grown right here on the estate and collected daily to ensure absolute freshness. With plenty of lighter lunch choices, this casual but classy venue also offers full plates of local fish including the curried conch and steaks.
Should you prefer to head back to Port Elizabeth at the end of your morning’s explorations there are plenty of options, especially for those who want to be at the waterside sampling some authentic Carib foods. Located on the Belmont Walkway just a short stroll south of the docks can be found the pretty Fig Tree Restaurant where the welcome from owner Cheryl Johnson and her staff seems to be especially warm, even by Bequia’s standards.
Here you will find some excellent traditional island fare and Creole cuisine using whatever seafood, fruits and vegetables are in season. The ever-changing blackboard menu tells you what is currently on offer with staples such as fish and fries or baked chicken with rice and salad regular inclusions. At lunchtime the restaurant’s specialty is its rotis with a range covering everything from chicken to conch and fish and there are always a couple of dessert choices such as banana flambé or sweet samosas.
While the host’s warmth and food quality are top notch the setting also ensures you have something beautiful to gaze upon as you lunch. Whether you choose the open-sided shady interior or take an open-air table just a stone’s throw from the shore you have magnificent views of Admiralty Bay along with its collection of watercraft of both the humble and luxurious kind.
An Afternoon on Bequia
When it comes to your afternoon hours the whole of the island is at your fingertips because no matter where you decide to explore on Bequia nowhere is more than a short car journey or taxi truck ride away. There is also the chance to leave the Bequia shores completely for an afternoon as you set out in motorboats or sailing catamarans to see something of the other islands nearby.
Island Hopping –Mustique and St. Vincent
While Bequia has more than enough within its seven square miles to keep you occupied there are also opportunities for visiting neighboring islands if you want to explore a little further afield.
Lying an hour’s boat journey south east from Bequia is the private island of Mustique –the principal Caribbean playground of the rich and famous. British royalty, rock stars, international tycoons and the screen idols of Hollywood make up the island’s list of frequent visitors and property owners both past and present and one of the things which draws visitors to these shores is the chance of some celebrity spotting.
Ferry services depart from Bequia to Mustique several times a day if you want to do things independently but taking a boat tour is also an option. Such choices typically skirt you round the island’s coast pointing out the luxury villas and exotic hideaways of famous names before depositing you on its shores. From here you can just lounge around on the white-sand beaches sipping cocktails, tour the island by car or head out for some shopping which as you might imagine on this island tends towards the exclusive, glamorous and luxurious.
Alternatively, heading out north from Bequia on one of its fast ferries will bring you to the capital of St. Vincent –Kingstown. This lively port town has a collection of diverse attractions including an array of churches from the 1800s, a British colonial era fort and magnificent botanical gardens.Just west of Kingstown and perched hundreds of feet up on a hill can be found Fort Charlotte, built by the British between 1763 and 1806 during their almost 200 years of rule and completed after they had wrestled the island back from the French.
Once manned by hundreds of troops, today visitors can explore the cannon-dotted ruins to see former barracks and visit the small museum housed in what was once the officers’ quarters.Besides its military role Fort Charlotte has also served over the long years of its history as poor house, leper colony, asylum and prison.
From such a lofty perch the scenic panoramas are of the spectacular kind with views over Kingstown, the sparkling bay, the leeward side of St. Vincent and other islands within the archipelago such as Bequia and Young Island.
Besides its fort Kingstown’s other leading star is its magnificent and historical botanical gardens -the Grenadines Botanic Gardens –which, first founded in the mid-1700s, are one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Originally conceived as an important source of medicinal plants by the then governor and military surgeon Robert Melville, today this site offers its visitors 20 acres of tropical trees and shrubs which can be explored as you meander its gorgeous pathways and ponds. The botanic gardens are also home to aviary complexes which undertake conservation work for the endangered St. Vincent parrot.
Of all the exotic flora species you can see here perhaps the most famous is a third generation breadfruit tree. This botanical specimen can trace its beginnings back to plants brought here from Polynesia in 1793 by William Bligh –best known as the captain of the vessel from ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner on Bequia
For many no travel is truly idyllic unless it includes great wining and dining and Bequia can definitely deliver on that score. From a floating bar anchored in the harbor to elegant verandas from which to watch the sunset and lobster feasts as reggae plays at the beach to candlelit dining in some intimate hideaway spot –the whole range can be found somewhere on this lovely little island.
For many no travel is truly idyllic unless it includes great wining and dining and Bequia can definitely deliver on that score. From a floating bar anchored in the harbor to elegant verandas from which to watch the sunset and lobster feasts as reggae plays at the beach to candlelit dining in some intimate hideaway spot –the whole range can be found somewhere on this lovely little island.In line with most of the other Caribbean destinations if it is rum shacks and beach bars you are looking for then practically every swathe of sand on Bequia has at least one and often a collection to choose from. The south-west corner of the island clusters together the greatest number of choices for some pre-dinner drinks and with these spots mainly west-facing spectacular sunsets are typically all part of the experience.
For a complete 360 degree view of the island, water and the sun sinking into the Caribbean Sea hail a water taxi at the harbor for the quick ride out to Bar One. Here you will find a small water-surrounded platform –the island’s only floating bar –surrounded by yachts and the sea’s uncountable number of shades of blue. You will be greeted warmly by owner Ivor Simpson who also acts as the bartender and join what is usually a small gathering of locals and yachties enjoying the amazing setting.
If you’ve come early and the sun hasn’t yet sunk into the sea the bar’s roof offers shade as you chill on your bar swing or if you want to catch the last rays you can sit on the deck with your feet dangling in the water. It really doesn’t get more quintessentially Caribbean than this and to complete this tropical dream experience Bar One just happens to mix up some amazing cocktails. The menu here is creative -even some of the oldest classics are given some original twists -and once you are lounging with your perfectly mixed choice in hand you can do exactly what this fabulous little floating spot suggests you do -‘Sip. Float. Relax’.
For an alternative sunset watching spot on the mainland head to Coco’s Place on the northern shore of Admiralty Bay in Port Elizabeth. Nestled amid island greenery, this bar and restaurant has a lovely covered deck on the second floor which you reach by way of an external wooden staircase. There is a good range of drinks here including some great cocktails and beer selection and if you arrive on the right day you might even get some live music to listen to as you watch the Admiralty Bay yachts coming and going beneath a glowing sunset sky.
While Port Elizabeth, Princess Margaret Beach and Lower Bay together give you a good range of restaurants to choose from evening dining hours also offer the opportunity to hunt down some of the island’s more off-the-beaten-path gems.
If intimate and tucked away are what you look for in a dinner venue then the lovely Fernando’s Hideaway gives you all that. Nestled into the hillside above Lower Bay, this charming choice is a true family affair with chef owner Nando creating the excellent Caribbean cuisine and his two sisters then serving it up to their small collection of diners.
Although the food quality is high and the service impeccable, this is a casual at-home dining experience, ideal for those looking for local style plates and a unique setting. With its candles and delicate strings of lights and an undeniable hideaway feel as its name suggests, Fernando’s is also a good pick for all those intent on a romantic dinner for two.
Although the small fixed menu here offers such delights as goat water, callaloo soup or roast lamb as regular inclusions it is really the daily fish specials which steal the show. Nando himself heads out every day on his little ‘Skylark’ boat and whatever he catches is what makes up the menu of the day so ultimate freshness is a given. The delicious home-made desserts such as coconut brownies round things off nicely and Fernando’s also has a good choice of wines to compliment your dining experience. As a bonus, if you linger long enough with some after-dinner drinks, Nando will typically join his diners and if you’re lucky you will get to hear some of his island anecdotes and travel tales.
Another set apart but easily accessible island dining gem is located on Cemetery Hill above Port Elizabeth. The lovely open-air Tantie’s Pearls offers what might just be the best ocean, harbor and Fort Hamilton views from its elevated perch and if you dine early enough one of those gorgeous Caribbean sunsets comes as standard along with refreshing night breezes. Part of the island scene for 20 years now, Tantie’s is a family run affair which offers good quality local and international fare which you can enjoy along with a background soundtrack of reggae while immersing yourself in its lovely ambiance. Be sure to arrive here with a big appetite as the portion sizes are well-known to be on the generous side. Once the sun has dipped into the sea the lights of Port Elizabeth wink on one by one casting colorful pools of light into the bay and creating a different but equally beautiful view to gaze upon.
An Evening on Bequia
With its collection of feet-in-the-sand beach bars and rum shacks Bequia has plenty of idyllic island paradise choices for those who want to take in a few nightcaps with the ocean as a soundtrack and the stars as a roof. Many need nothing more so for the majority this is what night hours are made up of here.
If you’d like to swap the insect night call chorus and wave melodies for a little man-made music instead Bequia’s restaurants and bars between them typically offer something of this kind most nights of the week.
The colonial feel Bequia Beach Hotel’s beach bar, located across the island from Port Elizabeth at Friendship Beach, is one of the most reliable choices for some live entertainment and also supplies what many consider to be one of the island’s best rum punches. On Mondays it hosts a local band, Wednesdays are reggae nights and Saturdays are set aside for performances by a steel pan group.
In Port Elizabeth itself the Frangipani Hotel also host a steel pan band jump-up and the Bequia Blues Band on two separate nights of the week while places such as the lively Jack’s Bar or Mac’s always seem to have something happening which might be anything from R&B to mixed genre jam sessions.
If you’re aching for a new adventure our vacation planners are ready to help you plan your next getaway. Our knowledgable travel advisors are here to help find the best cruise to Bequia for you!