To the uninitiated, the Southern Caribbean island of Grenada is better known for its political history than it is for being a vacation paradise. (U.S. troops intervened in a coup during President Reagan's administration, at the time a controversial volley in the Cold War.) But for the tourists pouring in to explore its numerous beaches or hike its mountainous rainforests via the island's increasing cruise business -- on a recent day, five ships were docked at the capital of St. George's -- such associations belong in the past.
So, too, does Hurricane Ivan, which damaged 90 percent of Grenada's buildings, destroyed 85 percent of its nutmeg trees, and left more than half the population homeless in September 2004. While you'll still see some lingering effects as you tour around the island (churches without roofs, homes still being rebuilt), St. George's is as colorful and charming as ever. Most restaurants, tourist attractions and hotels are back in business -- in many cases refurbished and looking even better than they did before.
Visitors can still bask in the sun on the wide, white-sand Grand Anse Beach, visit the Mona monkeys that live near Grand Etang National Park, or enjoy a lazy waterfront lunch along the horseshoe-shaped Carenage harbor. Take advantage of Grenada's topography and work up a sweat as you hike to one of the island's multi-tiered waterfalls; then, cool off with a relaxing swim in the chilled waters. Make sure to sample some of the diverse, wonderfully seasoned cuisine, befitting Grenada's "Isle of Spice" nickname. At St. George's market, you'll find ginger, cinnamon, mace, turmeric and nutmeg sharing space with coconuts, bananas and more exotic fruit, such as star-shaped carambola.
Grenada's famous nutmeg industry is still recovering from the 2004 hurricane; the trees take between seven and 15 years to mature enough to bear fruit. But interested visitors can still tour spice plantations and processing stations to learn about the hardy new varieties of nutmeg trees that are being planted -- varieties that will hopefully survive the next big storm. Or tour River Antoine Estate, a rum distillery that still uses a 19th-century water wheel to produce 152-proof liquor, considered too strong for visitors to bring home on a plane. Either way, the natural bounty of one of the Caribbean's friendliest islands will entice those searching for eco-tourism adventures or laze-the-day-away relaxation. Grenada truly has assets to fulfill both.
Those docked at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal are within walking distance of the major sights of St. George's, including the Grenada National Museum, Market Square and several pretty churches. The Carenage and the city's forts are just a quick cab ride (or, in the case of Fort George, a steep walk) away. Those docked at the Carenage can enjoy the area's duty-free shops and waterfront restaurants or walk to nearby St. George's.
MobileCityGrenada (473-437-6416), just outside the terminal on Melville Street, rents computers by the hour. Busy port days bring up to three ships, but the vibe here, while bustling, lacks the hustle of some islands. The world-famous Grand Anse Beach is only a 10-minute cab ride away from the port. Many of Grenada's hotels are located at Grand Anse, as are numerous water-sports operators who can help you arrange activities such as diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, parasailing and kayaking.
St. George's: Grenada is an island of British, French and West Indian cultural influences, all of which are visible in its colorful capital. Head to Fort George (Grand Etang Road) for views over the city and the harbor, or visit Fort Frederick (Richmond Hill) for a bird's-eye prospect over miles of green hills to the north and east of the city. Vendors peddle spices, crafts, produce and more each morning in Market Square, which is at its liveliest on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and noon.
Moliniere Point: Grenada's best snorkeling is at Moliniere Point, about 20 to 30 minutes north of St. George's. There, sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has created an underwater sculpture park that acts as an artificial reef, drawing even more fish. Many of the dive operators located on Grand Anse Beach offer several snorkeling trips a day to Moliniere Point. Snorkeling off Grand Anse Beach is also available. Gear can be rented from one of the many dive shops located along the beach. Rental equipment for additional water sports, such as windsurfing, kayaking and parasailing, can also be found at these shops.
Annandale Falls: Hire a driver, or rent a car, and head to Annandale Falls. Located about 15 minutes outside of St. George's, this mountain stream cascades some 40 feet down into a pool below. You can swim there, or just hike along a path to the top of the falls.
Grand Etang National Park: Grenada has a lush and mountainous interior -- one-ninth of its land mass is preserved in the way of parks, natural sanctuaries and wildlife preserves. Grand Etang National Park is Grenada's largest forest reserve and contains excellent hiking trails that range from easy 15-minute strolls to rigorous expeditions of several hours. Trails wind past cascading waterfalls with inviting swimming holes and up to Grand Etang Lake, a volcanic crater lake. The trails are easy to navigate; the Forest Reserve offers both maps and human guides. A fee may apply. (St. Andrews, 473-440-2279)
Jeep Tours: Visitors who want to get up close and personal with Grenada's tropical rainforests, plantations and cascading waterfalls should book a half- or full-day jeep tour with Adventure Tours Grenada (473-444-JEEP). Guides combine informative commentary on the island's flora and fauna and offer outdoor adventures, such as hiking and swimming. The company now offers river-tubing as well.
Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station: The Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station offers tours of one of the largest nutmeg processing factories on the island. The station is still operating, albeit at lower capacity after the loss of about 85 percent of its nutmeg trees in Hurricane Ivan. You can purchase various nutmeg-infused products, including jams, creams and soaps. (473-444-8337; open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.)
Belmont Estates: Got a sweet tooth? At the historic Belmont Estates, you can watch farmers bring in their raw cacao pods for cocoa production. (Many farmers turned to cacao and other small-crop production after Ivan destroyed the nutmeg trees.) The resulting organic dark chocolate bars from the Grenada Chocolate Company, boasting cocoa levels that range from 60 to 82 percent, are delicious. (St. Patrick's; open Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Bianca C: Experienced divers should check out the Caribbean's largest wreck dive, the Bianca C, a 600-foot Italian ocean liner that sank off Grenada's southwest coast in 1961. Costa Line donated a bronze statue of Christ of the Abyss, now located at the Carenage, in gratitude for assistance in helping to save passengers and crew.
Biking: Adventure Tours Grenada (473-444-5337) offers full-day, private guided tours that take you biking throughout Grenada's mountainous interior. You'll ride along off-road rainforest trails, which gives you an up-close look at the island's lush vegetation and colorful wildlife. Those who'd rather go it alone can rent bikes and follow a free route map. Note that Grenada's hilly terrain makes this an inappropriate choice for beginning bikers.
Sauters: Take a trip to Sauters, on the northern side of the island, where you can see the steep 100-foot cliff (known as Carib's Leap) where Carib Indians jumped to their death in 1651 to avoid surrendering to French colonists. Stop for lunch at the nearby Petite Anse (473-442-5252), a boutique hotel that also serves up views of nearby Carriacou, one of two smaller islands overseen by Grenada.
Sport Fishing: Grenada has excellent game fishing for blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and yellowfin tuna. True Blue Sportfishing (473-444-2048) and Grenada Fishing (473-538-9821) offer half-day charters.
River Antoine Rum Distillery: Tour the River Antoine Rum Distillery, which claims the oldest working water mill in the Caribbean. (You get to try some samples, too.)
On Foot: Ships dock within walking distance of downtown St. George's, which boasts shopping, dining, historic forts, churches and a museum.
By Taxi: Cabs are plentiful at the cruise terminals and in downtown St. George's. The government of Grenada sets the rates; a trip from St. George's to the Grand Anse Beach area is $10. (You can also take a water taxi from the Carenage to Grand Anse for about $4.) Private or group tours can be arranged with cab drivers, with average hourly rates running about $25; make sure you agree upon a price ahead of time. A two-and-a-half-hour tour hitting four highlights -- Grand Etang National Park, Grand Etang Lake, Annandale Falls and Fort Frederick -- costs about $70 for one to four people.
By Bus: Grenada's colorful local buses -- essentially vans that bear personalized monikers like "Upper Level," "Hot Boys" and "Spectacular" -- are the most cost-effective way to move about Grenada. Available from St. George's for most short rides (such as the Grand Anse beach area), bus rides can cost as little as 75 cents. The trip from Melville Street Cruise Terminal to Grand Anse costs $1.
By Car: Grenadians drive on the left side of the road. Driving permits are required; they cost between $11 and $12 and can be purchased from car rental agencies. Local companies include Y&R Car Rentals (473-444-4448) and Indigo Car Rentals (473-439-3300). Rates start at $50 a day.
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Morne Rouge Beach is just a few miles south of St. George's, and its clear, calm waters are perfect for an afternoon of swimming and snorkeling. There are also a few restaurants nearby where you can grab lunch.
Best Beach for Active Types: Grand Anse Beach is Grenada's most famous stretch of soft, white sand. Located just south of St. George's, this stunning two-mile beach has attracted many of the island's hotels and resorts. Dive operators offer a wide array of water sports and dive/snorkeling tours, and you'll find a number of good hotel restaurants and bars within walking distance of the beach.
Best Secluded Beach: La Sagesse Beach, about 25 minutes from downtown St. George's, is peaceful with a beautiful stretch of sand and hiking trails that lead across headlands to adjacent snorkeling beaches. At one end of the beach is a salt pond fringed with mangroves, a perfect spot for bird-watching. Eat lunch there at La Sagesse, a historic hotel that has added a restaurant.
Aquarium Restaurant: The Aquarium Restaurant is located on the beach at Point Salines, just off the airport road (20 minutes from St. George's) and serves up some of the island's best seafood and international cuisine. If you're in port on Sunday, check out the fabulous lobster beach barbecue. (473-444-1410; open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.)
Nutmeg Restaurant: For great harbor views, try the Nutmeg Restaurant at the Carenage. This casual waterfront joint offers continental dishes as well as Grenadian cuisine, with specialties like callaloo soup and curried conch. We especially love the nutmeg ice cream. (473-440-2539; open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m.)
Sails: Also at the Carenage, Sails sports a sleek interior with windows that open to the harbor. Menu offerings range from burgers to steamed lobster and grilled fish. (473-440-9749; open daily from 8 a.m.)
Galley at Grenada Marine: The Galley at Grenada Marine is a friendly, casual beachfront spot serving Caribbean fare. It's on the island's southeast coast overlooking St. David's Harbour. (473-443-1064; open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekends, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Most ships dock at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal, which exits through the Esplanade Shopping Mall and then out into downtown St. George's. Other (mostly smaller) ships dock nearby at the Carenage, a horseshoe-shaped waterfront area with shops and restaurants.
The streets in St. George's are steep, with deep gutters running under very narrow sidewalks. Make sure you watch where you are going so you don't turn an ankle -- or worse.
Grenada's local currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar. You can use American dollars around the island, though you may receive change in the local currency. ATMs are plentiful in St. George's and other major tourist areas. For the latest exchange rates, please visit www.xe.com.
English is the official language spoken in Grenada. You will also hear a French-African patios spoken by the locals.
Stop by the raucous market in St. George's to buy a ubiquitous necklace made up of spices. Or pick up some nutmeg syrup; it tastes great on pancakes, over ice cream or in coffee.
Whether it's a Painkiller (rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut and orange juice) or punch made with potent, local Clarke's Court rum, most drinks in Grenada come topped with nutmeg, one of the island's major staples.