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To the uninitiated, the Southern Caribbean island of Grenada is better known for its political history -- U.S. troops intervened in a coup during President Reagan's administration, at the time a controversial volley in the Cold War -- than it is for being a vacation paradise. But, for the tourists pouring in through the island's increasing cruise business (on a recent day, five ships were docked at the capital of St. George's) to explore its numerous beaches or hike its mountainous rain forests, 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, and 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 hiking to one of the island's multi-tiered waterfalls; then, cool off with a relaxing swim in chilled waters. Make sure to sample some of the diverse -- and, as befitting Grenada's "Isle of Spice" nickname -- wonderfully seasoned cuisine. 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.
While 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), 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.
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Other Southern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Antigua • Aruba • Banana Coast (Trujillo) • Barbados • Bequia • Bonaire • Cartagena (Colombia) • Curacao • Dominica • Grenada • Guadeloupe • Martinique • Nevis • Port of Spain (Trinidad) • San Juan • St. Barts • St. Lucia • St. Vincent
Whether it's a Painkiller (rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut and orange juice) or punch made with a potent, local brand of rum, most drinks in Grenada come topped with nutmeg, one of the island's major staples.
Stop by St. George's raucous market to buy an ubiquitous necklace made up of spices. Or, pick up some nutmeg syrup. It tastes great on pancakes, over ice cream or in coffee.
English is the official language spoken in Grenada.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
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. ATM's are plentiful in St. George's and other major tourist areas. For the latest exchange rates, please visit www.xe.com.
Where You're Docked
Most ships dock at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal, which exits directly into downtown St. George's. Other (mostly smaller) ships dock nearby at the Carenage, a horseshoe-shaped waterfront area with shops and restaurants.
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. The world-famous Grand Anse Beach is only a 10-minute cab ride away from there. Many of Grenada's hotels are located at Grand Anse, as are numerous dive operators, who can help you arrange activities like diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, parasailing and kayaking.
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. Rates are set by the government of Grenada; 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.
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 $0.75.
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.
Watch Out For
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 is an island of British, French and West Indian cultural influences, all of which are visible in its colorful capital, St. George's. Head to Fort George for views over the city and the harbor, or visit Fort Frederick 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.
Grenada's best snorkeling is at Moliniere Point, about 20 to 30 minutes north of St. George's. There, sculptor Jason de Caires 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.
Hire a driver, or rent a car, and head to Annandale Falls. 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 hike along a path to the top of the falls.
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 (473-440-6160) 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.
Visitors who want to get up close and personal with Grenada's tropical rain forests, plantations and cascading waterfalls should book a half- or full-day Adventure Jeep Tour (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.
Been There, Done That
Take a guided tour of the Dougaldston Spice Estate (Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), a historical monument to Grenada's past, where most of the island's precious spices (nutmeg, allspice, clove, cinnamon, ginger, cocoa, bay leaves, mace) are grown and processed. Nearby is the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station (473-444-8337, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.), which 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.
Got a sweet tooth? At the historic Belmont Estates (Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), 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.
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.
Go biking throughout Grenada's mountainous interior. Trailblazers offers full-day, private guided tours that take you along off-road rainforest trails, giving 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.
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, a boutique hotel that also serves up views of nearby Carriacou, one of two smaller islands overseen by Grenada.
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.
Tour the River Antoine Rum Distillery, which claims the oldest working water mill in the Caribbean. (You get to try some samples, too.)
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Morne Rouge Beach is just a few miles south of St. George's; 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 La Sagesse beach is a salt pond that's fringed with mangroves, a perfect spot for bird-watching. Eat lunch there at La Sagesse Nature Centre, a historic hotel that has added a restaurant.
The Aquarium Restaurant (473-444-1410, Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m.) 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.
Looking for something authentic? Call "Boots" and his wife, Ruby McSween, and see if they are serving lunch (473-444-2151, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The couple makes Grenadian specialties like callaloo soup, lambi (conch) steak and fresh roti (the Caribbean equivalent of a burrito -- essentially curried beef, seafood or chicken baked inside a pastry).
For great harbor views, try the Nutmeg Restaurant (Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m., 473-440-2539) at the Carenage. This casual waterfront joint offers Grenadian cuisine, as well as continental dishes with specialties like callaloo soup and curried conch. We especially love the nutmeg ice cream.
As its name suggests, Water's Edge (473-443-2822, daily, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.) offers gorgeous views over St. David's Harbor on Grenada's east coast. Dine on locally caught lobster and fish, accompanied by fresh produce grown on the island.
Staying in Touch
The Java Kool Internet Cafe (473-435-3506) is located at the Carenage in St. George's, offering 30 minutes of access for about $1.50.
For First-Timers: Take a driving tour through Grenada's lush interior to some of its most memorable attractions. Highlights include photo stops at Grand Etang Lake and Annandale Falls, a brief climb up to Fort Frederick and a tour of a traditional spice plantation.
For Active Types: Go on a hike to the spectacular Seven Sisters Falls. Your guide will point out local flora and fauna on your way to and from the falls, where you can take pictures or go for a quick swim in one of several clear pools.
For Party Animals: Sip rum punch, snack on fresh fruit, and check out the colorful reefs beneath the water aboard a catamaran sailing to Morne Rouge Beach, where you'll spend a few hours swimming or sunbathing. The party begins on the sail back. Dance to the music of a steel-drum band, and strut your stuff in a limbo competition.
For More Information
Grenada Board of Tourism:
Call: 473 440-2279
On the Web: www.grenadagrenadines.com
--Updated by Chris Gray Faust, a travel writer and editor of the blog Chris Around The World.