Deep in the Southern Caribbean is a tiny green island, just seven miles square, once known as "Island in the Clouds." Life moves slowly here; days are long, languid, leisurely. Most visitors arrive not by cruise ship but by sailboat, anchoring alongside fishing boats in natural bays fringed by white beaches and tangled foliage. Like their ancestors, many islanders still make their living from the sea -- fishing, lobster diving, boat building and working on yachts and cargo ships -- and live in small, sustainable homes with no running water. Shops offer not duty-free goods but genuine local handicrafts, from pottery to scrimshaw (etchings made in whale bone).
Where is this idyllic hideaway? It's not some Caribbean island of decades ago, before the onslaught of mass tourism and mega-ships; this is modern-day Bequia (pronounced BECK-way), the second-largest island in the nation known as St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Bequia does welcome some cruise visitors, but only from the likes of SeaDream Yacht Club, Island Windjammers, Silversea, Windstar and Star Clippers -- all lines with ships small enough to anchor alongside the yachts in Admiralty Bay and tender passengers to shore. With the construction of a small airport in 1992, the island is now more accessible to visitors than it was in the past, but it remains refreshingly unspoiled, just the way locals -- and visitors -- like it.
Bequia's "Island in the Clouds" moniker comes from its original Carib name, Becouya. The Caribs were the native tribe in control of the island when the French arrived in 1664, and they put up a fierce resistance to European colonization. But by the 1700s the French (and later the English) had gained control and set up a number of thriving sugar plantations. Today there are few remaining signs of Bequia's sugar-growing past; the trade largely died out in the mid-19th century and gave way to the marine industries that remain Bequia's main livelihood. The island was particularly prominent in the whaling industry for a time, though today's environmental regulations mean that Bequians are only allowed to harpoon two whales a year (an affair accompanied by great festivities throughout the island).
Bequian life remains inextricably tied to the sea -- from the fresh-caught fish and lobster of its restaurants to the revolving mix of sailors and cruise visitors who become welcome friends while they're here.