Scattered out in the midst of the south-eastern Caribbean in an array of sparkling bays and cacti-topped cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines have long represented a picture of quintessential exoticism and laid-back Carib living.
Largely off the tourist map, this archipelago of small islets and rocks boasts a long history of French and English settlement.
Towns like Kingstown and Clifton still bely the Anglo character, while local folk still fry up fresh fish in their BBQ shacks, serenade the beaches with a medley of calypso and soca, and employ that fabled islander charm to all who pass.
Sailing is big business in SV and the Grenadines too, with regattas each year and those world-famous Tobago Cays on the menu.
Meanwhile, beaches, sparkling and white, sit in the shadow of old colonial fortresses loaded with cannons, cassava bread is broken in the eateries, and the mighty outline of bubbling, brooding La Soufriere crowns the horizon for miles around.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines:
1. Go diving in the Tobago Cays
This sprinkling of little cays and islets that rises just a little above the waters of the Caribbean Sea south of St. Vincent remains one of the most celebrated diving spots in the entire region, nay the world!
Dedicated as a marine park, the underwater here is a medley of sparkling coral gardens and steep-sided marine trenches, all cascading off the submerged shelves around Mayreau Island.
The lagoon at the area’s heart is a hotspot for anchored yachts and charter ships, while SCUBA is top of the menu.
Divers can expect to see the likes of endangered green turtles, leatherbacks, spiny Carib lobsters and more between the mangroves and the shoreline cacti groves.
2. Anchor up in Bequia
A land of sky-blue seas and emerald green forests topped with spiky cacti and coconut clusters, Bequia is the second-largest of the Grenadines and a veritable mecca for sailors and yachters to boot.
Bobbing sail boats sparkle in white all the way around the island’s rugged shoreline of coves and occasional sandy beaches, from the rocky headlands of St Hilaire in the south to the charming little harbor town of Port Elizabeth.
The Easter Regatta is high time to visit, representing one of the most famous boating events on the Caribbean calendar.
3. St Vincent Botanical Gardens: fauna and flora galore
Wildlife lovers should be sure to make a beeline for the famous botanical gardens of St. Vincent.
Sat just on the edge of the island’s capital at Kingstown, the site boasts more than 250 years of conservation history.
That makes it one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, and there’s certainly enough fauna and flora about to testify to the fact! Lush lawns filled with blooming ferns and palms and agave trees come crisscrossed with walking tracks, while the huge St. Vincent parrot squawks overhead, hiding between bunches of big breadfruit in the green boughs.
Oh, and take the taxi to the top – the walk can be tiring!
4. Wander through history in Kingstown
Crowned at the center by the beautiful rises of St George’s Anglican Cathedral, little Kingstown represents the political and commercial heart of the archipelago as a whole.
History oozes from every pore here too.
There are winding alleys fringed with charming colonial mansions from centuries gone by, countless Gothic church spires looming overhead, and a lively harborside where fishing boats and yachts all coalesce during the high season.
And in the middle of it all sits enthralling Kingstown Market; an al fresco fayre of fresh fish cuts and breadfruit stacks, spices and local produce.
5. Go volcano stalking on Union Island
Rising in rugged stone peaks from the shimmering blue of the Caribbean, Union Island is one of the most popular stop-overs for sailors on route to the aforementioned Tobago Cays.
Those who opt to linger around the docks of little harborside Clifton (Union’s main town) for some time are in for a real treat though.
For starters, there are oodles of intrepid hiking routes winding around the backcountry of this one, the best of which shoot out from charming Ashton town, cross picture-perfect Chatham Bay and soar to the tips of volcanic Mount Taboi.
There are also oodles of hearty Carib beach shacks here, oozing a local vibe, not to mention a unique beach where turtle watching takes place in the early summer.
6. Scale the heights to Fort Charlotte
Looming high over the capital of Kingstown, on a rocky bluff nearly 200 meters above sea level, the great bulwarks and cannon-studded walls of Fort Charlotte are a reminder of the long colonial history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Built in the early 1800s, the site was intended to fend off skirmishes from rebel Caribs and bands of escaped slaves.
Today, the citadel still has some of the great gun batteries that were installed in the 19th century, while it’s the views that bring the biggest crowds – they sweep down from the clifftops and encompass the harbors and the south coast of St. Vincent Island.
7. Experience tropical perfection on Petit St. Vincent
Coconut palms sway in the Trade Winds along the shimmering shorelines of little Petit St. Vincent (called just PSV for short), while rugged rocks and boulders build their way to a peak at Marni Hill on the northern edge of the land.
Little bamboo cabanas and sunning terraces mark the presence of a luxurious resort hotel, while the secluded beaches and coves, lapped by aquamarine Caribbean waters, imbue the spot with a real tropical perfection.
PSV sits nestled between Union Island and the Tabago Cays, and can only be reached by boat.
It’s the place to come for bona fide R&R!
8. Enjoy bitesize Mayreau
The smallest of the inhabited Grenadine islands counts a mere one-and-a-half square miles of land, making it eminently walkable and welcoming.
With no airport, the speck on the Leeward map can only by accessed by water.
It’s a sleepy place, with laid-back Station Hill hosting the only town and the stony towers of the pretty Church of the Immaculate Conception alike.
However, it’s Salt Whistle Bay on the coast that surely comes up trumps.
This perfectly sculpted bend of ivory-white sand that slopes into a yacht-peppered bay of aquamarine water simply can’t be beaten!
9. Dare to conquer the La Soufriere Cross Country Trail
Weaving and winding its way up the carved and chiselled massif of the mighty La Soufriere volcano, this intrepid hiking trail promises awesome views of St. Vincent Island and the Caribbean Sea.
Taking around just two hours each way, the journey passes through palm forests and highland grass plains before breaking out onto the crater rim, where travelers can peer down into the brooding, steaming caldera of one of the Caribbean’s most active volcanos (and one its most historically deadly). The summit also marks the highest point in the country, and offers a great opportunity to see the magma domes and rock deposits left over from the 1979, 1971 and 1902 eruptions of the mount.
10. Take a dip in the Falls of Baleine
One of the hidden natural gems of St. Vincent, the Falls of Baleine occupy a shady cleft in the mountains on the island’s north coast.
Far-flung and remote, they can either be reached on a boat trip around the Leeward coast, or via a trekking trail that weaves into the hills out of Fancy.
But the difficult journey in is definitely worth it.
The falls have carved a rugged series of stepped rocks into the ridges, and gush in cool and refreshing courses into the deep plunge pools.
Travelers can come to swim and cool off in the waters, surrounded by a steep-sided canyon dressed in vines and jungle.
11. Visit gorgeous Canouan
This little fishhook of an island in the midst of the Grenadines is widely regarded for its rings of healthy coral reefs and underwater marine life, which fringe the whole landmass on its eastern, Atlantic side.
That makes it one of the best places to strap on the snorkels and SCUBA gear and delve under.
However, it’s not just the ocean that pulls crowds to Canouan.
This pretty tropical gem also has white-sanded beaches and sparkling bays of blue water, meaning it’s a fine choice for some more off-the-beaten-track coves, perfect for sunbathers and great for yachters looking to moor up and explore.
12. Find your inner pirate at Wallilabou Bay
Wallilabou Bay can be found nestled on the west coast of St. Vincent Island, typically peppered with whitewashed yachts and sail boats fresh from the harbors of Kingstown.
However, the curved anchorage, surrounded by rugged peaks and palm-topped mountains, was thrust into the limelight for something altogether different back in 2003, when it was adopted as the main filming location in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
Today, the whole set used in the film has been preserved for visitors to see, and there’s even an onsite museum that chronicles the production of the movie, including countless photos of cast and crew.
A must for fans of Jack Sparrow et al!
13. Sample Carib fries and local foods at The Fig Tree
Perched up between the manchineel trees and sea grapes on the edge of picture-perfect Bequia, The Fig Tree has established itself as one of the go to spots in the entire St Vincent and Grenadine archipelago for bona fide Carib food.
Just meters from the shore, the atmosphere is uber-romantic, while the menu – scrawled across blackboards in chalk at the back of the half-shack eatery – has plenty to choose from.
There are fish-packed West Indian rotis, sweet plantain dishes, grilled seafood doused in spicy Creole sauces, curried conch, BBQ ribs, steamed pumpkin with coleslaw – the list goes on!
14. Stake your spot on Mustique
Uber-exclusive Mustique is one of the few privately-owned islands in the St. Vincent and Grenadine archipelago.
Reached by small charter jet, the speck on the map is luxurious to the T, with more than 100 individual villas hiding between the coconut palms bearing the names of former owners in the ilk of Bowie.
Celebrities and A-listers have trodden the powdery beaches here for decades, while the gorgeous golden bay of Macaroni Beach is a real chart-topper to say the least! For the height of opulence, be sure to check out the Cotton House hotel; it’s owned by the company that manages the island and boasts infinity pools, fine-dining and luxury cabanas aplenty!
15. Go exploring at the Dark View Falls
Reached on rickety bamboo bridges in the midst of the forest, the Dark View Falls are, rather surprisingly, the easiest-to-reach waterfalls on the entire island of St. Vincent.
They are hidden in the woods just 15 minutes by foot from the nearest parking spot, gushing over a high bluff in the rocks into two inviting swimming pools below.
Visitors come to get the adrenaline flowing as they traverse the tenuous timber bridges, enjoy pretty views of the forest, and cool off in the icy mountain water.
There are also other tracks that weave along the babbling meanders of the Richmond River to explore once you’re done getting wet!