On our recent trip to St Vincent, we spent quite some time liming on sandy beaches and lounging around beautiful resorts; but our curiosity (as always) got the most of us: Surely there must be something to the Caribbean beyond its sandy beaches and luxurious hotels? So we tore ourselves away from the piña coladas and ventured inland to find out what the main island of St Vincent is all about.
As the biggest island in the state, St Vincent measures 18 miles long and 11miles wide, and is home to over 110,000 people. It’s one of the biggest islands in the Caribbean, packing in a diverse range of terrain, ranging from mountains to dry river beds. Amidst its lush vegetation and sweeping coastlines, the island is dominated by the 4,048-foot-high active volcano La Soufriere, which erupted violently in 1812 and 1902. (Read about our experience climbing it.) Due to its volcanic nature, its coastline is peppered with steep cliffs and black sand beaches.
Led by our local guide Ozzie, we traversed its shores, from the eastern coast to the western edge, past its beaches, into its lofty mountains and tiny fishing villages.
Chaos Amidst the Peace
Our journey started in the capital of Kingstown, a bustling town with a population of around 10,000. Oozing a tinge of Afro culture and colonial flair, Kingstown is a mishmash of open-air markets, reggae bars, colonial houses and government buildings. Compared to the rest of the island, it’s busy, crowded, and slightly chaotic.
On closer look, it is a colonial hangover from the old days. Known as the “City of Arches”, Kingstown is home to over 400 arches –– all of which were put in place by the British during the colonization period. Most of these buildings are now used as government buildings for various authorities in the capital. In contrast with the Victorian style architecture, the walls of Kingstown are splashed with graffiti and bright colors.
One of the most attractive landmarks in Kingstown is the St George Anglican Cathedral, an imposing building dating back to 1820 . Anglican is the predominant religion on St Vincent and this remains the biggest religious building on the island. Inside, there’s a beautiful stained glass window originally designed for St Paul’s in London, but was installed here instead. Next door stands the St Mary Catholic Church, slightly less eye catching but equally steep in history.
We then left Kingstown and headed towards the west coast, St Vincent’s leeward side. The first thing we noticed was the lack of tall buildings. Apparently Vincentians aren’t allowed to build anything more than four-story high as the fire engines can’t reach anything higher. Vincentians hardly live in apartment buildings as they are a proud group of people, and prefer to build their own houses than share with others.
When we asked our local guide about the cost of living in St Vincent, he said, “You’ll never grow hungry here on St Vincent. With the climate and good soil, we can always grow breadfruit or sweet potato.” Indeed, we drove past fields upon fields of plantations where locals are farming tropical fruit and crops.
Whales, Pirates, and Falls
The road started winding around steep cliff sides, slipping down the valleys and sharply up to rocky bluffs. We feasted on the spectacular views on both sides — to our right: forest covered mountain ridges and deep river gorges; to our left: the blue waters of the Caribbean lapping gently into numerous sheltered coves and secluded anchorages.
The first fishing community we came upon was Layou, a pretty village with multi-hued houses, stone churches, and crescent-shaped bay. Surrounding the village is a backdrop of dry, rocky cliffs and vertiginous ridges. Layou is also home to the Layou Petroglyph Park, where several Amerindian sites have been uncovered. To the north of Layou is Mt Wynne where Queen Elizabeth II bathed in the late 1960s and the southern stretch of sand is named after her.
The next fishing town along the coast was Barrouallie, perched above a small bay. Famous for its tradition of whaling, the fishermen of Barrouallie still catch ‘black fish’ (pilot whales) using open wooden sailboats and hand-thrown harpoons. The whale meat is usually dried or steamed before being eaten and the whale oil is used in facial cream.
Continuing further along the road, we found Wallilabou Bay, where the opening scenes of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black Pearl were filmed. Apparently, this was the spot where Captain Jack Sparrow famously set foot on just as his boat sank beneath the waves. The 2002 blockbuster was actually shot on several parts of St Vincent and the Grenadines; the crew (including Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom) even stayed at our hotel, Young Island Resort.
We eventually changed course, leaving the coastline behind, and veered into the mountains. St Patrick Range stood in its full glory – its rugged peaks covered in a green carpet of vegetation soared into the sky, forming steep canyons and ridges that plunge towards streaming rivers.
Our final destination was Dark View Falls, tucked deep within the forest, at the end of the highway. Quiet and atmospheric, the falls cascaded down a vertical wall of black rocks, into a small pool of cool, mountain water. As it was the dry season when we visited, the waterfall wasn’t flowing at its maximum volume but it was enough to provide a fresh respite from the sizzling tropical heat. We frolicked in the water, playing with the blue snail and crabs that were also out enjoying the fresh water.
By the end of the day, we’d seen a different side to St Vincent – one that we wouldn’t have if we’d stayed in our resort the whole time. Though I wished we had more time to wander around and dig up some Vincy secrets, it’s safe to say we have become acquainted with St Vincent.
The next time if you’re ever on an island in the Caribbean, I suggest taking some time to explore – you won’t be disappointed.
Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Discover SVG but all opinions expressed above are our own.