A string of 32 islands and cays comprises the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St. Vincent is one of the least touristy islands in the Caribbean—an unpretentious and relatively quiet island where fishermen get up at the crack of dawn to drop their nets into the sea, working people conduct business in town, and farmers work their crops in the countryside.
Hotels and inns on St. Vincent are almost all small, locally owned and operated, and definitely not glitzy. So far, there are only two large resorts—one on a quiet bay north of Kingstown and another on a private island 600 feet from the mainland. Restaurants (other than at St. Vincent’s two resort properties) serve mainly local food—grilled fish, stewed or curried chicken, rice, and "provisions" (root vegetables). And the beaches are either tiny crescents of black or brown sand on remote leeward bays or sweeping expanses of the same black sand pounded by Atlantic surf.
Independent travelers interested in active, eco-friendly vacations are discovering St. Vincent's natural beauty, its sports opportunities on land and sea, and the richness of its history. They spend their vacation walking or hiking St. Vincent's well-defined jungle trails, catching a glimpse of the rare St. Vincent parrot in the Vermont Valley, exploring exotic flora in the Botanic Gardens, delving into history at Ft. Charlotte, and climbing the active volcano La Soufrière. Underwater, the snorkeling and scuba landscapes are similarly intriguing.
The Grenadines, on the other hand, dazzle vacationers with amazing inns and resorts, fine white-sand beaches, excellent sailing waters, and a get-away-from-it-all atmosphere.
Bequia, just south of St. Vincent and an efficient hour's voyage by frequent ferry service, has many inns, hotels, restaurants, shops, and activities; it's a popular vacation destination in its own right. Bequia’s Admiralty Bay is one of the prettiest anchorages in the Caribbean. With superb views, snorkeling, hiking, and swimming, the island has much to offer the international mix of backpackers, landlubbers, and sailors who frequent its shores.
South of Bequia, on the exclusive and very private island of Mustique, elaborate villas are tucked into lush hillsides. Mustique does not encourage wholesale tourism, least of all to those hoping for a glimpse of the rich and famous who own or rent villas here. The appeal of Mustique is its seclusion.
Boot-shape Canouan is mostly quiet and unspoiled with only 1,200 or so residents but nevertheless a busy venue for chartered yachts. It also accommodates well-heeled guests of the villa community and resort that take up the entire northern third of the island along with one of the Caribbean's most challenging and scenic golf courses.
Tiny Mayreau (fewer than 200 residents) has one of the area's most beautiful (and unusual) beaches. At Saltwhistle Bay, the Caribbean Sea is usually as calm as a mirror; just yards away, the rolling Atlantic surf washes the opposite shore. Otherwise, Mayreau has a single unnamed village, one road, rain-caught drinking water, and an inn—but no airport, no bank, and no problems!
Union Island, with its dramatic landscape punctuated by Mt. Taboi, is the transportation center of the southern Grenadines. Its small but busy airport serves landlubbers, and its yacht harbor and dive operators serve sailors and scuba divers. Clifton, the quaint main town, has shops, restaurants, and a few guesthouses. Ashton, the second significant town, is mainly residential.
Meanwhile, it took decades to turn the 100-acre, mosquito-infested mangrove swamp called Prune Island, a virtual stone’s throw from Union Island, into the upscale private resort now known as Palm Island. Today, well-heeled vacationers lounge on the island's five palm-fringed white-sand beaches.
Petit St. Vincent, another private resort island, was reclaimed from the overgrowth by the late Hazen K. Richardson II. The luxury resort's cobblestone cottages are so private that, if you wish, you could spend your entire vacation completely undisturbed.
And finally, there are the Tobago Cays, five uninhabited islands south of Canouan and east of Mayreau that draw snorkelers, divers, and boaters. Surrounded by a shallow reef, the tiny islands have rustling palm trees, pristine beaches with powdery sand, the clearest water imaginable in varying shades of brilliant blue, and plenty of resident fish and sea turtles.
The islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are fairly close together. Whether you go by boat or by plane, traveling between them is not difficult. And each island is unique—once there, you'll definitely want to sample more than one.