Beyond the yachts and private jets, Canouan provides a luxury vacation at a more affordable cost.
If you are one of the few savvy travelers who have heard of Canouan, it’s probably in whispers as a billionaire’s getaway in the Caribbean. The small, crescent-shaped island is part of the Grenadine’s chain and is around five square miles. Only about a thousand residents call Canouan home, and few tourists have yet to discover the island paradise. While that might give the impression that Canouan is only for the ‘one percent,’ it is also a destination worth exploring for mid-market travelers looking for an alternative to St. Barts.
One of the reasons for Canouan’s air of exclusivity is that there are no direct commercial flights onto the island. While some wealthy travelers fly directly on a private jet to Canouan, you don’t have to stow away in their Louis Vuitton luggage to access the island. The cheapest way to get to Canouan is to fly into St Vincent Airport (SVD) and then take the 3 to 4-hour ferry ride for about $20. However, most visitors book a flight to the BGI airport in Barbados and then hop a small plane for the hour or so flight to Canouan’s picturesque local airport.
While there are plenty of gems to discover around Canouan, what is even more important is what you won’t find on the island. There are no swarm of cruise ship passengers flooding the island every day and no tacky tourist shops with “CANOUAN” tchotchkes. The island may be surprisingly accessible for the mid-market traveler, but the island is far from the mass market.
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For accommodation, travelers can choose to neither splurge on one of the luxury resorts or book an apartment stay. Since the island is so small, you’re never too far from anything. Canouan’s “rush hour” is simply when turtles come out onto the road in the evening as it cools off, and you may need to carefully drive around them as they meander to their resting place for the night. Suppose you decide to rent an apartment instead of staying at a hotel. In that case, you can still get your palapa and pina colada fix by heading to Shell Beach, operated by Canouan Estates, and enjoy the perfect postcard beach resort while you eat lunch at the Shell Beach Bar and Grill.
There are luxury options abound on the island for discerning travelers seeking a world-class experience. The five-star Mandarin Oriental Canouan is the premier resort on the island, offering ocean-view suites starting at $880 a night. That price point comes with ample space, top-notch service, and access to their private jet. Even if you don’t splash out for a suite at the Mandarin Oriental, heading to their Balinese-inspired spa is definitely worth the splurge. They’ve recently renovated two picturesque overwater bungalows in addition to the hillside rooms and offer spa treatments starting at $70.
The main draw of the Canouan is the nearby Tobago Cays, offering exceptional snorkeling and diving in the protected marine park. In addition to swimming with green turtles in the warm waters of the cays, the archipelago is home to five small uninhabited islands, including Petit Tabac, where Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp were deserted in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. But you don’t have to be marooned to visit the islands. To experience the Tobago Cays, you could break the bank and rent a fully staffed yacht for the day or simply book a group snorkel trip to the marine park for less than $100 per person.
Back on the island, hiking up Mount Royal is Canouan’s most popular land-based activity. The free hike takes you to the highest point on the island, offering up panoramic views of neighboring islands St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and St. Lucia. Nearby, Canouan’s gorgeous (and often deserted) 18-hole golf course is designed by Jim Fazio. The 72-par course offers breathtaking views and is priced at $250 per player in the high season. Or, skip the golf and head straight to dinner at L’Ance Guyac, a romantic nearby beach restaurant.
While Canouan isn’t likely to see rapid development anytime soon, a Soho House Hotel has recently opened on the island, and small changes may be in store for quiet Canouan. But, as long as there are no direct flights, this Caribbean destination will stay off the itinerary for most visitors looking for a quick holiday getaway. Instead, Canouan will remain a voyage for both elite vacationers and the intrepid traveler seeking an off-the-beaten-track slice of paradise.
We visited Canouan 15 or so years ago. We were there to look at land to build a house. It is indeed a beautiful little jewel of an island. We stayed at Raffles Resort which is now Mandarin. The beach there was very small and looked like they had imported sand as an overlay. There was a Trump Casino on top of the hill and those might have been his golf courses too. Lots of boating as you would expect in the Grenadines. We enjoyed the local bars in town and meeting the residents. I can't comment about shell beach but it sounds nice. We took the small plane in via St Lucia. Sounds like it's time to return!