By Adam Topp
St. Vincent & the Grenadines boast world class sailing among uninhabited islands and a number of the world’s finest island resorts. Idyllic locations where you can experience out-of-this world accommodations on private islands, in villas with your own plunge pool and gourmet meals delivered to your private table on the white-sand beach. But if you want to experience the real world, you’ll need to venture to the ‘mainland’: the island of St. Vincent itself. It is here that you can swim among volcanic rock formations, shower in a waterfall, marvel at ancient rock art petroglyphs, and have a truly local experience dancing at a ‘blocko’ while eating BBQ pork and drinking Sunset rum (if you dare).
St. Vincent is the largest and most northern island of the Lesser Antilles, a nation of 32 islands in the southern portion of the Windward Islands where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Measuring just 18 km by 11 km, you would think that it is an easy place to get around – and then you remember that it is a volcano. The forested interior is dominated by La Soufriere, with a peak of 4,049 feet and an active volcano. Sheer drops, steep inclines and declines, and constant horn blasts announcing your presence at a hairpin turn characterize the ‘short’ drive to anywhere. Instead of renting a car, it is worth getting a van and driver who knows the road; and besides, they will also know where the party is that night because there are few clubs – simply different villages that have ‘blockos’ on different nights.
Kingstown on the south west coast, the nation’s capital and main port, is an excellent place to start your adventure. Explore the local market, pick up some breadfruit and plantain and head to Fort Charlotte on a ridge 600 feet above the sea for magnificent 360 degree views of Kingstown and the Grenadines. Construction of the fort began in 1763 by the British. Ostensibly to protect their claim from the French, the Fort largely served to protect settlers from attacks by the Black Caribs who had resisted any European settlement until 1719 – the cannons of the Fort point inland and not out to sea. Lindsay Prescott tells the story of the Black Caribs, formerly enslaved Africans who had intermarried with the native Caribs, in an interpretive series of paintings in what used to be the officer’s quarters.
From Kingstown you have the choice of heading west up the leeward highway or east up the windward highway. Take the winding road west and you’ll soon be in the village of Layou with its black sand beach, stone church and ancient rock art found a short hike off the main road. It is thought that the art was created by the pre-Columbian Saladoid culture as many as 2,500 years ago. You’ll need to interpret the images yourself though as the meaning of the Layou Petroglyphs remains a mystery. There are there are 18 recorded rock art sites in the country and the main engraving at Layou is the largest in the Lesser Antilles.
Head to the furthest reaches of the leeward highway, in the shadow of La Soufriere, and you’ll get to Dark View Falls. A short hike across a bamboo bridge and up a ‘few’ stairs through the rainforest you’ll be rewarded with a bone-chilling cold waterfall shower which you will appreciate after the hike.
To get to the other side of La Soufriere, you’ll need to head east from Kingstown up the Windward highway. Travel 50 km up that road (shows you just how windy it is since the island is only 18km long) and in about two hours and you’ll arrive at Owia Salt Pond. Owia is as far away from Fort Charlotte as you can get on the island and home to some of the indigenous Black Caribs. The salt ponds are calm pools sheltered from the crashing Atlantic Oceans by volcanic boulders. This unique volcanic formation affords a magnificent view and a peaceful swim with reef fish after a steep decent down the stairs. Which of course you need to get up again when you are done.
On the drive back to Kingstown, make sure to stop on the highway at a local vendor for fresh coconut water or star apples. Follow the music and a village party will appear where you least expect it; usually accompanied by the most sublime BBQ pork. There is no rushing as you enjoy a truly local experience.
Special thanks to Adam Topp for sharing his trip with us! Adam is the CEO of HUMN Pharmaceuticals Inc. and an avid traveller.