Word of Mouth: Carriacou

With 100+ rum shacks and just one gas station, this small Caribbean island is full of charm and adventure

For those who wish to go beyond the well-known islands in the Caribbean, beyond the glamour and resort-style trips, Carriacou’s size, location and proximity to the nearby Grenadine island chain makes it undeniably unique. Positioned almost halfway between Grenada and St Vincent, Carriacou constitutes one of the seven islands that make up the nation of Grenada and offers a glimpse of what life in the West Indies was like before the immense accessibility. At around 12 square miles (and 8,000 population) the island, while big enough to be self-contained, feels secluded.

To get there, there are various options from Grenada: a 20-minute flight from SVG or a three-hour ferry from Osprey or Dolly C—depending on time and budget constraints and enthusiasm levels for prop planes. No matter how you get to Carriacou, upon arrival it’s evident that nothing feels forced or shoehorned in for tourists, but locals are eager to show off their island and all its charm.

Villa Joya

There are several luxury hotels on the island, but we suggest the sprawling Villa Joya. Located on the northwest corner of Carriacou, the architectural gem features four bedrooms (including a second standalone villa), floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the vaulted living area, and a pool surrounded by sun-lounges that look out over nearby Petite St Vincent. Its setting on the Atlantic coast means there’s always a soft breeze, (essential when temperatures turn up) and sunrises that will almost keep you from venturing out. With an on-site chef, Villa Joya can accommodate 10 people and is the ideal place to return after a day exploring Carriacou’s colorful villages, immaculate remote beaches and numerous private islands. It’s also perfect for those days spent lazily by the pool, doing little more than reading. Just a 10-minute walk away, guests can visit the Tibeau Cemetary which dates back to the mid-1800s. For a fascinating (albeit surreal) look at the island’s history, take a stroll here—and see how erosion has amounted to the sea almost swallowing some of the tombs.

Deefer Diving

While the nearby Dutch island of Bonaire garners plenty of attention as a scuba diving destination, Carriacou (which translates to Isle of Reefs in Arowak) proves to be a spectacular off-the-radar alternative. Highly rated stalwart Deefer Diving—located in the center of the island’s largest town, Hillsborough—knows its scuba secrets better than anyone. During two morning dives, we were in awe of the sheer number of fish—oftentimes swallowed by enormous clouds of creole wrasse, horse-eye jacks and brown chromis. Massive blue lobsters, ornate lion fish and stingrays are also commonplace in the miles of reefs surrounding the island. There are a couple of wreck dives, like the John D Wacker—a rum runner purposely sunk by its owner to avoid paying taxes— where we find a giant spotted moray eel poking out from one of the boat’s chimneys. Because of the proximity of most of the dive spots from Deefer Diving’s beach headquarters, costs for dives are also much more affordable than at many other nearby islands.

Petite St Vincent

Petite St Vincent (PSV as it’s known locally), a privately owned boutique luxury retreat not far from the northern port of Windward on Carriacou,  does not require guests to book one of the 22 cottages to enjoy PSV, but rather take a quick water taxi and indulge in an afternoon of treatments at their sublime hillside spa. If a massage isn’t your activity of choice, the property’s wine cellar is considered one of the best in the entire West Indies, boasting an exclusive collection of almost 5,000 bottles—most of a fine French provenance, and enough champagne to stock a chateau. It’s PSV’s beachside bar Goatie’s that offers the full package: between excellent cocktails (our bartender mixed a perfectly balanced negroni without batting an eyelid) and a view across the pristine waters back to Carriacou and Petite Martinque.

Slipway

Tyrell Bay’s Slipway (next to the marina) is decked out with handmade wooden furniture and offers up delicious meals—whether candlelit under the roof or in the open air. While the menu changes daily (depending on availability of ingredients) visitors find anything from Cornish hen to filet mignon, seared tuna and fresh salads with hearts of palm and avocado. Options are varied but somewhat limited, so if you want to go plant heavy just let owner/chef Kate know when you make a reservation, as more vegetarian dishes are available upon special request. Their bar not only makes one of the best mojitos on the island, but also stocks a selection of beers on tap from the Grenada’s West Indies Brewery.

Isle of Reefs Tours

One of the benefits of small, puddle-jumper islands like Carriacou is the fact that most of their surrounding islands are too small for development, making them ideal for day trips. Pack a picnic (we recommend Patty’s Deli for freshly baked croissants, homemade sandwiches and juices) and spend the ashore elsewhere. A fantastic way to do this is with Isle of Reefs Tours, whose knowledgeable captain Mojo guides us on an expedition that includes an eco-tour of the island’s protected mangrove swamp (replete with dozens of nearly invisible animals hidden in the bush) that goes to White Isle—a pristine deserted island surrounded by electric blue Caribbean water and idyllic, isolated beaches. The solace and privacy found there is profoundly soothing. Isle of Reefs also offer hiking and snorkeling tours, bird-watching and more. Plus, their Isle of Reefs Sand Bar and Grill on Paradise Beach makes for another beautiful sunset dinner destination.

Off D Hook

While you can get a fancy drink at places like Slipway, 100+ rum shacks can be found approximately every 50 feet on the island. They vary from clapboard bodegas to charming wood houses perched by the beach. One of the latter, the bright pink Butterfly Bar is a great option for seeing the sunset—given its location on the western side of the island. Another favorite is Off D Hook on the southwestern edge of Carriacou. Owner and bartender Curtis will make you feel like an old friend while mixing a piña colada brimming with Westerhall rum from Grenada. If you want to visit the uninhabited Sandy Isle just visible on the horizon, Curtis will take you there on one of his skiffs for just $15. Bring your towels and stay for a day of swimming on this glorious section of Paradise Beach, where you can eat jerk chicken and grilled lobster under colorful murals—all while a band plays Jimmy Cliff standards. You can even get a haircut from the onsite barber; just be aware that it’s appointment only.

Images courtesy of respective venues