|Luxury and niche cruise ships drop anchor in Admiralty Bay, just offshore from Port Elizabeth, Bequia’s main village.|
When clients step ashore on Bequia, they’ll discover a laid-back isle that conjures up images of the Caribbean of yore. Only 5,000 people live on this sleepy island that’s part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the southern Caribbean.
Called “island of the clouds” by the Carib Indians, Bequia has a small-town feel, even today. Locals say hello to travelers on the street. Fishing boats are dragged by hand out of the water and rest quietly on the beach at Port Elizabeth, the island’s main village. The seven-square-mile island has stunning natural beauty with swaying palm groves, mountainous vistas and lovely sandy beaches.
|Tenders from cruise ships dock along this jetty at Port Elizabeth; just beyond the jetty’s gate, safari-like touring vehicles await cruisers.|
Small Isle, Smaller Ships
Bequia has a strong seafaring and whaling heritage, and boat building and repairing are still important to the island’s economy. Cocooned within Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth is both picturesque and a working harbor where luxury yachts drop anchor.
Cruise-wise, the island attracts many small-ship, niche or luxury cruise lines, such as Seabourn Cruise Line. If clients want the thrill of sailing off Bequia combined with snorkeling, Seabourn’s “Caribbean Sail and Snorkel” trip begins with a catamaran ride past Bequia’s Moon Hole area, which is filled with unusual, natural rock formations and arches.
Then it’s on to the snorkeling site, where Seabourn guests might spot shellfish, sea fans, sponges and schools of tropical fish. Rum punch is served onboard. Seabourn Spirit will call at Bequia this winter and in late 2013 during the 14-day “Exotic Caribbean In-Depth” voyages, among other cruises.
Travel Agent was onboard Silver Spirit of Silversea Cruises when that luxury ship called at Bequia last winter. This fall and winter, Silver Spirit, Silver Whisper and Silver Cloud will call at the island and several of those ships plus Silver Explorer, the line’s expedition ship, will call at Bequia in late 2013.
Among the shore excursions? Silversea’s “Bequia Sailing Tour” via catamaran is $99 per person, while a six-hour “Magical Mustique” shore option that’s essentially transportation to Mustique and a self-guided visit to the playground for the rich and royal—costs $239 per person. Last winter, Travel Agent opted for an island overview of Bequia itself—booking Silversea’s three-hour “Scenes of Bequia” shore excursion; it’s $69 per person this winter.
|The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary is a popular spot on a round-island Bequia tour.|
It’s important to note that this same itinerary is essentially provided by island operators for most lines coming to Bequia, including Seabourn and Windstar. Windstar’s around-island tour, called “Bequia and Scenic Sightseeing,” is $79 per person. While tourism is becoming increasingly important in Bequia and many high-end lines call there, clients shouldn’t expect a fleet of luxurious limos or huge modern buses when they disembark a tender at the small Port Elizabeth cruise pier.
Rather, typical tourist transportation consists of safari-like, non-air-conditioned vehicles. These are small pickup trucks with covered seating on cushioned benches in the truck bed. Most cruise lines caution guests that the trip is not recommended for those with physical disabilities or anyone with back or knee problems. Guests must climb into the truck bed and hold on tightly as the vehicles bounce around the island. The ride is open-air and bumpy, but a fun adventure.
The safari vehicles are essentially a caravan. After picking up guests at the cruise pier, they typically motor through the north side of Admiralty Bay and the fishing village of Hamilton to a hilltop that was once the site of the 18th-century Hamilton Fort. The original structure is gone, but a few French and English cannons are displayed. The main attraction, though, is the stunning view of Admiralty Bay.
Guests then reboard the vehicles, which backtrack through Port Elizabeth and head up a hill on the other side, ultimately reaching Mount Pleasant, the island’s highest spot. Guides talk about the geology, ecology and history of the island as cruisers admire gorgeous scenic views—this time to the neighboring island of Mustique.
Then the vehicles briefly take guests to another lookout spot—great for a photo of their ship in the harbor below—before heading on to a mid-island handicraft shop and bar for a restroom break and rum punch refreshment. Finally, the caravan winds through the island’s agricultural interior to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary.
|Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit joins luxury yachts in anchoring at Admiralty Bay, Bequia.|
Outside, palm trees sway in the breeze along the sanctuary’s Atlantic Ocean beach setting. Inside, cruisers can view turtles of all ages. Cruisers can learn how the organization removes young hawksbill sea turtles from nests to avert poaching, and then later releases them at three years of age back into the wild, when they have the best shot at survival.
Overall, the three-hour tour offers a revealing taste of island life and sites. Before your clients take any tour, though, they might access St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) newly upgraded mobile app. First launched in 2011, the free app is newly updated with more detailed information on the eight inhabited islands, including Bequia.
The new app has a more user-friendly interface, updated iPhone and iPad versions (via the Apple iTunes Store) as well as the Android, and a web app version for all handheld touch devices such as BlackBerry available at www.discoversvg.com.
For those exploring independently, Princess Margaret Beach is a popular spot; snorkeling hot spots include Friendship Bay, Northwest Point and Spring Bay; and two local PADI certified shops—Bequia Dive Adventures and Dive Bequia—will rent scuba equipment and set up scuba or snorkeling trips.
Cruisers may get information about Port Elizabeth’s sites at a tourism information office close to the cruise pier. Those walking around Port Elizabeth will learn that the village consists primarily of two main parallel streets and just a few short streets connecting those. It’s not a big place.
Local bars serve rum punch and island concoctions, while Port Elizabeth’s restaurants cook up such specialties as West Indies barbecue, pumpkin soup and Creole-style lobster. If your clients’ ship happens to be in port late on a Thursday, the outdoor bar, barbecue and steel band music at Port Elizabeth’s Frangipani Hotel are legendary; clients are likely to encounter fellow cruisers, yacht enthusiasts and the locals.
Boutiques sell local crafts, clothing, spices, tea, batik fabrics and miniature model boats, a vestige of the island’s seafaring past. The Bequia Tech Internet Café & Technology Center offers Internet access near the ferry dock.
While many small, niche and luxury lines call directly on Bequia, your clients also might visit the island on a shore trip from nearby St. Vincent. For example, Star Clippers anchors off the sheltered side of Young Island near St. Vincent, which is just a 10-minute ferry ride from Bequia.
Oceania Cruises is among the lines that offer a catamaran shore excursion to Bequia from St. Vincent; Oceania’s day trip to Bequia is priced at $169 per person.