|Silver Spirit's deck with Bequia in the background.// All photos by Susan J. Young.|
Nestled within St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the southern Caribbean, Bequia, called “the island of the clouds” by the Carib Indians, is precisely the kind of tropical isle most cruisers dream about, but rarely find. This seven-square-mile piece of paradise is home to soft beaches, swaying palm trees, fresh trade breezes, tiny villages and friendly people.
Yet, it’s also a bit of a Wild West experience as visitors hop onboard the island’s safari-style taxi and tour vehicles. Two long padded seats accommodate travelers seated along the truck bed; visitors grapse the bars of the open-air, covered structure as these vehicles jostle along the local, sometimes bumpy roads.
|Bequia attracts many yacht owners to Admiralty Bay.|
Off-the-Beaten Track Port
Bequia has a whaling and boat building heritage. It’s very popular with yachtsmen even today. Big ships lines don’t typically call at Bequia, but it is a port call for some smaller lines and expedition ships.
On my recent Silversea Cruises voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados, Silver Spirit anchored just offshore, as cruisers rode the ship’s tender into Admiralty Bay.
Talk about low key. Guests on shore trips disembarked the cruise line tender, walked just steps along the sleepy Port Elizabeth harborfront and hopped onboard a safari-style vehicle for their tours.
The nearest beach to Port Elizabeth is Princess Margaret beach. Cruisers will find good snorkeling at several points around the island including Friendship Bay, Northwest Point and Spring Bay.
Cruisers likely will need to take a taxi to reach these points. Negotiate the fare in advance, figure out how to get back (perhaps arranging with a taxi for the return trip) and remember that quiet seas can be deceiving, as, at times, there can be a strong undertow.
Scuba enthusiasts can check out the dive tour options with their line or local scuba shops. Just offshore are several dozen dive sites. Scuba divers may encounter turtles, lobsters, moray eels as well as see several shipwrecks and shallow caves.
|An island ferry and small local boats at Port Elizabeth, Bequia|
Many visitors simply choose to walk around compact Port Elizabeth. It’s a charming town – with a front street and back street running parallel to each other. Just stick to the two main thoroughfares and the short streets that connect them and you’ll pretty much see it all. A tourism information office is just a short walk from the pier.
One sightseeing highlight is St. Mary's Anglican Church, constructed in 1829 to replace an older structure destroyed in a hurricane. Check out the interior memorial tablets dedicated to the island’s early settlers, and the church’s stained glass memorials honoring other Bequia residents.
What can your cruise clients buy? This isn’t a shopping haven, but cruisers might check out miniature model boats made by skilled local craftspeople, as well as batik fabrics and clothing, tea, spices and handicrafts.
The local currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, but cruisers will find that U.S. dollars are widely accepted. On our visit last month, one U.S. dollar equaled approximately 2.70 Eastern Caribbean dollars.
If cruisers get hungry ashore, Bequia cuisine is diverse. One local specialty is West Indies barbecue, typically spicy seafood or chicken dishes. Creole-style lobster is one popular choice. Pumpkin soup is another. And, of course, cruisers will also find potent rum punches here as well.
For information on the island, visit the Bequia Tourism Association’s website at www.bequiatourism.com or the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority at http://discoversvg.com.
|Cannons at site of Hamilton Fort|
Scenes of Bequia
I opted for an easy way to explore the island – booking Silversea’s three-hour “Scenes of Bequia” shore excursion, priced at $69 per person.
Our safari vehicle headed out along the north shore of Admiralty Bay through the small fishing village of Hamilton. Here clients will see small, colorful boats and rum shops, as the vehicle motors up to the site of what was once the 18th-century Hamilton Fort.
Today, little remains and just a few cannons point silently out to sea. The only shots fired on our brief tour stop here were impressive photos of Silver Spirit in the harbor below.
|A local guide explains the island's geology, history and culture during a visit to the Mount Pleasant Area, which offers views to outer islands of the Grenandines.|
On this tour, the safari vehicles -- in a caravan of sorts -- then head the same way back through Port Elizabeth to the other side of the bay and up to Mount Pleasant for scenic views of the ship, the Caribbean Sea and the surrounding islands.
One enticing island that’s visible is Mustique, a privately owned island that has long attracted the world’s elite travelers, including members of the British royal family.
At 881 feet, Mount Pleasant is the highest accessible point in Bequia. Many of the community members here are descendants of English and Scottish settlers who arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries.
After strolling along the mountaintop area and listening to the guide's historical commentary, we soon reboarded the safari-style vehicles for the drive to the island's core. Along the way, we viewed flowering bushes, coconut palm trees, an old sugar mill and small, deserted stretches of beaches. Cows and sheep grazed in the meadows.
At a restroom break at a roadside restaurant and bar, each tour guest received a coupon for a rum punch. Those who were interested could briefly shop in the local handicraft store on site or visit the fabric screen printing firm upstairs.
|Cruisers often visit the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, founded to protect hawksbill sea turtles until they're old enough to have a better chance of surviving in the wild.|
One highlight of this tour is a stop at the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, founded in 1995 by Orton King, a former dive fisherman who is working to save hawksbill sea turtles from extinction.
King monitors local beaches, checks hawksbill nests, protects the nests from poachers, collects hatchlings and takes them to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary to spend their early years.
This gives the young turtles a better chance at survival. They’re released into the ocean when they’re three years old or about 14 inches long. Tour goers see a mix of turtles of varying ages.
Thus far, the sanctuary has raised and released more than 2,000 such turtles back into the wild. They’re distinguished via a special marking – a small hole that’s drilled into the back end of each turtle’s shell. Divers now report seeing these swimming throughout Grenadines’ waters.
|Visitors enjoy photographing sea turtles and learning about conservation efforts.|
While this tour provides a good island overview, Silversea also offers a half-day “Bequia Sailing Tour” via catamaran for $89 per person as well as a six-hour “Magical Mustique” tour that’s essentially a self-guided visit to the tiny island for $229 per person.
In a pampering six-hour “Best of Bequia” tour, cruisers see island sites, but also have lunch on the beach and enjoy a relaxing couples’ massage and champagne; cost is $209 per person.
Back Onboard Silver Spirit
One anticipated highlight for many guests was the galley tour at 5:15 p.m. for those guests who had signed up in advance. The line also offered a Personal Training Special; guests who booked three personal training sessions received a body composition analysis test for free.
But the top activity today was definitely a culinary one. Silversea’s “Barbecue Dinner Under the Stars” kicked off at 7:30 p.m. around the pool area.
The weather cooperated on this evening. And, the ship’s crew put on a gorgeous spread -- from fresh steamed mussels to shrimp, prime cuts of beef to ribs and Asian fare, and yummy chocolate and confectionary concoctions. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy.
|The pool deck of Silver Spirit becomes a hub of dining activity during a Caribbean voyage's "Barbecue Under the Stars."|
White table cloths, excellent service by waiters eagerly taking your plate and escorting you to your seat, and sommeliers pouring wine throughout the evening were highlights.
Just before the barbecue, a duo played cocktail music on the pool deck, and toward the finale of the barbecue, the Silversea production cast members entertained with a special pool-deck show. That was followed by “Disco by Moonlight,” as the Silver Spirit sailed for St. George’s, Grenada.
Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com in two weeks for our last full day aboard Silver Spirit prior to disembarkation and a post-cruise stay in Barbados.