Grenada and Carriacou: A Caribbean Reef and Rainforest Adventure

In the late 1970s I had the privilege of living on Grenada’s sister island, Carriacou. At that time, these two islands were really on...

In the late 1970s I had the privilege of living on Grenada’s sister island, Carriacou. At that time, these two islands were really on the Caribbean frontier. Despite its size (133 square miles [346 sq. km]), Grenada still did not have an airport that could handle even medium-sized jets. You could walk through St. George’s, Grenada’s capital city, and hear steel drum bands practicing in the distance and the static scramble of a short-wave radio broadcasting world news. During hikes through the rainforest or walks around the local markets, the scents of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and ginger wafted in the balmy air. Visiting Grenada and Carriacou was a true Caribbean adventure. More than 20 years have passed since I first stored Grenada’s charm in my memory. And not much has changed.

Since my initial stay, I’ve been back to these islands several times. Why? For me, the answer is in three parts. First and foremost, it still feels like an adventure to visit this part of the world. Grenada has retained what I consider the true sense of a Caribbean island even though there’s expanded air service, cellular phones, Internet access and satellite television. Strip malls and fast-food venues are all but nonexistent. Second, the people of Grenada and Carriacou are, in my opinion, some of the friendliest in this part of the world. Third, there’s a lot to do. Yes, the diving is great, but you can also hike through spectacular mountain rainforests, sail, mountain bike or sit in a refreshing pool of fresh water with a waterfall cascading next to you. You can visit other islands close by, or sit in the shade of a palm tree and sip rum with the local fishermen.

Grenada and Carriacou’s History and People

The three main islands that make up the nation of Grenada include Grenada (pronounced Gra-NAY-da) itself, Carriacou (Carry-a-KOO) and Petite Martinique (Pitty Mar-ti-NEEK). Grenada and its sister islands are geographically considered part of the Windward Islands. The Windwards are at the southern end of the Caribbean island arc and the largest are Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada. Between St. Vincent and Grenada lie the beautiful Grenadines — a host of smaller islands, some no bigger than a sand cay with a couple of palm trees. Carriacou is actually considered the largest of the Grenadine Islands.

The lush nature of Grenada underscores its nickname — The Isle of Spice. Grenada has more spices per square mile than any other place on the planet. Cloves, mace, cocoa, cinnamon, ginger and a host of other spices spring from Grenada’s rich, fertile soil. By far the most abundant is the nutmeg. Grenada produces a third of the world’s supply and it’s the island’s largest export.

Like many islands in the Caribbean, Grenada was not so much discovered by Columbus as it was sighted by him. On his third voyage to the New World in 1498, he passed by and named the island Concepcion. Since fierce Carib Indians inhabited the island, Europeans didn’t attempt settlement until the mid-1600s. When the French finally tried to get a foothold on Grenada, they found themselves in a running battle with the Caribs for control of the island. In 1651, the final, deadly clash took place in northern Grenada at Le Morne de Sauteru. The Caribs, unwilling to be captured and taken as slaves, met death by throwing themselves off the cliff onto the rocks below what today is called Leaper’s Hill.

Over the next century, Grenada’s fortunes followed the political power struggles of the European powers. Britain and France exchanged possession of the island almost like clockwork. Finally, in 1783, the Treaty of Versailles awarded Grenada to Britain. French heritage, however, continues to live on in many of the geographical names around the island.

In 1967, Grenada became an associated state within the British Commonwealth. With this, the island nation gained control of its internal affairs, while the government of Britain continued to control external matters. Complete independence was achieved in 1974. Grenada has a democratic government and its people welcome visitors of all cultures.

The Diving

While planning a dive trip to Grenada, you must include an excursion to Carriacou (which means “Land of Reefs”). Both islands have spectacular diving — suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced divers. Advanced divers will find a lot of high-voltage diving opportunities. Most diving is conducted from boats and drift diving is standard fare throughout the Windwards. Dive operators typically use guides with surface marker buoys to lead groups. Because of the strong currents sometimes involved, I’d recommend carrying an inflatable surface tube, Dive Alert® audible signaling device or whistle, small signal strobe and reflector in your buoyancy compensator (BC) pocket for safety — just in case you get temporarily separated from your guide. Grenada does not have a recompression chamber; Trinidad and Barbados both have recompression facilities, about 30 minutes away by air ambulance. All members of the Grenada Scuba Diving Association have an emergency plan and oxygen on board their dive boats.

Carriacou and Grenada are getting more and more visitors every year. However, since Grenada and Carriacou are charmingly off the beaten track, the reefs, wrecks and corals remain unspoiled. Grenada’s dedication to preserving its marine resources is evident; a large portion of the island’s offshore real estate has been designated as an underwater marine park that features moorings installed at popular dive sites. A park ranger patrols the area by boat. The area is a no-take zone and divers are reminded not to disturb coral or marine life within park waters. On this last trip, I was impressed with the continued health of the coral reefs. Overall, there is a larger variety of fish life in the Windwards than in other upper Caribbean destinations. It would be impossible to visit every dive site while on a weeklong vacation, but here is a list of some of the sites I enjoyed on my visit:

Carriacou Dive Sites

Sisters Rocks — This site has become one of my all-time favorites in the Caribbean. Some of the locals call them the “brothers” and there are the “Twin Sisters” out near Isle de Ronde, so don’t get confused. Depth can be to 100 feet (30 m), with spectacular walls, large rocks and many barracudas cruising about. This is typically a dive with strong currents and you simply dive around the rocks following the currents. This is a good dive site for your wide-angle lens.

Mabouya Island — This small island just off Hillsborough Bay offers a variety of interesting reefs and abundant coral types. The wall starts at about 35 feet (11 m) and slopes to 70 feet (21 m). Lots of purple vase sponges and dramatic backdrops. On the backside of the island are several small overhangs and shallow caves with hundreds of copper sweepers. If you are a macro photographer, this is a wonderful place to get all kinds of shots.

Jack a Dan — A shallow reef that makes an excellent dive training site or reef for beginners. The top of the reef is at 20 feet (6 m) and is almost always calm. Lots of sea fans and a variety of hard corals.

Grenada Dive Sites

Boss Reef — This is an extensive reef that reaches from the red buoy outside the harbor entrance towards Point Saline. There is a vast expanse of soft brown coral trees which form an “other-worldly” landscape. There are large shoals of tropical fish, often including clouds of blue creole wrasse. Lobsters can often be seen peeking from crevices.

Twin Wrecks — On this dive you will see the wrecks of the Veronica and the Jeannie S, which are just to the northwest of St. George’s Harbor entrance. The Veronica is a small, barge-like cargo vessel lying upright on the bottom in about 45 feet (14 m) of water. There is a crane on board with its derrick extending outwards, covered with colorful marine growth. The hold is open and you can swim around inside. The Jeannie S is a cargo vessel about 120 feet (36 m) in length, which sank recently and is still quite intact. You can see the radar console and instruments in the wheelhouse, and the radar scanner still turns freely. The wreck lies on its port side in about 50 feet (15 m) of water. You can swim around in the hold but some care is required, as the contents of the hold may not have fully settled. The two wrecks are within a five-minute swim of each other.

Molinere Reef — Molinere Reef is part of Grenada’s underwater marine park, which extends to Flamingo Bay and offers excellent diving for beginners and the more-experienced. The dive starts at 20 feet (6 m), and the reef leads to a wall that slopes down from 35 to 70 feet (11 to 21 m). Around the top of the reef there is a variety of tropical fish including yellow-headed and mottled jaw fish and spotted drums. A short distance away from the wall is the wreck of the Buccaneer, a steel schooner lying on its side in about 70 feet (21 m) of water.

Wreck of the Bianca C — Grenada’s most famous and spectacular dive. After catching fire in St. George’s harbor in 1961, she was towed out to sea by a British warship. During towing, she sank close to Whibbles Reef. The ship is encrusted with hydroids as well as black, hard and soft corals. There are schools of jacks and barracuda, and spotted eagle rays can sometimes be seen. The Bianca C is 600 feet (182 m) in length and lies in about 160 feet (48 m) of water, with its highest point at about 90 feet (27 m). The normal dive profile on the Bianca C is from 90 to 130 feet (27 to 39 m). This is an awe-inspiring dive, but due to the depth and the possibility of strong currents, it is only suitable for confident divers, and a checkout dive will normally be required.

Whibble Reef — This dive is generally the shallow leg of a multilevel dive from the Bianca C. Depths range from 60 to 100 feet (18 to 30 m). It is a drift dive for the advanced diver accustomed to dealing with strong current. The water carries you swiftly along the reef, with small sand sharks, barracuda and larger grouper browsing among the coral heads.

Shark Reef — Just off Glover Island, this is a reef abundant with all types of fishes and rays. On almost every trip, southern stingrays and juvenile nurse sharks are seen. A fun dive at 40 feet (12 m) with lots to see including a giraffe-shaped pillar coral.

Apres-Dive Activities

There’s a lot to do on Grenada besides dive. The “musts” are a walking tour of St. George’s, a drive around the island, a Jeep tour to the Grand Etang National Park Rainforest and Lake, a walk on Grand Anse beach and of course, don’t forget a visit to Carriacou. If you are a sailor, backpacker, mountain biker or adventurer, you’ll find true excitement on Grenada.

Begin your tour of St. George’s by walking all the way around the Carenage — the inner harbor area. If it’s near lunchtime, plan to eat at one of the fine restaurants along the Carenage like the Nutmeg. Walk up Church Street and visit local shops and the main market area. Continue your tour with a visit to Fort George. It’s high on the hill overlooking the entrance to St. George’s harbor and the Carenage. Here you’ll get an excellent view of the entire harbor area so don’t forget your camera.

Through the many tour companies, you can arrange an inland island tour of Grenada. I’d suggest you visit Annadale Falls, Grand Etang Rainforest, Westerhall Rum Distillery and the town of Grenville on the windward side of the island. Also, plan a relaxing morning or afternoon on Grand Anse beach, one of the longest and most beautiful in the Caribbean.

Are you a duffer? Try the nine-hole Grenada Golf and Country Club near Grand Anse beach for about $25 US. How about fishing? Grenada has world-class sportfishing with blue and white marlin, yellow fin tuna and more. Grenada is a sailor’s delight. In fact the entire Windward Islands and the Grenadines have been called some of the finest sailing waters in the world, with wonderful winds and spectacular anchorages.

To get to Carriacou you can fly or take one of the many daily boats to this tiny island. No need for a car here. While on Carriacou plan to tour the main town, Hillsborough, and have lunch on Sandy Island. Also, flag a cab and ride to the island’s hospital for a fabulous view of the island and to Windward, a town famous for its hand crafted sailing vessels.

The islands of Grenada and Carriacou have a lot to offer the traveling diver. Pungent spices perfume the air here, and variety — the many different types of leisure activities that await — is yet another spice of Grenadian life.

Story and photos by Bob Wohlers