September 4, 2014
For a castaway paradise of crowd-free, idyllic soft-sand beaches, Carriacou takes some beating. Just 20 miles north of neighbouring Grenada, Carriacou is a perfect pinprick island retreat with its picture-perfect beaches and sensational snorkelling in crystal clear waters on incredible reefs. Take a look at our favourite things to do in Carriacou – your very own paradise found.
At 13 square miles and with a population of roughly 5,000 people, Carriacou is the smallest of the trio of isles that make up Grenada – the other is Petite Martinique a couple of miles away. Delectable, understated and highly prized for its authentic natural simplicity, Carriacou was once the much-hushed secret of a vacationing jet-setting elite – but not any more. Today, this most picturesque and unspoiled isle – named “˜Land of the Reefs’ in the indigenous language – offers some of the world’s finest underwater gardens of pastel-coloured coral and rainbow shoals of tropical fish. Dozens of top-notch scuba dive sites, curious offshore wrecks and pristine swimming, snorkelling and silky sailing waters characterise Carriacou’s scenic palm-scattered shores.
All of the dive sites are graded in terms of proficiency – some are in calm, stable currents suitable for beginners, and others are in deeper water, where currents are stronger and trickier and guarantee more of a challenge. Whatever your level, a rich bounty of underwater fauna and flora awaits. The fertile Guyana current carries nutrients over Grenada and Carriacou’s volcanic coastlines, enriching a healthy and varied coral reef environment that is unequalled in the Caribbean. The volcanicity of the landscape ensures the curvaceous, hilly terrain is clad in green, wooded hills. Though arid in parts, it produces the ready supply of white cedar trees that are critical in the making of the island’s handcrafted wooden boats. Fishing is the main occupation on this maritime isle, with boats, nets and know-how handed down from father to son.
Barracuda Point is one of the island’s premier dive sites, offering an insight into Carriacou’s exotic twisted coral forests and dazzling gin-clear, turquoise waters. Blessed with an abundance of aquatic life – as are the other 19 offshore scuba dive sites – Barracuda Point is easily reached within a 25-minute boat ride from the sand. Jutting out into the Caribbean Sea and attracting a magical array of sea-life, dives at Barracuda Point start at nine metres and continue to 23 metres and offer seasoned scuba nuts the thrill of drift dives and cliff-wall dives. The incredible array of wildlife makes underwater photography popular here. Expect to encounter giant moray eels, sea turtles and, of course, barracudas.
Rated “First Class” by Skin Diver Magazine, the waters of Carriacou also offer plenty of scope to see angel fish and trigger fish hiding behind vast, swaying sea fans. Keep your eyes peeled for eagle rays lurking in shadows beneath steep sloping reefs. The Sandy Island/Oyster Bay Marine Protected area (SIOBMPA) is notable for its reef conservation. Sharky’s Hideaway, known for nurse sharks, as well as graceful seahorses in amongst anemones and polyps trailing their slender ribbons, is another favourite. At the Whirlpool dive site, a zillion bubbles emerge from the seabed to form a showering cascade of spherical confetti, forming a hypnotic backdrop to an atmospheric dive. Wreck divers can get their fix at an exceptional range of wrecks, including a small WWI gunboat at about 12 metres deep – a fascinating dive for beginners with its eerie nooks and crannies and rusty relics.
Carriacou’s sugar-fine sandy beaches are equally as paradisiacal as the island’s picturesque underwater attractions. The idyllic atoll of Sandy Island, to the east, sums up Carriacou’s Caribbean perfection with its pure white sands embraced by gentle waters. With the emphasis on unblemished beauty, Carriacou’s beaches offer a seductive mix of raw, natural glamour, privacy and seclusion at its pristine coves, uninhabited islets and empty carpets of sand. Other beaches have their own individual charms, from the serenity of Anse La Roche and White Island’s alabaster hues to the beauty of Mopian Island, conviviality of Hillsborough Beach and silver sands of Paradise Beach.
As the most southerly of the Grenadines, Carriacou also offers a distinct island character steeped in maritime traditions. Despite its tiny size, Carriacou is home to a rich mix of cultures. Hillsborough, the largest town, is decidedly English; the area in and around L’Esterre reflects French roots; and in the north, the Windward settlement has Celtic ties. African culture, though, is the overarching influence in the traditional customs that are cherished here. The pace of life in Carriacous is a slow crawl: a tantalising taste of the West Indies the way it was 50 years ago – quiet, laid back, cheery and relaxed.
Accessed either by ferry via Grenada or a short flight, Carriacou’s busiest season is during its annual regatta in spring. Boaters from all over the world sail in to celebrate the island’s boating heritage – the music cranks up, the parties last for days and crates of rum are consumed. Inland, the great outdoors is well worth exploring – there are the National Parks to discover, peaks to climb (956ft) and amazing wildlife to watch – look out for iguanas, agouti, toads, tortoises and scuttling soldier crabs as well as brightly-coloured macaws, kingfishers, cuckoos, rock doves and numerous hummingbirds.
What are your favourite things to do in Carriacou? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.