Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bequia Trip: Geography, Weather, Restaurants, Safety

Bequia beachGeography

Bequia is the largest and most northerly of over 30 tropical islands islands and cays known as the Grenadines that stretch some 60 miles from St. Vincent down to Grenada through some of the bluest and clearest waters in the Caribbean.

The island of Bequia lays 9 miles off the southern coast of St. Vincent (which in turn is just south of St. Lucia and 90 miles west of Barbados) and although it is the largest of the Grenadines, it still covers only 7 square miles.


The simple answer to that is HOT! Bequia is almost on the equator and is very much a tropical island. In Summer (it's northern hemisphere so it's the same as Europe and North America) temperatures rise to the mid to high 90's and in Winter it's still deliciously warm with temperatures around the mid to high 80's.

Isn't that unbearable?

Not really... first of all St. Vincent and the Grenadines are on the end of the "trade winds" which first brought European sailors and explorers to this part of the world. That means there's pretty much always a breeze blowing, and that helps cool you enormously.

Also, on Bequia you're never far from the sea, and that means as you're sitting enjoying a coffee as you rest from your shopping for provisions, there's nothing to stop you from simply leaving your bags by your seat, taking a quiet plunge, and then relaxing with your drink as you watch the world go by.

Plus there is more and more accommodation on the island that offers you air conditioning. This will always be at an extra charge and is normally metered so you can use as little or as much as you wish.

When is the "hurricane season"?

Every single native on the island will tell you there's no such thing... and even in the "wet" season, most of the violent storms tend to miss this part of the Caribbean.

The "wet" season (it can rain on Bequia anytime, any season, and I particularly like to see a storm or too while I'm there) is around July to October.

Don't let this put you off as it's the time I tend to go anyway and there's an awful lot of sunshine around, and bear in mind that there is no fresh water system on Bequia other than that collected by rainwater tanks on every home, house, shop and hotel, so rain on Bequia is a good thing!

A favourite poster in Bequia ablutions is:

"If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down!"

This is a typically humorous Caribbean way to remind you that water is a precious commodity on the island.

Is there much difference between Winter and Summer?

I guess that depends on your perspective. For me, coming from the temperate UK it's always hot, but to a local??

I've been there both Winter and Summer and believe me there's enough sunshine and warmth on Bequia any time of year. It is slightly cooler in Winter, which is part of the reason you'll find the peak season in the Caribbean is that time of year, however it's probably fair to say that Bequia offers a perfect year round climate with average daytime temperatures varying between 24C/76F and 30C/87F.

Easter regatta

This event is one of the highlights of the Bequia social calendar and is a hotly contested series of races for various classifications of boats. The regatta is normally held in April, and as Bequia boasts a long tradition of sailing, the whole island takes more than a passing interest!

Although I have yet to have the pleasure of being there in person for this event (something I intend to put to rights soon!) I have been regaled with many a tale of the hard fought competitions and the drinking marathons that are inevitably held after each race.

Again, sadly, for now I have no pictures to show you here but I hope to rectify this very soon and if anyone has any pictures they would like to put forward for use on this website feel free to e-mail me a thumbnail for consideration or 'snail mail' me the original (I cannot however promise to return it), but I have seen many myself before and it seems like the whole of Lower Bay is covered with sailing boats of all shapes, colours and sizes.

It's an event I certainly look forward to seeing!

Recommended restaurants

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to eat good food on Bequia. Restaurants here range from those who's prices are on par with a European or North American restaurants to those cafe-bars who are "cheap and cheerful", but they are all good in my opinion. Any that I have 'omitted' are more than likely those I have never personally visited.

Timberhouse (Port Elizabeth)

This is my favourite restaurant on Bequia, but I have to admit to a personal bias as the owners are personal friends and it is also the place we chose for our wedding reception.

The location offers what are probably the best views of Port Elizabeth and at night it is wonderful to sit and gaze on the twinkling lights from the port right down the Plantation House jetty.

Excellent food with impeccable service and all for a reasonable price. If you are fond of steaks, the Timberhouse offer the best on the island.

Tel: 784 457 3495

Spicy & Herby (Friendship Bay Hotel)

Superbly located to get the best from the long crescent beach, the "Spicy & Herby" restaurant offers a mainly European menu with themed cuisine evenings that changes weekly. You can sit just feet away from the gently lapping waters enjoying an excellent dinner with the lights of Mustique twinkling in the background.

A very well run (by general manager Gert) Bequia restaurant offering both lunch and dinner but closed on certain evenings in the 'off' season. Slightly expensive but with a good wine list and a relaxing atmosphere that I love.

Tel: 784 458 3222

The Old Fort (Mount Pleasant)

The Old Fort is exactly what is says. It is located high up on Mount Pleasant and therefore is always cooled by breezes and virtually mosquito free.

The views from here during daytime are stunning and you can see Mustique, Cannouan and further.

Open for lunches and dinners, there is a swimming pool so you can take a cooling swim, and the restaurant offers both atmosphere and quality food, but both at a price comparable to quality European restaurants. There is also an excellent wine list to choose from.

Tel: 784 458 3440

Fernando's Hideaway (Lower Bay)

'Nando is an excellent chef and his unique restaurant is wonderfully Bequian. If you decide to go please ensure you call and reserve as 'Nando will then go and buy the produce fresh from the market for your dinner that evening.

The atmosphere is very relaxed and lighting is provided by candles placed in sand filled flour bags.... wonderful!

Nando's 'goat water' (a mutton broth) is about the best on the island. Great food and atmosphere at reasonable prices, but remember to book!

Tel: 784 458 3758

Dawn's Creole Kitchen (Lower Bay)

I could go to Dawn's just to enjoy her wonderful smile, however she happens to also have a talent in the kitchen!

The restaurant is located just below Coco's Place and offer's a unique menu featuring mainly Creole dishes. I have never had green plantain (like a banana) soup anywhere else and it was delicious.

If there is a group of you consider asking Down to prepare a Creole banquet. We had one and it was superb, but ate so much we found walking afterwards a bit of a struggle! Booking in advance is sensible.

Tel: 784 458 3154

Frangipani Hotel (Belmont)

If you spend any time on Bequia you will pass the Frangipani daily as it is located just on the edge of the port. Originally the home of the Mitchell family (James 'son' Mitchell is the current prime minister of St. Vincent & the Grenadines) the restaurant is a favourite with sailors visiting the island.

A lovely atmosphere, menu that changes daily, and excellent wine list makes dining here a pleasure. The live 'steel band' every Thursday evening is a well attended and popular event.

Tel: 784 458 3255

L'Auberge Des Grenadines (Belmont)

Formerly known as 'The Old Fig Tree' the place has undergone a recent and extensive refurbishment. It is now owned and operated by Jacques Thevenot, and although Jacques is a French native he is no 'newcomer' to this part of the Caribbean as until taking over L'Auberge he was operating a French restaurant on St. Vincent with his Vincentian wife Eileen for the last eleven years.

They've also managed quite a coup by gaining the services of someone who is arguably the best barman on the island, Andy Williams.

The cuisine on offer is best described as 'French with a Creole twist' with lobster as the house specialty.

The accommodation too has been completely renovated and now offers 6 guest rooms, all with cable television.

Tel: 784 458 3201

The Gingerbread (Belmont)

It's fair to say that the architecture of the Gingerbread restaurant is Bequia's most impressive. Every time I gaze at the workmanship of the interior roof I marvel at the carpenter's skills.

The Gingerbread is open air and enjoys a wonderfully tranquil location overlooking the calm waters of Admiralty Bay. The curries here are the specialty of the house and the best on Bequia. Although there is often live music I feel sometimes the Gingerbread lacks atmosphere, but makes up for it with food and service.

Try a lunch here at the downstairs outdoor cafe barbecue. Fabulous jerked chicken and seafood kebabs on offer.

Tel: 784 458 3800

De' Bistro (Port Elizabeth)

Located right in the heart of Port Elizabeth, the Bistro is the "meeting place" you will tend to gravitate towards if you pop into 'town'. Great breakfasts, lunches and dinner are offered and at very good value for money. The even do an excellent range of pizza!

I find the staff here to be very personable, particularly when they get to know you, and I always enjoy spending time here, if only when sucking on a cooling drink.

Tel: 784 457 3482

Plantation House (Belmont)

The 'Sunny Caribbee' as some locals still refer to it is European (Italian) owned and operated. The constantly changing management leaves me confused and the island bemused, but it will come as no surprise that the pasta here is some of the best I've eaten anywhere.

The Plantation House makes the mistake of trying to being European whilst being located in the Caribbean, but it is probably Bequia's premier luxury hotel, and it's rates and restaurant prices reflect this.

Great food and wines but be prepared to pay

Tel: 784 458 3425

Mac's Pizzeria (Belmont)

Located just off the beach at Belmont Mac's Pizzeria is one of Bequia's best known restaurants and unsurprisingly offers a wide range of pizzas as well as other dishes, salads and their famous Mac's Conch McNuggets.

My favourite here is the lime pie... to die for and something I have to have at least once when I'm on the island.

Unfortunately because it is located in the lee of a hill I often find it unbearably hot, particularly if you end up sitting next to the kitchen and ovens.

Tel: 784 458 3474

The Green Boley (Belmont)

The 'Boley' (named after a green gourd found in these parts) is the most Bequian of bars. Service here is very Caribbean style and paced so if you're in a hurry, go elsewhere.

Food is good and cheap (cafe style) and they stock some of the coldest beers on the island. A favourite haunt and place to shoot the breeze.

Tel: 784 458 3247

Coco's Place (Lower Bay)

Up a very steep hill at the end of Lower Bay, a taxi here is always advisable. Then prepare yourself for the climb up the stairs!.. but it's all well worth it. Coco is a genial host and the bar has fabulous views over Lower Bay, across Admiralty Bay to Hamilton.

A nice atmosphere and good menu that is reasonably priced and with entertainment on various nights (check for details), Coco's also boasts satellite TV for those all important world cup matches, etc. Try the house specialty of 'buffalo wings' or conch chowder.

Just be careful of coming down those steps after a night of Coco's hospitality!

Tel: 784 458 3463

De' Reef (Lower Bay)

This is where you will usually find me during daytimes. Located right on the beach and open all day from 11 AM (except Mondays I think) serving food and drinks.

Sundays at De Reef is de rigueur and just the best time. I adore Sundays at De Reef, and so does most of the island who will appear there during the day.

Service can be very Caribbean though so don't be in a hurry.

Tel: 784 458 3484/3447

Theresa's (Lower Bay)

Theresa tragically recently lost her partner John to cancer, so I'm unsure whether or not the bar has re-opened. Located in the working village of Lower Bay, this place has no airs or graces but a friendly welcome is always on offer and Theresa is a great cook and a wonderful person who I like immensely.

Theresa is amenable to a party booking (don't just turn up) and given enough warning will cook and present the most fabulous of banquets, but remember, this is very much a local bar and not geared up for tourism.

I like Theresa and her bar and I'm sure you will too.

Tel: 784 458 3802

Columbo's Place (Hamilton/Port Elizabeth)

Recently taken over and renamed from The Harpoon Saloon, although slightly off track and isolated from the rest of the harbour, this offers you the best views of Port Elizabeth there are.

Always a bit of a "white elephant", sadly where it had little atmosphere as the Harpoon Saloon, it's got even less as Columbo's Place. The food though is very good and the Italian operators offer excellent pasta dishes.

Tel: 784 457 3881

On land safety

At first glance Bequia may seem like a little part of paradise... and in many ways it is, but like anywhere else Bequia is part of the "modern world" and although it retains a very strong local identity and culture, it 'enjoys' some of the same afflictions we have elsewhere.... only on a far, far smaller scale thankfully.

Sunset over BelmontSo the bottom line here is, do the same things on Bequia you would do elsewhere... don't leave your valuables in 'enticing' places like next to an open window and just generally be 'sensible'.

In the main I find the people of Bequia to be warm, generous, friendly and extremely trustworthy... but as anywhere, there's always an exception to the rule... sadly.

I know from personal experience the genuine affection the people of Bequia have for children and have many fond memories of children from my extended family walking hand in hand with a local lad who beams with the pleasure of doing so. Kids have the best time on Bequia and certainly walking is both a pleasure and safe.

Although it is a very small island you can hire mokes, Jeeps and motorbikes on Bequia, but driving on Bequia can be an 'experience' so it may be prudent to either walk (even for me that's perfectly possible) or take a land or water taxi wherever you want to go.

Water safety

Bob SachsMy good friend (and operator of Bequias' finest dive shop) Bob Sachs (pictured right) will often tell me over a rum that "in these waters, the most dangerous thing is you!"... mind you, I often think he's specifically referring to me rather than the rest of the human species in general! Even so, he does know what he's talking about (dependent upon rum intake of course) and diving here lets you enjoy some of the most effortless & relaxing sport diving on the planet.

You may, as I have done, come across the occasional nursing shark or ray, but as Bob says "leave them alone and they won't bother you" because they are generally more scared than you are...

The waters around Bequia are normally incredibly clear and warm. Generally they're calm too but a storm at sea can easily bring up a swell. However swimming somewhere like Lower Bay or my marriage location on Princess Margaret's beach is glorious.

Lower Bay

Both these beaches offer very safe conditions for those with young families and I personally have spent time in the company of friends with infants and young children who can relax and simply keep a careful eye open for a potential 'mishap'.

On the windward side (the Atlantic side) the conditions tend to be slightly rougher but still the beach at Friendship is also good for families. Hope beach however normally offers rollers and strong currents and is most definitely not for the faint hearted.

Air taxis

Getting to the Eastern Caribbean is only part of your journey. Dependent upon where you depart you may fly into Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Martinique, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago or Carriacou.

To get to Bequia you will need to arrange flights to the island, preferably prior to making the trip and you can easily do this directly yourself, or via your tour operator.

Imagine now arriving expectant and happy in the Caribbean, fully relaxed in the knowledge that your very own 'air taxi' is waiting for you on the apron just like the one in the picture below.

One of the SVG Air fleet awaiting pick up at Carriacou

You can chose to either book one of the scheduled 'island hops' that fly every day around the Caribbean, or as we do when there is a large enough party, charter your own flight (often more cost effective than you may think) which means that even if you suffer a delay in your scheduled arrival time, under most circumstances your air taxi will still be there waiting for you when you eventually land.

SVG Air have an impeccable safety record for their beautifully maintained, comfortable aircraft which can be chartered for parties as small as 4 and as large as 8. If there's more of you, book more than one aircraft!

Courteous, friendly and most of all punctual!

Tobago cays

As I write this I am kicking myself... this is because after the numerous trips I have taken to this area of stunning beauty I don't have a single image (currently) to place on this page to let you see how breathtakingly beautiful the Cays are.

The Cays are a small collection of coral islands just south of Canouan and have some spectacular (and shallow so ideal to snorkel) reefs. You will need to go by sea to get here and the journey is well worth while because when you arrive in the calm, clear turquoise blue waters, it is quite simply breathtaking. (Ed kicks himself again!)

The Cays are being developed into a National Marine Park and the warden, Kurt, is a charming, knowledgeable man who is always delighted to arrange field trips, diving, and student visits. Contact Kurt by clicking here. Hopefully Kurt will supply some images of the Cays for reference here!.. or feel free to do so yourself.

Getting there

As I've said you need to travel by sea and can do this in a variety of manners. Dive Bequia (call on 784 458 3504) regularly run trips down to the Cays in their custom built dive boats which can get you there in just over 90 minutes. They will run these trips subject to demand and the trip will normally include a dive on the way there, snorkeling (gear provided) at the Cays, and a stop at Mayreau for something to eat. Contact Dive Bequia while you're there and enquire about any impending trips or rustle up enough people yourself to make the trip worthwhile and arrange a day suitable for all.

You can also charter a yacht to sail you down at a more leisurely pace, but of course this will inevitable make the trip a longer event and often will involve an over night anchor at the Cays, which believe me is not burden! There are numerous private charters available (too many to list fully but ask around the island) but I can suggest you contact Indigo Bay Charters, or any of the regular trips on the excellent catamaran Passion, or on the charming old 80 ft locally built sailing schooner the Friendship Rose.

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