Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bequia Trip: History, Culture, Beaches, Falls of Baleine

History of Bequia

The "modern" history of Bequia is recorded from the 1600's when the island was occupied by the Carib tribe who named the island "Becouya". However the British, French, Spanish and Dutch continuously tried to colonise St. Vincent and the Grenadines but were repelled time and again by the warlike Caribs.

Finally, after much bloodshed, in 1763 the Treaty of Paris ceded possession of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the English. Typically, as was often the case at that time, this lasted only until a later war with the French saw the Islands come into French possession until the 1783 Treaty of Versailles saw them finally returned to the English.

Emancipation was achieved in 1834 and more recently the state St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) achieved independence within the British Commonwealth in 1979.

In 1992 an airport was opened allowing light aircraft access to the island which was until then accessible only by ferry crossing from St. Vincent's main town and harbour of Kingstown.

The island was once a busy centre for boat building and whaling and many Bequian's still retain high levels of seamanship and nautical accomplishment as well as superb carpentry skills using traditional techniques.

Today Bequia is an island populated by people who are a mélange of Carib, Irish, French, English, African and Scottish heritage who give the island it's inimitable atmosphere of friendliness and relaxation. It is one of the few places on the planet where you can walk past a uniformed policeman who is singing his heart out and no-one thinks it unusual.

Spend an evening sipping rum, dining in one of the many excellent restaurants, chilling with the locals under an almond tree, listening to the outrageous cacophony of the tree frogs, or simply spend the day strolling around admiring the islands famous gingerbread house architecture and fretwork.

Whatever you chose to do, you will soon fall under the charm of this welcoming, unique and gentle island.


As you are probably aware the French, Dutch and English fought over the colonisation of the Caribbean but throughout the Grenadines English is the spoken language, although of course with different and distinct dialects.

Bequian's are great sailors and travelers and you'd be surprised when you engage a local in conversation just how well travelled the average Bequian is. Of course the more we all travel we learn to communicate better, and the average Bequian has heard many languages and accents.

Further north on Martinique you'll find French as the spoken language, but even with the Bequia patois you won't find it too hard to make yourself understood... unless you've been taking advantage of that darn rum again, and let's be honest, who can understand you then???

Yes... some times I have to listen hard to understand what is being said in conversation by these passionate and eloquent people... and sometimes I have to admit my own shortcomings and say I didn't understand what was said.

With great patience (Gosh.. the English tourist's can be so slow!!) and good nature it will be repeated for me, and I have yet to find whatever was being repeated non worthwhile.

The Bequian perspective on life can often be very simple, as indeed life on the island can too. Personally I have benefited greatly from this perspective and every time I leave the island I take a little of the Bequia philosophy on life with me, which I think makes me a better person for it.

I'm fond of saying that "Bequia restores my soul"... and for that fact alone I will be forever grateful.

Getting to Bequia

Getting to Bequia can be a test of your desire to travel.. unless you live in that part of the Caribbean already of course! As there are no "heavy" international aircraft capable of landing on Bequia (light aircraft only) so wherever you are flying into (Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada or Trinidad, San Juan, Guadeloupe) you will need to arrange your transfers from your Caribbean arrival location with your travel agent prior to your departure and there are a number of carriers who fly regular routes from island to island.

From the UK

Via Barbados

The transatlantic crossing to Barbados from the UK normally takes around 8-8.5 hours, and your "island hop" on a light aircraft across the 90 miles or so to Bequia will take a further 40-50 minutes. Bear in mind thought that you can often have a wait or even an overnight stay in Barbados (there's worse places of course!) if your arrival time is after the last flight to Bequia. Depending upon your perspective all of this can be either a "trial" or an enjoyable part of the event, but either way it adds to the journey time.

Via St. Lucia

More and more tour operators are flying into St. Lucia and that means you can take a transfer to St. Vincent (which you can see is only the next island south) on one of the regular larger inter-island flights. Flight time around 15 minutes.

Via St. Vincent

If you have managed to get a flight to St. Vincent it's only a pleasant and short 45 minute or so ferry crossing from Kingstown to Port Elizabeth and there's something like 8 ferry crossing per day. This is probably my favourite way of arriving on Bequia and as the ferry comes around the headland into the calm tranquility of the port a smile never fails to appear on my face. It's also very cheap at around $12EC ($5US) for a return ticket.

Via Grenada or Trinidad

Although I have made the journey via Trinidad I have never travelled the route using Grenada, but once again it is only a short flight from either Trinidad (and Tobago) or Grenada (less than an hour) to St. Vincent from which you can take either the ferry or sometimes a very short flight (a matter of minutes) to Bequia airport.

From the US

If you are traveling from the U.S. you will normally come in via San Juan or Guadeloupe and your transfer will be via a more sizeable aircraft. However you will be unable to fly directly to Bequia without a channel hop from St. Vincent via light aircraft to Bequia's tiny but very modern airport. Alternatively as mentioned earlier you can take the pleasant ferry ride across from Kingstown.

It's not that long ago, around 8 years or so, that the only way to arrive on Bequia was by boat, normally the ferry which makes regular crossings from Port Elizabeth on Bequia to Kingstown on St. Vincent, but with the opening of the airport this is now an option rather than prerequisite.

The harbour at Port Elizabeth

The thing is though, however it is you travel to Bequia, it's worth the journey, and your first full day on this tranquil island will make the journey and effort of getting there feel like a distant memory.

NB: There is a EC$30 tax payable when you leave Bequia/St. Vincent & the Grenadines.


Bequia is like most Caribbean islands and very laid back.. but there is a cultural and moral code that is clearly defined.

Mostly the people of the Caribbean are highly religious and are generally of the Christian faith (although there is a growing Asian community in the Caribbean) or Rastafarian.

The average Bequian doesn't like the blasphemy of any God, and they have a very clear moral code over dress and sunbathing.

Topless bathing isn't allowed anywhere on Bequia and is frowned upon by all apart from the Europeans amongst us. Similarly if you go into "town" people aren't too comfortable with you walking around wearing just a swimming costume, and understandably so. If you do decide to leave the beach to do some shopping or visit the bank, consider those who are not on holiday and dress accordingly.

Other than that everyone on the island shares a common cultural trait... smilin', chillin' an' relaxin'....

I find the people of Bequia to be the island's greatest asset. It restores my soul to be amongst people who are genuinely happy and in love with their home. Many is the time I have sat with some new local friends enjoying the rum, and out will come a guitar upon everyone sings of their love for Bequia... "island in the sun" with a variety of tunes.

I will never forget when, on the only Christmas I have (so far) spent on Bequia I joined a group of locals and ex-pat's at John & Theresa's bar on Lower Bay. A group of about 10 people were sat singing carols in a very Bequia way... and as I joined them I spent an evening that will make me misty eyed with recollection for the rest of my life.

Bequia Beaches

Bequia may be a small island but you are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches. The beaches here offer you crystal clear waters that are ideal for swimmers of all levels of competency, and are also perfect for sports diving.

Normally the leeward side of the island offers the calmest waters and the beaches on this side are Lower Bay, Tony Gibbon's Bay/Princess Margaret's beach and the much smaller beach area at Belmont.

Lower Bay

Lower Bay is a long crescent shaped stretch of sand and hosts De' Reef bar and restaurant as well as Dawn's Beach cafe and if you want to spend your time on the beach, it's the perfect place to do so and is where you will normally find me during daylight hours.

Just to the right of De' Reef restaurant and bar is a small reef (hence the bars name) which acts as a breakwater and offers the perfect 'paddling pool' for toddlers.

The beach at Lower Bay

At the Eastern end of the bay there is another small underwater reef where you can snorkel and gaze upon the vividly coloured aquatic life forms

Princess Margaret's Beach

So named because Princess Margaret once swan ashore here on a trip over from neighboring Mustique even though' older locals still refer to it by it's original name of Tony Gibbon's Bay, I think this beach is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. So much so in fact that when we got married, this was the spot we chose for our ceremony.

Only recently accessible by road (I say 'road' but you wouldn't want to drive this at home) the only way to access this fabulous shallow, protected bay was on foot over some steep headland or by water taxi.

There is nothing for tourists on this beach (IE no bars or cafe's) but if you want some tranquility and superb swimming conditions, here would be my first choice every time.

Think about taking a 'picnic' with you so you can spend more time here without the need to leave to get a drink or something to eat, but as they say on Bequia...

"On the beach.. leave nothing but footprints"

Friendship Bay

Although on the 'windward' side of the island, this beach still offers you protection from the worst of the rollers you can normally find on the windward beaches in this part of the world.

A long crescent shape that offers you both the Friendship Bay Hotel with it's bar and restaurant along with the Bequia Beach Club, but unless you are a German speaking native you probably won't like the 'BBC' as it gets referred to too much.

I was lucky to spend an evening at a local bar/rum shack with my friend Graham, operator of a first class (air conditioned!) land taxi/cruiser, where we sat and discussed just how beautiful this island is whilst we gazed over a moonlit Friendship Bay.

Falls of Baleine

Getting to the falls is virtually impossible by land so a boat trip becomes a necessity. It is normally expected that you will swim ashore from any boat that takes you over, unless of course it has a tender, so be prepared to do as I have done and swim ashore holding camera and valuables above the water, or make other provisions.

Fortunately this is a short swim in calm waters, but the short walk from the shore to the falls is over a rocky, shingle beach so taking you shoes with you is a good idea also.

The short walk to the falls brings you to a large rock-lined pool which is fed with the cooling freshwater from the 60 ft falls. Swimming here give you one of the rare chances you will get of feeling cold in this part of the world and the falls offer some wonderful photograph opportunities.

La Soufriere Volcano

When I say there's an active volcano less than 20 miles from Bequia, there's no need to panic!

La Soufriere (a popular name for volcano's in this region, just check out a map of the Caribbean) is the highest point on St. Vincent at over 4,000 feet.

Apparently it shares many similarities with the infamous Mount St. Helen volcano in the US by being the same type, and less worryingly, they are the two most studied. However, seriously, the last eruption of La Soufriere was in April of 1979.

You can take a tour up the majestic slopes but this is only if you are feeling energetic! An 'expedition' to the the volcano's rim will normally involve an early morning start (it gets too warm during the day for such energetic pursuits) and a drive along the windward side of St. Vincent. You will then take a 3 mile or so foot trail and climb to the rim.

I'm told the effort is well worth it, but as they don't (yet) have a rum shack up there I've never bothered to make the climb.

Moonhole is so named after the rock configuration you can see in the picture which allows the perfect view of the moon. This is a privately owned development that has been designed around the natural features of the rocks and plantation and each home has been custom designed.


Via Jim and Sheena Johnston you can take a pre-arranged tour of Moonhole, which although I have yet to personally do myself, I have on good authority (the wife, and she is an authority!) that it is an excellent way to pass some very pleasant time.

However please ensure you call as uninvited visitors are not welcomed.

Getting there

Most trips to the falls will by necessity include a stop for lunch, normally at the delightful Wallilabou Bay which is an haven of tranquility and sunshine sparkling of the calm water, however you would need to verify this with whomever you choose for your charter

Once more I can recommend Dive Bequia (call on 784 458 3504) who regularly organise visits to the falls, normally subject to demand and the trip I took with them included a snorkel through the 'bat cave', which is a truly wonderful experience, and a dive as well as a stop for lunch (not included) at Wallilabou.

Equally there are lots of boat operators ready and willing to make the trip for you, and you may choose to sail there and stop over. Once again I suggest you enquire while you're on the island.

Botanical Gardens

These gardens are located on nearby St. Vincent and I only went here after 3 years because of an itch to explore St. Vincent (I didn't step off Bequia apart from flying off to leave for 3 separate annual visits) and now it's one of my favourite trips.

The Botanical Gardens of St. Vincent are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere and a guided tour by one of the official tour guides around the 20 or so acres of land is worth every penny because without the knowledge of a guide you will miss 80% of what is on offer.

I have spend numerous times strolling around these cool, relaxing and very well established gardens marveling at the knowledge of the guides. Allow 2 hours or so and enjoy the experience of seeing the breadfruit tree grown from the original brought by Captain Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty infamy) in 1793, the Soufriere Tree (the national plant of St. Vincent & the Grenadines), and see the extremely rare 'Vincy Parrot', native only to the island.

To make the trip catch the ferry from Port Elizabeth and make the enjoyable ferry crossing to Kingstown. Take a taxi from the quay, or if you feel energetic walk, but it's a fair distance through the bustle of Kingstown. Ferries travel to and fro throughout the day but make sure you don't miss the last one coming back!

Yacht charters

Although this may sound impossibly expensive and beyond your means, I'm here to tell you this is not the case.

The tradition of sailing on and from Bequia is long established and indeed most of the ex-pats I have met have arrived on Bequia via a sailing experience, and as a consequence there are quite a few (quite a lot actually) of superb yachts of varying size and degrees of sophistication available for rent.

Once again, if you are there during the Northern hemisphere summer (Bequia off season) and demand is low it makes sense to negotiate a rate that is good for everyone concerned and saves a beautiful boat from doing nothing more than look pretty at anchor.

I once was in a group of 6 adults and a child who chartered a boat for a 2 day sail down to the Tobago Cays with an overnight mooring at Saline Bay Mayreau (blissfully unforgettable). For this trip which included all food and drinks while aboard, a dive, and lunch at Canouan (not included) we paid US$60 per head.

Admittedly this was in 2005 but I'd hardly call that expensive, would you?

There's too many boats offering charters to list them all here so my advice is to simply ask around while you are on the island and take the deal that best suits you.

Believe me, apart from peak season, you'll have a wide choice of packages and boats to select from.

Local Currency

The local currency on Bequia is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, referred to as the EC dollar, however US dollars are universally accepted. There are many different currencies used throughout the Caribbean, and if you're on Barbados trying to buy a much needed cooling drink and you offer EC or Trinidadian dollars as payment, you'll be very disappointed... not to say thirsty.

My advice is to travel with US dollar travellers cheques (easily changed for any local currency on any island) which you can then exchange for the prevailing rate at a bank (there are two on Bequia) for EC dollars.

On Bequia you can pay for your accommodation, food, car or bike hire, excursion, all in US dollars (cash or travelers cheque) as there is a set exchange rate on the island of EC$2.6 to US$1 and the US travelers cheque is accepted by everyone provided they have enough local currency to make the exchange.

Credit cards

You'll find most places on Bequia (restaurants, hotels, accommodation) accept VISA and MASTERCARD and there are even ATM's on the island where you can draw cash from the machine. However I know that other cards such as Amex and Diners Club are much more difficult to use.


If you have ever fancied the idea of diving, Bequia is probably the perfect place to try it. The waters are wonderfully warm all year round so a wet suit isn't normally required but sometimes used through choice.

You could chose to do a 'resort course' where you will be fully schooled in diving theory with a shallow water session to ensure you can use the equipment safely, then, wonders of wonders, off you go in the dive boat to discover a whole new world.

If the bug really bites you could even qualify while you're there (I did over a 5 day period and it did not eat into my leisure time at all) and come back a qualified diver.

Even if you don't fancy the prospect of being underwater you can arrange a snorkeling trip where you can float around while the vibrantly colored fish entertain you.

For dive, snorkeling and package prices contact Dive Bequia on 784 458 3504 or click here to e-mail them now.

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