We have spent seven of the last thirteen months cruising the Antilles. Tomorrow we will leave Grenada for Bonaire and it will be at least three years before we return. We thought we would conclude by giving our personal choices on the best that we found cruising these islands (from Saint Martin in the north to Grenada in the south). Anyone who has alternative views is welcome to add comments below. Anyway, here goes....
Unlike in Europe, it is rare to use a marina ( rather than an anchorage) in the Caribbean and they are few and far between. However, if you wish to leave your boat to fly home for Christmas, or want to simplify crew changes, then a marina is useful. We liked:
1. Jolly Harbour, Antigua
This major development was financed by the sale of 500+ waterfront properties and this provided the finance to do things properly. Toilet and shower facilities were clean and worked. The local marine services are better value than in Rodney Bay and there is a supermarket very close to the quay (although fairly expensive). It is completely sheltered, up a long channel, yet the water is generally clean. Finally, there is an active local cruiser network and we met many new friends here.
2. IGYmarina, Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia
This marina is the destination for the ARC. It is large and they are very professional, berthing is good value, with many eateries around the marina and a plethora of people wanting to offer maintenance of various sorts.
Best Marine services
Le Marin, Martinique
Le Marin has a massive marina and is home to multiple charter companies. It did not make the 'best marina' list because it is so busy and it is difficult to get a berth without a booking some time in advance. We think there must have been thousands of yachts either in the marina or at anchor in the approaches to it. Although the Grenadines are a cruisers paradise, even weekly charter people pick up boats in Le Marin and spend a day getting to and from SVG.
But this same concentration of yachts has bred a large concentration of high quality marine services. If something serious goes wrong on your boat, head here.
Any of the French islands. The population density is an order of magnitude higher on the French islands compared to the ex British colonies. This means the supermarkets are much larger and better stocked. In addition, there is no import duty for products from the EU and prices are closer to (but still more than) Europe.
Best mooring buoy deal
1. Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia:
This bay is a famous 'hurricane hole', very pretty and surrounded by mangroves. Also, if you take a mooring buoy from the five star hotel for US$30 per boat per night then everyone on board have unlimited access to the hotel's facilities including, showers, toilets, gym and a magnificent swimming pool.
2. True Blue Bay Resort, Grenada
A similar deal exists with True Blue Bay resort but the buoy only costs EC$30 per boat per night. Similarly, you get use of showers, swimming pools etc. It is a great deal - but not a 5 star hotel.
We find it impossible to pick just one. All three of these anchorages are not just beautiful, but have good holding and are well protected from swell to allow a good night's sleep
1. Coral Group Bay, Barbuda
There is a tricky reef navigation required to get in but after that the water colours are magnificent and the perfect sand stretches for miles. The evening can be spent at Uncle Roddy's bar and restaurant where they are very friendly
2. Tobago Cays, Sint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG)
There are two main anchorages. The more sheltered (and closest to the barbecue) is behind, or in the channel between, the two islands Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau. However, our preferred spot is behind Baradel. It is close enough to swim ashore between the turtles and very smooth despite having only a reef to windward for protection. Even better, if we had a shoal draft boat, would be moving close to the reef ahead of the island where the water colours are amazing.
3. Union Island, SVG
We love this location because of the reef which makes any need for a harbour wall redundant, the beautiful waters, the constant entertainment from the kitesurfers and, finally the excellent Happy Island Bar which has been built on the end of the reef.
Again, it is impossible to just pick one beach. So here are three favourites:
1. Plage Moustique, Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe
You can anchor off this beach but be prepared for a swell. it is much better to anchor off the main town, Saint Louis, and enjoy the hour walk up the coast to this spectacular beach
2. Turtle Beach, Windward, Cariacou, Grenada
Windward is a small town on the north east of Cariacou made famous by the film, 'Vanishing Sail'. The harbour is protected by several reefs. negotiating them is not trivial as the seven wrecks which lined the reef will testify. We went by bus! About one mile north of the town we found the path to Turtle beach. During our travels we found many lovely, unspoilt beaches. This one stood out because we had the whole beach to ourselves all day. Maybe the hike to get there deterred most people.
3. Barbuda, virtually anywhere!
The best beach on Barbuda depends on whether you prefer pink sand or white sand!
Best snorkelling (for fish)
1. Jacques Cousteau Marine Park, Guadeloupe
This marine park, on the west coast of Guadeloupe, is an absolute must see for anyone interested in snorkeling or diving. There are two islands just off the coast. It is not permitted for yachts to anchor off these islands but with either a seaworthy dinghy, kayak rentals or a tourist trip they are not hard to reach. And the array of sea life is breathtaking. We also took an introductory diving session and were so blown away that we intend to do a PADI course in Bonaire.
2. Anchorage behind Le Petit Sucre, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe
To be fair, nowadays you need to take a mooring buoy and cannot use your anchor. But the snorkeling is fantastic, even from just off the boat. We did some bottom cleaning here. As soon as I started, the sea was filled with fish feeding on the crap that had been growing on the bottom of Skyfall
Best snorkelling (for turtles)
1. Tobago Cays, SVG
There is a buoyed off area behing the island Baradel, reserved as a turtle sanctuary. Yachts are excluded, although there is a channel where you are allowed to dinghy into the beach. Turtles (and stingrays) are easy to find, not just in deepish water, but also in relatively shallow water which means they swim much closer to you.
2. Deshaies, Guadeloupe
Deshaies has many attractions. It is where a good deal of the British TV series, 'Death in Paradise' is filmed. There are the amazing botanical gardens. But it also turned out to be one of the best places we found to swim with turtles. They were everywhere thoughout the anchorage.
3. Anse du Colombier, Saint Barts
Staying in Gustavia, the capital of Saint Barts is not recommended. Mooring stern to on the town quay was a nightmare. The surge is horrible and you need to leave a big gap to the quay meaning there is a literal 'leap' of faith needed to get on and off the boat. And if the anchor should drag. In addition, it is also virtually impossible to find a spot to anchor off Gustavia as it is so busy. However, a few miles up the coast is a well protected anchorage which we loved. The walk into town was not too far and the bonus was we saw as many turtles as in either of the two well-known spots mentioned above.
Dominica has excellent hiking although many of the trails are indistinct and may require a guide (which are expensive). The 'Boiling Lake' was our highlight
Guadeloupe also has excellent walks. In this case the trails are well marked. There is a reasonable entrance fee but you do the walks unguided. However, when they say a 'four hour hike', it invariably IS at least a four hour hike.
Best waterfalls/springs to swim in
1. Concorde Falls, Grenada
For those who know the Lake District, England, there are several places where mountain streams/rivers tumble over rocks leaving a deep pool downstream. Very inviting for a swim after a long hike in the summer. We like hiking and the same concept applies even more here where the water is warmer. Grenada has many hikes with waterfalls and pools. The most famous are Seven Sisters ( there are seven pools and waterfalls). The first two falls are only half an hour from the road along a well marked, but muddy, trail. To reach the other five prepare to invest four to five hours, it is advisable to take a guide and be prepared to be wading through mud up to the knees ( in the wet season).
The first two Falls were quite busy.
In contrast, Concorde falls has one waterfall right by the road. Although this was pretty, it was touristy and not recommended. However the second waterfall requires a hike of 30-60 minutes (depending on how wet it is) along a reasonable trail. We had the pool completely to ourselves.
Best cruiser social life
PAYS barbecue, Portsmouth harbour, Dominica
Dominica is a 'must' for anyone who likes hiking. However, it has a reputation for crime and the cruising guide recommends staying in Portsmouth and organising trips from there. The local guides have set up Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services (=security) and run patrols of the anchorage.
To help finance this they run a twice weekly barbecue. We were there in April with many boats, 100+ participants and plenty of opportunity to meet new friends. Beware the rum punch which is 'a volonte', included with the price of the barbecue.
Best tourist attraction
We decided to list five:
1. MACTe, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe
This memorial to slavery, is very well done and deeply moving. A must see
2. Nelsons Boatyard, Antigua
Apart from the surviving original buildings, there are also enough remnants to explain how ships were 'serviced'. The careening station and the sail loft being two examples
3. Jardin Botanique, Deshaies, Guadeloupe
Very well laid out to make it enjoyable even for non-botanists like us
4. Indian River boat trip, Portsmouth, Dominica
The river, lined with bloodwood trees is unlike anything else we have seen. We spotted five different types of crab, iguanas and an assortment of birds including herons. Parts of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series were filmed here and the guide was quick to point out the shacks built by the set designers.
5. Memorial de la catastrophe de 1902, Saint Pierre, Martinique
In 1902 Mount Pelee erupted, drowning the town of Saint Pierre in lava and killing virtually everyone. Even the ships anchored in the bay were not safe. They were all sunk by the ensuing tidal wave. There is a museum explaining the events which has been completely modernised a couple of years ago. Well worth a visit.
Overall best island: Martinique. It is French!
Best value meal: Lunch at the Marigot Bay Yacht club, Saint Martin
You get an excellent three course meal for 19 euros!
Pointe Baptiste Chocolate, Dominica
Grenada tries to excel in local chocolate production with at least three 'ethical' vertically integrated producers. But nothing can compare to the Pointe Baptiste chocolate. It is simply the best chocolate I have ever tasted (and we lived in Belgium). The flavours are based on local flavours. The dark chocolate with lemon grass was to die for.
Best Ginger Beer
Ginger beer is important on Skyfall because it is a key ingredient in the house cocktail. (Recipe 4 parts rum, 1 part lime juice, 1 part sugar cane syrup, 4 parts ginger beer, plentiful ice). And the ginger beer chosen has a big impact. Given that Grenada has a reputation as a spice island, then it should be no surprise that a local brand, Solo, wins the prize. Highly recommended.
Overall favourite island
Given that there are seven mentions of the island in our 'favourite places' listed above, then we believe there is a clear winner: Guadeloupe!
Of course, we did not go everywhere. For instance, we did not go to Saint Kitts or Nevis. We are told there is Annie, in Rousseau, Dominica, who cooks fish in her backyard and has a huge clientele based solely on word-of-mouth. And probably many more 'bests' that we have missed. Any comments, corrections etc are welcome.