Bequia: A Beginner's Guide To The Hidden Caribbean Gem

The Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines seems custom-made for travelers looking for blissful beaches and sparkling seas. The 32 islands and cays of the country, sprinkled across the southern end of the Caribbean Sea between St. Lucia (to the north), Grenada (to the south), and Barbados (to the east), supply some of the most astonishing waters anywhere on the planet. Travelers will encounter a dazzling tableau of all shades of blue, from almost see-through, clear electric blue to deep, dark, brooding ultramarine and pretty much everything in between. Little surprise, then, that this a popular yachting spot, with sailors zig-zagging between each island's crystalline waters, dropping anchor in a secluded cove for a refreshing dip, or finding a quiet beach for a picnic or snooze.


While each locale has something to offer, Bequia, a Caribbean island that often flies under the radar, hits the sweet spot of being large enough to be an interesting destination for a break and small enough to retain a sense of intimacy and idyllic charm. It's also refreshingly free of mass tourism, and even though it welcomes cruise ship passengers, the vessels that visit there are usually smaller and dock in the main harbor before ferrying in guests. For travelers looking for a Caribbean isle that mega-resorts and overdevelopment haven't blighted and that percolates with some of that old Caribbean magic, Bequia unquestionably fits the bill.

Where is Bequia?

The combination of letters in the island's name makes it a little tricky to guess the proper pronunciation. Want a try? Here's a hint: it probably won't sound how you expect it will — it's pronounced "Beck-way." In the Windward Islands section of the Caribbean, in the southern half of the sea, Bequia sits less than 10 miles south of the nation's main island, St. Vincent, home to the country's main international airport. 


The island is actually closer to South America than it is to the United States. And apart from views of St. Vincent to the north and some smaller cays a little closer around it, Bequia really feels remote, a little realm that promises a mental and physical escape from the daily grind. After St. Vincent, Bequia is the largest island in the nation, though that certainly doesn't mean it's a teeming center of commerce, tourism, and population. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

What is Bequia like?

Even as the country's second-largest island, Bequia is not a vast place, coming in at about only seven square miles. Shaped a little like the icon for a bolt of lightning, it's an electric destination and, within its Lilliputian confines, manages to pack plenty in. The variety of landscapes is a large part of the appeal, and visitors will find something for everyone, including green hills, woods that stretch to the shore, quiet, placid bays, gorgeous beaches, and rolling plains. Only about 5,000 people live there, and it doesn't take long to find yourself feeling right at home, as though you've been there for eons.


People will greet you in the street with a "good morning" or "hello," and there is a sense of civility and warmth on the island that is increasingly elusive in the travel experience. English is the primary language spoken, and visitors will have no difficulties communicating with anyone on the island. Around Bequia's villages, you might hear a local Creole anchored by English but blended with words taken from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and languages brought centuries ago by enslaved Africans.

The history of Bequia

The name of this heartwarming destination derives from a term given to it by the Kalinago, a tribe that traces its roots to South America. They called it "Becouya," which means "Island of Clouds," and even today, visitors will understand what they meant — looking up from Bequia, travelers are likely to see white, puffy clouds slide by the island's peaks and bays, punctuated by clear blue skies. Europeans staked their claim to the island from the 1700s, with the French formalizing plantations and lime, cotton, and sugar facilities. Eventually, the English wrested control of Bequia, and, in time, sugar production bloomed, becoming the main industry on the island. 


Eventually, the importance of sugar faded, and islanders looked for new sources of income. Scottish settlers that came with the English started fishing and whaling here in the 1800s, and boat building also began to flourish. Whaling continues today, but on a smaller scale and under the watchful eye of the International Whaling Commission — only four whales can be hunted each year, and this must be done using traditional methods and hunting tools that were prevalent more than a century ago. Visitors looking to get an overview of the island's history should head to the Bequia Heritage Museum.

How to travel to Bequia

Given the proximity of Bequia to St. Vincent, the most cost-effective method of getting there is by ferry from the "mainland." A few operators ply the route between Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent, and Bequia's Port Elizabeth, with Bequia Express and Admiral Ferries offering a few daily sailings. The trip takes about an hour. For anyone desperate for a quicker transfer, Jaden Sun Fast Ferry has boats that complete the journey in 30 minutes, but the schedule is limited, and some days have no voyages between the two islands. Fares are also slightly more expensive.


Some travelers prefer to fly directly to the island, even with frequent ferry connections from St. Vincent. The airport in Bequia is tiny, called the J. F. Mitchell Airport, and is a little over three decades old. The only option for flying into this airport is charter flights from islands like Barbados or St. Lucia through carriers like Bequia Air or Grenadine Alliance.

What is there to do in Bequia?

There is plenty to entertain you, though Bequia is also a great place to slow down and take in the quiet life. A few high points in the calendar stand out. Taking place early in the year, the Bequia Music Fest promises a bonanza of singing and dancing. During the four-day event, which debuted in 2004, the island's fervor swells, and hotels and restaurants double up as venues. The artists present a varied, eclectic mix, from steel pan to jazz, from acoustic jams to buzzing DJ sets. Around Easter is the annual regatta, a yearly rite of passage that celebrates the island's sailing heritage. It was canceled in 2023, but it is always an event that locals look forward to. 


And then there are the fabulous bits of sand, some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Princess Margaret Beach rose to global fame in the 1960s when the eponymous British royal swam in its waters during her honeymoon — its fame is justified by a gorgeous sweep of sand fronted by gently lilting turquoise water. It also offers some of the best snorkeling in Bequia. Nearby, Lower Bay is equally mesmerizing, while Friendship Bay and Crescent Beach are easy places to while away a day. Out on the sea, sailing, diving, fishing, and water sports are all alluring options, while many choices open inland. The island is home to a turtle sanctuary, a restored plantation house, and Mount Pleasant, a peak with moving views of the Grenadine islands.


Is there anything unexpected in Bequia?

On the island's western end, Moonhole is a community anchored around a rock arch with the same name. The genesis of this unique enterprise dates to the 1950s, a time when a professional couple from the United States moved to the island to operate a hotel. They visited the rock arch, fell in love with it, and frequently traveled to the site by boat or on foot. In time, using flotsam and jetsam from the sea, like whale bones and shells, to add to the main construction material of stone, the couple embarked on building a campground, which turned into a house where they eventually moved.


They built more homes, an office, and staff quarters, turning this island outpost into a thriving community where homes were made by disrupting the environment as little as possible. Trees were incorporated into the homes rather than cut, stones were all from the area, and footpaths connected buildings instead of paved roads. The houses can now be rented as individual units, and in addition to being a part of living island history, they might come with fabulous views of the Moonhole rock arch.

Where to stay in Bequia

There are no giant resorts or heaving all-inclusive properties, and Bequia is all the better for it. Instead, visitors will find simple, locally run hotels, inns, and guest houses, as well as many rental units around the island, all of which lend a trip here a decidedly personal, connected sensibility. The most polished spot is Bequia Beach Hotel, a refuge on Friendship Bay, with 10 acres of landscaped grounds, views of the island of Mustique, and sumptuous accommodations, some of which come with private pools.


On Admiralty Bay, Bequia Plantation Hotel has whitewashed rooms with four-poster beds and achingly pretty turquoise water right out front. Spacious digs at The Liming feature sea views and rates include breakfast. A range of apartments and villas dotted around the island appeal to visitors who prefer a more self-contained stay — some look over the boats at Port Elizabeth harbor, and others spy the island's undulating hills.

Where to eat and drink in Bequia

Travelers will be able to choose from a good selection of places to eat, with many options for seafood lovers, which should come as no shock given Bequia's location and the history of fishing on the island. Belmont Walkway, a paved path that lines the water south of Port Elizabeth along Admiralty Bay, has many places to eat and drink along the route. Among them, the Fig Tree is a gem. With open water views, a Caribbean menu, and live music, it's a staple of the Bequia scene. Caribbean dishes are also the lure at Fernando's Hideaway on Lower Bay. The brightly colored chairs will get diners in the mood for delights like baked red snapper, callaloo soup, and fried sweet plantain.


At the airy Jack's Beach Bar on Princess Margaret Beach, you could come for the fine seafood and relaxed ambiance or just as easily linger over a fresh cocktail at sunset — the dusk views are sublime. Beachside barbecues are a popular pastime on Bequia, and visitors will invariably stumble upon one during their stay. For some sweet relief, grab a scoop at Maranne's Ice Cream (flavors include nutmeg), part of the Gingerbread Suites hotel on Admiralty Harbour, and enjoy it while sitting under an almond tree and peering out at the boats bobbing in the bay.

Where to shop in Bequia

While visitors don't come to the island to go on a shopping frenzy, there are some interesting places to peruse and finds to be found. Travelers can look forward to small, independent boutiques, even in the island's sole shopping mall, Bayshore Mall, which doesn't have international chains but has individual stores and gift shops likely to be owner-operated. If you're looking for some local fashion, stop by Bequia Threadworks, a non-profit that seeks to improve the lives of its female staff and sells its own clothing line called Noyo and pieces by designers from St. Vincent.


The island's central shopping hub is Belmont Road in Port Elizabeth, also known as Front Street, located by the ferry terminal. You'll find shops hawking marine supplies — useful for the yachties that anchor here — and drug stores as well as more traditional retail. Solana's Boutique is a central spot to pick up some beach wear, men's and women's clothing, and even some souvenirs. Some local specialties are replica model boats and jewelry made from whale bones, and both should be available at spots along Front Street.

How to get around Bequia

The island is small enough that hardy travelers can walk everywhere, though if they plan to visit every part of Bequia on foot, they should be prepared for a workout of the calves. Hills rise along the island's spine, adding vertical lift to the exertion. Walkers should take lots of sunblock, water, and a hat; the sun is intense. Some visitors prefer to take taxis everywhere, a relatively easy way of getting around since there isn't a vast amount of terrain to cover — reaching anywhere on the island should take less than 30 minutes. If you're headed by taxi to a restaurant, the staff can call a cab to take you back afterward. 


Scooter rentals are a fun way to zip around the island while renting a car is a pricey but more comfortable option. You will have to drive on the left side of the road and will also need to purchase a local driving license/permit. Apart from walking, the cheapest way of getting up and down Bequia is with a dollar van, whose rates range from Eastern Caribbean $1-$4 (about USD $0.35-$1.50). These are essentially shared buses based in Port Elizabeth and trawl set routes around the island, but they don't run on a fixed timetable and don't always go where you need to go. The most exotic method of transportation is the water taxi, which shuttles passengers mainly to the beaches around Admiralty Bay.


What to bring on a trip to Bequia

Unlike, say, a beach resort in Cancún or Punta Cana, where guests might feel the need to dress up for a fancy dinner or the evening's entertainment, the atmosphere in Bequia is decidedly more easygoing. This is not the place to party or put on your finest threads since Bequia really does have a calm, relaxed island vibe that is refreshing in its lack of pretension. Most of the time, you will feel perfectly at home — and welcome — wearing shorts, T-shirts, or loose and flowing garments. 


That said, if you are the type of traveler who needs only the slightest excuse to put on something a little special, there's always something happening on the island, from live music to dinner and dances at Paget Farm in the southwest of Bequia. Apart from local word-of-mouth, a couple of resources are the most thorough guides of the island's happening. Bequia This Week highlights music, meal specials, and more in a simple, newsletter-style format, while Bequia What's On adds photos to liven up the presentation.

The best time to visit Bequia

Such is Bequia's charm that visiting it any time of the year will be a rewarding experience. But visitors might prefer to choose a window when the conditions are optimal, where sun and low rainfall combine to create an idyllic environment. Like much of the Caribbean, the island has a wet and dry season with more and less rain and higher and lower humidity. The better weather is during the high season of December through April or May, which coincides with more visitors, less choice for accommodations and other services, and higher prices for lodging.


The lower season is more affordable, but you'll run the gauntlet of rain, wind, possible hurricanes, and storms. June and November are smart months for travel and shoulder seasons. There are breezes daily, and temperatures hover in the high 70s to high 80s all year round. Note that even in the high season, conditions can be less than ideal — storm surges in February 2024, for instance, forced ferry crossings to be canceled.

Are there any good trips from Bequia?

You could easily spend all of your time on Bequia, arriving at a different beach each morning and sampling all the restaurants and lodging spots around the island each day. But using Bequia as a base to explore the striking scenery and seas nearby is definitely worth the effort. A beautiful, classic, old-style schooner with tall, billowing sails, Friendship Rose is based in Bequia and has a gleaming white appearance that contrasts stunningly with the turquoise sea. It takes tourists out on trips around St. Vincent destinations, including the Tobago Cays, a marine park with healthy reefs and fabulous beaches. It also happens to be one of many reasons to visit the islands of the Southern Caribbean.


Travelers can get a similar experience on the luxury yacht Octopus, with day trips, including the opportunity to snorkel with turtles. Anyone seeking time under the water can book a session with Bequia Dive Adventures. Instructors will bring you close to fan corals, turtles, lobsters, eels, seahorses, and more, and group sizes err on the small side.