“There are no secrets on Bequia,” I was warned by a local my first evening on island, as she referred to the “coconut telegraph” of gossip that runs rampant through its ruggedly beautiful seven square-miles. However, the second largest of 32 Grenadines (an archipelago that belongs to St. Vincent and runs between that island and Grenada) itself remains one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, known centuries ago for its whaling and boat-building traditions but today falling largely beyond the well-worn tourist path.
But Bequia’s anonymity has its advantages. On an island where there’s no traffic or daily newspaper, no casinos or mega-resorts, you feel almost like a pioneer in Paradise, a welcome visitor to a destination that’s remote enough to be truly relaxing yet offers so much to do. It only took a four-day visit for me to fall in love with one of my now favorite islands, and, if you go, I’m confident you’ll be equally smitten. But first things first: Know the correct pronunciation of the island’s name, which, contrary to its spelling, is actually “BECK-way.”
Where is Bequia?
The seven-square-mile outpost (pop: 5,500) is 100 miles west of Barbados and nine miles from its “parent” island, St. Vincent. St. Lucia is about 60 miles north.
How do I get there?
Visitors from North America generally arrive two ways: Fly into Barbados (BGI) and connect via a 45-minute puddle-jumper flight (SVG Air or Mustique Airways) to Bequia’s tiny J.F. Mitchell Airport (BQU). Or jet into St. Vincent’s Argyle International Airport (SVD), from where you cab it to the dock in Kingstown and then hop the ferry for an hour-long ride into Bequia’s Port Elizabeth. Coming from another Caribbean island? LIAT and Caribbean Airlines have you covered.
What’s the island vibe like?
You know how the Caribbean looks in vintage postcards? All swaying palms on deserted sugary beaches and tiny villages with a winding main street lined with colorful low-rise shops and restaurants? That’s pretty much how Bequia looks now, with an ambience that’s appropriately carefree. People are genuinely welcoming, and drivers beep as they pass you simply to say hello. You’ll need little more than shorts, swimsuits and sundresses (oh, and lots of sunscreen!) to enjoy all the island has to offer, so leave your suits and sequins at home. Bequia is one of the last vestiges of the old-school Caribbean, just as casual and beachy as you’d imagined.
Where should I stay?
There are only a handful of hotels here, most of them small and located on the Caribbean (western) coast near the main town, Port Elizabeth. The largest is the Bequia Beach Hotel, on the Atlantic-side’s Friendship Bay. With its clutch of pastel-painted, fretwork-trimmed cottages and villas in a beachfront garden setting, the 57-room retreat where I stayed, although only 10-years-old, feels like its been here forever. Faux vintage travel posters decorate the hotel’s handsome lobby lounge; a string of palapas line its brown-sugar sands; and room décor is a mash-up of tropical influences, with pineapple, palm-print and other botanical motifs galore. Boasting its own spa; three swimming pools; and a pair of restaurants, this is the only real resort on Bequia, protectively presided over by its black-and-white feline mascot, Diva.
For visitors who want to be walking distance to Port Elizabeth there are plenty of options, including Lower Bay’s fuss-free and friendly Keegan’s Beachside Hotel. Between yacht-filled Admiralty Bay (the Grenadines is one of the Caribbean’s sailing capitals) and Princess Margaret Beach, six-room Gingerbread Hotel is an instant charmer, with its own pier; a waterfront café (don’t miss the ice cream); and easy access to town and beaches via the Belmont Walkway.
What’s there to do?
Bequia’s main town, Port Elizabeth, is small in size yet big on charm, and you shouldn’t leave without a visit, especially since its no more than 20 minutes’ drive from anywhere on island. Catch a “dollar van” (shared taxis that cost EC$1 per person) to Front Street, where you’ll find the fruit and veggie market; small stores and sidewalk restaurants (including the world’s prettiest “Pizza Hut”); and jostle with passengers spilling out of the ferries from St. Vincent and disembarking cruise-ship tenders.
From Front Street take one of the Caribbean’s most scenic walks, the 15-minute stroll along the waterfront Belmont Walkway to Princess Margaret Beach. You’ll pass boats bobbing in the harbor and quieter Lower Bay beach before you get to the island’s best-known strand, where the late Princess famously took a dip. Stake your claim to the sand at Jack’s Beach Bar, where $20 buys you all-day beach chair rental and the crisp-fried ballyhoo (a sardine-like bait fish) is unforgettable.
Of course, no trip to the Grenadines is complete without at least one cruise through the Windex-blue waters and countless sand-fringed islets that have attracted sailors here for centuries. The 110-foot-long luxury motor yacht Star of the Sea runs day charter routes to the Tobago Cays marine park, where each palm-studded islet is more beautiful than the next. At $6,500, a day-sail on the six-stateroom/12-passenger craft is an undeniable splurge but worth it.
Back on land, learn about Bequia’s long boat-building and whaling heritage (whaling is still legal here, and as many as four may be caught a year but only by using age-old non-mechanical methods) at the small but comprehensive Bequia Boat Museum. Hikers should consider the 90-minute trek to Bequia’s highest point, Ma Peggy’s Rock, where they’ll be rewarded with views over Admiralty Bay to Mustique, Petit Nevis and St. Vincent in the distance.
And when it comes to nightlife, there’s at least a week’s worth of temptations, from Monday night’s performance by popular local band Energy at Bequia Beach Hotel to the steel band at Frangipani Hotel on Thursdays and EC$5 drinks at Pirate View bar in Hamilton on Saturday.
What should I bring back as souvenir?
Jewelry made from whale bone and teeth and model boats carved from coconut husks are iconic Bequia bring-backs. Find both at stalls and stores along Port Elizabeth’s Front Street.