It is said in the traveler’s unwritten code of laws that there’s a direct relationship between proximity and peace. The farther you go from home, the more quiet and relaxed things get. Bearing that in mind, Carriacou must then be an oasis of solitude-induced tranquility and the ultimate escape from the hustle and bustle of the everyday.
An outpost of the Carribean and named the ‘Land of Reefs’ of the oh-so-mellow island chain of the Grenadines, idyllic Carriacou lies far off the coast, somewhere between the Lesser Antilles to the North and the Grenada Island in the South.
You won’t find cruise ships, glossy mega resorts or the highly varied and colorful outdoorsy amenities of other islands. Carriacou is a Caribbean time capsule, and those come few and far in between nowadays.
Carriacou and Petite Martinique
History of the ‘Isle of Reefs’
When the Atlantic bit into the South American Coast, it scattered islands like crumbs in its wake. Stretching shyly on a mere 13 square miles (34 km2) surface, Carriacou is one of the smallest in the southern Caribbean.
Even so, it still bulks large like a big brother over tiny Petite Martinique, a neighboring island two and a half miles away from Carriacou. You only get 586 acres or 2.37 km2 of moving space here, and the claustrophobic feeling gets stronger if you count the 900 people inhabiting within the narrow confines.
Just take a stroll on the shores of Carriacou and you’ll be greeted by rows of locally built boats, from the small one-masted fishing boats to the large trading schooners.
The 8000 residents of Carriacou make their livelihood from boat-building, seafaring, farming, growing corn, and fishing.
These are skills they’ve come to master for at least a thousand years. This is how far back the earliest archaeological discoveries take us – with the Arawaks and Caribs from South America making pottery on an island they named ‘Kayryouacou’, meaning ‘land surrounded by reef’.
The Europeans to win the colonial race to Carriacou were the French. In 1650, Jacques du Parquet bought Grenada from the Compagnie des Iles de l’Amerique for the equivalent of $1500.
In 1764, Carriacou and Petite Martinique became part of the French Colony, but not for long. It was soon surrendered to the British. Since 1964, it has remained a dependency of Grenada.
The blend of cultures remained strong in Carriacou. The majority of the people are of African descent, but their traditions and customs passed through generations are influenced by both their African and European ancestors.
Just hear the names of towns, cities, and people: all European – Hillsborough, Paterson Street, Gun Point, etc. There are two official languages, English and Patois, the latter a vernacular form of English used throughout the Caribbean in a melting pot of dialects.
Festivities on Carriacou
The Kayaks – the nickname branded on the Carriacou people – are known to be fiercely independent and traditional. The splashing sound of the famous boat oars is only drowned by a revival of the musical celebrations of the African ancestors.
On a number of occasions throughout the year, dance and song lift the islands above the roaring of the ocean.
Four major cultural festivities point the tidal coming and going of the two tropical seasons: the dry season of trade winds between January and June and the wet season from July to December.
1.The Big Drum
The Big Drum or Nation Dance is widely celebrated in the honor of the West African ancestors who were brought to the island during slavery. They’re usually performed at weddings, tombstone feasts, and Maroons – village festivities where food and drinks are prepared.
The second most popular dance in Carriacou is the Quadrille dance, which originates from France and is usually performed in the village of L’Esterre.
2. The Maroon & String Band Music Festival
A new festival growing in popularity is the Maroon & String Band Music Festival, a three-day display of local food, crafts, music and dance. No reason to miss it, so you’d better plan your vacation in Carriacou Grenada for the end of April.
In February or early March, Carnival is held as a rite of exorcism in which past tragedies are brought on stage and made fun of. Revelers, clad in brightly-coloured clothes and wearing white facemasks, mimic the customs of plantation owners. They recite Shakespeare while putting on the airs of the former colonial masters.
4. The Windward Regatta
On the northeastern side of the island, the village of Windward is home to the ancestors of Scottish boat builders who came to Carriacou during the 19th century and wouldn’t leave the turquoise waters for the Highlands ever again. Their boat building practices have been passed on through generations and the annual Regatta in August is meant to keep the excitement of the craft alive.
Equal to its size, Petite Martinique also holds its annual Whitsuntide Regatta on the seventh Sunday after Easter.
The Must-See Spots in Carriacou
Catching rides on fishing sloops or charting your own boat is the classic way to travel between the scattered beach-ringed islands.
One thing Carriacou is blessed with is a hilly terrain packed with a fauna as vibrant and diverse as ever. A view from the top, which rises to 955 feet above sea level, falls windingly down forest trails and through a few island villas and to the white sand beaches below.
Carriacou diving sites feature some of the most unspoiled and vibrant coral reefs in the region, giving divers new reasons to take the plunge.
Your worries about bleached corals have no place here. There are 33 dive sites suitable for all levels, ranging from the sedated and ocean-sheltered waters for beginners and underwater photography amateurs to the fast, sweeping currents to suit the adrenaline-junkies.
The depths also range from 12m down to a limit of 30m, with a wreck or two underway for a pinch of the Titanic thrill.
Paradise Beach, or L’Esterre Beach
Most beaches in Carriacou are deserted, even the most popular ones like Paradise Beach, or as it is officially known, L’Esterre.
It lies conveniently between Tyrell Bay and Hillsborough and is the most visited beach on Carriacou. The 4 kilometer stretch of white sand usually hosts locals who have their weekend picnics here on a backdrop of sea almond and grape trees.
The shallow waters along the shore make this beach ideal for families with young children. The private water taxis that bring their loads of day-trippers here station offshore and don’t intrude at all on the view. Unlike our next pick.
Tyrell Bay is the beach where boats come to dock. No bigger than a 20-minute walk from one end to the other, it lies scattered bungalow restaurants, rum shacks, dive shops, and convenience stores.
Still, Carriacou means sized redefined, and what the locals call ‘supermarkets’, city folk would say ‘more like corner shops’. If you’re on the lookout for some of the best rum punches on these side of the pirate home, just get a $2 bus ride from Hillsborough to Tyrell Bay.
Come by the first boat and leave by the last. Sandy Beach is a classic two palm island and probably the place to maroon disobedient pirates in the past.
The total lack of facilities definitely adds to the charm, but it also makes this a one-day trip at most. Although, if you want to train for Survivor, you can choose to spend the night on this small crescent shaped island, under a starlit sky.
Here, you can indulge to your heart’s content in the traditional Caribbean pastime, which is celebrated by snorkeling, diving and strolling along the beach while sighing melancholically.
Anse La Roche Beach
A bit of an adventure to get here, but certainly worth it. Just follow the signs up north from Bogles Round House restaurant and walk the forest trail, and you’ll be privy to a hidden gem beach.
Extremely secluded, the Anse La Roche Beach is all white sand and turquoise waters.
If you feel a little homesick and need to breathe in some city design, the closest you can get to is Hillsborough.
The little Caribbean town serves as the island’s transportation hub for public and private buses around Carriacou. The port here operates the ferry service between Grenada and Petite Martinique.
How to Get to Carriacou
Grenada is the gateway to Carriacou and any other small island of the archipelago. You can choose to travel to the Isle of Reefs by air – a 15-minute ride or by boat- 2 hours at sea.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll get your fill of breathtaking views. Best of all, on Carriacou you can be whatever you want: an island-hopping explorer, a diver, a partier, a boat enthusiast, a thinker. The world is your oyster.