GRENADA Travel Review: Exploring My Top 10 Experiences Via The 5 Senses
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
Sitting in the front seat of our airport taxi, I immediately began to adjust my expectation of this Caribbean holiday. I say taxi, but this beaten old Toyota Camry didn’t show any signs of being official and our driver seemed to only have a passing interest in taking us straight to our destination. Just a hundred yards down the airport road (the only smooth piece of tarmac in Grenada with exception of the runway itself), he is leaning from his window pointing out the first of the many ‘sights’ along our journey.
The driver in the jeep behind reacts to our slowing by blaring his horn, gesticulating wildly and yelling at us as he overtakes. Our driver yells back with a toothy grin. It turns out they are both friends and that was a typical Grenadan greeting.
Such interactions are common across this gagarious and colourful island. It is a place which has so much to engage and interrogate the senses, it can be a struggle to know how and where to start.
So to help I have picked out my 10 favourite immersive experiences from the island of Grenada.
Things to See:
1. The Fort At St. George
Without being cruel to Grenada, the tourist sights of the capital St. George are what you’d expect of a small ex-colonial outpost - less than spectacular. The 18th century fort, however, hides an interesting story central to the identity of modern-day Grenada. The shell of the fort itself is fairly dilapidated through a combination of hurricane damage and neglect. Grass and other vegetation has pushed up through the stone and concrete, and the evidence of its current use as a makeshift police training camp sits amongst the historic cannons pointing out to sea.
At the edge of one patchy basketball court in the centre of the fort you may notice a small plaque. It reads ‘In everlasting memory of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop . . . . killed at this fort, Oct. 19th. 1983’. It’s a small tribute to someone who holds mythical status in Grenada as a revolutionary leader. Just 35 years ago, he was executed by firing squad at this fort; a reminder of just how young and fragile stable politics is on this Caribbean island.
Alongside being the place for the execution of political dissidents, the fort also has the best view of St. George. From the highest point the whole of the capital is visible cut into the dense green of the surrounding rainforest. In the other direction, there is only the deep blue of the ocean. Even in this most densely populated area of Grenada, you are pinned in place by the surrounding landscape.
2. The Abandoned Aeroplanes At Pearl’s Airfield
After the assassination of Maurice Bishop at Fort St. George, the Russians anticipated a US-led invasion of the island. To assist a potential resistance, they delivered to Grenada two Russian aircraft via Cuba. The delivery came too late and these two aircraft now sit where they were delivered 35 years ago on a remote former airfield.
That was all the information we had when we took our rental jeep out to Pearl’s airfield. The airfield itself is now nothing but abandoned concrete and patches of rough grass.
The presence of the rusted hulks of two Antonovs does nothing to quell the eerie feeling of desolation.
As we get closer it is clear that the planes are being used as midday shade for a goat herder and his girlfriend; his goats left to graze nonchalantly around the metal skeletons. Everything but the metal framework has been stripped, and it is difficult to picture how the aircraft looked in their original glory. Yet as you explore the wrecks, those missing panels, structural ribs, and stripped-out windows create patterns of shapes within shapes making almost every photo an abstract work of art.
Who’ll be expecting arty shots of rusting cold war Antonovs on your Instagram?
Things to Hear:
3. The Grenadian Streets at Night
In the UK we are largely a shut-away nation. We listen to music, chat, laugh, and play games with our family all behind closed doors. If a friend knocks on the door, we invite them inside. We would think it crazy for everyone else in the house to step outside to meet them. Yet Grenadan life is different. The houses here are turned inside out. Out on the streets and stepped concrete porches is a cacophony of life. Dancehall music playing, children screaming, meat on the grill sizzling, and friends yelling to each from across the street. Noise layers onto noise until it becomes just an overall buzz of life. There are no sleepy villages or towns in Grenada. Wherever there is a knot of roads or collection of houses, people congregate and there is heated debate, loud laughs and music . . . always music.
4. A Noisy Bus Ride
The few guides to Grenada I could find call the buses of Grenada an ‘experience’. They are not wrong. These minivans with seats throttle all over the island, horns beeping, and dancehall blaring out from their windows.
If you are walking down the street, nothing more than a nod to a passing bus is enough to bring it to a halt. Despite having only 16 seats, each bus has both a driver and conductor. It’s an efficient division of labour. The first is dedicated to getting from point to point in the shortest possible time and the second to ensure no fares are missed in the process. Inside the buses there is no point in talking. The insides are rigged for extra sound and the music reverberates through the tin interior like someone singing directly into a can. Without any chance of conversation, Grenadian bus interactions have shifted to a different language. Ten minutes into my first journey, a woman behind me taps my shoulder, drops a pile of coins into my palm and nods forwards. I tap in front and pass her fare on to the conductor. A few minutes later, she reaches up and knocks twice against the roof - it’s her stop.
5. The Sound Of The Cicadas
With so much human life packed along the few roads, it is easy to forget that most of the island is uninhabited rainforest where not even official hiking paths crisscross the landscape. But that rainforest is far from silent. Our accommodation is located on a remote cocoa farm and every night as the sun descends, the lively chirps of brightly coloured birds gives way to a near deafening chorus of cicadas.
The ear-buzzing sound of cicadas is something I have heard all around the world but the idea that this whole island sings out into the sea every sunset is something a little profound.
Things to Smell:
6. Sampling The Spices
Farming is very different in Grenada. Forget orderly rows and ploughed fields, most local produce is plucked straight out of the rainforest. This includes all the amazing local plants which gives Grenada its common moniker of ‘The Spice Isle’. In the space of just a few yards, a guide picked us a handful of some of the most intense and aromatic spices to smell and taste including lemongrass, bergamot, nutmeg, cinnamon and bay leaf.
It’s an amazing journey from these wild areas of Grenada, to those tiny little pots you have in the kitchen.
Things to Taste:
7. Chocolate From The Belmont Estate
Grenada has a proud cocoa-growing heritage and there are cocoa farms all over the island. Most of the cocoa grown here is exported to Europe to be turned into chocolate, but not at the Belmont Estate. This large Grenadian cocoa producer has recently stopped selling its beans to people like Cadbury’s and decided to make its own - from bean right through to bar.
On a tour of the estate, a guide will take you through the whole process from growing, to picking, to fermenting, to drying, to sorting, to roasting, to grinding, to conching, to moulding, to selling. Don’t expect big machines to be doing all the work, the process relies heavily on the Grenadian sunshine and the people.
Belmont Estate create their chocolate in a range of varieties which you can sample including a spiced plain version which mixes a velvety and morish chocolate with a kick of nutmeg, or for the more restrained, a simpler chocolate flavoured with seasalt.
Despite being a chocolate fiend, the tour was a fascinating window into an industry I knew so little about.
8. A Local Rum Punch With A Local
On visiting St. George we had planned ahead with a circular walk covering everything around the town. However as soon as we set a direction, we are scooped up by a local called Paul. Dressed in a crisp designer polo shirt and bright white Converse, Paul started with friendly curiosity and an offer to point us in the right direction. Yet after showing us around our first sight - the restored Roman Catholic Cathedral - it was clear that this was now an official tour and whether we wanted it or not, Paul was going to be our guide.
On visiting the various ‘sights’ around the St. George, Paul rattled through his practiced patter which had been echoed word-for-word to hundreds of visitors before us. Yet towards the end of the tour, things took an unexpected turn. He led us to a bar in the local market and ordered some food with a round of rum punch. Rum is the alcohol of choice around the Caribbean, and Grenada has some of its own distilleries.
The rum punch mixes a big shot of 70% proof white rum with sugar and tropical juices. The first 5 seconds is a vicious hit of alcohol which finally mellows into fruity delight.
We follow up with a round of straight white rum shots which burn the throat. Having spent the last few hours dehydrating in the sun, the alcohol has a near instant effect and it becomes immediately obvious what powers the island’s sociable and upbeat Caribbean vibe.
It also becomes immediately obvious why Paul finishes his tours like this. It’s time to discuss his fee.
Things To Feel:
9. A Stroll Into The Rainforest
Grenada is not a hikers’ paradise unless you are handy with a Machete. Given how much of the island is uninhabited nature, there are very few marked paths which offer access. Where short walks are available, paid guides stalk the paths insisting that their services are hired. On these walks I’ve read that very few guides are actually needed or offer any useful insight.
The exception to this unfortunate situation is Grand Etang National Park. Apart from a smiling old gentleman playing bongos, no one here asks us for money. We are here to do the Mt Qua Qua walk, and our only obstacle is that we are still in the rainy season.
The route up the mountain is treacherous mud. We make our way by grabbing onto roots and vegetation from the encroaching jungle. Anything here could be dangerous to grab, so we pick out the most mundane looking vegetation for handholds. There is very little to choose from. Even the sides of the path are an explosion of exciting biodiversity; a mess of nuts, berries, fruits, thorns, knotted vines and twirled leaves. Once we have scrambled ourselves high enough, the vegetation breaks up a little and you can see just how far the tangled mass of green extends - up and over mountains where no one has probably ever walked.
The summit of Mt Qua Qua is marked by a huge granite boulder; a tempting if not treacious climb. In the blustering wind with cloud sweeping up the peak from below, I daren’t stand but even huddling low I can see the two opposite coasts of the island. It is difficult to think of Grenada as a country, but here I am standing at one of the highest points able to see the full span of this petite nation.
10. The Sandy Beaches
A trip to a Caribbean island wouldn’t be complete without the feeling of sand between the toes. Prior to coming to the Grenada, I had a perception of what a Caribbean tourist beach would look like. Large white hotels with a garishly lit fringe of restaurants and bars.
Even the main beach at the tourist centre of Grand Anse has an off-the-beaten-path feel to it.
Of course tourists find their way there - especially when Cruise ships are at dock in St. George - but there is none of the commercial organisation which blights so many destinations. There are no rows of aligned sun-loungers and no grand hotel restaurants which fold out onto the sand.
For me, what makes a truly sensational beach is the absence of any interference at all between myself, the soft sink of the sand, and the lazy lap of the sea. Anything other than that, and I struggle to relax. A few minutes down the road from Grand Anse, I find exactly what I am looking for at Magazine beach. It is a perfect palm fringed arc of warm white sand.
As I lay down, my eyes slowly close, my muscles ease, and my mind slowly drifts around the notion of never leaving.