By DIANE SLAWYCH, Special to QMI Agency
In an attempt to entice visitors, some Caribbean islands like to boast of their many offerings, which range from hotels with luxe facilities and lively nightlife to duty-free shopping, gambling and sightseeing attractions galore.
You won't find any of that on the two-dozen or so smaller Caribbean islands, where a slower pace is the main attraction. There are no traffic jams, no noisy parties that keep you up nights and no big chain hotels in these places. Accommodation -- for visitors who stay the night -- is typically in villas, inns and cottages.
What many of these charming off-the-beaten-track islands do offer is long stretches of deserted beaches, great snorkelling and a laid-back vibe that makes it easy to unwind. Best of all, they can be reached by a short plane or ferry ride from their sister islands. Here are a few:
When Trinidadians want to get away from it all — especially on weekends or after the month-long party that is carnival, they head to Tobago, their sister island, where the pace slow and there’s a beach to meet every want.
Options range from scenic King’s Bay, backed by lush green hills, and secluded Englishman’s Bay on the north coast, to the calm, clear waters of Great Courland Bay, or the popular coral beach Pigeon Point, from where you can take a cruise to Buccoo Reef for some of the best snorkelling and diving in the country. Bird watchers enjoy guided field trips into the forest both on Tobago and Little Tobago, which is a 180-hectare bird sanctuary. For something unique to the island, check out the Buccoo Goat and Crab Race Festival in April around Easter.
Getting there: Fly from Trinidad (30 km away), Barbados or Grenada. A ferry takes 3.5 hours. For more, visit the Tobago tourist board at visittobago.gov.tt.
If there's one lasting impression of Barbuda it's the long stretches of white and pink sand beaches -- 27 km to be exact -- that are almost always deserted. Only 1,200 people live on Antigua's sister island, and visitors have yet to arrive in any substantial numbers, so it's always quiet.
Activities range from scuba diving (there are 73 shipwrecks offshore) and snorkelling in the crystal clear waters, or the popular horse races that take place twice a month. If you only have time for one tour, hop on a motorboat to the Codrington Lagoon National Park, which has one of the world's largest colonies of frigate birds. You'll see dozens of them flying overhead and perched on the mangroves. An exciting time to visit is during mating season (September to April), when the male birds inflate their scarlet-coloured throat-sacs to the size of a balloon to attract a female frigate bird.
Getting there: Fly from Antigua in 15 minutes or take the Barbuda Express ferry ,which leaves Antigua daily at 8:30 a.m. (for the 90-minute trip) and returns at 5 p.m. For more, visit Antigua & Barbuda Tourism at Antigua-barbuda.ca.
Grenada is such a tranquil island, it's hard to imagine anything more laid-back -- until you visit its sister island Carriacou, 37 km to the northeast. Some Caribbean guidebooks don't even mention this peaceful hilly place, which gives you an idea of how off-the-radar it is. All the more reason for hideaway-seekers to check it out.
The Belair Viewpoint offers a sweeping panorama of the coastline studded with bays fringed by coconut palms and offshore islets. One of them is nearby Sandy Island, which has extensive coral reefs and is considered to have the best snorkelling in Grenada.
The population of 7,000 includes a mix of cultures and ethnicities. Those of African descent predominate, but there are also pockets of English in Hillsborough (the main town), French around L'Esterre, and Scottish -- who brought their boat-building skills to the island and mainly reside in the town of Windward.
Time your arrival to coincide with one of the many annual events including turtle-nesting season at Petite Carenage Bay (March-September); the popular summer Regatta; or Carnival, a pre-Lenten celebration which runs from Feb. 8-12 this year.
Getting there: Fly from Grenada (20 minutes), Barbados (45 minutes) and the Union Islands (5 minutes), or take the 90-minute Osprey Ferry Service from Grenada, departs for Cariacou daily. For more, visit the Grenada Board of Tourism at grenadagrenadines.com.
Saba's appeal lies in the fact it is unlike almost every other Caribbean island. Don't expect great beaches (there aren't any), but do expect bragging rights to a) flying into one of the shortest airstrips in the world, b) travelling on "The Road" that many engineers said could never be built (the island is volcanic and has no flat land), and c) exploring one of the world's premier scuba-diving destinations.
One of the smallest islands belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Saba's storybook-like villages include The Bottom -- appropriately named since this capital rests in the bowl of a valley -- to the lofty Hells' Gate, a somewhat unlikely name for a town that is home to Holy Rosary Church! Charming white houses with red roofs, wooden shutters (usually green) and gingerbread trim give the island's architecture a pleasing homogenous appearance. Aside from diving, visitors can snorkel the shallow reefs, climb 1,064 steps to Mt. Scenery -- Saba's highest spot -- or relax and chat with locals, a few of whom still make lace the traditional way.
Getting there: Take a 12-minute flight, or the Dawn II ferry (runs three times a week) or The Edge boat (runs Wednesday-Sunday) from St. Maarten. For more, visit the Saba Tourist Bureau at sabatourism.com.
This story was posted on Sun, January 27, 2013
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