The Caribbean’s spicy island of Grenada

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Victor Block

The picturesque harbor in Grenada’s capital city, St. George’s, is one of the Caribbean island’s attractions. The island is also known for its spice trade, including cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Photo by Victor Block

There’s no denying that Grenada, like other Caribbean islands, has the requisite white sand beaches lapped by crystal clear waters. Or that the modest pastel-painted houses in which most people live provide a storybook setting.

But the Isle of Spice, as it’s known, also boasts a unique quality that sets it apart from other islands in the region. This realization springs from the smiles and giggles of children bathing beneath a spigot outside their modest, brightly painted frame house. And from the odor of spices that permeates the clear air throughout the island.

A visit to Grenada provides as much an immersion in a lifestyle as an introduction to a destination. More than the beautiful beaches, surpassing picture-perfect towns, the most memorable experiences involve interaction with the people of this compact dot of land on the Caribbean map.

U.S. restored democracy

Grenada’s geography and history fit naturally into this theme. Measuring about 12 by 21 miles, the island is large enough to offer diversions and diversity, yet small enough so visitors may take in all there is to do and see within a short drive.

The major historical event of interest to travelers from the United States is the military force sent by President Reagan that restored democracy to the island in 1983, following several years of Marxist rule brought about by an earlier coup.

The intervention led by American troops accounts in part for the hospitable greeting offered to visitors from the U.S. The anniversary of the invasion, known as Thanksgiving Day, is a national holiday in Grenada.

One sign of the reaction of Grenadians is a hand-painted message on a cinderblock building that overlooks a busy intersection. It reads: “Thank you USA for liberating us.”

Previous visitors to Grenada were not always so welcome. The fierce Carib Indians, who dominated the island for almost 1,000 years, drove out early British and French settlers during the 17th century. After a French force later overcame the Caribs, the island remained under France’s control until 1762, when it was captured by the British.

The local economy


Fishermen pull in nets after a day on the sea that surrounds Grenada, a Caribbean island also known for its spice trade.

Following a period when sugar cane was the underpinning of the economy, nutmeg was introduced into the welcoming climatic conditions. Today nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and other seasonings are grown by small landowners who bring their crops to processing stations for preparation and shipment.

Standing outside the nutmeg plant
in the town of Gouyave (pronounced Gwave), I was immersed in a typical island scene. A goat strolled by, ignored by chickens scratching in the dirt. A sow munched on a banana skin as her litter drank their lunch.

Spotting several street vendors hawking their wares beneath a “No vendors allowed here” sign, I strolled over to examine the trinkets on their tiny makeshift tables. My inquiries about prices led to a discussion of my impressions about Grenada — and an invitation to lunch at the home of a grandmotherly woman.

Similar incidents provided the most vivid and pleasant memories of Grenada. I chatted with children bathing beneath a sidewalk spigot, and women doing their wash in a stream. I watched men playing dominoes slap their tiles on the table in a triumphant, if noisy, display of victory.

During drives over mountains that run down the center of the island like a spine, men and women tending vegetable gardens planted on terrain so steep it’s a wonder they could stand offered a friendly wave.

Gorgeous St. Georges

About a third of Grenada’s 90,000 residents live in the capital of St. Georges, one of the most picturesque towns in a part of the world where “picturesque” is commonplace.

Its multi-hued houses cling to hillsides that slope down to the water’s edge. Cobbled streets lead to the horseshoe-shaped main thoroughfare that runs around the deep harbor in the heart of the small city.

On Market Square, people gather around umbrella-shaded stalls to sell handicrafts, spices, fruits and vegetables, including some I did not recognize. This small space has played an important part in Grenada’s history since 1791, first as the site of a slave market and setting for public executions — and more recently as a bustling center for commerce and a social gathering place.

Each of the other towns offers its own unique appeal. Grenville, the second largest, has a miniscule marketplace that comes alive each Saturday. Grenville also claims the largest spice processing plant in Grenada.

Gouyave has a nutmeg station and a thriving fishing industry. To Grenadians, it’s known as “the town that never sleeps,” with rum shops and the sounds of music emanating from them on most nights.

Marquis, another small fishing community, also is a good place to buy goods woven from long, slender pandanus grass leaves. Hats, bags and mats woven with the tough strands make good souvenirs and gifts.

Mountains and beaches

Outside the towns, visitors find an enticing volcanic island creased by a ridge of mountains and extinct craters. Those who climb 2,757-foot Mount St. Catherine to the highest spot on Grenada are rewarded with a view over much of the island.

The Grand Etang Reserve encompasses a lake surrounded by a dense forest. A number of waterfalls add to its appeal.

Those who prefer ocean water will find 45 beaches scattered about the island. Many of the more inviting stretches of sand are strung out along the protected west coast.

The two-mile-long white sand beach that skirts Grand Anse Bay, the closest thing to a resort area, is rated as one of the best in the Caribbean. Those seeking solitude head for smaller beaches, many of which are set in secluded little coves.

Boaters find scores of safe anchorages in small bays that have earned Grenada its well-deserved reputation as one of the best yachting and charter boat centers in the Caribbean.

But along with the wide variety of activities, and more than some of Mother Nature’s most magnificent handiworks, it is the people of Grenada that provide the most inviting aspect of a visit there.

If you go

Few places to stay represent a destination more than the Blue Horizons Garden Resort. The small, family-owned property is well-named, set in a landscape of lush tropical flowers and foliage that is home to more than two-dozen species of birds.

Rooms have a small kitchen, there’s a swimming pool and inviting restaurant, and Grand Anse Beach is a short stroll away. Rates begin at $170 per night. For more information, log onto www.grenadabluehorizons.com.

An authentic Grenadian dining experience is offered by the weekly Street Food Night at Dodgy Dock restaurant adjacent to the True Blue Resort, which attracts as many locals as visitors for the food and live music. Vendors sell typical dishes, including spicy jerk chicken and barbeque ribs ($9), accompanied by a choice of sides ($2-$3). For more information, log onto dodgydock.com.

JetBlue has two daily flights from Dulles Airport, each with one plane change. Roundtrip fares start at $512 in late September.

For more information about Grenada, log onto www.puregrenada.com.