I recently signed up for a JetBlue credit card which gave me 60,000 miles. JetBlue flies some unusual routes and I figured this would be a good opportunity to take advantage of one of these. I settled on Grenada because it was a relatively obscure destination – the only other US airline to fly here is American Airlines.
Due to the flight timings and the general number of things to do, I decided to spend a 3-day weekend here.
March 11, 2023: Grand Anse
My flight to Grenada left New York´s John F. Kennedy Airport at 9:00 am. The flight took 4.5 hours. I sat next to a Ukrainian man from Seattle who decided to take this trip with his extended family. He pulled his kids out of school because “they are smarter than most of the other kids so it´s okay.” His wife and daughters decided to get into the mood by braiding their hair and adding extensions. It looked tacky and was a bad example of cultural appropriation. I felt embarrassed for them.
With the time change, we landed at 14:30. Unfortunately, this was at the same time as the American Airlines plane, so the immigration took over 30 minutes- and I was towards the front of the plane.
At the immigration desk, I was thoroughly interrogated. They even asked for the phone number of the Airbnb host. After the baggage claim, they scanned our bags and interrogated us again. Wow!
My Airbnb was just a 5-minute drive from the airport. Taxi drivers were asking for $20 USD, which seemed ridiculous. Also, for some reason, the only taxis are 12-passenger vans. I decided to walk the 40 minutes instead.
Along the way, I found people waiting on the side of the road. They said that the public buses come regularly. Sure enough, a bus pulled up just minutes later. I got in we sped off with local beats playing. They dropped me off at an intersection very close to my Airbnb called The Lime. Since I did not have any Eastern Caribbean dollars, I paid the driver´s assistant $2 USD to which he accepted. I later learned that the real price is around $1 USD. So perhaps the man should have given me change, but I really did not care since the ride was 10% the price of the taxi.
I then checked into my Airbnb which is a house made from shipping containers! Grenada was hit badly by Hurricane Ivan. While the economy was devastated, aesthetically it seems to have recovered. All the houses look like they are in great shape with fresh coats of paint. I am sure that many houses here are also made from shipping containers.
It was now 16:30 and I was ready to relax. So, I walked down to Grand Anse Beach, the most famous in the country. Along the way, I got food at church gospel-in-the-park day. It was $1 US for a giant fried chicken wing and another for a shandy. Add in the reggae gospel music and you´ve got a very chill party!
The beach itself felt very relaxed. The people were a mix of tourists and locals. There were hotels but they were all low-rise. The largest commercial establishment was a small spice market. Since I had my phone and wallet, I asked to rent a locker, but was told that the lockers were “not working today” which made no sense.
So, in order to swim, I set my shoes and valuables down on the beach and watched it very carefully as I swam.
I stayed in until sunset about 30 minutes later. On the walk back, I saw Mormon missionaries talking with a local man. I took a picture of them, and the guy laughed hard. I asked if he knew of anybody who actually converted to Mormonism. He laughed again and said no. Sorry Elder Price!
For dinner, I went to the West Indies Beer Company, 15 minutes from Airbnb. It started as a brewery inside a fancy resort but now is standalone. It is one of the main “nightlife” spots on the island. I say “nightlife” because people don´t really go out here.
I ordered a flight of beer and a steak night for $50 EC aka under $20 US. The meat was tough but the seasonings were great!
Middle aged lady with missing front teeth sat next to me at my table. She chatted me up and said she came from the other side of the island since it’s her friend’s birthday. She works as a cleaner in a hospital. I asked what she liked to do, and she said “chilling. I like to chill and be chilling”. When I asked if there was to do in her town, she said “chilling”. I offered her one of my tasters in the flight. She took it and left.
I then went home to go to sleep. I had a headache and stupidly did not pack Advil in my medicine pouch. Overall, a good day, but oof.
March 12, 2023: Island Tour
Today was my only full day in Grenada, so I had to make the most of my time.
Since it was Sunday, the public transit was not running. Rental cars were exceedingly expensive. So, my only option was to take a guided tour. For the week leading up to the trip, I reached out to tour companies. Most of the companies did not run tours on Sundays. In fact, only one of the 7 companies would take me on a full-day tour. Unfortunately, it cost $200-well beyond my anticipated budget. Seeing I had no other options and would feel bad to waste the day, I accepted.
Ronnie showed up in a minivan (all taxis on Grenada are minivans) at 9:00. He was very pleasant and has done island tours for 15 years.
As we drove, he pointed at the landscape and unprovoked said adjectives like “fresh, colorful, pleasant” in a soothing Caribbean accent.
As we approached the capital of Saint George, we got a huge nail in our tire. Obviously, we had to fix this. Ronnie said he knew a shop nearby. The mechanic was there but wanted to shower and eat breakfast before helping us. This took 30 minutes by which point seven other people showed up with tire issues. Luckily, we were first in line. Once he got started, he eventually fixed it in minutes, and we were on our way.
After passing by the cricket stadium, we climbed into the lush jungled mountains that comprise the interior of Grenada. The steep road crested at an elevation of 550 meters above sea level.
On the far side, we entered Grand Etang National Park. Our first stop was a parking lot. In the trees surrounding the parking lot were monkeys. Not just any monkeys, mona monkeys, which are indigenous to Africa and came to Grenada on slave ships. With no natural predators, they are widespread in the higher elevations of the island. A kid tried to feed the moneys Cheese-Itz but the monkey did not want it. Only bananas apparently
A couple minutes away, we reached Grand Etang Lake. The lake is in the volcanic crater just like Oregon, USA´s Crater Lake. Robbie said the lake feeds all the rivers in the south of the country. It apparently refills each day with rainwater, making this lake the lifeblood of the country.
We drove another 5 minutes down the backside of the mountain pass and then on a steep access road. We approached a house but were blocked by a lady moving very slowly to move a pile of sticks into her car. Her movements were so slow, it felt purposeful. 10 minutes later, she finished loading the sticks and cleared the road.
Ronnie was visibly upset by these antics. We then parked at another house and paid the owners of the land for parking and access to hike on their land to the Seven Sisters Falls.
The owners of the land where we parked said that this is a good old-fashioned small-town dispute. The owners are a Grenadian couple who recently returned to resettle their family´s land after two decades in the UK. They decided to charge for access to the land, which includes the easiest trail to the falls (the waterfalls are on public land and can also be accessed by a longer hike). In addition to simply charging for access, the couple maintains the trail, provides parking, provides walking sticks and gives a free welcome drink. Before the couple moved back, the other lady has been charging for parking on her land and ran a shop selling drinks, but now her business has been completely undercut. She has been acting up to try to scare tourists, and the couple, away. She has even tried to get in on the action by charging tourists for “access” to drive on the public road by her house and sometimes tells people that the falls are closed.
Apparently, the strategy has worked…somewhat… and the couple is trying to get the Ministry of Tourism to get involved.
The funny thing about this whole dispute is that the conversation between Ronnie and the couple about the blockage took about twice as long as the blockage itself. C’est La vie.
The walk down to falls took 15 minutes. The trail was muddy and steep. Glad I had the stick!
After passing a few dry riverbeds that are most likely impassable in the rainy season, we reached a series of two waterfalls. These are the bottom two of the Seven Sisters.
At the falls, there was a Black women´s wellness retreat going on. All the women were from the US. They were dressed in their best swimwear taking pictures and swimming in the water. One lady jumped off the larger top falls while screaming “for women´s empowerment”.
When I stepped up to jump off the lower falls, I got some funny looks from the group. They were probably thinking “how did this white boy get here?”. After jumping in, we ended up having a funny chat.
Back in the parking lot, we had yet another chat about the lady blocking the road. Although this time, we could see her on a hill staring right as us.
We then drove 1 hour east and then north to Belmont Estate, a 1700’s coffee plantation turned chocolate factory. The plantation is owned by the 4th generation of an Indian-Grenadian family who was originally brought as indentured labor. I am not sure whether their ancestors worked on this particular plantation, but the story is still cool.
My first stop was lunch, which was not included in the tour. I had the $30 USD 3-course local lunch which was superb and well worth the money.
Next, I took a tour of the chocolate factory. At Belmont, they do the entire production chain starting from the plant which grows on-site. They cover the beans with banana leaves and burlap sacks to roast. Then they dry the beans on rail racks from the 1700´s.
While chocolate has been produced on Grenada for a long time, it was always nutmeg that was the dominant plant. In fact, Grenada used to be nutmeg capital of world. However, Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Emily destroyed the island´s crop in 2004 and 2005 respectively. It turns out that nutmeg plants take a long time to grow before bearing fruit, but coffee and chocolate take less time. So, the island´s economy has shifted permanently. Perhaps one day the nutmeg production will return.
My final stop for the tour was the old Pearls airport, which is now used as a drag racing slip. Next to the runway are two ruined Soviet planes. One is an Aeroflot and the other is Cubana (the national airline of Cuba). In the 1980´s Grenada was run by a left-wing Communist-friendly government.
The leader of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, decided to build a new airport as the current airport has both a small runway and is located on the opposite end of the island from the capital. He did this in the name of tourism and used Cuban and Soviet laborers to help build the runway.
The US thought that the new runway could be an opportunity for the Soviet Union to bring their largest warplanes and potentially threaten the US or other nearby countries. On October 16, 1983, Bishop was deposed in a coup by his deputy Bernard Coard. Everybody in the country was ordered to stay in their houses and for 3 days anybody who was caught outside their home would be executed. As a result of this, Ronald Reagan gave the order for the US and a coalition of 6 Caribbean nations to invade Grenada. Officially this was done to protect US students caught up in the coup, but in reality, this was done to stop the Communist tendencies of the island and install a pro-US government.
The US invaded quickly with a force of 7,300 troops. The Grenadian defending force has 1,500 local soldiers equipped with Soviet rifles and about 700 Cuban “construction workers” who were actually Cuban soldiers. The invasion took 3 days after which point, the Communist government was defeated, and a pro-US government installed.
While, yes, the US did uncover a larger Soviet/Cuban military presence than expected, there was no direct threat to Americans on the island. As such, the invasion received widespread condemnation by the international community. Grenadians are also torn on the legacy of this invasion. While some people are happy to have a democracy, the majority of the people, including my guide, believe that Granada was punished for the simple crime of trying to better itself.
The new airport was completed soon after and was named after the original Communist leader Maurice Bishop.
Back in town, I had just enough time to visit the beach again before getting dinner at a lively beach club restaurant.
March 13, 2023: Saint George´s
For my final day, I decided to visit the capital city of Saint George´s. Lonely Planet listed the city as the number one spot to visit in the entire Caribbean, so I was very excited. I picked Monday because most of the attractions in the capital city are closed on weekends. The city was originally built by the French in 1650 but ceded to the British in 1763 as a result of the French and Indian Wars.
From my Airbnb, I jumped into a minibus and reached the center of the hilly town in 15 minutes. The city was crowded with people including well-dressed children heading to school. I could also see a 2,000-person cruise ship looming in the water waiting to dock.
My first stop of the day was Fort George, the landmark fortress built by the French in 1705. It stands on top of a prominent hill in town and serves as the unofficial symbol of the city. Today, it serves as the national police headquarters of the country. Unfortunately, the fort is in terrible shape and is being refurbished. As a result, it is closed to tourism. I was able to peek into a courtyard and saw a dilapidated basketball court. Truly a shame.
Next, I headed to the National Museum. However, the museum is also closed for a refurbishment that began during COVID and will last at least another year.
Nearby, I stopped in the Chocolate Museum. The “museum” is actually a chocolate shop that happens to have a few panels on the history of chocolate. Despite opening 30 minutes before my arrival, the staff was still busy setting up for the day and did not want to deal with me. I waited for 10 minutes at the counter but eventually gave up and left empty handed.
Since I could not eat any chocolate, I walked over to the top-rated restaurant on the island, BB´s Crabshack. Despite having the opening time written on the outside of the building, the staff told me they were going to open at 1pm today with no explanation.
So far, I have struck out 4 times and have failed to spend any money despite my best efforts. While walking around, I continued to hear cruise passengers express their disappointment in Grenada.
The only tourist business that was open was the market, which had some spices and trinkets, and was fine.
While seemingly everything was closed, luckily the city is very pretty to stroll. The picturesque buildings encircle the narrow circular working harbor.
After 2 hours in the town, I was fed up and took a minibus back towards the Airbnb. There, I walked to a lunch spot called Andy´s Soup House. They were open and Andy was so nice. I ordered some tropical juices and soup.
From there, I walked to the main roundabout and caught a minibus to the airport. After paying, the driver admitted he did not want to take me all the way to the airport and dropped me off halfway (while still taking all my money). I then walked the final 25 minutes in the heat to reach the airport.
Grenada is a beautiful island that has kept its authenticity. It is not overbuilt, and the culture is more accessible than on other islands. Most of the businesses seemed to be patronized by both tourists and locals.
However, things simply do not work well in Grenada. There were no easy ways to visit the island on a Sunday and all the attractions in the capital were closed on days when they should have been open. The taxis are unnecessarily large and expensive. This really frustrated me and would certainly frustrate other tourists. Yes, the beach is pretty, yes, the city is cute and yes the weather is nice, but there are many other Caribbean islands that also have this. So, why go to the one that is difficult?
I think that Grenada has the opportunity to leverage its history and spice reputation to leverage the ecotourism more. I can see more eco tours, rural homestays, and even work-away programs such as WWOOFing being very successful here in Grenada.