Bequia is a Carib word meaning "island of the cloud." Hilly and green with several golden-sand beaches, Bequia is 9 miles (14½ km) south of St. Vincent's southwestern shore; with a population of 5,000, it's the largest of the Grenadines. Although boatbuilding, whaling, and fishing have been the predominant industries here for generations, sailing has now become almost synonymous with Bequia. Admiralty Bay is a favored anchorage for both privately owned and chartered yachts. Lodgings range from comfortable resorts and villas to cozy West Indian—style inns. Bequia's airport and the frequent ferry service from St. Vincent make this a favorite destination for day-trippers, as well. The ferry docks in Port Elizabeth, a tiny town with waterfront bars, restaurants, and shops where you can buy handmade souvenirs—including the exquisitely detailed model sailboats that are a famous Bequia export. The Easter Regatta is held during the four-day Easter weekend, when revelers gather to watch boat races and celebrate the island's seafaring traditions with food, music, dancing, and competitive games.To see the views, villages, beaches, and boatbuilding sites around Bequia, hire a taxi at the jetty in Port Elizabeth. Several usually line up under the almond trees to meet each ferry from St. Vincent.
Dining on Bequia ranges from casual local-style meals to more elaborate cuisine, and both the food and the service are consistently good. Barbecues at Bequia's hotels mean spicy West Indian seafood, chicken, and beef, plus a buffet of side salads, vegetable dishes, and desserts.
The airy dining verandah at the Gingerbread Hotel offers all-day dining and a panoramic view of Admiralty Bay and all the waterfront activity. The lunch crowd enjoys barbecued beef kebabs or chicken with fried potatoes or onions, grilled fish, homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches. In the evening, steaks, seafood, and curries are specialties of the house. Save room for warm, fresh gingerbread—served here with lemon sauce. In season, dinner is often accompanied by live music.
Mac's has been serving brick-oven pizza in Bequia since 1980. Choose from 17 mouthwatering toppings (including lobster) or opt for homemade lasagne, quiche, conch fritters, pita sandwiches, or soup and salad. Mac's home-baked cookies, muffins, and banana bread (by the slice or the loaf) are great for dessert or a snack. Or top off your meal with a scoop or two of Maranne's homemade ice cream in tropical flavors. The outdoor terrace has water views. Take-out is also available.
In addition to several small hotels and inns in Port Elizabeth, Friendship Bay, and elsewhere on the island, a number of villas are available for vacation rental in Spring, Friendship Bay, Lower Bay, and other scenic areas of Bequia. The villas are suitable for two people or as many as a dozen, and the weekly rentals in high season run from as low as $560 a week for a "sweet and simple" villa to $9,000 or more for an elaborate villa with an Italian-style courtyard, gardens, and pool.
Long renowned for their boatbuilding skills, Bequians have translated that craftsmanship to building model boats. In their workshops in Port Elizabeth, you can watch as hair-thin lines are attached to delicate sails or individual strips of wood are glued together for decking. Other Bequian artisans create scrimshaw, carve wood, crochet, or work with fabric—designing or hand-painting it first, then creating clothing and gift items for sale. Bequia's shops are mostly on Front Street and Belmont Walkway, its waterfront extension, just steps from the jetty where the ferry arrives in Port Elizabeth. North of the jetty there's an open-air market; farther along that road, you'll find the model-boat workshops. Opposite the jetty, at Bayshore Mall, shops sell ice cream, baked goods, stationery, gifts, and clothing; there's also a grocery, liquor store, pharmacy, travel agent, and bank. On Belmont Walkway, south of the jetty, shops and studios showcase gifts and handmade articles. Shops are open weekdays from 8 to 5, Saturday 8 to noon.
Head here for Caribbean literature, cruising guides and charts, Caribbean flags, beach novels, souvenir maps, and exquisite scrimshaw and whalebone penknives carved by Bequian scrimshander Sam McDowell.
This shops stocks an excellent and unusual selection of handmade jewelry, wood carvings, scrimshaw, and resort clothing. It's above the Porthole restaurant, near the jetty. Note that it's closed in October.
Mauvin's Model Boat Shop
At this workshop, you can purchase a Bequia
trademark—a handmade model "Bequia boat"—or special-order a replica of your
own yacht. The models are incredibly detailed and quite expensive—priced from
a few hundred to several thousand dollars. The simplest models take about a week
Sargeant Brothers Model Boat Shop
In addition to handcrafted, expertly
rigged, and authentically detailed model boats, the craftsmen at Sargeant
Brothers also build custom models on commission.
Friendship Bay Beach
This spectacular horseshoe-shaped, mile-long
(1½-km-long), protected beach on Bequia's midsouthern coast can be reached by
land taxi. Refreshments are available at Bequia Beach Hotel's Bagatelle grill.
Amenities: food and drink. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.
Industry Bay Beach
This nearly secluded beach on the northeastern
(windward) side of the island is fringed with towering palms; getting here
requires transportation from Port Elizabeth. The beach is good for snorkelers
who are strong swimmers, as there could be a strong undertow. Bring a picnic;
the nearest facilities are at Firefly Bequia or Sugar Reef resorts, about a 10-
to 15-minute walk.
Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; snorkeling.
Lower Bay Beach
This broad, palm-fringed beach on the southern shore of Admiralty Bay, south of Port Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Beach, is reachable by land or water taxi or a healthy hike from town. It's an excellent beach for swimming and snorkeling. Refreshments are available at beachfront restaurants, including Mango's Beach Bar and De Reef.
Amenities: food and drink; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
Princess Margaret Beach
Quiet and wide with a natural stone arch at one end, the beach is not far from Port Elizabeth's Belmont Walkway—but you still need to take a water or land taxi to get here. When you tire of the water, snoozing under the palm and sea grape trees is always an option. Plan to have lunch at Jack's Bar.
Amenities: food and drink; toilets.
This huge sheltered bay on the leeward side of Bequia is a favorite yacht anchorage. Year-round it's filled with boats; in season they're moored or transom to bowsprit. It's the perfect spot for watching the sun dip over the horizon each evening—either from your boat or from the terrace bar at one of Port Elizabeth's waterfront hotels or restaurants.
Bequia's capital and only town, referred to locally as "The Harbour," is on the northeastern side of Admiralty Bay. The ferry from St. Vincent docks at the jetty in the center of the tiny town, which is only a few blocks long and a couple of blocks deep. Walk north along Front Street (which faces the water) to the open-air market, where you can buy local fruits and vegetables and some handicrafts; farther along, you can find some of Bequia's famous model-boat shops. Walking south from the jetty, Belmont Walkway meanders along the bayfront past shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, and small hotels.
Hope Bay Beach
Getting to this remote beach facing Bequia's windward side involves a long taxi ride across the island (about $10 from Port Elizabeth) and a mile-long (1½-km-long) walk downhill on a semipaved path. Your reward is a magnificent crescent of white sand, total seclusion, and—if you like—nude bathing. Be sure to ask your taxi driver to return at a prearranged time. Bring your own lunch and drinks, as there are no facilities. Even though the surf is fairly shallow, swimming may be dangerous because of the undertow.
Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary
In the far northeast of the island, Orton "Brother" King, a retired skin-diving fisherman, tends to more than 200 endangered hawksbill turtles until they can be released back into the sea. Call ahead, and he'll be glad to show you around and tell you how his project has increased the turtle population in Bequia.
Hamilton Battery/Ft. Hamilton
Just north of Port Elizabeth, high above Admiralty Bay, an 18th-century fort protected the harbor from marauders. Today it's simply a place to enjoy a magnificent view.