Kingstown, St. Vincent
Kingstown's shopping and business district, historic churches and cathedrals, and other points of interest can easily be seen in a half day, with another couple of hours for the Botanic Gardens. The coastal roads of St. Vincent offer spectacular panoramas and scenes of island life. The Leeward Highway follows the scenic Caribbean coastline; the Windward Highway follows the more dramatic Atlantic coast. A drive along the windward coast requires a full day. Exploring La Soufrière or the Vermont Nature Trails is also a major undertaking, requiring a very early start and a full day of strenuous hiking.
Nearly all restaurants in St. Vincent specialize in local West Indian cuisine, although you can find chefs with broad culinary experience at a few hotel restaurants. Local dishes to try include callaloo (similar to spinach) soup, curried goat or chicken, rotis (turnovers filled with curried meat or vegetables), fresh-caught seafood (lobster, kingfish, snapper, and mahimahi), local vegetables such as the squashlike christophene (also known as chayote) and pumpkin, "provisions" (roots such as yams and dasheen), and tropical fruit (including avocados, breadfruit, mangoes, soursop, pineapples, and papaya). Fried or baked chicken is available everywhere, often accompanied by "rice 'n' peas" or pelau (a stew made with rice, coconut milk, and either chicken or beef seared in caramelized sugar). At Campden Park, just north of Kingstown, the local beer, Hairoun, is brewed in accordance with a German recipe. Sunset is the local rum.
What to Wear. Restaurants are casual. You may want to dress up a little—long pants and collared shirts for gents, summer dresses or dress pants for the ladies—for an evening out at a pricey restaurant. Beachwear, however, is never appropriate in restaurants.
Basil's Bar and Restaurant
It's not just the air-conditioning that makes this restaurant cool. Basil's, at street level at the Cobblestone Inn, is owned by Basil Charles, whose Basil's Beach Bar on Mustique is a hangout for the vacationing rich and famous. This is the Kingstown power-lunch venue. Local businesspeople gather for the daily buffet (weekdays) or full menu of salads, sandwiches, barbecued chicken, or fresh seafood platters. Dinner entrées of pasta, local seafood, and chicken are served at candlelit tables.
Cobblestone Roof-Top Bar & Restaurant
To reach what is perhaps the most pleasant, the breeziest, and the most satisfying breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Kingstown, diners must climb the equivalent of three flights of interior stone steps within the historic Cobblestone Inn. But getting to the open-air rooftop restaurant is half the fun, as en route diners get an up-close view of a 19th-century sugar (and later arrowroot) Georgian warehouse that's now a very appealing boutique inn. A full breakfast menu is available to hotel guests and the public alike. The luncheon menu ranges from homemade soups, salads (tuna, chicken, fruit, or tossed), sandwiches, or burgers and fries to full meals of roast beef, stewed chicken, or grilled fish served with rice, plantains, macaroni pie, and fresh local vegetables.
With a few exceptions—most notably, Buccament Bay Resort northwest of the capital city—tourist accommodations and facilities on St. Vincent are in either Kingstown or the Villa Beach area. All guest rooms have air-conditioning, TV, and phone unless stated otherwise.
Nightlife in St. Vincent consists mostly of once-a-week (in season) hotel barbecue buffets with a steel band or a local string band (usually older gents who play an assortment of string instruments). Jump-ups, so called because the lively calypso music makes listeners jump up and dance, happen around holidays, festivals, and Vincy Mas—St. Vincent's Carnival—which begins in June and is the biggest cultural event of the year.
The 12 small blocks that hug the waterfront in downtown Kingstown make up St. Vincent's main shopping district. Among the shops that sell goods to fulfill household needs are a few that sell local crafts, gifts, and souvenirs. Bargaining is neither expected nor appreciated. The cruise-ship complex, on the waterfront in Kingstown, has a collection of a dozen or so boutiques, shops, and restaurants that cater primarily to cruise-ship passengers but welcome all shoppers. The best souvenirs of St. Vincent are intricately woven straw items, such as handbags, hats, slippers, baskets, and grass mats that range in size from place mats to room-size floor mats. If you're inclined to bring home a floor mat, pack (or buy) a few heavy-duty plastic bags and some twine. The mats aren't heavy and roll or fold rather neatly; wrapped securely and tagged, they can be checked or carried on board as luggage for the flight home. Local artwork and carvings are available in galleries, from street vendors, and in shops at the cruise-ship complex. Hot sauce and other condiments, often produced in St. Vincent and sold in markets and gift shops, make tasty souvenirs to bring back home.
St. Vincent Craftsmen's Centre
Locally made grass floor mats, place mats, and other straw articles, as well as batik cloth, handmade West Indian dolls, hand-painted calabashes, and framed artwork are all available at this store that's three blocks from the wharf. No credit cards are accepted.
Indian Bay Beach
South of Kingstown and separated from Villa Beach by a rocky hill, Indian Bay has golden sand but is slightly rocky; it's very good for snorkeling. Grand View Hotel, high on a cliff overlooking Indian Bay Beach, operates a beach bar and grill.
Amenities: food and drink. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
Started by the French in 1786 and completed by the British in 1806, the fort was ultimately named for Britain's Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. It sits on Berkshire Hill, a dramatic promontory 2 mi (3 km) north of Kingstown and 636 feet above sea level, affording a stunning view of the capital city and the Grenadines. Interestingly, its cannons face inland, as the fear of attack—by the French and their Carib allies—from the ridges above Kingstown was far greater than any threat approaching from the sea. In any case, the fort saw no action. Nowadays, it serves as a signal station for ships; the ancient cells house historical paintings of the island by Lindsay Prescott.
The capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a city of 13,500 residents, wraps around Kingstown Bay on the island's southwestern coast; a ring of green hills and ridges studded with homes forms a backdrop for the city. This is very much a working city, with a busy harbor and few concessions to tourists. Kingstown Harbour is the only deepwater port on the island.A few gift shops can be found on and around Bay Street, near the harbor. Upper Bay Street, which stretches along the bayfront, bustles with daytime activity—workers going about their business and housewives doing their shopping. Many of Kingstown's downtown buildings are built of stone or brick brought to the island as ballast in the holds of 18th-century ships (and replaced with sugar and spices for the return trip to Europe). The Georgian-style stone arches and second-floor overhangs on former warehouses—which provide shelter from midday sun and the brief, cooling showers common to the tropics—have earned Kingstown the nickname "City of Arches."Grenadines Wharf, at the south end of Bay Street, is busy with schooners loading supplies and ferries loading people bound for the Grenadines. The Cruise-Ship Complex, just south of the commercial wharf, has a mall with a dozen or more shops, plus restaurants, a post office, communications facilities, and a taxi-minibus stand.A huge selection of produce fills the Kingstown Produce Market, a three-story building that takes up a whole city block on Upper Bay, Hillsboro, and Bedford streets in the center of town. It's noisy, colorful, and open Monday through Saturday—but the busiest times (and the best times to go) are Friday and Saturday mornings. In the courtyard, vendors sell local arts and crafts. On the upper floors, merchants sell clothing, household items, gifts, and other products. Little Tokyo, so called because funding for the project was a gift from Japan, is a waterfront shopping area with a bustling indoor fish market and dozens of stalls where you can buy inexpensive homemade meals, drinks, ice cream, bread and cookies, clothing, trinkets, and even get a haircut. St. George's Cathedral, on Grenville Street, is a pristine, creamy-yellow Anglican church built in 1820. The dignified Georgian architecture includes simple wooden pews, an ornate chandelier, and beautiful stained-glass windows; one was a gift from Queen Victoria, who actually commissioned it for London's St. Paul's Cathedral in honor of her first grandson. When the artist created an angel with a red robe, she was horrified by the color and sent the window abroad. The markers in the cathedral's graveyard recount the history of the island. Across the street is St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption, built in stages beginning in 1823. The strangely appealing design is a blend of Moorish, Georgian, and Romanesque styles applied to black brick. Nearby, freed slaves built the Kingstown Methodist Church in 1841. The exterior is brick, simply decorated with quoins (solid blocks that form the corners), and the roof is held together by metal straps, bolts, and wooden pins. Scots Kirk was built from 1839 to 1880 by and for Scottish settlers but became a Seventh-Day Adventist church in 1952.
This towering volcano, which last erupted in 1979, is 4,048 feet high and so huge in area that its surrounding mountainside covers virtually the entire northern third of the island. The eastern trail to the rim of the crater, a two-hour ascent, begins at Rabacca Dry River.
Wallilabou Heritage Park
The Wallilabou Estate, halfway up the island's leeward coast, once produced cocoa, cotton, and arrowroot. Today, it is Wallilabou Heritage Park, a recreational site with a river and small waterfall, which creates a small pool where you can take a freshwater plunge. You can also sunbathe, swim, picnic, or buy your lunch at Wallilabou Anchorage—a favorite stop for boaters staying overnight. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies left their mark on Wallilabou (pronounced wally-la-boo), a location used for filming the opening scenes of The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003. Many of the buildings and docks built as stage sets remain, giving Wallilabou Bay (a port of entry for visiting yachts) an intriguingly historic (yet ersatz) appearance.
The long stretch of sand in front of the row of hotels facing the Young Island Channel (Mariners, Paradise Beach, Sunset Shores, and Beachcombers hotels on the "mainland" and Young Island Resort across the channel) varies from 20 to 25 feet wide to practically nonexistent. The broadest, sandiest part is in front of Beachcombers Hotel, which is also the perfect spot for sunbathers to get lunch and liquid refreshments. It's a popular beach destination for cruise-ship passengers when a ship is in port.
Amenities: food and drink; water sports. Best for: swimming.
The oldest botanical garden in the Western Hemisphere is just north of downtown Kingstown—a few minutes by taxi. The garden was founded in 1765 after Captain Bligh—of Bounty fame—brought the first breadfruit tree to this island for landowners to propagate. The prolific bounty of the breadfruit trees was used to feed the slaves. You can see a direct descendant of the original tree among the specimen mahogany, rubber, teak, and other tropical trees and shrubs in the 20 acres of gardens. Two dozen rare St. Vincent parrots, confiscated from illegal collections, live in the small aviary.