Grenada - the unspoiled Caribbean
You would have thought that the tiny Caribbean islands of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique would be alive with tourists enjoying year-round sunshine, white sandy beaches and a warm inviting turquoise sea. However, this is not the case. The sun-kissed island of Grenada measures 21 miles north to south and 12 miles east to west and is the second smallest country in the western hemisphere.
With a population of just 100,000 inhabitants, much of Grenada is still as Mother Nature intended - untouched, undeveloped and undiscovered. This is definitely an island whereby the palm trees outnumber the hotels. The quaint picturesque towns and villages with their narrow passageways and winding roads, which were originally built for use by horse and cart, stretch up into the mountains, passing through lush green forests and spice gardens, only coming to end where the unmade pathways begin which lead to spectacular remote waterfalls.
The island of Carriacou has a population of 8,000 and is just a short ferry trip from Grenada. Again, the island has been left virtually untouched by the 21st century. There are only 18 hotels on the island and just one petrol station! So that should give you an idea of how small this island really is. When you disembark from the ferry and leave the harbour you get that feeling that you have gone back in time. The main road leading in and out of the rustic town circles the entire island. Petite Martinique lies to the north west of Carriacou and is the largest of the islets that can be found dotted around the coastline of the Spice Islands. Although it is only 500 acres in size it has a population of 900 inhabitants, with boat building and fishing as the main occupations.
With all of this beauty we must ask ourselves a question! Why, when tourism is such a major part of the economy, has it been left untouched by eager developers? Well, the answer is quite simply, that’s the way that the government and, more importantly, the inhabitants of the islands want it. They have taken onboard the success of other Caribbean islands and have watched in horror as the landscapes of these once-beautiful retreats have changed beyond all recognition. They have taken the decision not to allow future development to destroy these idyllic tropical retreats. Although there are only a handful of hotels on the islands the tourist board and the local communities have formed a partnership and are offering tourists what they call ‘home stays’.
They would like you to visit the Spice Islands and experience firsthand the warmth and hospitality by staying with the locals in their own homes. Not only is this a fantastic idea which benefits the economy, it doesn’t have any adverse effect on the landscape. My tour of the Spice Islands began on Grenada. The True Blue Bay hotel, situated on the south side of Grenada, would be our base for the next couple of days. Although I had just had a nine-hour flight I didn’t feel tired at all. So once I had checked in and unpacked it was time to familiarise myself with my surroundings. My chalet-style hotel room was set on the side of a hill overlooking the bay, from here it was not only possible to take in the spectacular sea views I could also look down on to the marina and the dive centre.
From my vantage point I watched in awe as the boats returned with smiling divers! After introducing myself to the centre’s staff, it was arranged that I would be joining dive guide and instructor Charlene Miller onboard one of the centre’s three day boats. After a good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast and with equipment over my shoulder, I leisurely made my way down to the dive centre. As soon as I was through the door and into the air-conditioned reception my kit was taken from me by a welcoming member of staff. Soon we were off around the point where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic to a dive site that has it all! Sharks, mantas, turtles, a seabed decorated with colourful corals and shed loads of shoaling fish! There were four of us on the dive, two newly qualified divers, myself and Charlene so we weren’t going to go to deep, just around 15m or so.
The point where the two oceans meet can be a little choppy, so it’s best to sit down and hang on until you reach the calm waters of the Caribbean. Once through the turbulent seas it wasn’t long before we were at Shark Point. We all eagerly kitted up and buddy checked and then it was a giant stride into the warm, clear blue water. As we began our descent we found that we were in the middle of a thick shoal of shimmering small-mouth grunts and although the visibility was awesome, at least 30 metres, we had difficulty seeing the ocean floor just 15m below us. Checking that all was okay, Charlene then led the way. Although the seabed was made up of rocks, boulders and patches of sand and shingle, there were other, more alien shapes taking any and all available spaces. Brightly coloured tube-like structures which so I am told are members of the sponge family stood at least one metre proud of the seabed. They could be seen everywhere, some were long and narrow while others were slightly shorter with a wider diameter.
A closer inspection found that shrimps and other tiny creatures used them for shelter and protection from predators. Moving on we came to a section of reef with a swim-through too small for a diver to get through, but just wide and deep enough for a nurse shark to rest until it was ready to go hunting. After carefully taking a few photos we explored the surrounding area and found a number of these large predatory creatures hiding under and alongside the rocks with spiny lobster for company. Although these particular sharks are virtually harmless and despite the fact that they were not moving, they still somehow appear exciting. These somewhat docile sharks took up most of our attention and the time passed by very quickly.
With air running low it wasn’t long before it was necessary to do a safety stop and end what can only be described as an awesome dive. Surely it couldn’t get any better than this! The following day I was off to Carriacou for a brief visit to sample the diving from this tiny little island. The trip over took 90 minutes by ferry, on the way we went around a large volcanic crater known as Kick ‘Em Jenny. The sea gets a little rough at this point, but once past the crater the water calms down again. When we reached the island we were taken to the Grand View Hotel. My room had two windows from where I had a perfect view of the coastline and the mountainous scenery behind the hotel. We took time out to explore the island and to give you an idea of size and population, there was only one high street and only one dive centre. Lumbadive is situated just a short distance from the hotel in Hillsborough.
I was introduced to my dive guide Jean-Philippe and we jumped on the RIB for the short journey to Jack Iron Point. Here I found the seabed to be made up of small pinnacles covered with soft and hard corals. Again the tube-like structures were here in a variety of colours, but not as prolific as on the last dive. There was a bit of a current pushing us along and I can tell you it was touch and go with a hint of skill and a lot of luck weaving our way through the pinnacles without leaving our skin on the razor-sharp coral. Taking photos on this dive was impossible, our attention was focused on where we were going! We did two dives at the same location. Both very exhilarating, the second dive the current was much stronger. Because I was touring the Spice Islands, as soon as I had finished my dive and was back at the dive centre it was time to catch the ferry back to Grenada.
From here I would be spending the final few days at the luxurious Rex Resort hotel in Tamarind Bay. Although they have their own dive centre, it was arranged that I would be diving with Scubatech Dive Centre at the Calabash Hotel in St George. Master Instructor Carsten Andres bought the dive centre four years ago and has never looked back. I was to do three dives with Scubatech and I can tell you I wasn’t to be disappointed! The first of our dives was to be back at Shark Point. Again we came across nurse sharks resting under the rocks and colourful corals, but while I positioned myself to take yet another photo of these majestic creatures, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a turtle clambering over the rocks and sponges towards me! Unperturbed by my presence the turtle slowly passed by, not even glancing in my direction to see if I posed a threat. Just like the first time I dived here there is so much to see and so little time.
Our second dive was to be on an underwater scrapyard. Some 40 cars are now lying on the seabed at Dragons Bay in about 30m of water after a failed attempt at an artificial reef. Marine life has not colonised the wrecked cars as was envisaged, so future sites were scrapped. The skipper of the boat wasn’t wrong when he said we may be pushed off course due to the strong current. We tried a couple of times to get to the cars, but the tide kept pushing us away! Fortunately for us the highlight of the dive was the tide pushing us towards a reef whereby a small manta ray came from nowhere and swam with us for a short distance, giving me time to take a few photos before it disappeared into the blue.
Once back onboard the boat the skipper moved the boat to the last of our day’s dives, the world-famous sculpture park. Although this is a very popular snorkelling site, Carsten thought that it would be a good idea for me to get some close up shots of the sculptures. To get to each of the sculptures you have to follow a series of passageways through bleached rock and fossilised coral. At the end of a passageway or standing up against the wall you will find either a bust of a person or a cyclist riding a bike. Weaving on through the maze of pathways I found a sculpture sitting at a desk with its ghostly hands at the typewriter. If you follow the pathways correctly the famous circle of children is the last of the sculptures that you will come across, and although they are starting to become coral encrusted and bits of them had fallen off, I got an eerie feeling when I approached them.
Although we had come to see the sculptures I was surprised at how little marine life there was here. So after an hour exploring the pathways we made our way back to the boat and then back to the dive centre. Grenada and Carriacou offer a real back-to-basics appeal that is totally different to some of the more developed islands in the Caribbean. The people are open and friendly, the islands are absolutely stunning in their natural beauty, and the diving is simply first-rate. Grenada boasts so many wrecks in diveable depths that it richly deserves its title of ‘shipwreck capital of the Caribbean’, but marine life is also plentiful, so if you aren’t into sunken metal, you will not be disappointed.
Sport Diver verdict
Grenada is a great location for divers of all levels, and despite its reputation as the wreck-diving capital of the Caribbean, you don't have to be a wreckie to enjoy the diving here.