Spice Island

Thank Nutmeg for Grenada’s Unspoiled Beauty
Grenada Board of Tourism

Grenada is a relative newcomer on the tourism bandwagon, which explains why this lush, unspoiled Caribbean nation is such a well-kept secret. But not for long. As soon as nature lovers discover its rainforest hikes, white-sand beaches lapping warm turquoise seas, and private coastlines with not a Club Med in sight, Grenada may become a favorite of the Tevas-and-rum punch crowd.

How did Grenada manage to avoid the fate of so many Caribbean islands that became either homogenous landscapes of U.S. hotels and fast-food chains or the private enclaves of the super-wealthy? The answer is simple: nutmeg. While other islands turned to tourism when the region’s sugar and then banana industries failed, Grenada continued to be the world’s second-largest supplier (after Indonesia) of nutmeg—and a major grower of saffron, clove, ginger and mace.

Turbulent politics have also kept Americans away. In the 1960s and ‘70s, this island nation was ruled by Eric Gairy, a union organizer turned dictator who believed in UFOs and that he ruled by divine mandate. In 1979, Maurice Bishop’s left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government took over in a bloodless coup. Welcomed as a working-class hero, Bishop improved education and health care for the nation’s poor.

But Grenadians became disillusioned with his government and, in 1983, leftists from within the party’s own ranks overthrew him, swiftly executing Bishop and his top officers. Citing as a pretext the safety of U.S. medical students at Grenada University, Ronald Reagan sent troops to invade the island.

After the Fire

Today, Grenada is a stable parliamentary democracy that is just beginning to awaken to ecotourism’s potential. The jewel in the crown is Grand Etang National Park, a 3,816-acre reserve whose centerpiece is a rainforest that the government had the foresight to preserve nearly a century ago as a source of water for drinking and agriculture. There is still virtually no large-scale logging on Grenada, and no foreign concessions have been sold.

The best way to see the park is to hire an experienced local guide such as 58-year-old Telfor Bedeau, who started exploring the island in 1962 “to avoid being bored in the village.” He points out birds (there are 350 species), Mona monkeys, manicou (opossum-like creatures), and tatou (armadillos). Hiking is best during the dry season, December to May.

Nature lovers may also want to visit the remote La Sagesse Nature Center on the southeastern coast, which has a black-sand beach and short trails through mangrove and coastal ecosystems. Levera National Park, on the northeastern tip of the island, has a good white-sand beach (but rough water), a bird sanctuary and a lodge.

Grenada’s sister island of Carriacou has the country’s most spectacular reefs for diving and snorkeling. This pastoral island also has secluded beaches, oyster beds and an interesting African culture. (A local anthropologist has traced the African lineage of all of the island’s residents to the Ebo and Comante tribes.)

Unspoiled Paradise

Carriacou is like the Caribbean used to be, with buildings restricted to the height of the sheltering palm trees. Country lanes wind past small houses and gardens, the quiet broken only by the breeze-blown sounds of birdsong and goats bleating. Island resident Cuthbert Snagg takes snorkelers and divers to reefs off Sandy Island or the Tobago Cays, where green and hawksbill turtles swim with barracudas, lobsters and colorful reef residents such as the parrotfish. To get to Carriacou, take a short flight from Grenada’s airport (Region Air, Helen Air or Airlines of Carriacou fly round-trip for about $50) or a one-and-a-half-hour hydrofoil trip (Osprey Express, $28 round-trip) from the Carenage in St. George’s, the capital.

Although Grenada’s current government seems more enamored with the idea of luring large-scale development (a Ritz-Carlton plans to build on the island by the year 2000) than developing and supporting locally run nature-oriented enterprises, ecotourism has tremendous potential on this green island. “Ecotourism is not as well developed as it should be by the government,” says Robert Dunn of the Grenada Forest Department. Dunn says the national parks bureau, which runs the program, is “under-staffed, under-resourced, under-everything.” But the country is taking steps to correct this dearth of eco-opportunities, including making maps of the interior and improving trails in the uplands. The need to bring in revenue has caused massive development in the northeast, which is encroaching on natural ecosystems. “We have to get back on track,” adds businessman Patrick Brown, “and ecotourism is an investment in society.”