LINDA JACKSON
Granada snorkelling diving Image copyright Travel Writer Linda Jackson

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GRENADA - Soft adventure holidays in the Caribbean

Go with the flow... get active in the Caribbean

(Written for KUDOS Magazine Travel Section)

While kayak enthusiasts, hikers, birdwatchers and mountain-bikers are becoming increasingly aware of Grenada’s hidden natural beauty and resources, it is still the allure of the green-blue crystalline waters for which the Caribbean is famed that attracts waves of visitors to the tropical island of Grenada - also known for its great diving sites and for being an ideal starting point from which to charter a boat to explore the Grenadines.

Diving with the she-devil is an interesting proposition.

It’s not an activity anyone would expect to take on during a visit to an exotic island in the Caribbean but what the hell, sometimes you have no alternative but to go with the flow - in this case underwater. And what a surreal experience it is when the Devil Woman’s face, hidden beneath the wide brim of her hat, is a skeleton that can only be observed by getting up-front-and-personal... literally.

She sits on the seabed in Moilinere Bay just feet below the water surface and a matter of yards offshore from the Caribbean island of Grenada in an underwater sculpture park - a unique creation of sculptor Jason Taylor from England whose ocean floor works of art depict the island’s colourful history and folklore.

It’s an unusual scuba diving and snorkelling site and one of the ‘soft’ adventure options in the island’s growing ‘activity’ portfolio.

Exploring the Underwater Sculpture Park, home to 65 sculptures in all, is mesmerising – diving or snorkelling, it’s totally surreal. There is a line of heads on the coral here, a large circle of life-sized people holding hands there; a man sits at a desk typing and, of course, there’s that cloven-hoofed she-devil who is despised by women but enchanting to men... according to folklore that is.

Getting to the site and speeding through the water like a bat out of hell in a powerful twin-engine Zodiac adds to the thrill as passengers clutch tightly to the handlebars of their ‘jockey’ seats. Not only is the tour gripping, but also informative: the organisers give a guided tour of each piece of sculpture, talk about Grenada’s nautical history, the Leatherback Turtle, the marine park and other ecological aspects of the island.

A diverse landscape of mountain ranges, dormant volcanoes, deep gorges, and fine white coral beaches are embraced by the 120 square miles of Grenada, an island about the size of the Isle of Wight. Located 100 miles to the north of Venezuela and 158 miles to the southwest of Barbados, Grenada is part of a tri-island state with Carriacou and Petite Martinique, and the most southern of the Windward Islands.

Since hurricane Ivan devastated 85% of the island in September 2004, Grenada has been actively re-inventing itself and is talked about locally as becoming the “St Tropez of the Caribbean” within the next few years due to the exclusive Port Louis Marina complex currently being developed, capable of berthing hundreds of yachts and even a number of mega-yachts.

Blessed with an eco-friendly government that is strictly monitoring hotel developments, and with one-fifth of the island being protected wildlife reserves, parks and natural sanctuaries, it looks as if Grenada’s reputation for being one of the most unspoilt of the Caribbean islands will stand long into the future.

Rising steeply from the coast, the land reaches a height of almost 3,000ft, and encompasses a profusion of flora, waterfalls and an extensive tropical rainforest - the Grand Etang Forest Reserve high up in the mountains of the island’s interior, a popular trekking area.

Away from the coast, ascending the winding mountain roads, the air temperature drops some 10°-15° but body temperatures soon rise when trekking through the lush humid rainforest with the local able-bodied walking guide, Telfor Bedeau, who leads tours that range from easy fifteen-minute jaunts to rigorous expeditions of several hours.

For a short hike, opt to go to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls; how welcome it is to swim in the deep cold water at the base of the waterfalls before the return trek through dense steamy undergrowth in which a few of the island’s 350 bird species might be glimpsed; maybe even armadillo, opossum, or shy Mona monkeys.

The forest is home to several different ecological sub-systems as well as the Grand Etang Lake (which fills an extinct volcano crater), towering mahogany trees, giant gommier trees, a multitude of ferns, the broad-winged hawk (known locally as the gree-gree), the Antillean crested hummingbird (known as the little doctor bird), and the Lesser Antillean tanager (known as the soursop) - to name but a few of the bird species found on Grenada.

Tropical vegetation, water and wildlife is on the menu again during another of the island’s activities – river tubing. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the passing tropical scenery sitting in an enormous rubber ring. After a safety briefing, life vest and helmet handout, guides accompany river-tubers to keep them on the not-so-straight but very narrow watercourse, the currents spinning and swirling the rubber rings as the river meanders through the serene Balthazar Estate.

How fast riders complete the watercourse and how exciting it is depends on the time of year and how much water is coming off the mountains - expect the ride to be anything from meek and mild to wet and pretty wild. Disembarkation is at the last sheltered pool on the river where a short walk through a shaded Heliconia plantation – an exquisite hue of green, dotted with vibrant red blooms and dappled gold sunlight – leads to the return base where that celebrated Caribbean tipple with a kick worthy of a donkey, a scrumptious rum punch, awaits adventurers.

Both Grenada and Carriacou are known for their great diving sites with spectacular walls and wrecks (including the ‘Titanic of the Caribbean’, the Bianca C) where sharks, turtles, lobsters and giant moray eels can be seen gliding past a backdrop of soft coral forest, striking reefs and sponges; and also Grenada for being an idyllic starting point from which to charter a boat, with or without skipper, down the Grenadines – an archipelago well worth sailing into one of the Caribbean’s beautiful sunsets to explore.

For more information contact the Grenada Board of Tourism visit www.grenadagrenadines.com

 

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