Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

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Introduction to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

St Vincent & the Grenadines form a multi-island nation well known to wintering yachties, aristocrats and rock stars, but off the beaten path for most other visitors. Despite its pockets of lotus-eating luxury, for the most part it's a refreshingly rugged and raw-edged backwater.

The 30 islands and cays that comprise the Grenadines are among the most popular cruising grounds in the Caribbean. They reach like stepping stones between St Vincent and Grenada and are surrounded by coral reefs and clear blue waters ideal for diving, snorkelling and boating.

Fewer than a dozen are inhabited, and even these are lightly populated and barely developed. Although some of the Grenadines, like Mustique and Palm Island, cater to the rich and famous, others, like Bequia and Union Island, attract an international crew of sea salts and beachcombers and offer decent places to stay and eat.

Full country name: St Vincent & the Grenadines

Area: 150 sq km

Population: 120,519

Capital City: Kingstown

People: African (75%), Black Carib (1%) and Scottish

Language: English

Religion: Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist

Government: independent state within the British Commonwealth

Head of State: Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne (representing Queen Elizabeth II)

Head of Government: Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

GDP: US$289 million

GDP per capita: US$2,400

Annual Growth: 4%

Inflation: 3.6%

Major Industries: Agriculture (mainly bananas), food processing, cement, furniture, clothing, starch, tourism, fishing.

Major Trading Partners: USA (36%), Caricom countries (21%), UK (18%), Trinidad & Tobago (13%)

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are not required. Citizens of the USA, Canada and the UK can visit with proof of citizenship in the form of a birth certificate or voter's registration card, accompanied by an official photo ID. Citizens of other countries must have a valid passport. A return or onward ticket is required of all visitors.

Health risks: sunburn, diarrhoea, intestinal worms

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4

Dialling Code: 784

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Imperial



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Events

St Vincent's carnival, called Vincy Mas, is the main cultural event of the year. Usually held during the first two weeks of July, it features a 12-day run of calypso and steel band music, colourful costume parades and lots of dancing. Most of the action is centred in Kingstown. On Bequia, there's a major regatta over the Easter weekend. A Christmas celebration called Nine Mornings starts on 15 December and features parades through the streets of Kingstown, bicycle races, string band serenades and carolling. May Day is also Fisherman's Day on St Vincent, which comes at the end of a week's worth of contests when the island's fishermen catch as many fish and mend as many nets as they can.

Public Holidays

1 January - New Year's Day

22 January - St Vincent & the Grenadines Day

Easter Holidays - Good Friday, Easter Monday

First Monday in May - Labour Day

Eighth Monday after Easter - Whit Monday

Second Monday in July - Caricom Day

Mid-July - Carnival Tuesday

First Monday in August - August Monday

27 October - Independence Day

25 December - Christmas Day

26 December - Boxing Day

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Best time to Visit

The temperature on balmy St Vincent hardly changes. The average daily high varies about 1F from January to July. Rainfall is a different matter. July is the wettest month, when there's measurable rainfall an average of 26 days, while April, the driest month, averages six days of rain. January to May are the driest months and thus the best time to go, but they're also the peak tourist season. Generally, the Grenadines tend to be drier than St Vincent.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar

Meals

Budget: US$5-10

Mid-range: US$10-20

High: US$20-50

Deluxe: US$50+

Lodging

Budget: US$10-60

Mid-range: US$60-120

High: US$120-200

Deluxe: US$200+

You can travel comfortably in St Vincent & the Grenadines for around US$200 a day, unless you take a fancy to model boats and banana sculpture. A moderate budget should fall between US$75 and $150, depending on how many of the Grenadines you choose to visit. A minimal budget should range from US$30 to $60.

Major credit cards are not as widely used here as they are on other Caribbean islands, but they're accepted at most hotels, car rental agencies and dive shops. A 10% service charge is added onto most restaurant bills, in which case no further tipping is necessary.

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Attractions

Kingstown

Kingstown is best appreciated for its West Indian feel rather than for any attractions. It's a good place to relax and stroll the cobblestone streets. The town gets its unique atmosphere from the produce vendors, the crowds at the fish market and rum shops, and its stone-block colonial buildings.

Kingstown is known for its churches. The 1820s St Mary's Cathedral of the Assumption (Catholic) has an eclectic mix of Romanesque arches and columns, Gothic spires and Moorish ornamentation. Other notable churches include the Georgian-style St George's Cathedral and the Kingstown Methodist Church.

Bequia

This delightful, hilly, green island is just an hour's sail south of St Vincent. The largest of the Grenadines (though that's not saying much), it was once a centre of shipbuilding and whaling. Today, most maritime activity is confined to yachting and model boat building.

The island's commercial centre is Port Elizabeth, which fronts Admiralty Bay on the western coast. The town strikes a nice balance between quaintness and convenience. It has an international mix of residents, and many of the restaurants and shops are run by expats.

Tobago Cays

The Tobago Cays are a group of uninhabited islands near the southern end of the Grenadines. Many consider them to be the best in the chain, citing their fine coral reefs and turquoise waters. The islands are rocky and studded with cactus, fringed with coves and beaches of powdery white sand.

Union Island

The southernmost port of entry for the country, Union Island is more of a jumping off point for the Tobago Cays than a destination in itself. Consequently, if you wander out of the port of Clifton, you'll discover a decidedly local atmosphere that's virtually untouched by tourism.

About 5km (3mi) across at its widest point, the island is rocky and dry, covered in thorny scrub and dotted with cacti, the consequence of decades of foraging by free-ranging goats. Clifton, in the island's southeastern corner, is the commercial centre of the island.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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