I remember being a little bit beside myself when friends first suggested we might like a referral, house sitting in the Caribbean! Three months in Barbados with a lovely black and white cat called Heidi, a swimming pool and use of a car - who wouldn’t be just a little excited.
Since then, our house sit and travel repertoire has included Barbados, the US Virgin Islands, and more recently, St Vincent and the Grenadines. We also booked our first ever yacht charter last year during which we sailed, just the two of us, down to the stunning Tobago Cays National Marine Park and some of the other islands. When asked if we'd like to return for a repeat sit in 2020 it was an easy YES! The Caribbean is fast becoming our "go to" for house sitting each summer!
You may be asking what are the some of the best things to do in St Vincent while house sitting. Well with nearly 3 months house sitting and sailing in these Caribbean islands, we've put together our ultimate list of the better and most unusual sights to see, as well as some general information about house sitting or traveling long term in St Vincent.
If you want to skip straight down to our top places to visit click here, but if you want a bit of background and some house sitting island info, carry on reading!
Getting to St Vincent from the UK
As Brits, it's easy to find airline sale prices each year with either Virgin or British Airways, who follow each other across the skies to Barbados every day. To get from Barbados to St Vincent you can transfer to local airlines, LIAT and Caribbean Airlines for inter-island hopping. They aren't cheap but you'll occasionally find deals if you book ahead online.
Of all the islands in the Caribbean we've visited so far, St Vincent has become our firm favourite. There's much less mass tourism than on some of the other islands we've visited. This results in more locals than expats or tourists - it's so much more authentically Caribbean!
The fullness of life with the "Vincy Vibe"
This is "our" kind of island, we love the "Vincy vibe" and the concept of "liming" - finding peace and contentment in life, gratifying the human need for recreation. For St Vincentians, "liming" is about liberating the human spirit from all things that can make life a strain. It is a sublime self-indulgence characterized by a carefree detachment, without any sense of time or duty!
Some would find this infuriating. Not a lot happens at speed (except driving) on St Vincent, but if you've the time and patience to drop into this laid-back way of living, it certainly makes for a relaxing, stress-free lifestyle!
A brief history of St Vincent & The Grenadines
This is a multi-island nation - 32 isles and cays, of which only 8 are populated, and four of these have small airports - Bequia, Mustique, Canouan and Union. On mainland St Vincent, The Argyle International Airport was officially opened in 2017, and it replaced the smaller airport in Kingstown.
St Vincent was not colonized until long after most of the other Caribbean islands. The island people (The Caribs), defended their homeland valiantly against any attempts at foreign occupation. The French eventually became St Vincent's first European settlers in the early 1700s. But in 1873 France was compelled to give St Vincent up to the British, along with Grenada and the Grenadine Islands. There was a long ongoing dispute between the Brits, the French and the Caribs, but a truce (of sorts) was finally reached on June 10th 1796.
Driving around and exploring the island, you'll come across little reminders of this history. Look out for the brown information signs - they aren't all dangerously positioned for reading like this one!
If you get to spend anything more than a few weeks here, immerse yourself. Don't be afraid to frequent the local bars and eateries, buy from the small stalls dotted about outside the supermarkets, connect with the spirit of the St Vincent people. By taking the time to talk to the locals, to learn about their island, their history, and their culture... you'll be sure to have some wonderfully fulfilling experiences.
What's it like in downtown Kingstown?
On arriving at the new airport from Barbados, after a long 48 hours of travel, we decided to stay the night in an Airbnb apartment. It seemed preferable to arriving at first our house sit tired and weary, and gave us a chance to orientate ourselves and explore St Vincent's small capital, Kingstown. We needed some time to clear our heads after the previous day's over-night flight from the UK and an evening in Barbados catching up with friends.
It was Sunday lunchtime and very little was open. In fact the streets were all pretty deserted, and our options for finding food looked less than promising. Having only visited more affluent islands, we were convinced there would be a more up-market area for tourists, an area where we would find a meal to satiate our hunger.
After wandering up and down the two parallel streets that stretch the length of Kingstown, we found absolutely nothing. Heading back down to the south end of town, we eventually came across the rather dark, dimly lit restaurant downstairs at The Cobblestone Inn on Bay Street. Unfortunately the upstairs open air restaurant was closed - but we discovered this was a great place to enjoy a good "English" breakfast of bacon and eggs, when we met fellow house sitters, Doug & Johanne, later in the month.
So, our first meal in St Vincent was a sombre affair sat among St Vincent's middle class, a group of quiet customers all talking quietly so as not to disturb each other. We found ourselves whispering to each other too as we selected our meal from the menu. The food turned out to be very tasty and the staff served us like royalty! We were the only "visitors" in for a meal, and for that reason alone, we were starting to realize how much we would enjoy this island!
Sunday may be a quiet day, but in the week the port town of Kingstown is bustling with people, all going about their daily business. If you want to find good market produce, this is the place. And do try out the fish market - it became a regular weekly trip for us!
Why we loved the island vibe on St Vincent
We really did come to love St Vincent. The less appealing black volcanic sand beaches keep the 5 star resort lovers on other nearby islands. And with fewer cruise ships currently docking in the port, there's not enough tourist dollars to fund the expensive bars, restaurants and shops found elsewhere in the Caribbean. We've seen lots of comments from cruise ship visitors who have not been able to look beyond what they perceive as "poverty". In comparison to islands populated by expats, and those that pander to cruise ship visitors like St Thomas, I can see why St Vincent may come as a shock. What a shame that for some, travel is more about expensive restaurants and shops rather than feeling into the local lifestyle and culture - they miss seeing how "rich" the majority of local St Vincentians really are!
St Vincent is a stunningly verdant, beautiful island and a perfect hub for getting around the Grenadine islands. You will find ferries to most of the outlying islands and it's just a quick hop over to neighboring Bequia. Here you can get your fix of more sophisticated beach-side bars and restaurants, mingle with the yachties, or bask on golden sand beaches - but you will pay the price for this pleasure!
House Sitting in Buccament Bay, Pembroke
Our two house sit jobs on the island of Saint Vincent were very different and were positioned at opposite ends of the islands, giving us the chance to explore the island thoroughly over our 3 months. The first sit was in the verdant valley that nestles behind Buccament Bay, close to Pembroke. There's a new development of properties, mainly locals but with a few expats too.
The 5 star Buccament Beach Resort fell into neglect following a lengthy dispute and some "fraudulent" activity, and sadly the local economy also fell by the wayside. But it seems that new investors have been found, and there is talk of the resort reopening in December 2019.
White sand was transported here for the pleasure of the high end visitors, but it's now being washed away at an increasing rate, although it still offers a quiet beach to stroll down to, along a dusty path around the back of the resort. A small crescent shaped bay at the left end of the beach has good swimming and snorkeling, while also providing a perfect setting from which to watch the sun drop below the horizon.
We really appreciated the peace and tranquility here. It rained most days for short bursts, but most of the cloud settled on the rain forest high behind the valley, leaving clear skies across the views out to sea. I didn't ever get tired of sitting on the balcony, with the dogs on the sofa, watching the sun setting across the bay.
The local supermarket was only a short walk down the hill, and we think this was the best available on the island. It seemed to have a lot of fresh, local produce, and was reasonably priced. It was new and clean and had everything we needed, including the best pork loin I think we've ever tasted! Unfortunately it's a bit too far to come to if you are house sitting south of Kingstown.
House Sitting in Arnos Vale, South of Kingstown
Our second house sit was nestled high above the island's fairly up-market marina (recently smartened up by all accounts), with unbelievable views across to the neighboring island of Bequia.
This part of the island isn't as isolated as Buccament, and the road into Kingstown is busy throughout the day as it winds through several residential areas, dotted with supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels.
From the marina you can charter boats either north to St Lucia and beyond, or south through the Grenadine chain of islands to Grenada, as we did.
Further Reading - House Sitting in St Lucia
We'd taken our International Skipper Certification course in Thailand earlier in the year, and spent two weeks sailing at the end of our house sits. It's possible to get good low season deals and we were very impressed by the services of Horizon Yacht Charters in the marina.
You can watch a video of our sailing adventure here:
This is definitely the more "up-market" area of the island where you'll find a few classier hotels and the "famous" Young Island Resort - you have to take a boat across the small anchorage to visit. The reports we heard back from day visitors weren't that good, considering how expensive it is to eat there, so we'll reconsider this on our next visit. Instead we took a bottle of wine and enjoyed a beach view of the resort and anchorage at sunset.
Again we enjoyed exploring by foot, in the hills and fields, and by car on this, the more weather-exposed side of the island. We missed the peace, quiet and laid-back living at Buccament Bay, but loved the views and the breeze here, which kept the mosquitoes at bay. There was more to do, and more places to eat, so a mix of these two locations felt like we'd had the best of both worlds.
The best places to visit on the island of St Vincent
You really do need a car to fully enjoy St Vincent. A house sit of long travel period here without would be quite restrictive. The local mini-buses aren't pleasant to ride in more than occasionally. They generally have ear-drum bursting levels of music, and the drivers aren't the most careful we've seen on our travels.
Despite being in two different locations, we couldn't have seen much of what we did without the use of a car, and hiring isn't cheap.
1. The Vermont Nature Trail
Straight up the valley, behind our first house sit property, was the windy road leading high up to the Vermont Nature Trail. This was one of our most enjoyable hikes on the whole island. Happy smiling staff welcomed us at the visitor information hut, possibly because we were the first people to visit in three days!
The trail is about 2 miles (3.5 km) long, twisting and turning through lush primary and secondary rainforest and plantations. It's slippery and steep in places, so we were glad of the advice to wear a good pair or walking shoes, although sturdy trainers would suffice.
The scenery is stunning, as are some of the panoramic views. If you're lucky you may even see the famous St Vincent Parrot, which we were told, still lives here in its natural habitat. The trail ascends to a lookout and provides great hiking for all ages and abilities. There are benches for resting along the trail. Some of the trees are enormous with huge root systems - there was so much variety of nature to see.
This was one of the highlights of our stay, and we lengthened our day by exploring some of the spots along the river as we drove back down the valley.
2. The Cumberland Trail
This is a two hour trek through some of St Vincent's most scenic terrain in an area where rich farmland meets dense forest. Unfortunately it was closed when we were there, but the staff at Vermont Nature Trail said if we contacted the Eco-Tourism Organisation on (784) 495-0791 they may be able to organize a guide to take us around. As it turned out we didn't have time to do this, but it's something we'll explore further on our next visit.
3. Wallilabou (The Falls and the Bay)
The falls were somewhat of a disappointment. In fact, everything here is a bit tired, scruffy and I suspect, not often visited. It's a long drive from Kingstown, over an hour, and so had we not been staying close by, we might have found this a waste of a day.
Because of time constraints, we weren't tempted to pay for the entry to see the falls. By all accounts (and by studying the tired images at the payment booth), it seemed nothing more than a small plunge pool with a less than impressive overflow of water for kids to play in.
Instead we chose to make our way down to the anchorage to explore the tired film set of the popular movie "Pirates of the Caribbean". It's free to look around, but again, everything is a bit dusty and old. We love movie memorabilia so did find this quite interesting and rummaged through the left behind props and photos.
This is a pretty bay and a lovely anchorage. There's a bar and restaurant, both of which were OK, but again we couldn't be tempted to eat or drink here… all definitely in need of a bit of a face-lift and refurb!
The best part of the day, was to explore a small track down to the beach at Mount Wynne Bay, (you'll have to search for this with Maps.me, along the main road, as it's not sign-posted), where we found a lovely wide beach frequented by the locals and had a refreshing swim in the bay!
It was fun to explore the coastline up to Richmond, but take your own food and refreshments. There really is very little in the way of shops, eateries or bars. It's very much an insight into the local way of living along the coastline.
4. La Soufriere Volcano
Rising majestically to over 4000 feet, this is the main draw in the north of the island. You'll find that the road pretty much ends at Richmond Beach in Richmond Vale, on the west of the island, and at Waterloo on the east. There's a smaller track, which is passable, but it eventually it peters out on both sides and a four wheel drive is probably needed to go any further.
The fairly steep ascent to the crater is around 3.5 miles after which the energetic can continue a further 10 to 12 miles to Chateaubelair on the leeward (west) side.
We had many conversations about advice to take a guide on the volcano hike. But with Ian's training as an outdoor instructor, his extensive experience of climbing, potholing, and other adventurous activities, made him keen to find his own way after a thorough safety assessment.
That done, and with some thorough research he decided to take the hike under his own steam.
5. Local walks around Pembroke
We used Maps.me to pioneer a number of walks through the valleys, around the properties in Pembroke and Questelles Bay.
They often involved walking on the main highway for some of the trip, which is far more dangerous than any trip to the volcano! You need to keep your wits about you and make sure the traffic can see you at all times.
Vincy drivers are fast and furious! We did find a great walk up to a communication's tower with stunning views all around.
Looking across the Mesopotamia Valley from the Belmont Lookout
6. The Belmont Lookout
The lookout is set above the Mesopotamia Valley with stunning panoramic views across the valleys beyond. This is the lush remnants of an extinct volcano which is now a major agricultural zone producing much of the island's fruit and vegetables, and home to wildlife including Agouti, Manicou, snakes and countless species of birds.
It's a steep winding drive up from the coastal road at Arnos Vale, and we were happy to have use of the four wheel drive vehicle. To help with navigation we again used Maps.me which has far more detail than Google.maps - the maps can also be downloaded for use without an internet connection.
It's certainly a spectacular view from the viewing platform at 900ft, and there's a useful photo map to help with orientation.
We turned this into a circular route, getting stuck briefly in carnival practice at Charlotte St George, before taking a fairly precarious route back down the airport road on the Mesa Peruvian Vale Road. You probably need to be a confident (or British) driver to take this route! If you can drive winding UK countryside lanes you'll be just fine here!
7. The Botanic Gardens, Kingstown
Set in around 20 acres of land on the outskirts of Kingstown, the gardens are supposedly the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1765.
This is a quiet shady place to stroll in relative peace as you enjoy a wide variety of tropical trees and shrubs, and several breadfruit trees from the original plants brought by Captain Bligh in 1793. There's also a captive breeding program for the endangered St Vincent Parrot (the only place we saw one on the island) - the national bird.
There's also a gift shop and a pleasant café. It may not sound like the most interesting of places, but it was actually a lovely way to while away a couple of hours in the morning sunshine away from the cars and noise of the roads.
8. Fort Charlotte, Kingstown
Completed in 1806, Fort Charlotte sits on a ridge 600 feet above the sea with magnificent views across St Vincent's capital of Kingstown and down the Grenadine island chain. It's quite a challenge finding your way up through the houses on this hill but you'll see a continual stream of signs if you keep a look out. You need to find Edinboro Road and follow it to the top.
The views up here on a clear day are really special, and we spent an hour or so wandering around the grounds. A lovely family of stray cats kept us entertained for a while too!
We found Brighton Salt Pond after exploring the road that leads behind the airport. This is a local recreational area popular for weddings and family events. There's access to a sea water swimming pond if you pay the small admission fee. We asked if we could just go and check the view, and the staff were happy to accommodate.
9. St George's Cathedral & St. Mary's Cathedral of The Assumption, Kingstown
The Cathedral Church of St. George is worth a visit. It's nearly 200 years old and has a typical 16th century architecture, more church than cathedral, but it's fallen into disrepair and there's a renovation project being planned. It's being eaten away by termites, so many parts are now considered dangerous and unusable by the congregation. It's worth a look though if you are in town, as is the nearby Roman Catholic church, St Mary's Cathedral of the Assumption. Built of dark volcanic rock, it's a sombre looking building built in 1823 with an impressive turret and a quiet, peaceful internal courtyard.
10. Coastal Drive to Brighton Salt Pond, Owia Salt Pond & Fancy
With the luxury of looking after two cats, we were able to take most of a day to explore the coast up to Owia Salt Pond, stopping off at the small fairly run down town of Georgetown, and other spots along the scenic drive to the end of the tarmac road at Fancy. We also took a drive behind the new airport to find the Brighton Salt Pond and recreational area used by the locals. It's 5EC$ to enter, but the staff kindly let us take a quick walk to the viewpoint and back without paying.
Continuing north, it's an interesting drive on a paved road (albeit more and more narrow) all the way. We took our time venturing into small villages beside the sea, following the smell of freshly baked bread to a tiny back street bakery, and enjoying the simple charm of this part of the island that few seem to visit.
We also got to see the extent of the seriously bad influx of Sargassum seaweed that had rendered most of the small bays inaccessible in terms of swimming.
Although we had a car to use at the house we were looking after, it was a little temperamental, so we chose to hire a car for a couple of days so we didn't have to worry about a break-down far from a garage!
Near the small fishing town of Owia, is a unique natural feature, the Owia Salt Pond, which was formed when lava from Soufriere volcano cooled on meeting the sea, forming a pool by the water's edge. It's a cool experience, swimming in a crystal clear pool, surrounded by abstract shapes formed by the eroding lava. Watch out for jellyfish that also get washed into the pool! There's a staircase that leads down from a small parking area on the cliff top above the pool.
We saw only two other "tourists" on our day out and loved the simple remote charm of this part of the island. At the tip where the road ended (or became a track we didn't wanted to risk taking the car onto), we were able to look across the sea and make out the outline of volcanic St Lucia in the distance.
If you take this route, don't have high expectations, take your own snacks and refreshments, make sure the fuel tank is full, and just enjoy the adventure. But don't worry... the image on the previous page is not the road... it's the dry river bed leading to the sea!
11. Black Point Tunnel, Grand Sable
We didn't get to do this but our house sitting friends Lynn & Chris of Kayak Nomads, did. They had this to say about the experience.
"Black Point tunnel is definitely worth a visit if you are on your way up the windward coast. It was constructed by the British under the direction of Colonel Thomas Browne, using slave labour in 1815. The 360ft tunnel was built to enable quicker transport of sugar cane from the factory at Grand Sable to the wharf on Byera Bay. It costs 5EC$ per person to get in, but there is a lovely park with restrooms and gazebos to use, so it makes a good picnic stop. You can also take a cooling dip straight off the black sandy beach, it the sea isn't too rough."
St Vincent - Fast Travel Facts
- Language: English is the official language
- Climate: Average daytime temperatures range from 24C to 30C. The dry season is January to April. Rainy July to October.
- Clothing: Light informal clothes. Don't wear bathing suits or skimpy clothes in the streets or stores. It's illegal to wear or import camouflage clothing. For hiking you may want long trousers to protect against mosquitoes.
- Credit Cards: Hotels, restaurants, shops and car rental companies all accept major credit cards. It's advisable to have some cash on you if you plan to travel to more remote villages or inland.
- Currency: The Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$) which is pegged to the US Dollar, currently around 2.70 EC$ for 1 US$ (June 2019).
- Taxes: 10% Government Tax at hotels and VAT at 15%
- Time: Atlantic Standard Time Zone, one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Tim and four hours behind GMT.
- Water: The water is safe to drink but bottled water is also available.
- Electricity: Voltage 220 volts. US 110 volt appliances work OK with a transformer.
- Government: In 1979 St Vincent & the Grenadines gained independence from Great Britain. It has a democratically elected government and Prime Minister. The official website is: www.gov.vc
- Driver's Licence: A local driver's licence must be obtained if you do not hold an international license. It can be obtained on production of your current driver's license at the Police Station on Bay Street, or the Licensing Authority on Halifax Street. It is valid for 6 months. Enquire online for latest fees.
- Visas: As Brits, we were given a one month entry stamp. We had to extend this with the help of a sponsor. It seems that in 2019 it is now possible to get a 6 month visa on entry as standard. As with any visa, check with the country's government website for up-to-date information as this can change without notice.
- Dangers: Manchineel Trees - These pretty trees grow abundantly on some beaches and provide welcome shade. Their fruit which looks like small crab apples, the leaves and the wood, are toxic. Do not stand under the trees in the rain, eat the apples, or touch the leaves!
- Carnival: Is in July each year.
- Taxis: Taxi and minibus prices are fixed by the government. Always check the fare with the driver before starting your journey. Public minibuses are available on all major routes, however, the music is often ear deafeningly loud. We aren't cautious drivers on the whole and were confident on the St Vincent roads, which are not unlike some roads in rural coastal towns in the UK, but we didn't take a chance with these guys. We saw too many accidents.
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Last updated on July 31st, 2019