Bequia, one of the more off the beaten track islands in the already remote Grenadine Islands in the Caribbean, is a world away from international resorts and fake smiles. Here island life goes on as it always has, at a snail’s pace, between the steep green mountains and white sand bays. Oh, and it’s pronounced ‘Beck-way’.
Bequia is not your average Caribbean island. The seven by two mile island looks like a lazy lightning flash as you see it for the first time, circling overhead in a toy sized plane from Barbados (it’s an hour direct but you might bunny hop between islands first). It’s not about sleek design, expensive beach bars and A-listers here – there was no electricity until the 1960s and no roads until the 1980s (and the term ‘roads’ is generous even today). It is a step back from the 21st century, where a pig and some goats are just as likely to be waiting outside the tiny airport terminal as the flat bed trucks that serve as taxis.
This thin snake of an island has a steep mountain range running down the center like a knobby spine, and almost all roads switchback up and over this bony green hump, with bumpy lanes dropping almost vertically down to the soft leeward side beaches. On this west side of the island, find Princess Margaret Beach, named after the British princess who stopped off here for a dip in the 1950s. The water is Caribbean blue, clear and calm, and the crescent shore is backed by a palm tree forest and a string of bars that are little more than driftwood shacks. A mega-yacht might appear on the horizon, and if celebs do drop by as Princess Margaret did, they often slip in for a swim and a low key beer before disappearing again.
Bequia is actually still part of the British Commonwealth. The original British fortifications built to ward off pirates and the 18th century cannons can still be found on the island’s northwestern tip at Hamilton Fort, and Queen Elizabeth popped in for a few minutes in the 1980s.
Hotels and hostels
The most prominent hotel on the island, Bequia Beach Hotel (bequiabeachhotel.com), has only stood on the easterly Atlantic coast for a few years, but its pastel-colored colonial feel harks back to a time of adventurers and good manners. A hot air balloon basket doubles as a reception desk and the bar serves some of the best rum punch on the island (ie you can still stand after a couple).
Most hostels and smaller hotels are on the more populous west coast on the outskirts of the capital Port Elizabeth. Local home-turned-hotel The Frangipani (frangipanibequia.com) can be found at Admiralty Bay, and the four-roomed Sweet Retreat Hotel is just behind Lower Bay (bequiasweetretreathotel.com).
Restaurants and bars
A wooden walkway hugs the coves and coastline between Princess Margaret Beach and Port Elizabeth, the town where you'll find the island's main cluster of brightly colored restaurants and bars. In Port Elizabeth, opposite the blink-and-you-miss-it port, informal garden terraces blur the line between a bar and someone’s home. Further along towards the north end are a few places worth booking in high season. Papa’s has been here since 2010, and its terrace has sweeping views over the pretty harbor curve full of anchored yachts (784-457-3443; Mon-Fri 4pm-late, Sat 11am-late, Sunday open 5pm-late)
Outside the capital, on the east coast, Firefly Plantation Restaurant and Bagatelle at the Bequia Beach Hotel (bequiabeachhotel.com/dining) offer more upscale dining, with grilled local fish, steaks and curried conch on the menu.
While Bequia is different, it is still the Caribbean, so rum shacks and bars are on every stretch of sand. Keegans (keegansbequia.org) and La Plage (248-462-0240; 11am-midnight) on Lower Bay are worth a lazy sundowner. Recently refurbished Jack’s Bar on Princess Margaret Beach is the only beach bar that would fit in on one of the posh neighboring islands (facebook.com/JacksBarBequia).
Hiking, snorkeling, whaling…
According to one of the local island guides, Gideon, ‘The island is too small for two girlfriends'. Luckily it’s big enough for a few days of slow-paced exploration, although a taxi tour ticks everything off the list in around three hours. Work your way up to the highest peak, Mount Peggy; on a clear day St Vincent and even Grenada are visible across the ocean. Locals often come up here for a sunset picnic, so feel free to do the same. Keen hikers can make their own way from Mount Peggy to the calm waters of Lower Bay through thick jungle and vague paths.
On the way back down, swing by La Pompe, a hamlet on the east coast and home to the island’s whaling museum, which features exhibits on the island's history of boat building and whaling (Belmont Road, free entry). A whale catch used to be celebrated by the entire island, with kids let out of school for the day, as six men battled to bring in a whale longer than their 28 meter rowing boat by hand. Whatever your views on whaling, the island’s fishermen still hunt and this little museum traces their seafaring past.
But where Bequia really excels is the art of doing nothing. Laze on fine sand beaches, snorkel the island’s reefs and plan to take an hour boat’s ride to the comparatively busy island of St Vincent or a day trip to the Tobago Cays, one of the Caribbean’s most outstanding diving spots, but let’s face it, there’s always tomorrow.
There’s an informal network of taxis, which can either be open sided trucks or minivans (often emblazoned with jazzy proclamations of faith). Hotels have bikes to rent, but the island’s main ridge is so steep that cycling is a serious work out. Bequia is also walkable – the island’s two coasts are only two miles apart and you won’t be the only one hitting the road.