This is a re-post with a few corrections
Bequia has pretty much all I’d look for if I moved to the Caribbean: great beaches, a friendly and relaxed island lifestyle and a healthy blend of Caribbean and Western culture.
We love white sand beaches and blue turquoise water as much as the next person, but often when we visit places like the Caribbean we see a big divide between the locals and tourists. This is usually along economic lines, but it is also cultural, presenting a slightly hostile and often unpleasant side to holiday destinations.
Therefore, when we call a destination eco, we don’t just mean that it is in balance with the physical environment but also the cultural environment; we support tourism that’s interwoven with the fabric of local life and benefits not large global organizations but local businesses and people.
Bequia — where the buildings don’t reach higher than a palm tree
Our first indication that a vacation destination is doing it right is the lack of huge hotel chains and towering beachfront condos. Bequia has none of these. Most of the places to stay are small humble hotels or guesthouses, and many are locally run or owned by expats who are emotionally invested in the island.
In Bequia, the locals run the show
We all to often find that locals have the lowest jobs in tourist destinations, and are rarely owners or managers. In Bequia, one gets the impression that a lot of the businesses are locally owned and managed.
Probably the biggest litmus test is dive operations. In almost every destination we have visited across the world, dive shops seem to be owned and run by westerners. Not only that, but we rarely see local dive guides or instructors.
Bequia Dive Adventure, the dive company we used while on the island, is not only run by local Ron Williams (who grew up a stone’s thrown from his shop), but all of the instructors and guides are also from Bequia.
The same was true of many of the businesses we frequented on the island. You get a real sense of ownership and pride among the locals here, which translates into a friendly warm welcome to visitors.
In Bequia, the people are “connected”
On our first day on the island, we learned that one of our dive guides at Ron’s is the son of the owner of the local French restaurant (who we met last time we were here). The other dive guide is the cousin of our waitress who we talked to at breakfast. Later on, we were talking with a friendly English couple about a small sailboat they built, and the next day on another part of the island we ran into the guys who helped them build it.
Sure, Bequia’s a small island with less than 5,000 inhabitants, so you’d expect that most people know each other. But, we’ve been on a lot of small islands and never had this kind of experience. In Bequia, people are connected; it’s a community, a community that seems to get along in a very positive way.
When we met our English friends they were throwing a party for all the locals that helped them build their house. They told us they throw a similar party every time they visit the island; that’s the Bequia way; everyone helps each other out. All I can say is, whatever they got in in the water down here seems to make people want to get along.
Probably the only non-friendly aspect about Bequia is the archaic obsession with whaling.
Whales seem to be the only ones who are not loved on Bequia
While we enjoyed Bequia and its people, we could not get our heads around the nonsensical devotion to killing whales. The Japanese, apparently, are as much to blame for this as the locals, as the Japanese have aggressively kept this stupid tradition alive in return for United Nations votes to preserve global whaling. In return for these votes, the Japanese built Bequia a brand new whaling station and marina. Of course, they skillfully placed the new whaling station on the backside of the island, because the bloodbath that ensues after one of these kills is not what tourists and their children want to see.
The supporters of whaling in Bequia call it part of their “tradition”, but to be honest, the “tradition” only goes back to 1875, when one settler’s family started it. Perhaps back then they needed whale meat for sustenance. Today they don’t; it’s just a blood sport.
In my opinions (and the opinion of many Bequia natives) they could better devote the same energy towards conservation and make the whales a tourist attraction.
The fantastic beaches of Bequia
While we feel the need for honesty and to educate people about the horrors of killing the few whales we have left on this planet, we won’t leave you on a bad note. We really loved our visit to Bequia, especially its wonderful beaches. One would think that since Bequia is the second most populated island in the chain, the beaches would pale in comparison to some of the wilder less inhabited islands. This is not the case. In fact, it has some of the region’s best beaches, our favourite being Princess Margaret Beach.
Named after this royal person because she owned a house in nearby Mustique Island and paid regular visits to Bequia, this beach, remarkably, is totally undeveloped. A luscious, tranquil white sand paradise, the jungle comes right down to the sand and water. Given it is right next to the town’s main harbour, this is miraculous and wonderful.
If you’re looking for a bite or a glass of beer, right next to Princess Margaret Beach is another beautiful white sand beach, Lower Bay. This beach does have a couple homes and amenities on it, but all low-key and unobtrusive.
A wonderful little footpath graciously connects these two beaches to the main harbour and “downtown” making them easily accessible and very convenient.
One could easily take a ferry from one of the other Grenadine islands and have a fantastic beach day at Bequia without having to even hire a taxi or hop on a bus.
If you want total privacy (although to be honest, Princess Margaret and Lower Bay were totally empty during our visit), there are some more rugged wild beaches on the Atlantic shore that are worth visiting as well, though maybe not so much for swimming.
Bequia has been a destination since the 50s; so we like to think that its lack of overdevelopment is due to proper tourist management by locals and expats working together. However, with a new international airport slated for nearby St. Vincent, things might change here. Let’s just hope they don’t.