The highest peak on the island, La Soufrière volcano, rises to about 4,000 ft. In 1970 an island reared itself up out of the lake in the crater: it smokes and the water round it is very warm. Hiking to the volcano is very popular, but you must leave very early in the morning and allow a full day for the trip.
About two miles north of Georgetown van from Kingstown to Georgetown EC$4, you can ask the driver to make a detour to the start of the trail for an extra charge) on the Windward side you cross the Dry River, then take a left fork and walk/drive through banana plantations to where the trail begins. A local guide is recommended, although not essential, always useful for carrying food and water as well as ensuring you do not get lost. It takes about three hours to reach the crater edge and it is a strenuous hike along a marked trail, the first three miles are through the Rabacca plantation, then up, along Bamboo Ridge and all the way to the crater’s magnificent edge; the top can be cloudy, windy, cold and rainy, take adequate clothing and footwear. There is an alternative, unmarked and even more challenging route from the Leeward side starting from the end of the road after Richmond, but you will need a guide. After crossing a river delta, turn right into a ravine and climb; it will take about four hours. Guided tours usually on Tuesday and Thursday, about US$20-35, guides provide and carry drinks. If you want to avoid organized tours, a guide can be obtained in Georgetown. One such is Benjamin Hudson, who lives opposite Sadoo’s Grocery. Leave an extra set of clothes in the van in case you get wet through. Take water and insect repellent.
An easier climb is up Mount St Andrew, near Kingstown. A tarmac track runs up to the radio mast on the summit of the peak, at 2,413 ft, passing first through banana and vegetable gardens and then through forest. There are no parrots but otherwise virtually all the species of birds which can be found on the Vermont Nature Trail. It is particularly good for the Antillean crested hummingbird and black hawks. The view from the summit covers the Grenadines and the Vermont and Mesopotamia valleys. To reach the track either take a van running along the Leeward Highway and ask to be put down at the junction with the Mount St Andrew road, or start your walk in Kingstown.
There are few good roads, but cars, including self-drive, can be hired and most of the beauty spots are accessible by road. The Leeward Highway is a dramatic drive, passing through Questelles and Layou. Much of this road has been improved to Barrouallie (pronounced Barrelly), a small whaling village. This drive along the west coast towards La Soufrière should not be missed; it has been described as a ‘tropical corniche’. There are lush valleys and magnificent seaviews. It is a very crumpled landscape. The road was upgraded significantly in 1993. The drive from Kingstown to the end of the road at Richmond takes about two hours.
The road leaves Kingstown and initially heads inland. There are views down into Campden Park Bay, where the East Caribbean Group of Companies has a deep water port complex and flour mill. The road passes through the small village of Questelles before rejoining the coast briefly at Buccament Bay and down into Layou where there are a few excellent examples of gingerbread houses.
There are some interesting petroglyphs and rock carvings dating back to the Siboney, Arawak and Carib eras. The best known are just north of Layou, carved on a huge boulder next to a stream. They can only be visited on payment of US$2 for the owner, Mr Victor Hendrickson to open the gate to the fenced off area. Ask the local children to show you his house and then the petroglyphs for a tip, well worth a visit.
Passing Mount Wynne and Peter’s Hope, Barrouallie is the next village of any size. Here there is a petroglyph dated at 800 BC in the yard of the Anglican secondary school. The road also passes through the remains of a sugar mill (the furnace chimney is still standing) and then heads inland from the popular anchorage at Wallilabou Bay. A stone gateway marks the entrance to the Wallilabou Falls (Wally-la-boo). You can swim here but the falls are not much more than a spurt (2 m at the most). There are no changing rooms here. On the opposite side of the road is a nutmeg plantation. You can get there by car or by bus from Little Tokyo Fish Market to Barrouallie and walk from there.
The road goes inland along the Wallilabou valley before quickly rising over the ridge into the North Leeward district. From here onwards all the villages are clearly marked with good road signs. The pipeline from the hydroelectric scheme follows the road and is most visible at the aptly named Spring Village. Another pretty beach is reached at Cumberland and the road climbs quickly to Coulls Hill with perhaps the best view on the coast. The road through Chateaubelair (restaurant with nice deck, use their facilities to change for a swim and have a snack), skirting Petit Bordel with small islands offshore to Richmond and Wallibou beach is most attractive. However, in 2000 the road was washed out before Richmond, so check locally before setting out. There are some beach facilities at Wallibou.
Another set of falls, also on the Leeward side, is 20 miles north of Kingstown; Petit Wallibou Falls are a double waterfall in a very remote region and you can bathe at the bottom of the second waterfall. To get there, go through Richmond (if the road is repaired) and turn right up the side road beside the Richmond Vale Academy; follow this road for one mile, it then turns into a track for two miles. At the river the top of the waterfall is on your left. There is a steep climb on the left hand side of the waterfall to reach the pool where you can swim. Trinity Falls are 45 minutes’ walk from Richmond in the Wallibou Valley, set deep in a canyon in the rainforest. The only known hot springs are in the canyon, having appeared since the last volcanic eruption. The road has been badly eroded and it is best to park about 40 minutes’ walk from the car park, except that there is a lot of loose gravel and you may fall. From the car park it is another 45 minutes’ walk to the Falls (reasonable physical fitness required), through lovely rainforest. There is a sign down the river warning about undertow, but note that this also applies to the pool by the Falls. The current is very strong, swimmers have been sucked under and the sides are steep, with nothing to hold on to. In addition, the wind erosion has loosened boulders which are now potentially dangerous.
A boat trip to the falls of Baleine (on the northwest coast) is recommended. Wading ashore and for a few minutes up a river which originates on Soufrière, you come to the falls. At their base are natural swimming pools. It is possible to reach the falls on foot, but the easiest way is to take an excursion by motor boat (for example with Dive St Vincent), which includes a stop for snorkelling, and a picnic lunch, for US$35-40. Sea Breeze Nature Tours uses a 36 ft auxillary sloop, not recommended if you get seasick, otherwise nice, includes snorkelling stop, rum punch but no lunch, Captain Hal Daize is an authority on the bottle-nosed dolphin and may find a school of them to watch, recommended, T4584969, seab...@vincy.com
The Queens Drive takes you into the hills south of Kingstown and gives splendid views all around. The Marriaqua Valley with its numerous streams is particularly beautiful. In the Valley, beyond Mesopotamia (commonly known as Mespo), the lush, tropical gardens of Montreal are worth a visit; anthuriums are grown commercially there.
The road meets the Windward Highway at Peruvian Vale. It gets progressively drier as the road goes north hugging yellow sandstone cliffs which contrast with the white waves surging in towards the black volcanic beaches. A number of banana packaging stations are passed especially around Colonarie. There is a particularly impressive view of the coast just after the Black Point tunnel. The tunnel is 350 ft long and was constructed by Colonel Thomas Browne using Carib and African slaves in 1815. It was blasted through volcanic rock and the drill holes are still visible. It provided an important link with the sugar estates in the north. Georgetown is almost like a ghost town, with one or two quite well maintained houses, the rest haven’t been painted for years. It is an economically depressed area since the sugar mill closed a few years ago. The houses are covered by black volcanic grit which gives it a very gloomy feel. A number of houses have been abandoned. There are lots of churches. The Anglican church is a miniature of St George’s Cathedral in Kingstown.
The road to Sandy Bay (beyond Georgetown), where St Vincent’s remaining Black Caribs live, is now good, however you have to cross the Dry River, a jumble of rocks, grit, rubbish and dead wood swept down from the mountains above, which sometimes is not dry and therefore not passable. Sandy Bay is poor but beyond it is an even poorer village along a rough dirt road, Owia. Here is Salt Pond, a natural area of tidal pools filled with small marine life. The rough Atlantic crashes around the huge boulders and lava formations and is very picturesque. The villagers have planted flowers and made steps down to the Salt Pond area. There is also an arrowroot processing factory which can be visited. Past Owia is Fancy, the poorest village on the island, also Black Carib and very isolated, reached by a rough jeep track which makes a pleasant walk. A project to bring electricity to the northern villages is under way with French financial assistance. Baleine Falls are a two mile hike from here around the tip of the island, rugged and not recommended for the unadventurous. Fishing boats can be hired in Fancy to collect you (do not pay in advance).
The southeast of the island is drier and has different vegetation and birdlife. Take a van running to Stubbs and alight at the post office by the Brighton road junction. Walk into Brighton village and find a guide who can lead you to see, among others, the mangrove cuckoo, smooth-billed ani, broad-winged hawk and green heron. When tidal conditions are right it is possible to cross to Milligan Cay. To see seabirds in the bay visit early morning or late afternoon.