Into the hills
One tale — whether concocted to entertain schoolchildren or credulous tourists — says Grenada’s Grand Etang Lake is bottomless, and home to mysterious creatures unknown to science — perhaps even to a mermaid, though good luck finding someone who’ll admit to actually seeing her. The truth is, the lake has indeed been properly surveyed — it sits 1,800 feet above sea level, and averages twenty feet deep — but it does hold its own secrets. The crater lake of an extinct volcano, Grand Etang has still uncharted geological connections, and has been observed bubbling gases when Kick ’em Jenny — the famous undersea volcano, just fifteen miles away — is active.
Given the rarity of such episodes, you’re most unlikely to experience any odd geological phenomena at Grand Etang. But you’re practically guaranteed an exhilarating encounter with Grenada at its wildest, especially if you combine a visit to the lake with a hike through the lush surrounding rainforest. Protected by a national park, this area near the island’s geographical centre is crisscrossed by trails maintained by forest reserve staff, ranging from easy strolls to more strenuous hikes. For the less intrepid, Grand Etang Lake itself is ringed by a gentle (if muddy) hiking trail, a ninety-minute loop that starts and ends at an interpretation centre where you can learn more about the island’s flora and fauna.
Most memorable is the climb up nearby Mount Qua Qua — a six-mile round trip on a clearly marked trail. Though occasionally challenging, the ascent through elfin cloud forest requires no technical skills, and the reward at the summit — topped by a giant boulder — is the extraordinary 360-degree view across all of Grenada, with the Caribbean Sea to the west, the Atlantic to the east, and St Vincent to the northeast on a clear day. Along the way, look out for Mona monkeys — introduced from West Africa in the eighteenth century — and ample birdlife, from hawks and hummingbirds to the Grenada tanager, an endemic subspecies of the Lesser Antillean tanager, with its turquoise wings.
If you’re heading back to St George’s, the capital, from Grand Etang, the turnoff for Annandale Falls is on the way. Grenada’s most popular waterfall makes a forty-foot plunge into a pool perfect for a bracing swim, its natural rock walls covered with mosses and ferns. Annandale’s sheer accessibility — with a paved path, flower beds, and nearby visitor parking — means it can get crowded, so for a more adventurous excursion slightly off the beaten path, try the Seven Sisters hike, starting at the village of St Margaret. The trail through shady forest, bamboo groves, and a nutmeg plantation takes you past seven different cataracts, most with pools to cool off in.
Did you know?
One of two crater lakes in Grenada, Grand Etang is such an icon, it’s even featured on the national coast of arms. The volcanic history which created Grenada’s steep mountain peaks is also responsible for the fertile soil that supports the island’s famous nutmeg and cocoa plantations.
For the birds
For serious birders, the half-hour drive from St George’s to La Sagesse on Grenada’s south coast is obligatory. This mangrove estuary with a nearby small salt pond and thorny scrub forest offers enough habitat diversity to attract one of the island’s most impressive concentrations of birdlife. Waterfowl dominate here — from several species of heron to jacanas, whistling ducks, and Caribbean coots. Bring your binoculars and field guides, and don’t forget your swimming suit: there’s a stunning beach here with a restaurant that will serve you a delicious lunch and many refreshing beverages after a morning out on the birding trail.
La Sagesse may be the easiest mangrove habitat to visit, but you can also experience the mangrove forests of Grenada’s southeastern coast on a kayak tour. This is also a chance to visit the coral reefs and seagrass beds of this protected area — home to turtles, sea urchins, and sponges.
Did you know?
Grenada’s rarest bird is the critically endangered Grenada dove, with some estimates suggesting there may be as few as a hundred remaining in the wild. Declared the national bird in 1991, the dove favours areas of dry forest. Ornithologists know relatively little about its habits — only one nest has ever been documented by researchers.
Near Grenada’s northern end, Levera Beach is a remote, windswept, wildly beautiful stretch of sand. The distinctive conical profile of Sugar Loaf Island lies just offshore, and Levera Pond, a forty-five-acre mangrove lagoon, is a haven for waterfowl. But the beach here is best known as a major nesting site for endangered leatherback turtles, who come ashore at night during the annual nesting season (from March to August) to laboriously excavate the pits where they lay their eggs.
To protect these rare and gentle creatures, in 2010 Grenada enacted a closed beach policy that restricts access to Levera at night during nesting season. That doesn’t mean it’s totally off-limits: St Patrick’s Environmental and Community Tourism, a local organisation, offers tours with experienced guides trained to help visitors encounter the leatherbacks without disturbing them. Witnessing a female leatherback lay her eggs is an experience you won’t forget — and the tour fee helps fund conservation efforts.
Did you know?
Considering the sheer fertility of Grenada, it should be no surprise that among the island’s tourism sites are at least half a dozen private botanical gardens, all of them bursting with native flora, colourful ornamentals, and — of course — nutmeg trees. A short drive east of St George’s, along winding mountain roads, Palm Tree Gardens boasts a lily pond on a terraced lawn and a population of tortoises. Nearby Laura’s Herb and Spice Garden will introduce you to the diverse aromatic flora of Grenada, as you stroll along paths of crushed nutmeg shells. At Sunnyside Gardens, you’ll find more varieties of hibiscus than you knew existed, plus a pond of red-streaked koi. And on the edge of St George’s, with a view over the city, Hyde Park Tropical Garden has an extraordinary collection of orchids, some of which make their way each year to the famous Chelsea Flower Show in London — but here you can see them in their natural surroundings.