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February - March 2009
Lure of the Caribbean
The West Indies is a large group of islands that separate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. The region comprises more than 7000 islands, islets, reefs and cays and these are divided in three main groups. First is Bahamas (north) which consists of over 3000 individual islands and reefs. The second group is Greater Antilles (central) which includes the island countries of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Thirdly there is Lesser Antilles. These are smaller islands to the southeast and are further divided into two groups, the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands.
However, in fifteen days we only managed to cruise around Leeward and Windward Islands. Our ship was called ‘Ocean Village’ (www.oceanvillageholidays.co.uk). The company says very proudly that they provide informal atmosphere; and their cruises are for people who don’t do cruises. There is no formal dress code or fixed seating dining. It does, however, have laid-back style and high quality leisure and dining facilities all of which are serviced by pleasant, friendly and helpful staff.
Every day we woke up early in the morning to witness the colourful sunrise and visit the attractions of a different island. Although all the islands have their own distinct identity and ambience, in season the presence of good quality sun, sea and the sandy beaches is assured for all of them. There is a fascinating natural environment, a colonial history and heritage, vibrant culture and most importantly very warm and friendly inhabitants. Most compelling sights and attractions of the region are:
Tortola and Virgin Gorda: Both islands are in the group of 50 British Virgin Islands. They are blessed with magnificent variety of sun drenched, palm-fringed beaches with crystal clear – turquoise warm water. There is a tremendous variety of water sports and activities to include snorkelling, diving, sailing, windsurfing, parasailing and kayaking etc. Distinctive granite rock formations known as ‘The Baths’ are on the shores of Virgin Gorda where the giant boulders form a series of sea pools, grottoes and caves with white sandy beach. It is a spectacular, gorgeous geological wonder.
St Barts: The capital Gustavia is a small, smart and sophisticated place with Swedish history. The town centre is full of ‘designer label’ shops and the harbour is full of sleek and very expensive yachts.
Sint Maarten: It is the smallest island in the world which is divided into two nations, Dutch and French with no border formalities. Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch part whilst Marigot is the capital of French part which is written as ‘Saint Martin’. Marigot is a charming market town with a beautiful harbour. Every day the market stalls are busy selling clothing, souvenirs, fruits and vegetables.
Antigua: The Island is low-lying and composed of volcanic rock, coral and limestone. Its rolling hills, flowering trees and the shell-pink sand beaches are very attractive. The historic colonial observation post of Shirley Heights offers dramatic views of the English Harbour and the Nelsons Dockyard. It is also a home to the newly built Sir Vivian Richard Cricket Grounds where many games of 2007 world cup were played.
St Kitts: The romantic way to see the island is to take a seat on the top deck of Sugar Train, which was originally used to transport the sugar canes from the fields to the mills. The train goes slowly for the tourists to have panoramic views of the sea, rugged volcanic peaks, forests, disused sugar mills, old plantation houses now converted into small boutique hotels and small villages.
Guadeloupe: The French island is shaped like a butterfly. The western part of the island is mountainous and forested whilst the eastern side is flatter and more densely populated. There are scenic drives through the lush green rainforest and across volcanic mountains. In the tropical National Park there is the picturesque Crayfish waterfall. The park is full of different species of fern and other tropical plants and trees.
Dominica: There are amazing views of mountains and plunging waterfalls. The capital is Roseau, which is packed with old Georgian buildings and colourful wooden houses. There was substantial damage in 1979 when Hurricane David hit the island. The only visual evidence of the damage which can still be seen is in the Botanical gardens where a large Baobab tree blew over and crushed a bus.
Martinique: This is another French Island with a history of volcanic eruptions. In 1902 its original capital Saint Pierre was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pelee. All the population of 30,000 of the capital town lost their lives except one prisoner who at that time remained in the cell. Another attraction of the island is Balata Church, which is a replica of Sacre Coeur in Paris.
St Lucia: is one of the most picturesque islands of the Caribbean. The iconic twin peaks of the Pitons dominate the skyline of the south-west coast of St Lucia. There are Sulphur Springs nearby where smelling gases are bubbling out in the volcanic crater. Marigot Bay is very photogenic. Its beauty drew the attention of Hollywood and the Bay was used as a setting for the 1967’s film Doctor Dolittle.
Barbados: is known as little England and also the holiday capital of the Caribbean. The capital of the island is Bridgetown. Its parliament buildings are impressive and overlook a square where there is a statue of Lord Nelson. For the cricket lovers there is the Kensington Oval Cricket Grounds and a roundabout named after Sir Garry Sobers.
Grenada: is the exotic ‘Spice Island’. The scent and fragrance are in the air as nutmeg, clove, ginger, cinnamon and cocoa etc are still planted on the island. At 1900 feet above the sea level lie Grand Etang Forest Reserve, the Crater Lake and Nature Centre. It is an experience to see a lake at this height. The views around are breathtaking and simply gorgeous.
Rum: No visit to these islands will be complete without seeing and tasting the local drink, Rum which is made from the sugarcane’s juice. Rum products range from white or clear rums to very dark rums, and also from very young to well aged. There are special rum products such as Malibu which is white rum mixed with coconut, as well as rum brandies and creams.
We only had a taste of these twelve enchanting islands. We found that they are incredibly beautiful, captivating and as every one says simply heavenly.