‘It’s coming,” says Jared Soleyn, our guide for an energetic three-hour morning trek through the Vermont Nature Trail forest. I hope that he’s alerting us to a yellow and blue St Vincent parrot — near extinction but native to this woodland — or perhaps a whistling warbler. But no. Soleyn warns of rain.

It takes a few more minutes for my ears to pick up what Soleyn can already hear, a percussive thrum from the east that could be 100,000 tiny timpani. There’s a swoosh of wind, then it’s as though somebody is lobbing buckets of warm water at me; rain so hard that it renders the 45m-high forest canopy an ineffectual umbrella. I’m drenched to my pants; an “emergency” pack of biscuits turns limp in my rucksack.

Soleyn observes me and the other nine similarly soggy members of our group — on an excursion with Island Routes from the new Sandals St Vincent and the Grenadines resort — with amusement. “It’s not even the rainy season,” he says. “Wait until you come back between June and December.”

I’m here in late April, towards the end of the dry season. Despite sporadic downpours it’s the perfect time to visit. Temperatures are consistently about 30C, there are frangipani blooms everywhere and no cruise ships decanting throngs to tour the Pirates of the Caribbean set.

Laura Jackson in the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown, St Vincent

Laura Jackson in the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown, St Vincent


I don’t see a parrot, but I hear them — the elusive Amazona guildingii chattering away from perches in giant buttressed trees, hopefully laughing with me at my mud-splattered state.

This is my first visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines, a tiny country of just over 100,000 people spread across 33 islands, south of St Lucia and west of Barbados. I expected beaches with Victoria sponge-coloured sands and turquoise seas, but didn’t bargain on muscle-burning adventures too. It was the perfect Caribbean holiday for me (hate sand but love hiking) and my husband, Nick (just finished writing a book and seeking a sunlounger).

After our walk and a hose-down in our huge shower at Sandals, Nick and I reward ourselves with an afternoon at the Parisol Beach Club, sitting by an infinity pool watching peppy paddleboarders zoom around the bay.

The Sandals resort is the largest on St Vincent

The Sandals resort is the largest on St Vincent

The Sandals resort is the largest on St Vincent — most other island hotels are family-run guesthouses or B&Bs — but it has been sympathetically built around 50 acres of hibiscus-packed gardens. The Jamaican company owns 18 adults-only resorts across the Caribbean and waited years to find the right plot on St Vincent, eventually acquiring what was the Buccament Bay Resort in 2020 after its previous owner, David Ames, was convicted in the UK for fraud. During the rebuild all but one pool was removed.

Now there are 301 chic rooms in 15 categories, each in palettes of blues and greys with monstera-print wallpaper, four-poster beds and rattan furniture. Some rooms are in five-storey blocks set towards the rear of the resort and overlooked by hills, while the main building centres around a 90m pool and buzzing swim-up bar, with a sweep of butler-serviced villas leading towards the beach.

Importantly, the majority of staff are from St Vincent. The hotel has been welcomed locally as a positive addition to a tourism scene that’s modest (by Caribbean standards) — just 60,000 visitors came to the island in 2022, compared with the 540,000 who went to Barbados.

Bamboo bridge across the Richmond Rive

Bamboo bridge across the Richmond Rive


It is impossible not to relax here, but it takes Nick and me a few days to get into the groove of an all-inclusive — let alone one with butler service. Uriah Hippolyte and his team seem to divine what I need before I do, upscaling my request for “just water” by packing us off to the pool with a cool box of the stuff and local Hairoun beers.

In addition to organised tours we strike out independently, taking a 30-minute taxi ride to Kingstown then a ferry to Bequia, the nearest of the Grenadines (taxi and ferry each about £40 return; bequiaexpress.com). At Port Elizabeth we meet our guide, Jensen Ollivierre, who grew up on Bequia and knows every corner of it. We hop into his open-sided Jeep and head to Spring Bay, on the Atlantic side the island, where there isn’t another soul among the palms. Later at busy Princess Margaret beach — named after Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, who came here in the early Sixties — I can’t help but think that Ollivierre showed us the best first entirely on purpose.

Bequia has always been a creative hub, and nowhere is that more evident than at Sargeant Brothers Model Boat Shop, which has been crafting handsome wooden schooners with handsewn sails for more than 50 years. I find Benson Phillips sanding down a hull in the workshop at the rear. I ask him how long he has been working here. “A while,” he replies. He seems a man undaunted by time, spending five weeks producing each masterful ship.

We drive on to Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, but we’re here for the humans as much as the animals. Founded in 1995 by Orton King, a retired fisherman, the centre is now looked after by his enigmatic son, Clint E King, and his cousin, James Gooding. “We’ve released about two thousand turtles back to the sea.” Clint says. “But we’ve got one turtle, about 19 years old, which we’ve tried to release but it just keeps coming back.”

Sandals Resort, St Vincent and the Grenadines

Sandals Resort, St Vincent and the Grenadines

Ollivierre surprises us with an early-afternoon trip to a floating bar moored in the harbour. It is run by Kerry Ollivierre (distantly related to Jensen), a former boat engineer who constructed the buoyant boozer by hand. “It’s run on solar energy,” Kerry says. “The ice that’s cooling your drink is made by the sun.” There’s only one way to reach the bar — flouncing out from Port Elizabeth in Kerry’s speedboat — so there’s a cap of 40 people allowed onto it. You could lose an afternoon here knocking back passion-fruit punches while sitting on a swing and watching turtles swim past (cocktails from £5; 001 784 530 8123).

At Sandals I find other favourite haunts (beyond the outdoor bath on the rear terrace of our cottage). Mornings are whiled away at the heart-shaped pool at the top of the resort; afternoons at the beach club. The food is phenomenal — there are 11 restaurants and we bounce around them all. I love Scrimshaw for its broiled lobster and tuna crudo, but I return to Sora, specialising in Italian cuisine, three times for mussels and beefy pasta. More lunchtimes than I want to admit to are spent stuffing pork and chicken into my face at the Jerk Shack. The crowning glory of the resort, though, is Buccan, which has a menu of island dishes made with island ingredients — curried lamb, grilled snapper and fruity rice to share — served family-style at tables of eight.

There were plenty of American guests, but also St Vincentians, Jamaicans and a couple from Trinidad. At Buccan we share a table with the only other Brits I met on the island — Pravin and Sharon Mistry from Carmarthenshire. “We came to the Grenadines 30 years ago and have always wanted to come back,” Sharon says. “We’ve split our holiday, half at a Sandals in Barbados and half here, but we prefer St Vincent because the sea is so gentle and this resort is on the right side of buzzing.”

After dinner, bags of entertainment goes on until the early hours — including violinists, steel-pan and other bands — but my latest night is 11pm. And that is only thanks to a couple of shots of Sunset rum (84.5 per cent) at the Three Jewels bar.

Snorkelling within the Sandals Resort

Snorkelling within the Sandals Resort

One day I leave Nick to have a lie-in then enjoy his beers by the pool and make a 5am start with the guides Quency Lewis and Marlon Joseph for a more serious hike than the Vermont Trail — trekking to the top of La Soufrière volcano in the north. At 1,220m (4,000ft), it is modest compared to some, but it’s tough going. We approach from the eastern side and, after two hours of walking, a bamboo tree canopy recedes into a lunar landscape revealing veins of lava that flowed from the most recent eruption in 2021. Even in sturdy walking boots I slip and slide, falling and grazing a knee on the fresh grey ash near the summit.

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At the top, mist cools my face as I peer into the crater. “Until 2021, there was a whole other mound of rock in there, surrounded by a lake,” Lewis says. Today sulphur streams curl from a chasm and the lake is smaller. “This mountain is a symbol of the St Vincentians resilience,” Joseph adds. “It’s the stuff of legend — it erupted the year we gained independence [from the British] in 1979 too.”

Laura Jackson by the crater of La Soufrière volcano

Laura Jackson by the crater of La Soufrière volcano

We recover with a long lunch at Ferdie’s Footsteps in Georgetown — proper salt fish, fried plantain, green bananas and curried mutton. “There’s no menu,” Ferdie says. “I cook what’s fresh.” I finish the afternoon taking in the scent of eucalyptus trees and allamanda flowers at the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown — founded in 1765 and the oldest in the Caribbean (£1.50; botanicalgarden.gov.vc).

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For all that, an afternoon snorkelling experience shows that I didn’t really need to leave Sandals to have unbelievable encounters with flora and fauna. I’m a nervous snorkeller, but the Aquatic Centre instructor Keon Murray is so reassuring that I resist the urge to bail on a trip to the Buccament bat cave. He cranks up a playlist from the St Vincent-born soca musician Alston Becket Cyrus as we sail out in our group of 15.

My worry dissipates the moment I get going. The reef at the end of the headland is crammed with lava tubes where sergeant major and creole wrasse fish mingle; at one point I flipper around as a sea turtle lollops past. When Murray suggests snorkelling through the cave I offer an emphatic “OK” gesture. The fractured basalt entrance is dark, a reek of guano hits and there’s the shadowy outline of wings and pointy ears above me. With my head below water I feel my way through the narrow passage and turn a corner. Suddenly the dark is replaced with a 15m wall of brilliant light, turning the sea lapis-lazuli blue.

When I emerge from the cave it’s raining again — I embrace it. It seems that all the best adventures on these islands involve getting seriously wet.
Laura Jackson was a guest of Sandals, which has seven nights’ all-inclusive from £2,389pp, including flights (sandals.co.uk); Gideon’s Taxi Service, which has Bequia tours from £31 an hour (bequiajeeprentals.com); Island Routes which offers the Vermont Nature Trail Hike and Birdwatching Experience from £94pp (islandroutes.com); and the St Vincent and the Grenadines tourist board (discoversvg.com)

Video director and editor: Nic Ferguson-Lee
Presenter: Laura Jackson
Producer: Min Sett Hein

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