St. Vincent is an island of towering mountains, craggy peaks, and dramatic precipices. Everything is dressed in a tangle of dense green forest. St. Vincent’s steep and wild terrain was among the last to be settled by Europeans. At the time Columbus sailed through the islands, St. Vincent was inhabited by the Kalinargo. They had migrated from South America and had a more poetic name for the island; Hairoun, which means “home of the blessed.” They were a fierce tribe and had wrested the land from the Arawak people who preceded them. Columbus called them Caribs.
While the newly arrived Europeans exploited nearby islands, a slave ship was wrecked off Bequia and British history claims the Caribs took the slaves as their own. These slaves were also fierce and warlike and proved to be a problem. To combat this, the Caribs decided to kill all the young male black children. This caused a revolt among the slaves, who killed all the Caribs they could, stole their women, and ran into the hills. They kept the names the Caribs had given them, followed some Carib customs, and became known as the Black Caribs. Over the years they took control of much of the land from the original Caribs and put up intense resistance to British settlement. What is clear is that by the late 18th century, Black Caribs, a mixture of African and Kalinargo were the dominant local people who went to war with the British and were defeated by a superior British force and shipped en masse to Honduras, where they are also known as Garifunas. Other Kalinargo were not involved in this, and some of their descendants live in the north part of St. Vincent.
The northern end of the island is dominated by Soufriere, a 3,000-foot volcano. Major Eruptions occurred in 1718, 1812, 1902, 1979, and 2021, with a minor one in 1971.
After the 1979 eruption all was quiet until days after Christmas 2020, when a new lava dome rose from the edge of the main crater. Over the next few months the dome continued to grow, emitting gas, steam, and increased seismic activity. More significant tremors began in March of 2021 and evacuation was ordered on April 8th, just in time for an eruption the next day that sent an ash plume 8 km into the air. Successive eruptions over the following days thrust ash 12 km high, and sent it as far as 3000 km away. The plume traveled east in the upper atmosphere, forcing the Barbados international airport to close. Locally, ash blanketed the country like snow, smothering vegetation and collapsing buildings under it’s weight, and rivers ran thick and black. The region mobilized, and cruise ships were deployed to transport evacuees to neighboring islands.
Soufriere rumbled on for a few months but has settled down again and, for the most part, residents have returned and the landscape recovered.
As you sail by you can see the rivers and alluvial fans of dark volcanic matter that flowed down from the summit. Some shifting of the bottom topography has occurred, most notably in Chateaubelair.
The hiking trails up to and around the crater are still officially closed, though guides take people up at their own risk. When officially reopened Soufriere, is unquestionably one of the Windwards’ best and most exciting hikes. Starting on the windward side, there is a clear trail that begins in farmland and goes through rainforest, montane forest, and then into an area where only tiny plants can survive. The mountain top is often in cloud, and you need a little luck to see down into the crater or get the views over the island. The wind often blows hard, and it is cool and damp, so take a rain jacket. Be careful not to get blown into the crater, which is a sheer 1,000-foot drop with no guardrail. Take lunch with you and eat it near the top; the longer you spend there, the more likely you are to get windows in the clouds and be able to see into the crater. The crater is impressive and smoking. The crater rim is at 3,000 feet; the mountains to the north attain 3,800 feet. The volcano can be approached from the leeward side, but it is a much longer hike (about four hours each way) and a reliable guide is essential.
It seems that neither nature nor man was sure they wanted tourism in St. Vincent, for it lacks the acres of white sand beach and the convenient, easy anchorages of the Grenadines. In compensation, this beautiful island remains unspoiled, and you can drive or hike amid exotic, almost theatrical, scenery. Its rugged terrain is the perfect scenic complement to the appealing and gentle Grenadines farther south. Those doing a round trip from St. Lucia who only wish to stop one way are better off visiting St. Vincent on the way north, as this makes the northbound trip shorter.
Try to see some of St. Vincent’s interior, which is totally wild. Roads run up both of St. Vincent’s coasts, but none go all the way around or cross the middle.
I love Montreal Gardens in the Mesopotamia Valley. Perched upon the very threshold of the mountains, it is at the end of the road. Tim Vaughn and his team maintain these gardens as a work of art. Winding paths, dense vegetation, a river, and broad views make the gardens a perfect place to spend an hour or two away from it all.
Those who like things closer to town can tour the Botanical Gardens and Fort Charlotte. The Botanical Gardens are the oldest in the western hemisphere, and it was here that Captain Bligh brought the breadfruit tree after the mutiny on the Bounty fiasco. A direct descendant from his original tree is on display. You will find many youths to guide you through the gardens. One or two are entertaining, but negotiate fees in advance.
While many places are fine for wandering off on your own, a guide is essential for some hikes, especially the western approach to the volcano. Bad robberies have occurred in this area, and much of the land belongs to the Marijuana Growers Association.
Good guides who will cover everything mentioned above are available. We mention them under various anchorages.