My most recent research trip took me back to the Caribbean to check out a few more of the beautiful hotels and resorts we work with and, most importantly, to discover whether there was any diving worth reporting home about. Oh, it's a tough life…
First stop, Grenada. This small gem of an island attracts far fewer visitors than many of its bigger and brasher Caribbean brothers and sisters but there is a good range of accommodation; small boutiques, beach villas, grandiose resorts and, dare I mention it, even a Sandals - complete with floating infinity skypools on the balconies… There's also plenty to explore, from waterfalls and hot springs to rainforest and pristine beaches.
The diving is generally best around the South West side of the island and, while the reef doesn't really compare to those in the Indian Ocean, Red Sea and the Pacific, the wrecks are fantastic - we headed out to the Rhum Runner and the Veronique. I'm by no means a wreck junkie but these were excellent because they have essentially turned into colourful artificial reefs that support a healthy myriad of marine life. Another huge bonus is that a lot of Grenada's wrecks sit around 15 - 20m from the surface, meaning you can spend a good hour watching all the action. I spent about 30 minutes filming seahorses that were clinging onto the remains of the Veronique.
Overall, those who enjoy the smaller reef critters and macro photography should definitely consider Grenada, as well as wreckies and techies. If you're a beginner, Grenada has you covered too with its shallow waters and man-made underwater sculpture park.
St Vincent & the Grenadines
Next up was Petit St Vincent, a stunning exclusive island retreat in the Grenadine chain of islands. As you approach the island by speedboat the raw beauty of this location becomes apparent; no development is visible from the sea and even when you are on the island itself most of the cottages are cleverly designed to have little impact on the natural surroundings. The fact that Jean-Michel Cousteau has taken the dive centre under his wing clearly indicates the hotel's eco credentials; whether it's banning plastic bottles or sourcing local ingredients to use in the (exquisite) cuisine, the team at PSV have thought of everything.
The diving from Petit St Vincent is some of the best I have experienced in the Caribbean and the reef is in surprisingly healthy condition (despite the odd patch of bleaches and dead coral). Promisingly, the dive centre plans to regrow areas of reef and use artificial wrecks to aid regeneration. I would highly recommend making at least one boat trip to the neighbouring islands and reefs on 'Beauty', the island's own 49ft sloop. Tobago Cays in particular is great for snorkellers and divers. The highlight, though, was getting to see some big marine life. As much as I love the smaller critters, I get my main buzz chasing nurse sharks off their perches and cruising alongside mantas and eagle rays, all of which can be found off Petit St Vincent. Our brilliant guides also allowed us to explore new, undiscovered areas and we visited a few sites that I am sure have never been dived before.
Aside from the diving, Petit St Vincent continues its ticking of the holiday boxes with its charming accommodation and stunning surroundings; the island is dotted with secret coves, beaches and nature trails.
I first checked into the Viceroy Sugar Beach, it was dark by the time I arrived and despite my personal Butler's insistence that there was some sort of a view in front of my huge villa, I had no idea of the joy I was going to feel pulling back the blinds in my bedroom the following morning; to reveal the Twin Pitons of St Lucia!
St Lucia is quite simply breath-taking: calm Caribbean Sea, dense green rainforest and steep volcanic mountains. There is no way around it, which makes things very difficult when you are trying to remain neutral for the purposes of 'research and analysis'. I found myself completely won over in a very short space of time and even if you had put me in a youth hostel for the night, it would have been the most beautiful youth hostel in the world. There are so many unique properties on this island; Sugar Beach, Jade Mountain, Capella Marigot Bay, Ladera, Calabash Cove and Windjammer Landings, to name but a few.
I was so in awe of the accommodation that I nearly forgot to dive but when I did finally seek refuge from the glaring sun, enjoying the rare treat of a 'shore-dive', it was a pleasant enough experience. There was a resonance with my experiences of diving in Grenada and Dominica, in so much as there was a lot of small life hiding in the volcanic silt - shrimps, crabs, eels, seahorse, pipefish and small reef fish, however I felt the familiar pangs of disappointment at the inconsistency of healthy marine eco-sytems and lack of any animal bigger than a parrot fish.
While diving is by no means the main draw to St Lucia, I would not hesitate to go back if I was looking for an exotic holiday with a spot of diving on the side. I would certainly recommend it to families and those wanting to learn to dive, especially given the fact that you can shore dive from Sugar Beach, Anse Chastenet and Jade Mountain, right between the Pitons.
I feel that a general rule when diving in the Caribbean is that you never know what luck might bring you on each and every dive. So long as you are not expecting to be blinded by colour and diversity, these destinations are worth getting your kit on for!