Grenada: The spice of the Caribbean
October 30, 1996
(CNN) -- The island of Grenada has the tranquil beauty and lush landscape typical of many Caribbean islands, but it's the abundant nutmeg growing here that makes this tropical spot unique. "The Spice Island," as it's commonly called, is the most southernly of the Windward Islands.
Twenty-one miles long and 12 miles wide, Grenada lies just north of Trinidad and Tobago. The island declared independence from Great Britain in 1974, and today, much of its culture reflects the African roots of the black majority.
Quick one-day trips here, like outings offered by Chantours, helped increase Grenada's tourism to more than 250,000 visitors in 1996. Chantours offers 45-minute flights between Barbados and Grenada; passengers leave early in the morning and return in the early evening.
The spice trade sets this Caribbean jewel apart. The British introduced nutmeg in the 1780s after natural disasters wiped out the sugar industry. Today, Grenada is the second-largest spice producer in the world next to Indonesia, and nutmeg is its main product.
At Market Square, tourists can buy a variety of spices and fresh produce from local vendors. Spices are one of the most popular souvenirs, and offer a good bargain since $1 (U.S.) is equivalent to about $2.70 of the East Caribbean dollar.
Local nutmeg factories offer an inside peek at the tedious production process, where the nuts are first weighed, sorted and then lifted up to dry for six to eight weeks. Once dry, the shells are crushed in a machine and the actual nut or fruit is separated out by hand.
The next part of the process is the water test; the good ones sink to the bottom and the bad, or defective ones, float. After curing for five to six months, the large and small nuts are separated and shipped around the world or sold in the island markets, whole or as powder.
While the spice industry is number one in Grenada, tourism runs a close second. Local leaders believe, to survive economically, the country must develop agriculture side-by-side with tourism. Although Grenadians believe increasing visitors is important, they want to do so without overcrowding the island and possibly harming its natural beauty.
The capital St. George's, on the island's southwest coast, overlooks one of the Caribbean's prettiest natural harbors. The waterfront is known as the "Carenage" and is the center of action in-town. Just below the city is beautiful Grand Anse, a dazzling two-mile stretch of white sand and the most famous of the island's 45 beaches.
A spectacular view of St. George's sparkling blue harbor and colorful red roofs is available from the top of Fort George, the headquarters of the Grenada Police. Built by the French in 1705, it's also the perfect place to view the colonial-era architecture that reflects the French and British styles of former colonists.
At the fort, visitors can see where some of the events took place leading up to the U.S. invasion of Grenada. In 1983, anti-government factions staged a coup d'etat, and arrested and executed then-leader Maurice Bishop. Fearing Cuba was behind the coup, the U.S. and other Caribbean countries sent in troops to restore order. Democratic elections were held in 1984, and have continued ever since.
After a long day of sightseeing, many tourists choose to relax to the beat of a steel drum band. The Spice Island Beach Resort offers delicious meals featuring local fare, like the traditional callaloo soup, the squash-like christophine or fried plantains.
Chantours offers 45-minute flights, which leave from Barbados for Grenada early in the morning and return in the early evening. CNN TravelGuide's one-day Chantours trip to Grenada, from Barbados, cost less than $300 (U.S.).