All ages from children to elders welcome guests to Grenada. Douglas Robertson
Travelling the world as a child, my happiest memories were learning from local people. As a Psychology graduate of dual heritage, I naturally found myself bringing together people of different backgrounds. Then working in the hotel industry, I realised guests were keen to immerse in Caribbean culture, and Homestays Grenada was born!
‘Tourism is everyone’s business’, was Grenada’s Tourist Board’s slogan back in 1999. They were encouraging local people to greet tourists visiting Grenada with a big smile. I thought there must be some way for local people to participate fully in tourism, and let visitors see and enjoy real Caribbean life rather than the more packaged version presented by the hotel industry.
I came up with the unprecedented idea of visitors staying with local families throughout Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, either in a room or apartment, and taking part in their host’s everyday activities. My research showed that Grenada was already popular in places like Central America and Cuba, but for some reason, not so popular in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Miss Cherry Ann at Mor-Gan preschool prepares a birthday surprise for one of the students. Guests may volunteer, bringing books and educational supplies while visiting children at a school or community library. Douglas Robertson
I ran the idea by family and friends who had suitable accommodation, and the reaction was positive. I gave a television interview along with the Tourism Board, and although it was then such a novel and almost alarming concept, more people stepped up to open their homes to strangers from abroad. I spent a great deal of time inspecting homes, building up good relationships with hosts and constantly scouting for more accommodations in unusual locations off the tourist belt.
Stay in comfort at Bellevue, an elegant wooden country home. Marguerite Sherif
Located in the southeast Caribbean region off the coast of Venezuela, Grenada is a tri-island state, comprising Grenada and the smaller sister isles of Carriacou and Petite Martinique (known locally as PM). The capital city is St. George’s. With a mixed European, African and Amerindian history, it gained independence from Britain in 1974. Everyone speaks English and Grenadian dialect. The name is pronounced gren-A-da, not gren-ah-da (as is the name of the Spanish city). One Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC) = approximately 37 cents USD.
Today Homestays Grenada has a great variety of homes and hosts to suit every taste and budget. We have wooden houses with organic gardens on the edge of a cocoa plantation, beautiful apartments with every ‘mod con’ and a beach at the end of the garden, and rooms in the rainforest where you can hike to the nearest waterfall with your hosts, stopping to learn about herbal medicine on the way.
Because I have worked so closely with many of the hosts over the years, when a guest contacts me to book a homestay and shares their needs and interests, it’s easy to suggest the best homes for their stay. The feedback that I receive attests to wonderful memories of spontaneous beach picnics with a huge spread of rice and peas, stewed chicken and a rum cocktail or two! Then there’s the muddy hike to the waterfalls in the rainforest with the guide stopping to demonstrate how to fold a banana leaf to make a temporary glass for a sip of mountain spring water.
On a local fishing trip, Mark from Manitoba enjoys a rum punch and a chat with the boat’s captain. Sabine Augustine
Or an impromptu musical concert as a military veteran from Texas pulls out his harmonica to jam with a local reggae band. Earlier, when we hosted guests in our own home, I can still visualize the contented smile of an Alaska lady reading books she’d brought from home to my fascinated five year old as she combed the guest’s long, silver hair in return.
Because of the great interest in local arts and crafts, Homestays Grenada offers educational workshops in a wide range of activities for guests to take during their stay. Not surprisingly, cookery is the most requested. Some visitors naturally join in with the food preparation with their hosts, but some want more formal training in how to spice up a black cake in time for Christmas or how to make the national dish ‘Oil Down’. We have an exuberant dance teacher who can show guests all the local moves to get ready for Carnival celebrations in February, and there are steel band and African drumming workshops. Guests have joined in with a village ‘mas camp’ and proudly made their own costume and mask for a village Carnival celebration.
Sabine from Germany gets in the spirit of Grenada’s August Carnival with Sheba during the ‘pretty mas’ parade along the streets of Grenada’s capital, St. George’s. Kala Williams
Our guests are all ages but more than half of Homestay Grenada guests are over age sixty. The oldest visitor we have had was in her early eighties. She was thrilled to join in with her Grenadian counterparts at their ‘Young at Heart’ group in a session of traditional dance, prayer and chat, topped off with some delicious sweet potato pudding. Not just ‘Young at Heart’ but young in body, in true Caribbean style they go to a night club down on the beach once a month to show the young’uns how it’s done!
An elegant double bedroom is available for rent in this Westerhall region beachfront home at Fort Jeudy, St George’s. Linnette Worth
The beautiful Westerhall garden of Theresa Gairy, leads to her two apartments available for rent in St. David’s. Elizabeth Williams
A senior couple from Britain staying with my mother helped to create a truly memorable dinner. They had mentioned how much they loved fresh fish, and so my ever-helpful mother stopped at a local fisherman’s stall in the village and bought a barracuda just delivered from a colorful traditional sloop. The couple managed to gut it and season it in true Caribbean fashion, cooking it together and sharing it on the veranda as the sun was setting over the bay.
A retired couple from Vancouver, Canada bonded with their sixty-something hostess over cooking, dressmaking and gardening so much that they came back to her for eight consecutive winters!
After a long day of farming together, volunteer Florence from California and farm owner Denyse Ogilvie, share an ice cream together. Richard Ogilvie
Organic farmer, Denyse Ogilvie offers visitors the opportunity to volunteer and learn at her permaculture farm. Denyse Ogilvie
Canadians and Americans particularly love to come to Grenada for extended periods to escape the harsh winters and get great deals on monthly rates for a self-catering apartment with family meals as an option. Since many longer-term guests have been involved with local volunteer projects while on the islands, we have links with local schools and community centers, where guests bring new books and stay for a story-telling session, to the great delight of the children!
A retired teacher from a small town in rural Canada stayed four months in our Petite Martinique property. She was keen to share her skills with this quiet, family-oriented, fishing community so she tutored local children in an after school club on her ocean-front veranda, complete with sweets as props for Math lessons. She also spearheaded a beach clean up to encourage others to do the same. In return she was invited to family parties, traditional African feasts complete with drumming and dancing, and to witness the famous ‘boat launchings’ of Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
Colorful Grenada fishing boats. Douglas Robertson
I take great joy in bringing people together from across the globe to create a unique experience. I’ve loved watching Grenadian people take pride in their communities and traditional skills once more, and feeling thrilled when guests tell me it was the most satisfying vacation they’ve ever had.
Homestays Grenada, www.homestaysgrenada.com, has most of its homestay options on Grenada island with one each on Carriacou and Petite Martinique. PM is known throughout the Caribbean for its boat building, fishing, trading and unusual wedding traditions. It has the highest per capita income in the Eastern Caribbean.
Dry season runs December to May, and rainy season June to November. There are no poisonous snakes or insects, and hurricane Ivan in 2004 was the first (and last) severe weather event for more than half a century.
Getting There: Air service to Grenada is available from other islands in the Caribbean, and from a few eastern North American and European cities. There are less than 140,000 visitors a year arriving by plane, cruise ship and sailing vessels.
Getting Around the Islands: On Grenada island itself, visitors may explore the island in many ways. Enjoy hopping on and off the local minibuses from EC$2.50 a ride. For convenience, rent a vehicle for US$50 a day from one of the many car rental agencies. For the fit and adventurous, bicycles and scooters are available for hire on Grenada and Carriacou, but for the ultimate in relaxation call our taxi driver Bertrand Ferguson for door-to-door service.
There are two ways of reaching Carriacou and Petite Martinique year round. One is by catamaran (fast and slow boats) with Osprey Lines Ltd, www.ospreylines.com at EC$100 return. The other option is a 20-minute flight on SVG Air, www.svgair.com, at EC$395 return.
Don’t miss a related feature article in our Travel Article Library about travel to Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
Above: A classic Grenada beach at sundown. Douglas Robertson