With more than 32 islands and cays within 40 miles, the Grenadine Islands are an ideal island-hopping destination. Stretching from the island of St. Vincent south to Petit St. Vincent, this Caribbean archipelago is a gateway to a world without man's heavy footprint.
"When you hear the word Caribbean, it brings up these pictures in your mind of the white sand beaches, the laid back atmosphere, mangoes, coconuts," says Glen Beache, minister of tourism for the chain of islands called St. Vincent and the Grenadines. "The image that the Caribbean brings into your head is exactly what the Grenadines are. The way the Caribbean was 40 years ago."
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in the Lesser Antilles, are best explored by boat. All of the major islands, Bequia (pronounced Bek-way), Canouan, Mystique, Union Island, Mayreau, Palm Island, Tobago Cays and Petit. St. Vincent can be reached in a day's journey.
John West, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Recreational Marine Association, visited St. Vincent and the Grenadines 15 years ago from England on a sailing trip and decided to stay.
"It's just absolutely unspoiled," West said. "Our anchorages are always uncrowded and you can island hop to a different island every day."
Bequia is the northern most of the Grenadines, just an hour ferry ride from the capital island of St. Vincent. Bequia, meaning "Island of the Clouds" in the language of its indigenous inhabitants, is seven square miles and has a population of nearly 6,000.
"Bequia tends to be most people's favorite," tourism minister Beache said. "When people see it for the first time, they can't believe there's still a place on earth that looks like that. Sort of like a fairy tale story that someone has drawn; all the colors, the boats, the fisherman. There's something about it and it's very hard to describe but people just tend to love it."
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Island-Hopping Paradise
The ferry ride from St. Vincent arrives in Bequia via the picturesque harbor of Admiralty Bay in Port Elizabeth.
"The harbor in Port Elizabeth was once the sailing mecca of the southern Caribbean," said Sylvester Stone, a life-long resident of Bequia. "Because of its shape and deep water, Admiralty Bay was a key trading post."
South of Bequia, the islands of Canouan and Mustique attract the rich and famous for their luxurious and secluded accommodations.
Mayreau, one of the smallest inhabited islands, boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world at Saltwhistle Bay.
"For me, it's in the top five beaches in the world," Beache said. "It's never been mentioned in the programs that rate beaches because it's not a big beach. But when you talk about the clarity of the water, how calm it is, the sand, it's truly amazing."
The Tobago Cays, five tiny uninhabited islands protected by a horseshoe reef, are the signature of the Grenadines. The vision of a tropical paradise, the crystal clear waters and abundant sea turtles make the Tobago Cays ideal for diving, snorkeling and boating.
The islands are so picture perfect, one of the Tobago Cays, Petit Tabac, was featured in the film "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
The southernmost island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is Petit St. Vincent. The 113-acre island, known locally as PSV, is a privately owned resort with 22 cottages. Renowned for its remoteness, the cottages at PSV don't have telephones or televisions, making it the ultimate escape from the modern world.