To the uninitiated, the Southern Caribbean island of Grenada is better known for its political history than it is for being a vacation paradise. (U.S. troops intervened in a coup during President Reagan's administration, at the time a controversial volley in the Cold War.) But for the tourists pouring in to explore its numerous beaches or hike its mountainous rainforests via the island's increasing cruise business -- on a recent day, five ships were docked at the capital of St. George's -- such associations belong in the past.
So, too, does Hurricane Ivan, which damaged 90 percent of Grenada's buildings, destroyed 85 percent of its nutmeg trees, and left more than half the population homeless in September 2004. While you'll still see some lingering effects as you tour around the island (churches without roofs, homes still being rebuilt), St. George's is as colorful and charming as ever. Most restaurants, tourist attractions and hotels are back in business -- in many cases refurbished and looking even better than they did before.
Visitors can still bask in the sun on the wide, white-sand Grand Anse Beach, visit the Mona monkeys that live near Grand Etang National Park, or enjoy a lazy waterfront lunch along the horseshoe-shaped Carenage harbor. Take advantage of Grenada's topography and work up a sweat as you hike to one of the island's multi-tiered waterfalls; then, cool off with a relaxing swim in the chilled waters. Make sure to sample some of the diverse, wonderfully seasoned cuisine, befitting Grenada's "Isle of Spice" nickname. At St. George's market, you'll find ginger, cinnamon, mace, turmeric and nutmeg sharing space with coconuts, bananas and more exotic fruit, such as star-shaped carambola.
Grenada's famous nutmeg industry is still recovering from the 2004 hurricane; the trees take between seven and 15 years to mature enough to bear fruit. But interested visitors can still tour spice plantations and processing stations to learn about the hardy new varieties of nutmeg trees that are being planted -- varieties that will hopefully survive the next big storm. Or tour River Antoine Estate, a rum distillery that still uses a 19th-century water wheel to produce 152-proof liquor, considered too strong for visitors to bring home on a plane. Either way, the natural bounty of one of the Caribbean's friendliest islands will entice those searching for eco-tourism adventures or laze-the-day-away relaxation. Grenada truly has assets to fulfill both.