Area: Union Island
Hotel: Bigsand Hotel
Meal Plan: EP
Date of Visit: April 2007
We were looking for a quiet romantic island escape to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. We wanted to return to Antigua where we had such an amazing time last year, but alas, the same hotel/air package doubled in price since last year, and so the search was on to find a suitable alternative. Since we were married in SVG, and we both love the area, the idea of returning appealed to us. After much internet research, we found the Bigsand Hotel on the island of Union.
Getting to Union is half the fun (not really). To get to Union, you first fly into one of the major islands such as Barbados, St.Lucia or Grenada (not St.Vincent as this island has no internationl airport (yet)). You can then fly, via small aircraft, to Union directly, or, first to St.Vincent and then to Union. There are several airlines that service the Grenadines (ie: LIAT, Caribbean Star, SVG Air, Mustique Air, etc.) All flights can be booked thru email, fax or the internet. You can visit these airlines’ websites and obtain the flight schedules and prices. We had absolutely no problems getting there and back; everything was well organized, especially the connection in Barbados. Upon arrival in Barbados (amongst thousands of other arrivals) a rep from SVG Air was waiting for us just outside the main terminal. He quickly guided us thru the pandemonium to the SVG desk where all the paper work was taken care of. Since we were in transit passengers, we were guided briskly thru the crowds and out to the waiting area for our flight. A short wait later, we were walked out to the small (very small) plane. Our luggage was already loaded onto the plane.
Union Island is the most southerly of the Grenadines, the closest other islands are Palm Island, Mayreau, Canouan and Carriacou (Grenada). Like the other Grenadines, it is mountainous and is blessed with several beautiful white sand beaches. We found the island much drier than St.Vincent. Water is therefore a very precious commodity for the islanders. The only source of fresh water is rain water. The island itself is quite small; 6 square miles and a population of approximately 2,000. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the population of goats on the island is higher than the human population. Goats seemed to roam everywhere; on the beach, in the town, on the hillsides, at the airport. There are two communities on Union; Clfton, the main town with government services, a harbour and marina, and Ashton, a mostly residential village. Union has decent roads which provide vehicle access to most of the island.
Bigsand is located right on the beach at Richmond Bay and is about a 10 minute drive from the airport. The bay gives great protection from the waves so the water is extremely calm. It is a small two storey hotel; 20 rooms of various types (studios, superior, suites); a restaurant and bar round out the hotel’s services. The restaurant is open for all 3 meals and the bar is open all day. Free internet access is available in the lobby, and the hotel is also equipped with wi-fi should you have a laptop handy. The hotel has recently been sold and we were fortunate to have had the pleasure of meeting the new owners who were staying there during our visit. The new owners seem to have lots of ideas and plans on making the Bigsand even better.
We booked the honeymoon suite, and we were given room #3 which is a corner room located on the second floor. The suite is comprised of a spacious living room with a kitchenette, a full bathroom (hairdryer and toiletries supplied), an air-conditioned bedroom and a generously sized balcony with full table and chairs and two chaise loungers. The kitchenette included a small fridge, a stove, sink, some glasses and cups and a coffee-maker. A word about the coffee-maker; it was one of those automatic press machines. We brought our own coffee, but it was nearly impossible to use in that machine, and the coffee packets they provided tasted horrible. So we ended up simply getting our morning coffee from the restaurant in our insulated mugs. The furniture is a bit ‘eclectic’; it’s the best way I can describe it. It contains pieces that look as if they came from a German hunting lodge alongside pieces that look as if they come from IKEA. No matter, we were comfortable and that’s all that counts. We rarely turned on the A/C (I found it too cold). We found it comfortable just to open up all windows for a great cross breeze. We also had two fans which kept the rooms very comfortable.
The beach at Bigsand, while not very long, is sufficiently large to accommodate the hotel guests. Keep an eye out for the amazing tides! During our stay the hotel was certainly not at full capacity and it wasn’t unusual for us to have the whole beach to ourselves. The sand is light in color and quite fine. You will need water-shoes as there are some coral and rock bits when you first go into the water as well as broken glass (which the hotel management is diligently cleaning up). You can walk along the bay for some minutes following the crescent shaped beach. The best swimming is on the public beach section (right next to Bigsand) because the bottom there is very sandy with few weeds and rocks. Fantastic shelling is to be had on the north side of the hotel.
We had most of our meals at the hotel, and we found the menu selection extensive enough that we could order a different dish every night without repetition. The supper menu is quite eclectic and includes items such as the daily fresh catch (prepared to your liking), curry goat, various chicken dishes, shrimp, pasta, and beef tenderloin. Lunch dishes were similar to the supper selections but also included roti, burgers, salad and samosas. A buffet breakfast was included in our room rate, and we took advantage of this most mornings. The coffee was surprisingly good and (my favourite)‘Splenda’ sugar substitute was readily available. Several types of wines were available, and we usually had South American wine with our evening meals. During the day, we usually made our own drinks. We stocked up on fruit juices, Barbados rum, limes, soft drinks and beer from the various grocery stores in Clifton. We also had a lovely anniversary supper in Clifton at the seaside Bougainvillia Restaurant. Lobster was still in season so we shared one very large and succulent specimen.
Activities and Excursions:
There are two towns on Union; Clifton and Ashton. You can walk to both, although Clifton is much closer (about a mile away). Clifton is the ‘main’ town where you can find a harbour, marina, shops, gov’t offices and marine services. Ashton is also worth a visit, it’s a very charming old-fashioned Caribbean town with colorful houses, churches and seashore. We walked about 2/3 of the island one morning, at an easy pace with lots of stops for photos, we did it in about 3 hours. You can certainly see the whole island in one day. The roads are in surprisingly good shape (due to low traffic and no frost!). Except in the two towns, we didn’t come across any cars nor people, just lots of goats. If you’d rather bike than walk, the hotel does rent bicycles at very reasonable rates. Snorkeling is excellent right in front of the hotel. We have our own equipment so we went out almost every day. If the water is not too stirred up by sand, the clarity is unbelievable and we were able to snap some incredible underwater photos. We booked only one ‘organized’ tour; the day-long sail on the Scaramouche. The Scaramouche is an old wooden schooner (used in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies). This trip includes stops in Mayreau, Palm Island and the Tobago Cays for swimming and/or snorkeling. A light breakfast, lunch and drinks are included (the rum punch was really great!). We enjoyed this day very much and we highly recommend it.
(see Summary). Union Island caters to yachties so you will find several shops that sell food and beverages. Most of these stores are located in the main town of Clifton, but the other major community of Ashton has a few small shops as well. Besides basic provisions, you can also find limited souvenir t-shirts, post-cards, maps and the like. The island’s only bank is located in Clifton and does have an ATM. Local currency is the East Caribbean Dollar (EC) but most shops and restaurants accept American dollars as well. Hotels and restaurants also accept credit cards. If you are looking for duty free shopping, your best bet is the Barbados, Grenada or St. Lucia airports (depending on which island you are coming from).
We had absolutely perfect weather during our stay. Every day was hot, sunny and much less humid than Barbados (we felt the difference as soon as we got off the plane!). We had some brief morning showers the day we went on our boat trip and that was the extent of the ‘wet’ weather.
On Union island you will not find 5 star resorts, shopping malls, casinos or nightclubs. But if spending some downtime on a quintessential Caribbean island which some of the friendliest people call home appeals to you, I urge you to give Union a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed. If you still have questions, I’d be happy to reply.
Email me at: Ivona_Lancaster@hotmail.com