Boat is the best mode of transportation to explore the Caribbean islands. No bridges connect this 2000-plus mile stretch. Plus, destinations like St. John (USVI) or Jost Van Dyke (BVI) and Mayreau (an island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) have no airports. Yet, many islands, including the three just mentioned, are reachable by ferry. Local ferry operators on several islands offer very affordable service to a cluster of surrounding islands and are the next best bet for island-hopping for those who don’t have a boat. If you go this route, don’t expect QE2 luxury. These ferries are workhorses. Don’t be surprised if your luggage sits next to a new refrigerator or new car tires or boxes of groceries. While ferries are a prime passenger transport, they are also a lifeblood for transporting items of everyday life. Here’s a sampling of how to see the Caribbean by ferry:
Visit the offshore islands of Vieques and Culebra by hopping on a ferry at Roosevelt Roads in the town of Ceiba, five miles south of Fajardo on the eastern mainland of Puerto Rico. One-way ticket prices range from Free to $2.25, depending on age. It’s a 30-minute ride to Vieques and 45-minute ride to Culebra. Vieques is known for its bioluminescent bay and Culebra it’s Flamenco Beach. Both boast quaint towns with shops, bars and restaurants..
U.S. & British Virgin Islands
Ferry up to 60 miles, from the USVI’s Charlotte Amalie Harbor on St. Thomas east to the concrete ferry dock at Setting Point on Anegada (BVI). Once-monthly trips are available with Interisland Boat Services for $175 pp, all taxes included. From Charlotte Amalie, there is also service to St. Croix, St John, and the BVI’s of Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Several daily round trips take place from Red Hook, St. Thomas to Cruz Bay, St. John, costing $6 one-way. Red Hook and Cruz Bay ferries also travel to the BVI’s West End Tortola and Jost Van Dyke. Within the BVI, it’s possible to reach several islands including Anegada and smaller islands of Scrub and Norman from Tortola. In the coming weeks, Anegada Express will launch its new 90 passenger boat, which is three times more than the current ferry. A passport is required for travel between the U.S. and BVI.
“The Peter Island, Saba Rock and Bitter End properties are expected to have ferry service when they re-open,” says Keith Dawson, public relations manager for the BVI Tourist Board & Film Commission. “Cooper Island does not have a scheduled ferry service but those who want to visit can contact the Cooper Island Beach Club for information. Sometimes they transport passengers on their supply boat.”
St. Maarten – St. Martin & Surrounding Islands
It’s double the fun when ferrying from this dual nation island. The Great Bay Express offers high speed ferry service from Philipsburg, between the islands of St Barths, Saba and St Eustatius. One-way between St. Maarten and St. Barths costs $65-$70 and the trip lasts 40 minutes. From St. Martin, the Voyager I operates daily. It’s a 30-minute ride from Oyster Pond and a 1-hour cruise from Marigot to St Barths, where the latter averages $60 one-way. From Marigot, you can also take the 45-minute ferry trip to Blowing Point in Anguilla for US $20 one-way.
Visit the offshore islands of Les Saints and Marie-Galante by ferry. Ferries from Guadeloupe run daily to Les Saints for US $20 round-trip and a 15-minute ride and to Marie-Galant for US $40 round-trip and an hour’s trip. It’s possible to purchase a pass for round-trip voyages to either island for US $57, which is good for a year. Les Saints is known for its bistros and beautiful beaches. Yet, Marie-Galante boasts cafes, museums and historic forts. It’s also possible
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
There are 32 islands and cays, 9 of which are inhabited, in this Windward island’s territory. The most serviced ferry route is between St. Vincent and Bequia. Two ferry companies, MV admiral and MV Bequia Express, operate this route with a combined average of 7 trips daily on weekdays. On weekends and public holidays, each company offers morning and afternoon trips. A one-way ticket is about US $10 and the trip is 45-minutes.
“Island hopping among the other inhabited islands require thoughtful planning since only two ferry companies operate these routes and only on specific days,” says Natasha Anderson, marketing officer for the St. Vincent and The Grenadines Tourism Authority. “For example, on Tuesdays and Fridays MV Gemstar and on Mondays and Thursdays MV Barracuda go from St. Vincent to Canouan, Mayreau and Union Island. MV Gemstar on Wednesdays and Saturdays and MV Barracuda on Tuesdays and Fridays transfer from Union Island to Mayreau, Canouan and St. Vincent.”
The Osprey fast-ferry service, complete with air-conditioned cabins and sun decks, operates between Grenada and its offshore islands to the north. Take the 9 a.m. and arrive to Carriacou by 11 a.m. for a day of exploration. Buy tickets in advance at the Osprey’s office on the Carenage, St. George’s, Grenada. The trip takes 1.5-2 hours and costs $60 round-trip. Two vessels travel between Carriacou and Petite Martinique, the MV Charmaine, which runs daily on weekdays only and the Magic-Osprey Tender, which travels weekdays and Saturdays. The trip is 30-minutes and under $20 round-trip. Carriacou is famous for its shallow reefs, which are perfect for snorkeling. Petite Martinique exudes an off-the-beaten track Caribbean vibe.
It’s also possible to travel between Union Island, in the Grenadine islands and Carriacou. “Two services depart from Union Island on Mondays and Thursdays, Lady JJ and No Pressure. These arrive to Carriacou around 10 a.m. and depart by 3 p.m.,” says Ria Murray, communications officer with the Grenada Tourism Authority.