Most people who want to tour the Caribbean would automatically just book a cruise holiday. But Jason Smart, the author of the travel book An Accidental Tourist: A Caribbean Misadventure, chose to do it by air, using the local, island-hopping airline Liat.
Jason told me didn’t expected flying with Liat was going to be an easy option because the airline has a pretty awful reputation in the region. “I met quite a few people on the trip and asked them what they think of Liat and almost all of them had bad experiences, especially about flights being cancelled. But I don’t think that’s the problem – it’s the poor customer service afterwards,” he explained. “When passengers complain about a flight being cancelled and what they can do, the airline just says, ‘Do what you want. Swim. Get a boat.’ They don’t care.”
But Jason said even though there were horror stories, his trip with them went very smoothly. “I haven’t got a complaint about Liat Airlines. It could have turned so badly for me. If just one of my flights had been cancelled, that would have been it – the dominoes would have fallen for the rest of the trip. But it didn’t. It worked out. I was lucky I think.”
I asked Jason why some people seem to dismiss the whole Caribbean after having a bad experience visiting a single island. He said that’s a mistake because they’re all very different. “I went to ten different countries and while they often look very similar – with the same trees and houses and people – each had its own identity. And if you’ve just been to, say, Antigua and nowhere else, you’re missing out.”
Jason told me there was plenty to see and do – mainly based around the history and natural resources of the islands. “A lot of the islands have got forts – I saw quite a few! – as well as beaches. There’s also the nature trails. You can see the hummingbirds and the butterflies.”
But while many of the islands had similar activities and sites, some were unique. “On St Vincent in the Grenadines, there’s the old Hollywood film set for Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s falling into wrack and ruin a bit, but you can see where Jonny Depp did some of his filming,” said Jason. “Trinidad’s interesting as well, because you can visit a monastery where they make a special yoghurt that’s said to have very wild powers. Trinidad is also famous for its hummingbirds, so I went to a hummingbird farm. And if you’re interested in sailing and yachting then Antigua’s the place to go.”
I was intrigued to hear more about the hummingbirds. “I’d always wanted to see one,” admitted Jason. “I was in Port of Spain in Trinidad and the person I was with took me to see their hummingbirds. It was amazing – just like you see on the nature programmes – tiny bee-like birds just fluttering around the flowers. It was just wonderful.”
I asked Jason which was the favourite place that he’d visited? “Definitely St Vincent. It’s a really beautiful little island with the friendliest people you’’’ ever meet. It was so totally different from Barbados, which is very tourist-infrastructure heavy.”
Jason also told me he liked Dominica too, which he felt had retained its true Caribbean nature more than any other place he visited. “I think Dominica is still the most authentic of all the Caribbean nations, possibly because it’s the poorest, so it doesn’t get many tourists,” he said.
But unfortunately Jason said there were some places that have become tourist traps because of the huge cruise ship industry in the region. “I would say Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts has become one,” he told me. “Everywhere you went was geared for the cruise passengers. There was actually a ship in port when I visited – the only one I saw on my whole trip. But I think anywhere that the large ships come into port, there’s a heavy tourist infrastructure.”
And finally, I asked Jason where would be the place he’d go back to for another holiday. “I’d go back to St Lucia, purely because it’s the most visually stunning of the islands I went to. It’s an amazingly beautiful place – lush and green.”
Jason Smart’s book, An Accidental Tourist: A Caribbean Misadventure is available on Amazon.