Canouan Is the Luxe Caribbean Destination You’ve Never Heard Of

If you’re looking for elegant, laidback beach vibes with no scene in sight, this underrated locale is an essential visit

July 12, 2023 7:26 am
view from mount royal in canouan
A view from Mount Royal, the highest peak in Canouan
Amanda Gabriele

You know you’ve found a hidden gem when no one you tell about your trip has ever heard of it. This is how I was feeling as I was planning my honeymoon to Canouan, a small island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that seemed like exactly what my husband and I needed — a quiet respite after a hectic period of party planning where there is little to do but lounge on the beach and enjoy tropical libations. And it was a destination that delivered in every way we were expecting, and then some.

Canouan is tiny and unlike any other Caribbean island I’ve seen. Even the most serene locales have some high rises that obstruct the ocean views, but Canouan is blue water and lush greenery as far as the eye can see. Who knows how long that will last — an airport employee was telling me that a huge chunk of land is currently leased and the developers are free to do whatever they want. But as of now, it’s definitely one of the most secluded, serene and luxurious island vacations you could possibly take.

Getting There

There are no direct commercial flights to Canouan from the United States, which is one of the reasons it remains so under the radar. Incoming visitors can fly into the St. Vincent Airport on the mainland and take a three to four hour ferry ride, and arriving by private boat is also an option. Or, depending on where you stay, the hotel probably offers a private charter flight that will pick you up at one of the neighboring island’s airports and whisk you away on a very short flight. Mandarin Oriental Canouan (more on that later), picked us up in Grenada on a four-seater plane, and we were walking into the lobby in about 45 minutes. They also made customs an absolute breeze, which is always a little luxury that makes a huge difference in the travel experience. 

Canouan is situated below the hurricane belt and surrounded by one of the Caribbean’s largest living coral reefs. Many locals that I spoke to said that because of this, the island rarely gets storm damage. It might rain and get windy, but because of its location, it doesn’t get hit badly. Obviously hurricanes in other areas of the Caribbean could make traveling to Canouan tough if there’s nasty weather on your travel days, but for the most part, it’s a good place to visit year-round. 

personalized welcome coconuts with pink flowers
Welcome coconuts at Mandarin Oriental Canouan
Max Schwartz

Where to Stay

Mandarin Oriental Canouan is really the only place you should think about staying when visiting the island. From the moment you walk through the open air lobby doors and are handed a fresh coconut with your name carved into it, it’s apparent you’re going to have an unforgettable experience. Starting at 1,200 square feet, even the smallest suite is bigger than some New York apartments with the type of closet I only ever dream of having one day. I rarely unpack when traveling, save for hanging a few items, but I actually emptied my suitcase to really make myself at home. White marble everything and Mandarin Oriental’s signature pink made every room feel extra luxe, and many mornings were spent on the screened-in lanai deciding what to do for the day.

Every guest at MO Canouan is assigned a personal butler who can help manage every aspect of the stay. We promptly met Christal upon arrival and exchanged phone numbers after she showed us the ins and outs of our room and the property. Throughout our trip, she helped with dinner reservations both on and off property, arranged for activities and excursions, and even made spa appointments in our next destination when my cell kept dropping calls. 

mandarin oriental canouan pool
The Mandarin Oriental pool overlooks the dreamy beach
Amanda Gabriele

The resort pool is absolutely gorgeous and overlooks the property’s private Godahl Beach, where you’ll likely spend much of your time. And while lounging around with a book and taking frequent dips in the clear blue water is certainly a great way to while away the day, guests have complimentary access to equipment like Hobie Cats, kayaks, snorkels and paddle boards. One day after lunch, we snorkeled along the reef and saw an abundance of colorful, tropical fish. The hillside spa is also a must. The open-air treatment rooms feel like luxury treehouses and feature hot tubs built into the decks. It poured rain during the duration of my massage, which was maybe the most relaxing thing of all time.

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For the best views on the island, a hike to Mount Royal is in order. Kezroy met us on the morning of our hike and drove us to the trailhead in one of the resort’s golf carts. The steep hike took us up 877 feet to the highest point in Canouan, and Kezroy pointed out native flora and showed us the colorful tree-climbing hermit crabs along the way. The view from the top is nothing short of spectacular, and even Kezroy — who is from the island — said it doesn’t often get old. After our excursion, Kezroy showed us MO Canouan’s tortoise sanctuary, which he created and maintains. Visiting and feeding the tortoises became a daily joy.

One of the most exceptional experiences we had at the resort was the Castaway lunch. We were whisked away by boat to a hidden cove where an intimate private picnic awaited us, complete with Champagne, curried lobster sandwiches and the resort’s signature Caesar salad with sundried tomatoes. We had the beach all to ourselves for a few hours, and it was glorious. Make sure to also arrange sunset cocktails on the 13th hole of the golf course. The views are unbelievable and it’s a great way to kick off a Canouan evening.

shell beach canouan
Shell Beach
Amanda Gabriele

Where to Eat and Drink

If you’re staying at Mandarin Oriental (and even if you’re not), grab a window table at Asianne to start the day. After drinking a sea moss (a nutritious red algae) smoothie daily, I stuffed my suitcase with as many packs of the stuff that would fit. The restaurant has a rotating daily selection of fresh squeezed juices (the passion fruit was a favorite) and the best hash browns I’ve ever had. After sweating it out at the grass tennis courts or taking a refreshing dip, hop on a dinghy to Shell Beach Bar and Grill for lunch. Snag a table under one of the thatched-roof gazebos, order a rosé and ceviche, and enjoy some of the most beautiful and peaceful views on the island.

Soho Beach House Canouan was another highlight of the trip. The property features a gorgeous open-air bar and restaurant right on Grand Bay Beach, so the sunsets are spectacular. Come for cocktails and dinner and watch as the fiery sky unfolds in the evening hours. If surf and turf is calling your name, book a dinner reservation at Tides Bar + Grill at MO Canouan. You can’t go wrong with grilled prawns, Brussels sprouts with crispy bacon and a perfectly juicy ribeye. L’Ance Guyac Beach Club is a lively beachside restaurant with a Mediterranean-leaning menu. Order the fresh catch and then opt for a nightcap in the lounge, which is right on the sand. Shenanigans is also a great place to grab a bite and a drink.

soho beach house canouan
View of the sunset at Soho Beach House
Max Schwartz

Back at Mandarin Oriental, Turtles bar has breezy, nautical vibes with indoor and outdoor seating. You’re sure to make a few friends here — we had many an enjoyable night chatting with the bar staff and sipping French Martinis with other guests. The bar also serves many fantastic rums, which can be enjoyed in a flight alongside local Vincentian chocolate.

What to Do

As mentioned above, a hike to Mount Royal is a rewarding excursion, and it won’t take too much time out of your day. If you’re looking for more day trip ideas, Tobago Cays are an incredible place to snorkel for views of the reef and sea turtles. Both full and half day excursions are available through the Grenadines Dive Center where the scuba certified can explore sites like Mayreau Gardens, Horseshoe Reef and the Purini Wreck, which sank in 1918 and is now an artificial reef. But even if the only thing on your agenda is sipping Miami Vices on a chaise lounge, Canouan doesn’t disappoint.


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