ST. GEORGE'S, GRENADA (AP) - Grenada.
Mention the tiny spice island in the Caribbean to any American who remembers Ronald Reagan's presidency, and the inevitable question you'll get is, ''Isn't that the country we invaded?''
Yes, the United States did invade Grenada on Oct. 25, 1983. Reagan ordered some 6,000 troops to oust the six-day-old Marxist government that had come to power in a bloody coup, and to ensure the safety of hundreds of U.S. medical students studying there.
Nearly three decades later, you have to search the lush, scenic island to find evidence of the military incursion that today's critics labeled a diversion from the deadly Beirut bombings that had killed 241 Americans two days earlier, while proponents called it an appropriate display of U.S. democratic might in our hemisphere.
The evidence is just north of the little town of Grenville, at the abandoned Pearls Airport along the Atlantic Ocean. The rusted relics of large cargo planes, still standing 26 years after the invasion, share the tall grass with a few dark brown cows.
But that's not why people travel to Grenada.
If You Go...
GRENADA: http://www.grenadagrenadines.com/index2.html or 800-927-9554.
What's easier to find - and the reason tourists from the U.S. and Britain have made it a vacation destination - are the stretches of sandy white beaches, warm tropical waters and restaurants to rival the best found in St. Bart's or Anguilla.
Located about 100 miles north of Venezuela, Grenada offers 80-degree temperatures, making it a sure bet for a warm-weather getaway. Resorts are plentiful along the 2.5-mile stretch of Grand Anse Beach, an ideal spot if you want a day comprised of little more than SPF45, a decent page-turner, a dip in the water and a view of the capital of St. George's in the distance.
Resorts here are about a 15-20-minute drive from the Port Salines International Airport, built with some $19 million of U.S. taxpayer money after the invasion. Cabs are a better bet than renting a jeep, especially since in this former outpost of the British empire driving is on the left with a right-side steering wheel.
Some streets and roads rival San Francisco in precipitous drops, others aren't as developed as the maps suggest and signs are in short supply, largely limited to the famous roundabouts - another British influence. The island of Grenada is twice the size of Washington, D.C.
Choosing a place to stay near Grand Anse also puts visitors within walking distance of a large supermarket and shopping mall. For the budget- conscious, you can shop and cook many of your meals if your resort comes equipped with a kitchen. Currency in this English-speaking island is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, and the exchange rate is good for Americans: $1 U.S. buys $2.61 EC.
Resorts range from Laluna at the nearby Morne Rouge Bay, where you can sleep on Italian linen sheets in a Balinese-inspired cottage for close to $1,000 per night during the high season, to Mount Cinnamon, a Peter de Savary creation of villas and suites with kitchens that feature lime-green refrigerators, high-tech but with a retro look, and brand new Villeroy & Boch dishes and cutlery. Other resorts such as Spice Island are all-inclusive with breakfast, lunch, dinner and in another nod to the British influence, afternoon tea.
Getting to Grenada from the East Coast can be easy. Air Jamaica has a non-stop flight from New York on Saturday that leaves at 6:30 a.m., which means you can be on the beach by 2 p.m. American Airlines has flights that connect through Miami and San Juan.
A recent check of roundtrip fares showed prices at $532 in March and $653 in February, with some rates as high as $911.
For those who don't want to spend their days idling away on the beach, Grenada offers a forest for hiking and dips - or jumps - in the waterfalls. At a cost of just $2, you enter Grand Etang National Park and walk toward the Grand Etang lake, formed from a volcanic crater. A short drive and you can take one of the easier hikes, a 1.25 mile excursion to the Seven Sisters waterfalls. The ground is muddy and white running shoes don't stay that way for long, but the view is spectacular and the clear water refreshing.
Local guides will help the truly adventurous jump from one fall to the next, and then seek a generous tip after you've survived.
On the days when the cruise ships haven't docked in St. George's, the capital city is worth exploring. Markets sell all kinds of spices - nutmeg, cinnamon and curry for starters. The capital is a bustling place and with few sidewalks, something of a challenge getting around.
The heartbreaking sight in St. George's are the churches - or what's left of them. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed large parts of Grenada, particularly the churches atop the hills of the capital. The roofs are gone, stained glass damaged and large puddles have replaced congregants and pews. St. George's Anglican Church and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church are in desperate need of repair.
The manager at one resort explains that Grenadians are an independent and proud people who aren't looking for a handout. Rebuilding the churches and other necessary work will be done with the money from the country's largest cash crop - nutmeg. Grenada has been working to reestablish its nutmeg industry since Ivan; the country is the second-largest nutmeg producer in the world after Indonesia.
In the meantime, tourism keeps Grenada going.