Ultimate Guide to St Lucia
St Lucia, a verdant and mountainous country, is a far-cry from the more polished and glamorous islands of the Caribbean. St Lucia is blessed by nature, it's geography and culture can easily compete with much bigger nations. But it remains down-to-earth, casually wearing it’s breathtaking natural beauty - lush rainforest, hidden waterfalls, mountain views and pristine beaches - in an air of modesty.
St Lucia is full of beautiful resorts to enjoy your day. But you need to hire a car to get out in order to really get to know the island. Here are my top tips for what to do in St Lucia.
The UNESCO World Heritage Pitons are the iconic symbol of St Lucia. From the moment you pass them as your plane comes into land, you’ll see them everywhere on the island - the local beer is even called Piton. So you can’t really come to St Lucia without getting a good view of them yourself. There are tours that take you, accompanied by a guide, to climb to the top of Gros Piton (2,619 feet) which is more of a hike than a climb but it is known for having outstanding views. If you are looking for a more relaxed view of the Pitons themselves, there are numerous viewpoints or bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a drink with a view.
Getting out on the water is a not-to-be-missed activity in St Lucia. Cruises leave from Castries, Canaries and Rodney Bay, where you can sail along the coast to see St Lucia in all it’s beauty. Sailing excursions can also incorporate different sights on the mainland such as the volcano or Botanical Gardens (see below), or you can do a Land and Sea Tour, combining a half day on the land and the rest on the sea. Either way, you will definitely get a chance to jump into the water for some snorkelling to see all of the colourful marine life hiding down below.
St Lucia’s Botanical Garden fully embodies the word ‘tropical’. The Gardens are part of the Soufrière Estate which was presented by King Louis XIV in 1713 to the Devaux family in recognition for their services to France. Every pathway of the Botanical Garden is bursting with tropical flowers in every colour, set amongst a huge amount of exotic greenery, attracting a wide range of fluttering forest birds. The garden has been carved out of an old cocoa plantation along a narrow river ravine where the gardens flow from one flower to the next. Guides are waiting at the entrance to take you around and share from their extensive knowledge of St Lucia’s flora and fauna.
The mountains, combined with the heavy amounts of rain that St Lucia gets, cause an abundance of waterfalls on the island. Deep within the Botanical Gardens, water bubbles up from underground sulphur springs before streaming downhill to form the Diamond Waterfall. The mineral-rich cascade has caused the underlying rock to create a spectacular sight as it appears to sparkle like diamonds. You can’t swim in the waterfall, but there is also a mineral bath which is believed to have curative powers that you can bathe in instead.
Just five miles south of Castries, Marigot Bay is one of the prettiest natural harbours in the Caribbean. Daysail excusrions all make a side trip into Marigot Bay, because it is so lovely. Come on your own to hang around in Capella Marina ogling at the beautiful sailboats, enjoy a waterside lunch, or toast the sunset. A small boat ferries passengers for the one minute trip back and forth across the bay to a tiny beach.
Taste the Bananas
St Lucia grows an incredible 127 varieties of bananas. Incredible because if someone had told me that there are five varieties of bananas in the world, I would have thought that that was a lot. You will see endless banana fields along the roadsides, with the bananas being protected from the bird and insects in bright blue covers. You can stop at the many roadside stalls to taste the familiar yellow fruit that somehow tastes more delicious here. Make sure to also taste the local speciality banana ketchup, which is more delicious than it sounds.
Pigeon Island was once it’s own island, before being joined to the mainland in the 1970s. It has a fascinating range of historic sights, scattered across the historic island. It’s history dates back to the 1550s when St Lucia’s first French settler, Jambe de Bois (better known as Pegleg), used the island as his base for raiding passing Spanish ships. Two centuries later, it was used to monitor the French fleet on Martinique.
Today, you can take a gentle hike to the well-preserved Fort Rodney, complete with canons. The island also has some uncrowded beaches on both it’s Caribbean and Atlantic sides, depending how big you prefer your waves to be.
With a landscape that seemingly resembles the surface of the moon, the UNESCO World Heritage Sulphur Springs, with pools of boiling mud, are an awe-inspiring sight to visit. It has been unfortunately branded with the tagline of being the Caribbean’s only drive-in volcano, yet the reality is a lot more pleasant than the image the tagline conjures up. With a geographical fault line running through the area, the result is a caldera volcano, similar to those in Santorini or Rotorua in New Zealand. The last erruption was in 1766, and with a cycle of eruptions every 200 years, it’s thought to be a little overdue at the moment. Although this didn’t seem to cause any concern to locals who know the signs to be aware of for if an eruption is imminent.
Cocoa pods are grown on trees all over the island. Once ripe, the beans are dried and processed into chocolate. Boucan by Hotel Chocolat shows you exactly how this is done in their ‘Tree to Bean’ and ‘Bean to Bar’ tours where you are able to create your own chocolate bars.
Stay after your tour to enjoy lunch with a view of the Pitons and a menu full of creative chocolate-inspired dishes.
About 10km north of Castries, Rodney Bay boasts the islands most diverse tourist facilities. Sailboats arrive here after the long trip across the Atlantic Ocean, with a regular community of visiting sailors. Within the bay lies a large artificial lagoon and marina, that is surrounded by Rodney Bay Village, a slightly bland collection of bars, restaurants and shops.
The water in St Lucia is something really special. Most waterfront hotels will have facilities for you to get out onto the water. I took advantage of the still waters to do some paddle boarding, where I was soon visited by some of the local turtles, popping their heads up to say hello, a really special experience that I would highly recommend.