If you are looking for an exotic tropical island to visit, then consider the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Part of the British Commonwealth, it is located north of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. The island is only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. Its eastern shore borders the Atlantic Ocean and its western shore borders the Caribbean Sea. Year after year, St. Lucia remains popular amongst tourists due to its warm weather, sandy beaches, beautiful eco-friendly resorts, and incredible tropical scenery. The island is a tropical paradise with mountainous terrain; lush rainforests; and exotic plants, trees, flowers, and birds.
St. Lucia’s spectacular natural beauty and tranquility have made it one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world. This island, however, has something to offer everyone, everything from lying on the beach, trekking through the dense rainforests, snorkeling amongst colorful offshore reefs, or taking part in numerous sporting activities—this island has it all!
Plan to arrive in St. Lucia in the daytime so that you can view its most famous landmark—the Pitons (Gros and Petit), two emerald-green cone-shaped tropical mountain peaks rising 2,000 feet above the surrounding cobalt-blue sea. This landmark is so unique that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has come to symbolize St. Lucia itself.
One of the things you will immediately notice about St. Lucia is its use of both English and French names. Even though English is the official language, French patois is spoken, as St. Lucia was originally a French colony.
History: 150 Years of War Between The French and British
St. Lucia’s history is just as incredible as its natural beauty. Its first “unofficial” settlers were pirates. In the 1600’s, the famous pirate, Francois Le Clerc, nicknamed, Jambe de Bois (Wooden Leg), used St. Lucia (Pigeon Island on the northern tip of St. Lucia) as a base to attack passing ships. According to local legend, this pirate’s treasure is buried along the northern shore of Pigeon Island, near Pigeon Point.
If you were one of millions who viewed the popular movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” (starring Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom), you would have been introduced to the incredible scenery of St. Lucia. It is somewhat amusing that St. Lucia was chosen as one of the major sites to film this supposedly fictional movie, considering the fact that in real life it was a base for pirates.
The “official” settlers were the French who settled in St. Lucia as far back as 1660. They set up large plantations to cultivate sugar cane—a very valuable cash crop. These plantations, however, needed large numbers of workers—ones that could work in the unbearable tropical climate. The French settlers were too few in number and unsuitable for such hard manual labor, as they couldn’t work in the searing heat. (St. Lucia is close to the equator.) The problem was solved by importing slaves, primarily from Africa, who were used to tropical weather conditions. So many slaves were brought in that the predominant ethnic background of St. Lucia changed from European to African descent. This ethnic background of the inhabitants persists today.
The presence of sugar cane made St. Lucia a very valuable colony, and of course, aroused the interest of the British. Like many places in the world, the British fought the French to set up colonies, and St. Lucia was no exception. It passed hands between the British and the French 14 times, which explains why English and French names are used throughout the island. Finally, in 1814, the British took firm control of St. Lucia. Not surprisingly, the lives of most St. Lucian’s under the British did not change for the better—the British merely continued the plantation system with its reliance on a steady stream of African slaves. Not till 1833 did Britain finally outlaw slavery throughout its colonies. Interestingly, even though St. Lucia was a British colony till 1979 (under British rule for 165 years), it still managed somehow to retain its French heritage: many of the names of the towns and villages, the surnames of the inhabitants, the natural attractions, the various sites, and the various local culinary dishes are all in French. Even the name of the national bird is in French. It is almost as though the inhabitants just ignored the fact that they had been conquered by the British and just continued on as usual living in a French culture.
Unlike many tourist destinations, St. Lucia has tried to maintain its natural beauty. You will not find concrete skyscrapers, gaudy shopping malls, endless fast-food outlets, or over-development of condominiums. People come to St. Lucia to experience a tropical paradise, and thankfully St. Lucia has done much to preserve its natural beauty.
Touring St. Lucia’s Capital City and Major Towns
Begin your tour of St. Lucia by visiting Castries, its capital city. This city is located in the northern part of the island and has many historical sights and beautiful old architecture. Make sure to visit Derek Walcott Square and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1897. You will notice that beside the cathedral is a large samaan tree (also called a rain tree). Believe it or not, this tree is 400 years old and is massive in size. It provides comforting shade to the cathedral, almost acting as its protector! You will find interesting shopping in the town market. At Bagshaws you can observe first-hand the art of silk-screening. Make sure to also visit Caribelle Batik, a shop that designs and sells batik-art clothes and wall hangings. It is located in a beautiful two-story Victorian-style home and functions as both a working studio and a shop. Overlooking Castries, is Morne Fortune (Hill of Good Luck). The French built a fortress on this hilltop in the 17th century—it offers a great view of the capital and surrounding area.
In the south of the island is the town of Soufriere. It is the oldest town in St. Lucia, dating back to 1746 when the French colonized it. At one time it was the island’s French colonial capital city. Its wharf, set in beautiful Soufriere Bay, is its hub of activity. Its marketplace is quite interesting, as it is decorated with colorful murals. The town itself has some interesting old colonial buildings, which reflects its French past.
If you are interested in visiting fishing villages, go to the towns of Anse-La-Raye or Canaries, both are north of Soufriere; or visit Gros Islet on the northern tip of the island.
The most stunning town, however, is Marigot Bay, south of Castries. It was at one time a vital military base where both the English and French fought for control of the island. According to legend, the British fleet was able to ambush the French fleet by camouflaging itself with the huge branches from the surrounding palm trees. Thankfully, this town’s turbulent history has faded away, and it is now a haven for yachts from all over the world. The setting is so beautiful that it was the site where the well-known movie “Doctor Dolittle”, starring Rex Harrison, was filmed. Make sure to visit the Marigot Bay Hotel. Inside the hotel is the Pink Snail Champagne Bar, which was set up to honor Dr. Dolittle. The bar’s walls are covered with original pictures from the film. Also visit Doolittles Restaurant, as both the scenery and food are excellent. Try its popular Saturday night barbeque.
Visiting St. Lucia’s Old Plantations
An opportunity that you won’t want to miss is to visit several of the island’s old plantations such as:
It is near the village of Dennery, which is mid-way on the east coast of the island. Its former specialty was growing spices, particularly nutmeg, and cocoa. Guided tours are available, explaining the various crops grown here. On site is a plantation house dating back to 1903, which functions as a restaurant serving a buffet-style lunch. Make sure to also visit the beautiful Errard Falls, a 49 to 66-ft. high waterfall.
Morne Coubaril Estate
This 18th century 250-acre plantation overlooks the town of Soufriere. Guided tours are available that explain how some of the most important crops such as copra, cocoa, and manioc (cassava) are processed. The tour includes a visit to a re-created workers’ village and to the original plantation house that has been renovated. This plantation is still in use. Its grounds are open to the public for walking or hiking, and it offers incredible views of both the mountains and sea. For lunch, visit its on-site open-air restaurant that serves a Creole buffet.
La Sikwe Historical Sugar Mill & Plantation
This plantation is near the town of Anse-La-Raye on the western side of the island. It is a 400-acre estate set in the midst of a magnificent botanical garden. Guided tours are available which include a visit to a museum and cultural presentation center, complete with a 40-foot water wheel used for milling sugar.
This is St. Lucia’s largest plantation, located outside of Castries, the capital city. It is a working plantation producing bananas and copra for export, and demonstrating the production process of previous export crops such as coffee and cocoa. Guided tours are available which include an interesting drive along St. Lucia’s scenic northeast coast, a visit to an old sugar mill, a boat ride on the Marquis River, and lunch at the plantation house.
Fond Deux Estate
This 135-acre plantation is one of the island’s earliest plantations, dating back to 1745. It is located near the town of Soufriere, and produces citrus fruits, cocoa, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. On the site is a restored plantation house dating back to 1864. Tours are available, and there is a restaurant on site. You can walk along the plantation’s main trail, which cuts through the estate and surrounds you with a wide variety of fruit and spice trees, as well as tropical flowers. Combined with the beautiful vegetation is an incredible view of the Pitons.
St. Lucia’s Cuisine: Spices, Tropical Fruits, and Seafood
Dining at any of St. Lucia’s restaurants is a treat, as St. Lucia is blessed with rich volcanic soil that yields a wide variety of produce, especially tropical fruits. The island is a major exporter of bananas. It also produces papayas, coconuts, guavas, breadfruit, oranges, limes, cocoa, mace, nutmeg, mangoes, passion fruit, plantains, okra, avocados, pumpkins, yams, and even pineapples! This island is a garden of paradise when it comes to food! Surrounding St. Lucia is an abundant sea yielding a wide variety of fresh seafood. The island’s tropical fruits have been combined with its seafood and spices to produce unique and tasty dishes, especially pepperpot stews, Creole-style dishes, and a wide variety of curry dishes. Be adventurous and try the Callaloo soup—it’s the national dish. The island’s fresh fish is also something you should try, especially the kingfish, and the fresh lobster as well. For breakfast, try some cocoa tea, made with cocoa sticks, milk, spices, and sugar. It’s a very unique tea to St. Lucia. For another unique food, try the cassava bread—it’s wheat-free and delicious. Though St. Lucia is a relatively small island, its chefs have gained international recognition for their outstanding Creole-styled cuisine.
St. Lucia’s Natural Attractions
Make sure to spend time visiting St. Lucia’s many natural attractions. Few places in the Caribbean can rival this island’s stunning beauty. Thankfully the residents realize the value of these natural attractions and are very environmentally conscious, protecting in particular the forests and coral reefs.
At the top of the list of attractions is the National Rainforest, located in the island’s mountainous interior. This place is of interest to those who like hiking, bird watching, or just exploring nature. It consists of 19,000 acres of lush mountains and valleys. Look for exotic flowers and plants such as birds of paradise and giant ferns. As you walk along its trails, you are surrounded by beautiful wild orchids, trees heavily laden with fruits, and an incredible variety of plants. If you are lucky, you will see first-hand the green St. Lucia Parrot with its cobalt-blue feathers, known locally as the “jacquot”. Organized tours of the rainforest are available.
Visit also the Sulphur Springs, the remains of a dormant volcano, located south of the town of Soufriere. The springs consist of a series of 20 pools of steamy muddy water and multicolored sulphur deposits. There is a bathing pool nearby that is heated by the springs where you can go swimming. The natural spring water has a high iron oxide content, which is reputed to heal a variety of skin problems, gout, arthritis, and sunburn. Many sunburned tourists, in particular, take advantage of this pool’s curative properties.
Another site you will find interesting is Mount Gimie, located in the southern interior of the island. It is over 3,100 feet high, the highest point in all of St. Lucia. The view from the mountaintop is spectacular. There are guided tours available that will take you up the mountain.
Next, visit Diamond Botanical Gardens in Soufriere. Within the botanical gardens is the spectacular Diamond Falls. At one time there were bathhouses around this site, built for the troops of the French king, Louis XVI. His troops used to bathe in its mineral-rich waters, which are fed by underground springs and are reputed to have healing properties. According to local legend, this curative mineral bath was a favorite bathing site of Josephine de Beauharnais when she was a young girl, visiting her father’s nearby plantation. She later became Josephine Bonaparte, the wife of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France.
Make sure to visit Latille Gardens on the eastern coast near the town of Micoud, a relatively unknown but spectacular site. You will marvel at its beautiful colorful flowers, plants, and fruit trees. Walking along its trails amidst such splendor is very relaxing. There is also a 20-foot high waterfall whose water plunges from a nearby mountain creating a large pool, deep enough for swimming.
Also visit the Mamiku Gardens, a large and beautiful botanical garden, surrounded by the hilltop ruins of the Micoud Estate, just north of the town of Micoud on the east coast. The estate itself is now a banana plantation. The gardens are filled with colorful tropical flowers and plants, including fragrant herbs, orchids, hibiscus, and ginger.
For an opportunity to see even more nature, visit Pigeon Island, a 40-acre islet that is connected by a causeway to St. Lucia’s west coast. It has several hiking trails and many historical sites such as Fort Rodney. The island also has two secluded beaches. Visit the Pigeon Island Museum & Interpretive Center, located in an elegant former British officers mess building that was built in 1808. It will orient you about St. Lucia’s history, particularly the colonization of both the French and English. For music lovers, in early May of each year, this island hosts the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, an internationally renowned event.
Two other nature reserves are the Maria Islands and the Fregate Islands Nature Reserve (also known as the Frigate Islands). The Maria Islands are located off the coast of Vieux Fort, a town on the southern tip of St. Lucia. These islands are the refuge for the Kouwes Snake, the rarest snake in the world, and the Zandoli Te, a lizard whose males have a brilliant blue tail. Both of these animals are found only in St. Lucia—nowhere else in the world. The Fregate Islands Nature Reserve is on Prislin Bay on the east coast and is well known for being a haven for frigate birds.
For those who enjoy the water, visit Anse Chastanet, near the Pitons on the southwest coast. This location is the island’s best dive site and is amazing as you can access the site from the beach. Divers will marvel as its underwater reef that suddenly drops from 20 to 140 feet—a solid wall of coral reef all the way down. Making this site even more interesting are the remains of a 165-foot freighter lying in 60 feet of water. Over the years this ship has created an artificial reef, attracting a wide variety of marine life.
Hiking Trails: Exploring the Island by Foot
There is certainly no shortage of places to hike and enjoy the beauty of nature. If you are interested in nature hikes consider the following:
The Union Nature Trail
Located in the central interior of the island, it cuts through a forest of spectacular trees, medicinal herbs, and birds. The trail is only 1.6 kilometre (km.) in length, and takes about one hour to hike. A one-hour tour is also available at its on-site information center.
The Barre de l’isle Rainforest Trail
This trail is located in the central interior of the island, and is accessed from the central Castries-Dennery Highway. It runs along the outside of a rainforest and takes you to the top of Morne la Combe—a mountain about 1,500 feet high that offers incredible views of the valleys below. The hike itself takes about 3 hours. You should be in good health to do this hike.
The Naturalist Tour
It is a guided tour along St. Lucia’s Atlantic Coast offered by the Forestry Department for those interested in the island’s plants and horticulture.
Morne Le Blanc / Laborie Trek
This hike is offered in the southern coastal town of Laborie. The summit of the mountain, Morne Le Blanc, offers a great view of the ocean. You can even see the distant island of St. Vincent. A shady rest area is provided for those who want to have a picnic.
The Frigate Island Nature Trail
This hike is along St. Lucia’s Atlantic coast and takes you into the breeding ground for St. Lucia’s frigate birds. These birds are amazing, as they have a wingspan that can reach more than 6 feet. Other rare birds are native to this area, as well as unusual plants and boa constrictors. Tours are available through the St. Lucia National Trust.
The Hardy Point Cactus Valley Walking Trek
This walking tour begins at Hardy Point (Pointe Hardy) on the northern tip of the island, which offers incredible views of Esperance Bay and the northern coast. One of the stops is in Cactus Valley, appropriately named due to its many different varieties of cactus. This walk also takes you to Pigeon Island for swimming and more sightseeing.
The Edmund Forest Reserve
It is on the island’s western side, east of Soufriere. You have the opportunity to hike through a dense tropical rainforest, which covers one side of the island to the other and has many exotic plants, flowers, and birds, including the St. Lucian parrot. Guided tours are available from the Forest & Lands Department. The trek takes 3 or more hours.
Bird Watching & Turtle Watching
For those who want to get close to nature, consider bird watching or turtle watching. For bird watching, visit the National Rainforest, the Bois D’Orange Swamp, or Boriel’s Pond. In particular, look for the St. Lucia Oriole, the St. Lucia Wren, the St. Lucia Parrot, the White Breasted Thrasher, and the St. Lucia Peewee. The Forestry Department conducts these tours. If you are fortunate, you can go turtle watching at Grande Anse Beach, on the north coast of the island. Between mid-March to the end of July every year the giant leatherback turtles come ashore. You get to sleep overnight on the beach in a tent village, waiting for the turtles to come ashore and lay their eggs. The Turtle Watch Event is organized by the Department of Fisheries, Heritage Tours.
For those who love sports, St. Lucia has much to offer such as windsurfing at Cas-en-Bas and Vieux Fort; sailing, mostly from Rodney Bay and Marigot Bay; scuba diving and snorkeling, particularly on the southwest coast of the island at the Anse Cochon and Anse Chastanet reefs; water-skiing; golfing at any of the island’s three golf courses; deep sea fishing, especially for kingfish, barracuda, king mackerel, white marlin, sailfish, and mackerel. The St. Lucia Billfishing Tournament in late September or early October each year attracts anglers from all over the world; tennis, available at most of the island’s major hotels; squash, available at the St. Lucia Racquet Club; horseback riding, available at the International Riding Stables in Gros Islet or at the Trims Riding School at Cas-en-Bas; and of course, swimming which is available along the entire western coast of the island.
For an unforgettable sporting experience, visit the Castries Waterworks Rainforest in Babonneau (30 minutes east of Rodney Bay near the town of Grande Anse) and take the Rainforest Sky Ride. You can board an 8-passenger aerial tram (a gondola) that glides amongst the giant trees, plants, and birds of the rainforest or ride the zip line and skim over the tops of the trees.
For swimming and parasailing, make sure to visit Reduit Beach in the north of the island near Rodney Bay Village, reputed to be the best beach in St. Lucia. Be careful not to swim on the east coast, the Atlantic Ocean side of the island, as the water is too rough.
-Take a water taxi to visit most of the island’s private beaches or coastal towns. For example, Moby Dick Water Taxi in Soufriere goes to Castries and several west-coast beaches.
-If you rent a car, remember to drive on the left-hand side of the road, similar to driving in Great Britain. Driving conditions, however, are difficult due to the many hills and mountains throughout the island.
-Be aware that when you see “blackfish” on a restaurant menu, it means “porpoise”.
-The local people, especially vendors, can be quite aggressive, more than they are at other Caribbean locations. Don’t accept anything given to you “free”, as it is not free, and you will be harassed till you give the vendor money.
-Like many islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia uses the East Caribbean dollar as its currency.
-The high season for tourism is mid-December to mid-April.
-The dress code on St. Lucia is casual, but conservative.
-If you go hiking, don’t eat the fruit of the Manchineel Tree, as it is one of the world’s most poisonous trees. The fruit looks like small apples, and is deadly.
-Victoria Hospital is St. Lucia’s main hospital (in Castries).
-For those who love music and dancing, the town of Gros Islet in the north of the island hosts a street party every Friday night.
Alcoholic Drinks: Rum, Beer, and Wine
St. Lucia is well known for its rum, which is well priced and readily available. Chairman’s Reserve is reputed to be the best on the island. Other brands that you can try are Admiral Rodney, Elements 8, or Bounty rum. St. Lucia’s rum punch, especially Crystal Lime punch (rum infused with lime) is a favorite drink on the island. For beer, try Piton Lager beer. It is brewed locally.
If you like rum, consider taking a tour of St. Lucia Distillers, which produces Bounty Rum. The distillery is at the Roseau Sugar Factory in the Roseau Valley, a few miles south of Castries, near the town of Marigot Bay.
Believe it or not, wine is made on the island. The local vintner, Charles Louie, makes wine from the local tropical fruits, such as mango and pineapple. Such wine would definitely be unique to St. Lucia!
St. Lucia has a large number of resort hotels, self-catering villas, and vacation apartments. Most accommodation is somewhat concentrated along the calm Caribbean western coast. Some suggestions include:
Resorts On Marigot Bay (an incredibly romantic location, as this Bay is described as one of the most beautiful in all of the Caribbean):
The Inn on the Bay: A very small hotel with only 5 suites, located right on Marigot Bay, in a secluded hilltop setting. A free shuttle bus takes you to the nearby beach.
Oasis Marigot: This hillside hotel ensures that every suite has an incredible view of the Bay. The hotel also offers its guests the opportunity to go sailing or diving aboard a yacht.
Discovery at Marigot Bay: A 124-unit luxury resort with elegantly furnished rooms that contain all the amenities. Some rooms have their own kitchen.
Resorts In Soufriere (a very lush setting located right on the water):
Mago Estate Hotel: This small boutique-style hotel is set amongst a tropical forest and perched on a steep hillside. Guests will like its unique tree house lounge and restaurant.
Anse Chastanet Resort: This is an ideal resort for honeymooners. It was voted as one of the world’s top 10 most romantic places to stay (by A&E TV). One of the services it offers its guests is the opportunity to go diving near the Pitons. This resort’s beautifully decorated suites create a luxurious setting.
Resorts On Labrelotte Bay (Castries)
Windjammer Landing: It is reputed to be the nicest resort in the entire Castries area. It is a Mediterranean village-style resort on 55 acres of a tropical garden, and is a resort that is popular for those who want to have their wedding ceremony and honeymoon on the island. Villas with private swimming pools and beautiful water views are available.
Resorts on Pigeon Island
Sandals Grande Beach Resort & Spa: A beautiful luxury hotel, perfect for a couple that want to have a wedding and honeymoon in a luxurious setting. A wedding consultant is on site to coordinate every detail of the ceremony.
Resorts on Anse Cochon
Ti Kaye Village: Guests have access to an amazing secluded beach, reputed to be one of the best on the island especially for snorkeling, and one of the most romantic. This resort has spacious wooden cottages tucked into the hillside.
Ensuring Your Visit Is Unforgettable
If you love nature and are adventurous, consider hiring a car and driver and take a drive along the East Coast Road, as the scenery is truly breathtaking. You will go up, down, and around mountains; drive through a rainforest; drive along the Atlantic Ocean and witness its waves pound against the rock cliffs; and drive amongst hillsides blanketed with miles and miles of bananas and coconut palm trees. It’s a drive you will never forget.
Another unforgettable opportunity is to take a sailing tour around the island, especially one that includes Marigot Bay, Soufriere Harbor, and the two Pitons. If you have the chance, consider spending the day sailing aboard the 140-foot ship, the Brig Unicorn, moored in Castries. It is a replica of a 19th century sailing ship, and it looks like a pirate ship. As a matter of fact, it was actually used for filming the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” and also for the TV mini-series, Roots. It is an experience of a lifetime, as you sail around the island and see incredible scenery that is only available for viewing from the water.
It is only from seeing St. Lucia aboard a ship that you will fully understand why St. Lucia is truly a tropical paradise, and well worth the visit. Even the pirates knew a good thing when they saw it! Make St. Lucia one of your travel destinations—you won’t be disappointed!
About the author:
Eric Alexander Hamilton lives in Vancouver, Canada. He loves travelling and has lived in several cities such as Paris, London, and Zurich. His passions in life are photography and writing, particularly about travel, self-help and spiritual topics. To him, writing and photography are a natural match, as witnessed in his web site, www.lifedestiny.com. With each passing day, he is trying to follow the advice of the famous American writer, Jack London:, who said: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” It’s advice we should all follow.