|Size||238 square miles (617 square kilometers)|
|Population||180,000 (85% black, 11% mixed, 2% Indian, 2% other)|
|Status||Independent country, part of the British Commonwealth|
|Official language(s)||English, French Creole (kwéyòl)|
|GDP per capita (2018)||$10,042|
|Currency||Eastern Caribbean dollar pegged to US dollar|
|Electricity||UK standard three-prong|
|Driving||On the left|
In Greek mythology Helen was a beautiful daughter of Zeus, who had many admirers stealing her from one another resulting in a great war and the famous siege of Troy. The Caribbean has its own Helen and its called Saint Lucia! Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, both the British and the French considered St. Lucia as a highly valuable asset for their respective colonial empires and fought each other in several wars and tens of battles to claim the magnificent island as their own. Of course, it isn’t just the natural beauty of St. Lucia, that so strongly attracted both empires. The lush, fertile grounds of this volcanic island were perfectly suited for developing sugar cane agriculture and both, Britain and France would build up extensive sugar plantation and bring tens of thousands of slaves from Africa to work on them. It wasn’t until 1814 that the island became fully controlled by the British and its slaves were emancipated 24 years later by an act of the British parliament. However, the tumultuous colonial story of St. Lucia would officially continue until as long as 1979 when the island became a fully independent state.
Nowadays, the rich history of St. Lucia is engrained in its people, culture, architecture, economy and even sports! However, although the island remembers its past very well, it has embraced its present day, in which it has become a globally recognized hot spot for romantic and luxury holidays. Tourism is, in fact, what drives St. Lucia’s economy in the 21st century and there are hundreds of good reasons for it. The island is strikingly beautiful with a lush jungle in its center and surrounding an impressive volcano. It is home to the Pitons, the only such uniquely located and shaped mountain peaks in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. St. Lucia also has mineral baths, tens of stunning black and gold sand beaches, several hotels consistently voted the most romantic in the Caribbean, one of the best Jazz festivals in the world plus and as many as ten botanical gardens and former colonial estates with vast and exotic gardens open to explore. So far so good? And yet, there is so much more! The island has amazing cuisine, friendly people, a rich offer of activities for kids and adults alike. Without a doubt, St. Lucia is one of the most exciting and vibrant places to visit in the Caribbean at the moment. So, let us give you some tips on how best to do it!
Uniquely in the Caribbean and for its size, St. Lucia has two international airports – Hewanorra International Airport in the south near Vieux Fort and George F.L Charles Airport in the capital of Castries. However, the second of these two airports serves primarily to and from other destinations in the Caribbean. If you are flying from the US, Canada or Europe, you will almost always land in Hewanorra, which is about an hour and 15 minutes’ drive from Castries. What is great is that there are close to ten cities in North America and at least one or two in Europe that fly non-stop flights to St. Lucia all year round. These include New York, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, Charlotte, Toronto, Montreal as well as London Gatwick. Of course, if you don’t mind flying connect or you plan to visit another Caribbean destination in addition to St. Lucia, the Castries’ airport has daily (or several times per week) connections to Martinique, Antigua, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago. Finally, you can get from and to some of these islands like Martinique, Dominica plus Guadeloupe via a fast speed ferry from the ferry terminal in Castries.
Many tourist guides advise against driving in St. Lucia as the roads here are very hilly, often narrow and poorly light at night. This is certainly true, though on the plus side, the island is small enough that even a difficult journey won’t usually be more than an hour long and if you wanted to circle the whole island, you could drive around it in less than three hours. In fact, for this reason you may actually be better off relying on local taxis and buses, both of which are of decent standard. Taxi rates are regulated between various destinations so you will know the total price as soon as you tell the driver where you want to go. A trip from one airport to the other, for example, will set you back $80 USD. If this seems expensive, consider taking a bus, which will cost EC $10 for the same journey, though the ride will take almost twice as long as a taxi since local buses stop often to pick up and drop off passengers at various stops along the road.
Lastly, a popular and fun way of traveling between several destinations in St. Lucia are water taxis. These are usually small fishing boats, which take up to four passengers and departure from Castries, Soufriere and Rodney Bay. However, although a water trip includes some spectacular views onto the diverse coast is lots of fun, costs are high and depend on horse power engine (which basically defines how long the trip is). With a less powerful boat, a voyage from Castries to Soufriere will be $200 USD for up to two people and $240 for up to four whereas a journey from Soufriere to Rodney Bay will cost you $300 USD for up to four people. Moreover, as a water taxi ride can be somewhat rough and wet, its probably not the best way to get around with all your belongings.
Things to explore
A section describing all the cool things to see in St. Lucia can only be a long one. In fact, one cannot travel more than a couple miles here and not to come about something spectacular! Helen of the Caribbean is indeed, a beautiful wonder, dotted with remarkable natural as well as human-made sights. Although we will spend much time describing all these key spots, it’s probably best to start by discussing St. Lucia’s most recognized natural landmarks, Gross Piton and Petit Piton. The two peaks date back 40 million years or so when dramatic volcanic eruptions formed the island. Although Petit Piton suggests that its smaller than its neighbour, it is actually taller than the Gross Piton at 2,619 feet (vs 2,461). The two Pitons are located just a couple miles south of Soufriere and they are separated from each other by Pitons Bay, the home of one of the most luxurious of St. Lucia hotels, Sugar Beach. The beach itself where the hotel is located is one of the best spots to take pictures of the Pitons with yourself on the beach or in the water (although the hotel takes over the whole beach, like all other beaches on St. Lucia this one is also public so you have the right of access to it). You can also climb both Pitons, though the hikes are not easy and you do need to register and pay a fee for it (you need to join an organized group or pay for a guide and the price range is $30 to $200).
The Pitons are only two of hundreds of peaks formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago and dotting the landscape of St. Lucia. The tallest among them all is Mount Gimmie, with an elevation of 3,117 feet and offering some spectacular views from its top of the southern part of the island including the Pitons. On the way to the top of Mt. Gimmie you can also encounter some 30 to 50 feet tall jungle waterfalls, although to get the best of the experience consider hiring a local guide who can take you to the top of Mt. Gimme as well as suggest many other trails within the Edmund Forest Reserve that surrounds the mountain and extends tens of miles beyond it. In addition or alternatively, for a much easier sightseeing trip, consider visiting the Soufriere drive-in volcano located slightly in-land and about two miles south of the town of Soufriere where you can drive up within couple hundred feet of and walk up to observe and smell sulphur springs of Qualibou volcano. The location also has several observation decks, from which you can see many of the surrounding hills of Soufriere as well as the two Pitons.
The surroundings of Soufriere are, truly, very rich in sights to explore. We have described some already, but it’s also worth mentioning ac couple others like Diamond Falls Gardens and Baths, which are just on the edge of the town. The gardens are actually an 18th century French estate and the baths located inside them used to be a big draw for the French aristocracy that would come here to for the healing powers of the mineral springs. Today, the baths are open to the public and a 30 minute bath is only $7. Besides the Diamond Falls Estate, you can check out a few more located in the neighbourhood. There is the Fond Doux Estate, which is a currently operating cocoa and fruit plantation as well as Morne Coubaril, which is also an active plantation that offers horseback rides, mill tours and zip-lining.
Of course, Soufriere may not be where you spend much of your time, if any at all. There is a good chance you will instead be based in and around Castries, Marigot Bay, Fort Bay or Vieux Fort. When it comes to the first location, the capital city is a busy cruise port with a fantastic produce and craft’s market (bust to visit on Saturday morning) located at Jeremie and Peynier Streets and it is also the location of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the most important church on the island built at the end of the 19th century. As far as Marigot Bay and Fort Bay, both of these are made of beautiful lagoons with lovely marinas that attract many yachts and sail boats to set down their anchors and come ashore where you can find several luxury hotels and restaurants. Finally, Vieux Fort in the southernmost part od St. Lucia is just a mile away from a nature’s reserve on Maria Islands, which is home to several species of reptiles and that you can visit via a bout tour out of Vieux Fort harbour.
Vieux Fort is also where you can find one of the longest and still undeveloped beaches on St. Lucia called Anse des Sables beach. However, as far as beautiful beaches, there is loads to choose from here. Castries itself has two pretty beaches right in the city – Vigie and La Toc whereas Reduit, Sugar and Marigot beaches are considered some of the fines in all of the Caribbean. In all, whether you prefer open and wide stretches of sand, cliff dominated rocky coasts or small lagoons with calm waters surrounded by palm trees, you can find it all in St. Lucia!
St. Lucia has some of the most uniquely luxurious hotels in the Caribbean. For example, imagine waking up to a morning mist as one side of your room has no external wall and the first thing you do in the morning is to sit in swing over your own private pool overlooking the Pitons and the sea in the distance. Sounds enticing? This is what you can do every morning at the Ladera hotel, consistently ranked in top five boutique hotels of the Caribbean. However, its not very fair for us to focus on just one hotel as there are tens of stunning accommodation options on the island. Of course, many of the best ones comes with a steep price – expect $1,000 per night to be a standard among the very best of St. Lucia’s resorts. Below is our own small ranking of the most amazing hotels on the island (and by default some of the very best in all of the Caribbean):
- Ladera – mentioned above, this inn has 32 suites with each one having their own pool overlooking the Pitons. All rooms here are tastefully designed and eco-friendly, there is a delicious on-site restraint and the overall service is excellent. For anyone looking for a romantic vacation of a lifetime, this place will do just fine.
- Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort – being the only hotel fronting possibly the best beach on St. Lucia, this five star resort has truly extraordinary rooms and suites with many having their own pools overlooking the beach and the Pitons. There is an all-inclusive option, a large spa, availability of any kind of water sport and beautiful gardens.
- Jade Mountain – similar to Ladera in that most of its luxury suites have their own pools overlooking the Pitons. However, the so called “sanctuaries” are actually huge and much bigger than at Ladera. The hotel caters to adults only and is a perfect romantic getaway any time of the year.
- Anse Chastanet Resort – beautiful, spacious rooms include large terraces with views of the Pitons and the surrounding area. Rainforest surrounds the hotel and the bay beach has calm waters and is superb for snorkeling or just splashing around.
- St. James Club Morgan Club – this is a proper resort with as many as six restaurants and a fantastic all inclusive option. There are tons of activities happening every day and there is a large spa, gym, tennis courts, several shops and more. This is an ideal spot for families who want to have it all in one place.
Although the above five hotels are spectacular, what they all have in common are very exuberant prices. Hence, while there are her great and expensive hotels on St. Lucia that we could mention, its best we describe a couple of the most cost friendly options instead (though also highly reviewed and offering superb comforts). For immediate access to the stunning Reduit Beach, check out Bay Gardens Beach Resort that is right by a water park so families have a blast here and you can get a room for about $200. For a similar price, consider Marigot Beach Club, which offers diving classes and trips and has some amazing views of the Marigot Bay. Finally, to get a view of the Pitons, but not pay more than $300 per night, check out La Haut Plantation near Soufriere, which has a lawn with some owe inspiring views and a friendly atmosphere of privacy and tranquility.
Food & restaurants
Despite the fact it was the British that eventually won control over the Helen of the Caribbean, there are a couple categories, where it is the French that won over and one of the big ones is the local cuisine. French and creole menus dominate St. Lucia’s restaurants, though you can also find Italian and Asian restaurants on the island. Moreover, if you stay at an all-inclusive resorts you are sure to have lots of food choices with dishes from all around the world. Of course, it would be a shame come to St. Lucia and not try some of the local specialties made by local expert cooks. For really tasty and fresh Caribbean and Creole dishes at no more than $25 for a main we recommend trying out The Still and The Hummingbird near Soufriere as well as the Pink Plantation in Morne Fortune. Alternatively, be on a lookout when you drive around as St. Lucians often cook on the side of many of the island’s roads and stopping your car for a barbecue meal will give you a genuine taste for the local cuisine. Lastly, you may want to visit Anse La Raye on a Friday evening as this is when the village hosts a seafood street festival. There are loads of delicious snacks available to try here and it’s a great opportunity to meet the locals and learn many of their cooking secrets.
St. Lucia is not a huge party destination, which doesn’t mean there aren’t many opportunities for partying! Most of the night time fun in St. Lucia happens around Castries, Marigot Bay and Rodney Bay as this is where you will find most of the bars and clubs. A fun place to check out in Castries is right by the cruise terminal where you will discover several busy outdoor bars like the funny named Rum Therapy Bar & Treatment Centre. If instead, you are looking for ambience, tranquillity and great cocktails than definitely visit Hassy’s in Marigot Bay. Finally, for proper dancing, you will want to head to Verve in Rodney Bay where you can expect to find a DJ playing every night of the week until late. Rodney Bay also hosts a street party every Friday night around Dauphin Street, which is its own little carnival with food stands, dressed up performers and lots of dancing. Furthermore, once a year in May the nearby Pigeon Island is the host of St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival that turns into a 10 day bash with concerts and events happening every night until late.
Sports & adventure
As a former colony of Great Britain, it will be no surprise that cricket is the national sport of the island. Yet, as you can also imagine, this sport is not the activity that appeals to majority of tourists to St. Lucia. Instead, what excites (and for a good reason) most visitors is the wide range of options for water sports, hiking, horseback riding and a few unique types of adventures that they can enjoy here. As a matter of fact, it is worth pointing out that St. Lucia has some of the best diving operators and diving sites in the Caribbean, its rainforest hiking trails are second to none, it has one of the best waterparks among neighbouring islands and it is the finish destination for the world’s biggest ocean crossing race called the Atlantic Rally.
When it comes to water sports, most of the beachfront hotels offer a varying degree of equipment, and training. If you are into diving, highly professional PADI operators are located in Anse La Raye (in Ti Kaye Resort), Anse Chastanet (Anse Chastanet Resort), Marigot Bay and in Rodney Bay where you will find Dive Saint Lucia, a whole diving center with a large training pool. The first two locations mentioned are also both popular diving sites with a couple more located around the two Pitons and one located at Anse Cochon where a large shipwreck of Lesleen M located at a depth of 60 feet attracts divers from all around the world. For those who rather stay mostly above water and enjoy surfing/kite surfing, the best place to do these activities is on Anse de Sables beach. The winds and wide coastline are perfect here and it rarely gets busy.
Thanks to its beautiful lagoons and many lovely marinas, St. Lucia is a popular yachting destination and it also has lots of boat charter companies that offer their services to fishermen, divers or anyone really who wants to explore the island’s coast. The best places to find charters or join a boat excursions are Rodney Bay (where the Atlantic Rally ends every year) and Marigot Bay. Keep in mind that although charters for fishing are popular and the waters around the island are rich in a big variety of fish, the activity is only permitted as catch-and-release according to local laws. If you are not too big on fishing, consider instead a boat sightseeing trip that takes you around and past the Pitons. There are as many as five companies in Rodney Bay alone that offer this and many other types of fun touring trips that include food, drinks and on deck partying.
Once you have seen enough on and under water, there are loads of adventures you can take on land. We have mentioned in an earlier section that you can hike the Pitons, as well as Mount Gimmie as well as much of the Edmund Forest Reserve. But did you know you can also explore many of the same trails (though not the Pitons) with bikes or on a horseback? Again, there are a few bike companies and stables that offer rainforest tours with visits to various plantations, waterfalls and/or scenic overlooks. If this kind of adventure doesn’t give you enough adrenaline, there is also of course zip-lining and there are two locations that do it all year round – Treetop Adventure Park and the Morne Coubaril Historical Adventure Park. Beyond all this, you can always just spend an extremely fun day at the waterpark; Splash Island located at Reduit Beach is one of the biggest water parks in the region and beyond many unique slides, it also has several kids’ playgrounds often used as much by adults, as they are by kids.
Safety and security
St. Lucia is considered a safe island for visitors with very few serious crimes committed against tourists. What’s more, local hotels, especially the more prestigious ones, ofen maintain security personnel, which patrols the grounds and assists guests when required. Nonetheless, as anywhere, it is advisable you keep your valuables in safe place, do not venture out at night alone and do not drive after dark anywhere, but the main roads. As you would in any city, be especially careful in the capital of Castries where local criminals are most active and muggings and pickpocketing are not uncommon.