By Paul Mermelstein
Located in the middle of the Eastern Caribbean chain of islands, St Lucia's mix of volcanic beauty, award-winning spas and restaurants, bountiful water sports activities and secluded white sand coves make this idyllic island popular for romantic getaways and honeymooning couples. However, with plenty of action-packed activities to entertain all types of travelers, the lush island is also an ideal destination for cruise ship stopovers and those looking for an adventure-filled vacation.
Cruise ship passengers will most likely be docked at Pointe Seraphine, conveniently located in the harbor of Castries, St Lucia's bustling capital on the NW side of the island. For travelers arriving by plane, St Lucia has two airports: Hewanorra International Airport at Vieux Fort at the southern tip of the island and George F.L. Charles airport near Castries for smaller, inter-island flights.
Castries: The lively capital of St Lucia is home to a vibrant downtown surrounded by lush rain forests and filled with both charming 19th Century wooden architecture and modern glass buildings. Castries's offers fantastic shopping; their colorful, open-air markets are an excellent spot to pick up last minute souvenirs crafted by local artisans.
Rodney Bay: About 15 minutes north of Castries, the picturesque bay--peppered with impressive resort hotels and many popular restaurants--is a popular area for tourists to explore. Full of yachts bobbing along the harbor, the Rodney Bay Marina is also one of the Caribbean's premiere yachting centers and is a great place to organize yacht charters and sightseeing day trips out at sea.
Soufriere: Established by the French in 1746, Soufriere is the oldest town in St Lucia. Located on the SW coast of the island, the sleepy fishing village is home to relaxing thermal hot springs, blooming botanical gardens and warm volcanic waterfalls. Nestled at the base of the island's famed Gros Piton and Petit Piton twin volcano peaks, the colonial town makes a convenient base to explore the surrounding mountainous area.
Marigot Bay: Five miles south of Castries, this enclosed sparkling bay is a gorgeous spot to visit for the afternoon; stroll along the palm tree fringed beach and enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the outdoor cafes. Considered as one of the most photogenic jewels of the Caribbean, this beautiful cove is also a great destination for catching spectacular sunsets.
Must See Sights
Gros Piton & Petit Piton: Soaring majestically out of the sea towards the sky, the famed twin cones of Gros Piton and Petit Piton are not to be missed. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the dormant Piton peaks are one of the premiere attractions on St Lucia; adventure seekers can hire a guide to hike up to the summit of Gros Piton for a jaw-dropping view of the rainforest and Caribbean Sea below.
Soufriere Volcano & Sulphur Springs: Touted as the world's only 'drive-in' volcano, guests can drive up the volcano's crater and walk around the boiling sulphur geysers and gurgling mud pools. Nearby at the Diamond Botanical Gardens, visitors can take a dip at the natural hot springs (reputed to possess therapeutic properties) as well as witness the spectacular, warm water sulphur waterfall, which reflects yellow, green, purple and black hues throughout the day from the sunlight.
Water Sports Activities
Like most Caribbean islands, St Lucia's calm, azure waters and coral reefs provide plenty of entertainment as a natural playground for many fun water sports.
St. Lucia Scuba Diving: Teeming with vibrant corals and colorful marine life, St Lucia possesses some of the most spectacular diving spots in the Caribbean. Common sightings include turtles, seahorses, angelfish, golden spotted eels, giant purple sponges and black tree corals. Notable dive spots include Anse Chastanet (a stunning reef with a 140ft drop-off along the SW of the island), Lesleen M Shipwreck (a freighter sunken 60ft underwater to create an artificial reef just south of Marigot Bay) and Fairyland (shutterbugs take note, the area's crystal clear waters is especially ideal for underwater photography). There are many St. Lucia scuba diving tour operators to choose from.
Deep Sea Fishing: Famed for deep-sea fishing, the island provides plenty of opportunities for anglers to fish for white marlin, mako shark, barracuda and other big fish. Many hotels and tour companies charter boats for half and full day outings. For more info, visit our St. Lucia Fishing page.
Additional Water Sports: There are plenty of other adrenaline-kicking water sports to enjoy closer to shore; try your hand at windsurfing, kite-surfing, snorkeling, para-sailing and water-skiing. There are plenty of places to rent equipment and/or hire a guide, just inquire at the front desk or information booth at any major hotel or tour operator desk.
For those who want a break from the sun and surf, St Lucia offers a plethora of other daytime activities.
Hiking: Boasting 19,000 acres of rain forest and 29 miles of hiking trails, St Lucia is a lush haven for visitors who enjoying hiking. Hotels and tour operators can arrange organized hikes, or pack a lunch and explore one of the many well- marked paths on your own. There are a multitude of trails to choose from, encompassing all levels--from basic, one-mile strolls along former plantation grounds and beachside walks past leatherback turtle sanctuaries to the more strenuous trek up to the top of Gros Piton. While hiking, be on the lookout for colorful plants, gushing waterfalls and rare wildlife, including the rainbow-hued Jacquot parrot, St Lucia's national bird.
Golf: Those itching for some tee time can take a swing at one of St Lucia's 3 golf courses, including the world-class Sandals Regency Golf Resort & Spa at La Toc, situated along the oceanfront's crescent-shaped white sand beach. With swaying palm trees and views of the sparkling Caribbean Sea, the tropical setting creates an unforgettable backdrop to the green links. For more information, visit our St. Lucia Golf page.
Cricket: A popular game from St Lucia's British colonial days, cricket is one of the island's leading spectator sports (St Lucia was one of the Caribbean islands picked to host the International Cricket World Cup in 2007.) Visitors can catch a match during their visit; cricket season is officially from March-August, but friendly fete matches are played year round.
When the sun goes down, the nightlife heats up in St Lucia; from laidback, sandy beach bars to high-energy European-style nightclubs, there's something for everyone. For a truly unique experience, attend the popular 'jump-up' block parties held every Friday at Gros Islet and Anse la Raye (both towns are conveniently nearby to Castries); come sundown, the towns come alive with music and partying as the roving street party fills with locals and tourists eating, drinking and dancing in the streets. At Gros Islet, street vendors sell stall after stall of barbequed meats, rice'n'beans, Creole-influenced dishes and St Lucia's own Piton beer while calypso and steel drum bands play on the streets' makeshift stages. Another popular street party is Seafood Fridays jump up hosted by the fishing village of Anse la Raye; waterfront stalls serve up a delicious selection of fresh seafood--clam bakes, fish stew, conch and crab dishes, barbequed mahi-mahi and grilled-on-the-spot lobster--while the rum and reggae keep on flowing well past midnight.
Notable Calendar Events
While there are festivals and local parties celebrated on the island throughout the year, below are several highlight events worth noting for the calendar:
January: St Lucia's Food & Rum Festival is a gastronomic celebration of innovative Caribbean-style cooking, delicious rum cocktails and St Lucia's fresh, tropical ingredients. The four-day event includes chef and bartender demonstrations, tasting sessions with various rum distilleries, special dinners hosted by top chefs and nightly outdoor musical concerts.
May: During the month of May, upbeat jazz tunes take over the island during their celebrated St Lucia Jazz Festival. Drawing in thousands of visitors and many renowned, performing musicians--including Anita Baker, Wynton Marsalis, Patti Labelle and UB40--the festival is considered one of the premiere musical events in the Caribbean.
June-July: The most extravagant--and fun-filled--event on the island is St Lucia's Carnival. St Lucia is also the only island in the Caribbean to celebrate Carnival during the summer (Carnival is typically held in February and March in accordance with Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday) so many visitors from neighboring islands also come to attend the festival. The month-long festivities--which include nightly musical performances and events such as steel drum contests--culminate with a grand parade in mid-July, where throngs of revelers pack the streets of Castries dressed in flamboyant costumes and dance to the beat of calypso and soca tunes wafting through the air.