Travel tips for St Lucia (Caribbean)
First appeared in World Travel Guide.
Situated only 200 miles north of Venezuela, between the islands of St Vincent, Barbados and Martinique, this 238 square mile tropical haven is small, diverse and unforgettable.
Saint Lucia’s Best Beaches
Granted, they aren’t to everyone’s taste – my mother wasn’t a fan – but I loved the dark volcanic sand beaches on the island. After all, they’re fairly unusual, and the sand is just as soft. For a beach with a molten history, try Anse Cochon – half way down St Lucia’s West coast and great for snorkeling and snoozing – or, a little further south, Anse Chastanet. Surrounded by palm trees, the sea by Anse Chastanet beach is open to the public (as are all St Lucian beaches) but attached to the hotel with the same name, and has a coral reef, hence its popularity with scuba divers and snorkelers.
But if only pure, white sand will do, Anse des Pitons, which lies, as the name suggests, inbetween the iconic Pitons, is impressive, as is, further North, Reduit Beach, although it’s unlikely you’ll be on your own there; Reduit is very popular and generally accessible from the tourist hub of Rodney Bay Village.
If it’s beach activities you’re after though, Sandy Beach at Anse de Sable (located in Vieux Fort) offers kite surfing and watersports. The beach at luxury resort, The Landings (near Reduit) is excellent for those wanting a bit of peace and quiet, both in terms of fellow visitors and waves; since it faces out to the Caribbean Sea rather than the Atlantic ocean (a ten minute walk away) it’s a hot spot for swimmers.
Volcano and mud baths
Once you’ve had enough of lying on sand, be it silvery grey or golden, there’s a lot to see and do on the island. Firstly, if you’re not staying in the South, it’s almost sacrilege not to visit it, passing through the old fishing village of Souffriere, and taking a trip into the world’s only drive-in Volcano there. You’ll probably want to hold your nose – the stink of sulphur isn’t great – but the tour is short and worth doing, though you’ll be forced to keep a distance after, in the mid 1990s, a tour guide named Gabriel had an accident, falling through the crust and ending up very badly burnt. Still hot, but much less so (obviously) are the mud baths just next door, said to contain volcanic minerals – excellent for the skin.
Tet Paul Nature Trail
Really, it wouldn’t be hard to spend a few hours just marveling at the forest in this area. Though it makes driving (due to the small, windy roads) slow, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the virtually-untouched beauty of it. To see it from above, take the Tet Paul Nature Trail walk. I’m no huge naturalist, but I really enjoyed this easy forty-five minute walk up through the local flora and fauna (you’ll see the Robusta coffee plant, the torch lily, prickly pear and the cheesey-smelling Noni fruit, renowned for its antioxidant and colon-cleansing properties) to a panoramic and breathtaking viewpoint from where you can see 25% of the island, including the two Pitons, two miles apart. Here, when it rains, the locals call it liquid sunshine and rainbows that would stop most people in their tracks are a regular occurrence. The trail was built four years ago, and is a community project funded by the non-governmental Souffriere foundation. It’s exceptionally good value, starting at only $5 for a guided walk up, past the Rastararian farmers who call themselves ‘no Bills’ farmers (because they live off the land in harmony with visitors and pay nothing for the privilege). Once you get to sign that says ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and take a few steps up to Piton Heights, you’ll be greeted by the sight of the Caribbean sea, both Pitons and the infamous Sugar Beach resort below, as well as views over the Fond Gens Libres community (which literally translates as ‘valley of the free people’, having been established after slaves hid here from their masters in the 1700s). http://soufrierefoundation.org/tet-paul-nature-trail
Zip wiring and Segway Tours
If you want to let your hair down though, the Zip Wire at Treetop Adventure Park in Dennery is lots and lots of fun (http://adventuretoursstlucia.com / EC$59), So too are the Segway Tours, where you’ll spend two hours zooming up (to secret hideaways with great views) and down (to the tiniest beach bar on the island) the trails of Rodney Bay on this cute, two-wheeled vehicle (http://www.lucianstyle.com/$85).
Tucked away in the Anse Mamin Plantation in the island’s South west, is jungle biking company, Bike St Lucia. Attracting cyclist staying at nearby sister hotels, Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain, as well as those coming from further afield, these guided mountain bike trails range have something to offer all levels (including beginners, for whom an introductory skills class is offered), and even the shorter rides (1-2 hours) take you deep into the plantation, helping you to get the true mountain biking experience. One thing though – don’t forget to treat yourself to one of the exceptional burgers at Anse Mamin Beach bar after your ride (honestly the best I’ve tasted since… well, forever).
Hike the Pitons
It’s unlikely that staring at St Lucia’s beautiful Piton mountains (which look close together, but are in fact two miles apart) could ever get dull, but if you fancy experiencing them in a different way, then a hike up one or both peaks could be the answer. The Gros Piton (ie. the bigger one at 786m) is the second highest peak on the island, after Mount Gimie and takes around 4 hours, round trip, to conquer. Some say it’s actually easier to climb than the Petit Piton (739m), whose ascent may take less time, but is much steeper! Whichever one you choose, you’ll probably have to set an alarm, as daily tours start at 5am.
– By Lucy Fry