St. Lucia is not exactly an unknown island – many people do visit it, generally for a day as part of a cruise. Or when they do spend more time on the island, invariably it is because they’re staying at a resort. I didn’t want to do either and just a little bit of research showed me that there is so much to see and do on this lush island and being trapped in a compound or on a boat would be doing the island a disservice. When I visited St. Lucia in 2008, I divided my trip into two parts – North vs South. And the winner was…
St. Lucia, located in the eastern Caribbean, has the typical history of being seized by land-hungry Europeans. Amerindian groups lived in St. Lucia until the 17th century when the French arrived. Then the British arrived, taking control of the island in 1663. It exchanged hands between the English and the French 14 times until the British took definitive control in 1814. St. Lucia became independent in 1979 but remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations as well as a member of la Francophonie.
Simply put, St. Lucia is a beautiful island. It has a wealth of history that is still evident in many areas of the island. In the north of the island, there is Pigeon Island. It is an islet connected to the ‘mainland’ by a causeway. It is a great place to spend a few hours – there are groomed trails with signs teaching you about the area’s history, ranging from Amerindians ways of life to life in a British fort. And speaking of forts, there is one on Pigeon Point, dating back to the 18th century. There isn’t a whole lot of Fort Rodney left but if you like forts, it’s worth a look. I particularly enjoyed climbing up to the highest point on Pigeon Island and standing on the flag pole anchor. The view is phenomenal out to the ocean – if you have an active imagination, you can spend a good while pretending to be a British/French soldier watching the waters for marauding pirates or you can pretend to be one of the first peoples seeing a European ship for the first time.
The town of Castries is St. Lucia’s capital. This is where I found a local bus, called a maxi-taxi, to take me South. It was a hilly drive, up and down and around tight curves. Passing one of these curves, as I admired the colourful villages I could see amongst the trees, I saw something roll down the hill. Just as I did, practically everyone in the bus yelled out, “HUBCAP!” The driver pulled over to the side and went pelting down the hill. That was when I realized that the escaping hubcap was ours! Soon enough, the driver came trudging back up the hill with the hub cap, fixed the tire, and we were on our way again. I stayed on the outskirts of Soufriere, one of the main towns of the south and the oldest town in the south (1746), where I had an expansive view of the ocean, the Pitons, the town, and the mountains.
I love southern St. Lucia. When I was there, it was pretty quiet in terms of the number of tourists (it helps that most tourists stay up north since that is where the resorts are – they come south on day trips, if they leave the resorts at all). When in the south of the island, the most prominent feature is the Pitons, a UNESCO Heritage Site. The twin peaks, which are volcanic plugs, pretty much are the national emblem of the country. They are even featured on the local beer which is called Piton. Both peaks are about 2000ft high and one can climb the smaller of the two – the other one is deemed too dangerous due to its steepness…not that the smaller is that much less steep! No visit to St. Lucia is complete without a hike. The forests adorning the peaks are gorgeous – wild flowers, ancient ferns, various plants and fungi, tall trees, fantastic viewpoints. Keep your eye out for colourful birds and little hermit crabs that are far from their normal homes in the sea. You can even see Mt. Gimie, St. Lucia’s tallest mountain (3,117ft) from the Pitons.
If you don’t feel like climbing the Pitons or Mt. Gimie, there are still many trails in rainforest preserves, such as Latille Gardens or Enbas Saut, where you can see verdant forests, bright flowers and fruits, fresh waterfalls, and noisy birds. St. Lucia would make any nature lover of any kind a happy camper. If your love of nature is more of the turquoise variety, the volcanic nature of the island means there are an abundance of reefs and caves to snorkel and dive.
On the more unusual side of things, St. Lucia has Soufriere Volcano which is supposedly the world’s only drive-in volcanic crater. Here you can admire, and wrinkle your nose at the same time, sulphur springs bubbling away as the steam drifts along in the breezes. But don’t worry – the volcano is dormant (unlike the one I talked about in Montserrat) so those bubbles aren’t indicative of impending doom. Another unusual sight in St. Lucia is natural grey water. You find them near Diamond Falls, a mineral-rich waterfall where the waters are a grey colour because of said minerals and sulphur.