With its ribbons of sandy beaches, swaying coconut palms, translucent warm waters, and coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, Saint Lucia (pronounced LOO-sha) is a quintessential Caribbean paradise. It has evolved over the years into one of the region’s most popular vacation destinations-particularly for romantics enticed by the island’s striking natural beauty, splendid resorts and easygoing hospitality.
One of the Windward Islands of the West Indies’ Lesser Antilles, Saint Lucia is situated between Martinique and St. Vincent. The deep blue Atlantic Ocean surrounds the 238 square-mile island on the east coast and the tranquil turquoise Caribbean Sea laps its shores on the west. At the island’s heart, pristine rainforest cloaks rugged mountains. In the valley below lies fertile farmland, including vast banana plantations. The landscape also includes one of the world’s few drive-in volcanoes and the Pitons, the signature twin volcanic cones that tower more than 2,600 feet above the sea and which are preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Saint Lucia’s climate is generally warm and sunny, tempered by northeastern trade winds and light showers. Mid-December to mid-April is high season, when the island is pleasantly hot during the day and cool at night. Rainy season lasts from June to October, when short, heavy bursts of rain soak the central rainforest at a rate three times heavier than on the coast. Hurricane season runs roughly from late August to October.
The island population numbers 160,000 and is predominantly people of African origin, but the historic influences of Amerindian, European, and East Indian cultures remain strong. This is a Creole society in the broadest sense: an intriguing combination of races, cultures, languages, and cuisine. Though English is the official language, a French-based Creole (or patois) laced with African and English grammar and vocabulary is also spoken throughout the island.
In contrast to the serenity visitors enjoy on Saint Lucia today, for nearly two hundred years, the island was the object of some of the bloodiest battles that raged in this part of the world. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Saint Lucia changed hands between Britain and France a record 14 times. This fact, plus the island’s unsurpassed beauty, earned its enduring moniker as the “Helen of the West Indies.” History buffs can visit Pigeon Island National Landmark, a strategic military post used by French pirates in the 1550s and by U.S. armed forces during World War II.
The small island has produced two Nobel Prize Winners, economist Sir Arthur Lewis and poet and playwright Derek Walcott. Saint Lucians love to “jump up” (dance in the street) and there is no better time to visit than during one of the island’s festivals. The renowned Saint Lucia Jazz Festival in May draws performers and audience members from around the world. Carnival in July and International Creole Day in October, though, are when the island’s free-spirited, colorful culture truly reveals itself with wild costumed street parades and indigenous music and dance.
No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll find Saint Lucia pulsating with the energetic rhythms of calypso, cadence, zouk, steel pan, soca, and reggae music. On Friday nights, residents and tourists alike stream into the fishing village of Gros Islet for a raucous weekly street party that gets going around 10 p.m. and lasts till the wee hours of the morning. Bars throw open their doors and pump loud music into the street, while snack vendors sell fried fish, barbecue, and hotcakes. Revelers dance under the stars with a can of beer in one hand and a juicy barbequed chicken leg in the other.
Local crafts of basketry, pottery, woodcarving, and jewelry made from seeds are for sale throughout the island. Browsing is half the fun at the bustling Castries Central Market and Vendor’s Arcade and at the Choiseul Arts and Craft Centre.
Food and Drink
Saint Lucian cuisine takes full advantage of the island’s abundant fresh seafood and exotic fruits and vegetables. In general, local chefs cook in the Creole style, interpreting African-derived dishes with inventive French flair. The national dish is salt fish and green fig-a stew of dried, salted codfish and boiled green banana. Other regional delicacies are boudin (spicy blood sausage), lambi (conch), and colombo (curried chicken or goat). Locally grown produce includes bananas, passion fruit, papaya, limes, guava, coconuts, plantains, breadfruit, and seven kinds of mangoes, as well as okra, avocados, cucumbers, pumpkins, yams, christophenes (a white, watery vegetable), and callaloo (a leafy green spinach-like vegetable). Fresh lobster is widely available in season, which lasts from August through March.
In addition to Creole cuisine, restaurant fare and resort buffets run the gamut with Asian, French, Mexican, British, and American offerings, as well as fast food burgers and pizza.
Refreshing fruit juices abound and islanders are rightly proud of their rum. Saint Lucia Distillers produces an assortment of both dark and white rums at its factory in Roseau Valley. The distillery hosts guided tours showing how rum was made in the past and how it is produced today using modern techniques. Local bartenders concoct delicious rum punches and cocktails with fresh fruit juices and liqueurs.
Nature lovers enjoy a wide range of land and sea adventures on the island. The sand on the beaches here ranges in hue from volcanic black to golden honey. Reduit Beach on Rodney Bay is the most popular (and crowded) of the northern beaches for sun worshippers. Scuba divers and snorkelers favor Anse Chastanet and neighboring Anse Mamin, while wind surfers flock to the swelling waves and winds of Anse de Sables, near Vieux Fort to the south. The underwater world of Saint Lucia is a wonder to behold, with pristine coral reefs sheltering sea horses, octopus, sea turtles, and a multitude of exotic fish species, including peacock fish, needle fish, frog fish and batfish.
Saint Lucia’s rain forest covers some 19,000 acres of lush valleys and peaks. The National Trust and the Department of Forestry offer 29 miles of trails (some more strenuous than others) that lead hikers through the tropical rain forest. The scent of wild orchids fills the air and there are swimmable waterfalls and more than 30 species of birds, such as the Saint Lucia oriole, white breasted thrasher, Lesser Antillian peewee, and Saint Lucia wren. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the national bird, the Amazona Versicolor (or Jacquot), a colorful parrot that was once an endangered species and is now protected.
The island boasts extraordinary botanical gardens as well. The perfectly manicured Mamiku Gardens were built around the hilltop ruins of the Baron Micoud Estate House (circa 1766) in the village of Micoud. At Diamond Botanical Gardens and Waterfall in Soufrière, in addition to strolling the lovely grounds, visitors can soak in curative thermal mineral baths that were originally commissioned by King Louis XIV of France in 1784 to fortify his troops against the Saint Lucian climate. Joséphine Bonaparte is said to have bathed here as a young girl while visiting her father’s plantation nearby.
Where to Stay
Most of Saint Lucia’s hotels, resorts and inns are tucked away on secluded coves, unspoiled beaches or jungle-covered hillsides. Luxury villa communities, complete with onsite gourmet restaurants, pampering spa services and access to golf courses, are a popular lodging option. Top ranked establishments include Cotton Bay Village, where the colonial-style town houses and chateau-style villas include dedicated service from a personal butler. The romantic open-air villas and suites at Ladera feature four-poster beds made of polished tropical hardwood and breathtaking views of the famous Pitons. Anse Chastanet Resort is a private estate of 600 tropical acres that offers world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. BodyHoliday LeSport delivers a memorable experience that is tailored to combine sports, healthy food and exercise regimes for an active beach getaway. No matter where you stay, you’ll find Saint Lucia to be a soul-satisfying feast for the senses.