St. Lucia See And Do
Most of St. Lucia's beaches are on the island's west coast. Reduit, at the island's northwestern tip, is one of the best: long, sandy, and sheltered by tropical greenery. South of Gros Islet, it's absolutely packed with tourists, restaurants, and bars, but the northern part stretching to Pigeon Island (interrupted near Gros Islet by the waterway to the marina) is quieter and preferred by St. Lucians on weekends. Labrelotte Bay, which lies just south of Reduit and stretches between the East Winds Inn and Windjammer Landing resort, is also lovely.
South of Labrelotte Bay is Choc Bay, overlooking Rat Island. It's where some of the island's largest hotels are located, and has water-sports facilities. South of Choc Bay is Vigie, which runs parallel to the landing strip of George F.L. Charles Airport. It is fairly popular with St. Lucians, but it isn't the cleanest beach.
Marigot Bay, which lies about halfway down the west coast, is the beautiful sheltered bay was where Dr. Doolittle was filmed (the original one, with Rex Harrison rather than Eddie Murphy). Construction of a new resort, Discovery Marigot Bay, has recently been completed here. The small beach isn't great for swimming, but it's a good spot for water sports and has a sizeable marina.
Further south is Anse Chastanet—a gorgeous sweep of sand with spectacular views of the Pitons, which also boasts St. Lucia's best snorkeling. The beach is used by guests from the eponymous hotel above it, as well as those from other neighboring properties like Ladera and several smaller hotels. Just south is Soufrière: A long stretch of dark sand edged with palm trees through which you can see one of the Pitons. This is mostly a local haunt.
With a population of some 66,000, lively Castries is no great beauty, but it's worth a visit for its daily market of handmade crafts, dried spices, and island produce. On Saturdays, the market extends into a crowded open-air bazaar, with locals selling tropical fruits such as sour orange and star fruit, nuts, vegetables, whole fish, and goat butchered on the grounds. Check out Derek Walcott Square, with its Roman Catholic Cathedral and 400-year-old samaan tree in the center of town. Or drive up to Morne Fortune, "Hill of Good Luck," which has magnificent views over the city and the surrounding hills. Do try to avoid the cruise-ship exoduses—keeping a wide berth from the Pointe Seraphine tax-free Shopping Centre in the harbor is a good start.—Update by Douglas Wright
Just south of Gros Piton sits this teeny fishing village of painted wooden houses, with a church on the beach and nothing in the way of restaurants. On the outskirts, though, is a craft village where locals are taught bamboo, pottery, basketry, wood carving, and joinery. The Choiseul Arts and Crafts Centre, a shop selling these wares, is worth a visit, and it has a small café (La Fargue; 758-454-3226).
Tel: 758 452 4759
Not easy to find, but worth it. These gardens were developed in 1784, when the king of France ordered baths to be built to take advantage of the health-giving properties of the mineral-rich sulfur springs. Those were destroyed, but you can still take the waters at the rebuilt mineral baths here. The gardens themselves are lush and well-kept, and include a lovely little waterfall.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, Sundays 10 am to 3 pm.
These craggy peaks rise 2,600 feet into the air on the south part of the island known as the Val de Pitons. Sure, you can view the mountains from the comfort of your cruise boat or hotel room while idly drinking a beer that bears their name, but to truly experience the Pitons, lace up your hiking boots. The smaller (and steeper) Petit Piton is the more difficult, and is best suited to experienced climbers. Scaling the taller Gross Piton will take two hours each way, winding up a rain forest trail of boulders and twisted tree roots that circle the mountain. There's no point pretending it's easy, but most make it up, thanks in good part to the knowledgeable and patient guides from the Rastafarian community at the mountain's base (whom you can hire on-site or book through your hotel). Right when you think you can go no farther, your guide will stop and tell you about foliage or history, choosing strategic times to give ambitious but exhausted climbers a break. The reward is magnificent views to the south and north, with the neighboring islands of St. Vincent and Martinique clearly visible. The best time to start is between 7 and 9 am, to beat the heat and crowds.—Update by Douglas Wright
Tel: 758 452 5005
This national park on St. Lucia's northwestern coast was connected to the main island by a causeway in 1970. Climb up to Fort Rodney on the smaller of the two hills and look in at the small museum which has Amerindian remains and displays explaining the island's quite complicated history. Then admire the view which, on a clear day, includes neighboring Martinique. Pigeon Island is the site of St. Lucia Jazz, a two-week-long festival that brings in major jazz and R&B performers every May. Past headliners have included Stanley Jordan, Kenny G, Beenie Man, and the Isley Brothers (www.stluciajazz.org).
Rain Forest Aerial Tram
Tel: 866 759 8726 (toll-free)
Tel: 758 458 5151
This is a chance to experience a part of St. Lucia that would otherwise be inaccessible to anyone but the most intrepid hiker. Located in the mountainous region of Chassin, the eight-seat gondolas begin their journey 2,000 feet up, gliding smoothly above the trees and vines of old-growth forest. For those who want a bit more excitement, strap on your helmet, get into your harness, and zip along 500-foot runs through the tree line. You will feel like a contestant on The Amazing Race as you soar across ravines, rivers, and lush gullies. Though there is no age restriction, it's not particularly suitable for children under ten—but the kid in all of us will love it.
Open Sundays and Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 am to 2 pm.
Not only the resort center of the island, but a marina, built in a large inland lagoon, and quite well known to sailors for its yacht-supply shops and boat-repair yard. There are also all the shops, banks, and restaurants necessary to serve both sea- and land-based organisms. For travelers, Rodney Bay has also become known as the island's nightlife hub; the many casual cocktail bars here are often hopping after midnight, especially on weekends.
The oldest settlement on the island, this town of some 9,000 residents was founded in 1746 by the French, only to be rebuilt after a hurricane leveled it in 1780. It's very pretty with its old wooden buildings, and not geared toward tourists at all. Local "guides" will help you out for a feebut use common sense, and fix your price beforehand.
Tel: 758 459 5500
Billed as "the world's only drive-in volcano" (tell that to Big Island, Hawaii), you will smell these springs long before you glimpse them. The volcano, about eight miles in diameter, collapsed 40,000 years ago. Seven cones within the old crater still exist, as well as the two plugs that are the Pitons, but this is the only remaining active spring. From the viewing platform—to which you walk—you see a mass of ashy gray mud with rocks streaked black, yellow, and white. It bubbles and steams and stinks, and it's curiously affecting. Do not—we repeat—do not walk on the gray part. But do come at dusk to join the locals at the springs. Slather yourself in mud scooped out from the riverbed, then immerse yourself in the heat of the waters while surrounded by the glow of fireflies.
Open daily 9 am to 5 pm.