Caribbean Splendor: The complete travel guide to St Lucia
With gorgeous boutique hotels, heavenly beaches and lively festivals, it’s no wonder St Lucia is still one of the best holiday destinations in the world, says travel writer Nilufer Atik…
There are very few places on earth I would describe as a natural paradise. But St Lucia is certainly one of them. This Eastern Caribbean island has everything you could wish for in terms of a holiday destination. Glorious weather, stunning beaches, luxury resorts, quaint little fishing villages, fascinating nature reserves, amazing reef-diving sites, and captivating rainforests are among just a few of its attributes.
Situated northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique, St Lucia is the only country in the world named after a woman – Saint Lucy of Syracuse by the French, who were the island’s first European settlers. Characterised by two dramatically tapered mountains known as the Pitons, which are located between the towns of Soufrière and Choiseul on the west coast of the island, it is also one of the few destinations that contains a drive-in volcano.
In fact, this entire tropical hideaway was formed from volcanic activites, so it is much more mountainous than its Caribbean counterparts. That doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t have its fair share of geographic riches however. While much of the island is covered in a thick blanket of lush rainforest, St Lucia also boasts both pristine golden and exotic black sandy beaches with stunning seaside scenery. The main beaches are all public yet varied.
Those searching for a quiet spot to sunbathe in between bouts of snorkeling can go to the white sands of Anse des Pitons beach in the south west. It was formerly known as Jalousie, which means ‘jealousy’ in French, and if you take a boat ride to this dreamy place nestled between the stunning peaks of the Gros and Petit Piton mountains, you’ll understand why. The views are incredible, with palm trees swaying over emerald green waters as they lap against the sugary sand.
A few miles away sits Anse Chastanet, which features 150 metres of dark, silvery sand and is one of the most impressive beaches in the south of the island. Sprinkled with trees and surrounded by rolling green hills, it’s one of the best snorkeling spots in the area, with a coral reef full of Sand Divers, Angelfish and Blue-Striped Grunts. You can also go mountain biking along trails that weave behind it.
In the north things get much livelier at Reduit Beach, which is one of the busiest, comprising over a mile of fine golden sand with views across the bay of Pigeon Island. Tourists and locals alike come here to catch some rays or sample water sports as music pumps out of atmospheric beach bars. For those with children there’s also an inflatable water park.
Head east from here and you reach Pigeon Island itself which has two small strips of sheltered beach areas at the entrance to the national park – a more peaceful location for families who want to relax. The park itself is ideal for picnics too, with lots of shaded, grassy areas.
Wherever you decide to soak in the sun in St Lucia however, make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen with you. Average daytime temperatures are around 29 °C during the dry season from December to May but the trade winds can be deceptive and burn.
Beaches aside, there are plenty of other things to see and do in St Lucia. Not only does Soufrière house the famous drive-in volcano, it has amazing sulphur springs where you can soothe your skin in a deliciously warm mud bath.
For a fun, quirky afternoon, you can hire a Segway (lucianstyle.com) and glide along the scenic nature trail up Mount Pimard to experience breath taking views of St. Lucia’s dramatic western coastline. Following a lesson on a practice track, the first stop is Pebble Beach, where local fishermen are often seen hunting for dinner. On the way up the mountainside, you’ll see sealed bunkers that once served as lookouts for the American Military during World War 2 before reaching the highest viewing point, Morne Pimant, where you can indulge in some local juices and fruits.
Chocolate lovers should definitely not leave until they’ve taken a tour around the 140-acre Rabot Estate cocoa plantation, near Sioufriere, which houses Hotel Chocolat’s boutique Boucan hotel and restaurant. A stunningly luxurious part of the land 1,000 feet above sea level, this unique estate invites visitors to see for themselves how cocoa is grown and transformed into chocolate, with trail tours and chocolate-making classes.
The hotel itself features a restaurant with an open-sided pavilion, where virtually every dish contains cocoa in some form or other, 14 ultra-stylish bedrooms, a spa, and an infinity pool, behind which the rainforest stretches into the distance and you can see the majestic Soufrière volcano. It’s an over-18s only accommodation, so not for those with young children.
Renowned as a honeymoon destination, there are several high-end boutique hotels in St Lucia that cater for adults only. Another is the Calabash Cove hotel – which sits between the capital town of Castries and Rodney Bay. This five-star gem comprises Balinese-style cottages overlooking the sea. With its own private beach, spectacular views from the outdoor restaurant, and spacious suites complete with dipping pools, sunbathing terraces, and full-sized bottles of spirits atop kitchenettes, Calabash feels like a deluxe home away from home. Because it only has 26 rooms, you get to know the staff so well they feel like family by the time you leave.
The main buildings of the hotel – the lobby, restaurant, bar, sanctuary, and infinity pool – are surrounded by lush, tranquil gardens filled with vibrant, fragrant flowers and manicured mango, custard apple and of course, calabash trees.
Rooms are divided into three categories, from entry-level Sunset Ocean View junior suites to the more private Water’s Edge cottages which have living rooms, private pools and an outdoor shower. All rooms have sea-view balconies and elegant four-poster beds with whirlpool baths in case you want to have a long, leisurely soak after a day in the sun.
If you’re seeking something even more opulent, there’s the Capella Marigot Bay Hotel further west. Nestled in the emerald crook of one of the most beautiful bays in the world, this extraordinary resort has two infinity pools, a swim-up bar, a Rum Cave, and a variety of beautifully designed chalet-style guest rooms stacked in wooden buildings and kitted out with every amenity imaginable. You even get a personal assistant to cater to your needs.
Just a few hours here spent watching the gleaming yachts slide in and out of the natural harbor or sipping exquisite cocktails in the restaurant as you watch the sun set over the mountains behind it and you’ll forget every care you ever had.
The nightlife in St Lucia is as varied as its beaches, with a mixture of lively bars, nightclubs, laid-back cafes and top-notch restaurants like the Rainforest Hideaway, situated on a jetty in Marigot Bay.
But it’s the weekend street parties that really give you a taste of St Lucian revelry. This is when the island truly comes alive with hoards of people gathering in public areas to dance, drink, and mingle. The Gros Islet Jump Up just north of Rodney Bay Village is one of the best, offering local cuisine, potent rum brews, Caribbean music and stalls selling all manner of artefacts until the early hours.
Several festivals also take place throughout the year that celebrate the island’s heritage and lifestyle, including the fantastic St. Lucia Food and Rum Festival, which draws the best of the best in terms of food, wine, and rum from around the Caribbean.
This year’s event, held in January, was headlined by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who led a special gala evening, featuring dishes from his menu for President Obama’s first State Dinner served with a St Lucian twist. The festival takes over Rodney Bay annually, turning it into a foodie and rum-lover’s dream, with offerings of Creole favourites like salt fish with green figs or breadfruit. If you haven’t tried a Lucian breakfast of coco tea and bakes before you head off home, you really haven’t lived. Essentially a type of doughnut washed down with hot chocolate, the cocoa used is said to be among the finest in the world. Reason enough alone to visit this enchanting destination.
A seven-night stay at the Calabash Cove for two with breakfast included is priced from £2190 and £3490 all inclusive. calabashcove.com
The Marigot Bay Resort and Marina offers rooms from £1,136 per night with breakfast included. marigotbayresort.com
British Airways fly direct from London Gatwick to St Lucia from £560 return. ba.com