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St. Lucia: Gem of the Caribbean

Discover the allure that brings people back to St. Lucia time and time again.

 

If there ever was a slice of paradise in the Caribbean, St. Lucia is it. The vistas of the majestic and lush twin Piton Mountain peaks rising from the sea are astounding. The people are friendly and always offer a smile or a hearty handshake. The deep oranges and reds of the setting sun are mesmerizing. If you want to explore the crystal blue water and reefs or the lush tropical land with its rain forests, mountains and spectacular views, St. Lucia is for you. Family trip or a romantic week for two—look no further.

The first time I visited St. Lucia was in 1976, when the island was a gem of the Caribbean that had yet to be discovered. I returned four times before starting a family, after which I brought my kids (now aged 16, 13 and 10) as soon as they were able to travel, knowing there is something for everyone on the island. After four family vacations (one on a cruise), I still hear, “Hey, Dad, when are we going back to St. Lucia?” It just does not get old—for any of us.

Over the past 30 years, it seems a lot more people have discovered what I learned so long ago.

Getting Your Bearings

St Lucia is a member of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, just north of Barbados and easily recognizable by its Gros Piton and Petit Piton peaks of lush greenery that shield the flourishing rainforest below. Soufriere, St. Lucia’s former capital, is the island’s oldest town and was established by the French in 1746. The island changed hands more than a dozen times as the British and the French fought over it for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. St. Lucia finally became an independent state in 1979. The capital today is Castries.

St. Lucia is tiny—only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide and shaped like an avocado. The island is served internationally by two airports and by most U.S. and international carriers. It is approximately three hours from Miami, and there are very few direct flights. Times could be changing, however, because in late 2007, American Airlines began nonstop service to St. Lucia from New York’s JFK airport on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Since the island is so small, I have found that utilizing a taxi and planning out your day trips in advance is more cost effective than renting a car. Besides, the locals drive on the wrong (left) side of the road, which usually is a challenge.

St. Lucia has a very pleasant climate year round, but the high season begins in late December and runs through mid April. Remember, some terrific deals are available in the summer (hurricane) months—just remember to purchase insurance.

What to Do

St. Lucia does not disappoint with excursions on ATVs, zip-lining through the rainforest on a canopy tour, or hiking the Piton Mountains. Water-lovers can head offshore for snorkeling, scuba diving, wind surfing or kite boarding. If you are not familiar with a zip-line, just think of the old cartoon, George of the Jungle. You are fitted with a harness with a pulley and clipped on a cable, and careen across the rainforest from platform to platform hundreds of feet above the ground.

Snorkeling at the beach is great for beginners and younger kids, but to see some real sea life, I suggest heading off shore to one of the recommended dive spots where there are many more varieties of fish and maybe you will even see a leatherback or loggerhead turtle or a whale in the distance. Since I am not an expert diver, and my youngest is still not very confident in her skills, one of our favorites is the Anse Chastanet Reef. You can swim out from the beach to a clear depth of 25 feet and explore the reef which eventually drops off to a depth of 140 feet. It offers some of the best diving in St. Lucia.

What to See

While there is much to see on St. Lucia, and the entire island is beautiful, there are four “must-sees” that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Marigot Bay. This is a serene, sequestered, natural harbor that once provided a hideout for pirate ships. It was also the setting for the original Doctor Doolittle film—the 1967 musical starring Rex Harrison as a vet who can talk with the animals. In my book, it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Marigot is a small, sheltered, crystal clear bay surrounded by palm trees and quaint little restaurants and bars. It’s often dotted with anchored sailboats and the occasional powerboat. Guests at the Discovery at Marigot Bay can ride the Sunshine Express—considered to be the first solar-powered ferry in the Caribbean.
  • Pigeon Island. This is a small outcrop connected to St. Lucia by a causeway. Home of Fort Rodney, the Pigeon Island Museum and Interpretive Centre is housed in the former British officers' mess building, which has been meticulously restored to its 1808 condition. My kids love “becoming” a pirate at the strategic perch above the Caribbean. You get a real taste of the area as it was in the 1800s.
  • Mt. Soufriere. This active volcano—don’t worry it spews gasses and not ash and lava—is marketed as "the world's only drive-in volcano." You actually drive your car right up to the ancient crater and can walk among the teeming sulphur pools. Once you are over the “unique” smell, it is quite a site to see.
  • After Dark. St. Lucia is not known for its nightlife, but depending on the time of year, venture out at night and count nesting leatherback turtles (November to March); kick up your feet to some soca (a combination of soul and calypso) music during the weekly Gros Islet's Jump-Up party (every Friday night at 9 p.m.) and mingle with the locals and sailors at The Lime in Rodney Bay—a great laid back place to get some good local food and waste some time.

Where to Stay

There is no shortage of hotels on St. Lucia. Sandals Resorts has three properties: Regency, Halcyon Beach, and Grande St. Lucian. There are plenty of smaller intimate hotels and villas from which to choose. Depending on your vacation goal (and to an extent your wallet), they all offer something different—from non-stop action to a secluded romantic room where you could go a week without seeing another human being. It is so difficult to choose, I offer my top three—and one on my wish list.

Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa. This is my favorite family resort on the island. A family of hour can stay for about $3,700 a week (rates begin at $430 per room per night and $55 or $75 per night for kids). It is all-inclusive—meals, drinks, activities, entertainment, water sports, etc. Its kid’s club is wonderful, with segregated age-appropriate activities for toddlers to teens. With my kids, it is difficult to pull them away for dinners. Thankfully the club is not open 24/7. The resort is also divided into a family side and an adults-only side. So sneaking away for some grown-up time is very easy and stress-free knowing the kids are being taken care of on the other side. The resort’s full-service Kai Mer Spa is wonderful, and you can’t beat luxuriating in a hot-stone treatment while looking at the aqua-colored ocean a few feet away. It doesn’t get any better than that. This resort is located on the southern tip of the island and has 254 guest rooms, three pools and the island’s largest water park. It offers pretty much everything for singles, couples, families and kids.

Anse Chastanet. While probably not the best choice for the toddler crowd, Anse Chastanet is perfect for couples and families with older children. There aren’t a huge number of amenities, but if you are looking for water sports, relaxation and some of the most spectacular views in the world, check in. Anse Chasanet has been named one of the Top 25 resorts in the Caribbean by Conde Nast Traveler. While not cheap, I have to say the experience is well worth it. Rates for a week for two begin around $6,000, all-inclusive.

Ladera. For the true romantic, how does a private room with a personal plunge pool and a view of the glorious Pitons sound? These rooms feature an “open wall” that literally brings nature to your bedside. Need to make a call home? Forget it. A two-way radio to the front desk is your communication for the week. Dine in your room or in its wonderful restaurant. Rates for a week for two begin at $4,300, all-inclusive. This is an adults-only resort. 

Cotton Bay Village. This property is on my wish list for our next trip. The resort opened its doors on Jan. 29, 2007, and its sole goal is to reinvent the family holiday. All ages are welcome in the very upscale, affluent seaside village setting where guests are encouraged to break apart from the typical resort routine and design their own vacation. The accommodations range from suites to town homes to villas. A family of four could rest their sand-covered feet in a Calabash Suite, which costs from $4,900 a week. This resort is not all inclusive, so pack some extra change for the meals.

Where to Eat

Dining options are not in short supply on St. Lucia. From casual pizzerias to gourmet mountainside tables—you can find it here. We prefer more casual fare—probably because my kids refuse to get “dressed up” on vacation. I am told it defeats the purpose. But as you explore St. Lucia, take some time and give these three restaurants a try.

The Lime. The local expression for “hanging out” is “liming,” which is where this restaurant gets its name. Located in Rodney Bay, it is a casual hangout for locals and sailors. Inexpensive, a lot of fun and some great Creole cuisine. I am not a seafood person, so I tend to recommend the jerk chicken or their steaks which are very simply prepared, yet incredibly tasty. (Tel. 758-452-0761).

The Coal Pot. Its specialty is French cuisine with a big splash of Caribbean flavor. Most dishes are made with fresh grown or picked local ingredients including mangoes and avocados. However, the “to die for” dish is the crème brulee with bananas marinated in rum—both the bananas and rum are local. It features an open dining room with fantastic breezes. Located five minutes from downtown Castries. (Tel. 758-452-5566).

The Rainforest Hideaway. Located in Marigot Bay, the Rainforest Hideaway offers some very funky Western/Eastern fusion dishes to go along with some funky jazz. Yes, a very cool jazz club in St. Lucia! (Tel. 758-286-0511).

[A previous version of this article was originally published in March, during our Alpha phase. It has since been updated.]



Destinations: Saint Lucia

Themes: Beach Vacations, Family Travel


User Comments

Nightlife St. Lucia definitely "rolls up the sidewalks early"; however, we befriended a couple of locals who shared some good nightlife spots with us, and a good tip - "The IN spot" changes weekly, so ask around.

Restaurants on St. Lucia Visited St. Lucia from March 8 - 15, 2008. Rainforest Hideaway was not good. Coal Pot was delightful but very expensive. Better tasting food & better pricing were found at Buzz! a fabulous restaurant with authentic Creole cuisine.

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