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St. Lucia Attractions
St. Lucia Attractions
With lovely little towns, beautiful beaches and bays, mineral baths, and banana plantations, you won't tire of exploring St. Lucia. You can even visit a volcano.
Most hotel front desks will make arrangements for tours that take in all the major sights of St. Lucia. For example, Sunlink Tours, Reduit Beach Avenue (tel. 758/456-9100 or 758/452-8232), offers many island tours, including full-day boat trips along the west coast of Soufrière, the Pitons, and the volcano. Jeep safaris can be arranged. One of the most popular jaunts is a rainforest ramble by jeep. There's also a daily shopping tour. The company has tour desks and/or representatives at most of the major hotels.
Castries' public market is one of the most fascinating in the West Indies, and our favorite people-watching site on the island. It goes full blast every day of the week except Sunday, and is most active on Friday and Saturday mornings. The market stalls are a block from Columbus Square along Peynier Street, running down toward the water. The local women dress traditionally, with cotton headdresses; the number of knotted points on top reveals their marital status (ask one of the locals to explain it to you). The luscious fruits and vegetables of St. Lucia may be new to you; the array of color alone is astonishing. You can also pick up St. Lucian handicrafts such as baskets and unglazed pottery here.
To the south of Castries looms Morne Fortune, the inappropriately named "Hill of Good Luck." In the 18th century, some of the most savage battles between the French and the British took place here. You can visit the military cemetery, a small museum, the old powder magazine, and the "Four Apostles Battery" (a quartet of grim muzzle-loading cannons). Government House, now the official residence of the governor-general of St. Lucia, is one of the few examples of Victorian architecture that escaped destruction by fire. The private gardens are beautifully planted, aflame with scarlet and purple bougainvillea. Morne Fortune also offers what many consider the most scenic lookout perch in the Caribbean.
Pigeon Island National Historic Park - St. Lucia's first national park is joined to the mainland by a causeway. On its west coast are two white-sand beaches. Pigeon Island offers an Interpretation Centre, equipped with artifacts and a multimedia display on local history, ranging from the Amerindian occupation of A.D. 1000 to the Battle of the Saints, when Admiral Rodney's fleet set out from Pigeon Island and defeated Admiral De Grasse in 1782.
Near Soufrière lies the famous "drive-in" volcano, Mount Soufrière, a rocky lunar landscape of bubbling mud and craters seething with sulfur. You literally drive your car into a millions-of-years-old crater and walk between the sulfur springs and pools of hissing steam. Hours are daily from 9am to 5pm; for more information, call tel. 758/459-7200.
Nearby are the Diamond Mineral Baths (tel. 758/452-4759) in the Diamond Botanical Gardens. Deep in the lush tropical gardens is the Diamond Waterfall, one of the geological attractions of the island. Created from water bubbling up from sulfur springs, the waterfall changes colors (from yellow to black to green to gray) several times a day. The baths were constructed in 1784 on the orders of Louis XVI, whose doctors told him these waters were similar in mineral content to the waters at Aix-les-Bains; they were intended to provide recuperative effects for French soldiers fighting in the West Indies. The baths have an average temperature of 106°F (41°C).
Discovering "Forgotten" Grande Anse - The northeast coast is the least visited and least accessible part of St. Lucia, but it contains dramatic rockbound shores interspersed with secret sandy coves. The government has set Grand Anse aside as a nature reserve so that it will never be developed. The terrain is arid and can be unwelcoming, but it is fascinating nonetheless. Grande Anse is home to some rare bird species, notably the white-breasted thrasher, as well as the fer-de-lance, the only poisonous snake on the island (but visitors report rarely seeing them). Its beaches -- Grande Anse, Petite Anse, and Anse Louvet -- are nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles, including the hawksbill, the green turtle, the leatherback, and the loggerhead. Nesting season lasts from February to October. Many locals tackle the poor road in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, especially the bumpiest part from Desbarra to Grande Anse.
The fertile volcanic soil of St. Lucia sustains a rich diversity of bird and animal life. Some of the richest troves for ornithologists are in protected precincts off the St. Lucian coast, in either of two national parks, Fregate Islands Nature Reserve and the Maria Islands Nature Reserve.
The Fregate Islands are a cluster of rocks a short distance offshore from Praslin Bay, midway up St. Lucia's eastern coastline. Barren except for tall grasses that seem to thrive in the salt spray, the islands were named after the scissor-tailed frigate birds (Fregata magnificens) that breed here. Between May and July, large colonies of the graceful birds fly in well-choreographed formations over islands that you can only visit under the closely supervised permission of government authorities. Many visitors believe that the best way to admire the Fregate Islands (and to respect their fragile ecosystems) is to walk along the nature trail that the St. Lucian government has hacked along the cliff top of the St. Lucian mainland, about 45m (148 ft.) inland from the shoreline. Even without binoculars, you'll be able to see the frigates wheeling overhead. You'll also enjoy eagle's-eye views of the unusual geology of the St. Lucian coast, which includes sea caves, dry ravines, a waterfall (during the rainy season), and a strip of mangrove swamp.
Maria Islands are larger and more arid and are almost constantly exposed to salt-laden winds blowing up from the equator. Set to the east of St. Lucia's southernmost tip, off the town of Vieux Fort, their biodiversity is strictly protected. The approximately 12 hectares (30 acres) of cactus-dotted land that make up the two largest islands (Maria Major and Maria Minor) are home to more than 120 species of plants, lizards, butterflies, and snakes that are believed to be extinct in other parts of the world. These include the large ground lizard (Zandolite) and the nocturnal, nonvenomous kouwes snake (Dromicus ornatus). The Marias are also a bird refuge, populated by such species as the sooty tern, the bridled tern, the Caribbean martin, the red-billed tropicbird, and the brown noddy, which usually nests under the protective thorns of prickly pear cactus.
Tours to either island must be arranged through the staff of the St. Lucia National Trust (tel. 758/454-5014).
Since most of the island hotels are built right on the beach, you won't have to go far to swim. All beaches are open to the public, even those along hotel properties. However, if you use any of the hotel's beach equipment, you must pay for it.
One of the best beaches is Pigeon Point Beach off the north shore, part of the Pigeon Island National Historic Park . The small beach here has white sand and is an ideal place for a picnic. Pigeon Island is joined to the mainland of St. Lucia by a causeway, so it's easy to reach.
The most frequented beach is Reduit Beach at Rodney Bay, 2km (1 1/4 miles) of soft beige sand fronting very clear waters. Many watersports kiosks can be found along the strip bordering Royal St. Lucian Hotel. With all its restaurants and bars, you'll find plenty of refueling stops.
Choc Bay is a long stretch of sand and palm trees on the northwestern coast, convenient to Castries and the big resorts. Its tranquil waters lure swimmers and especially families (including locals) with small children.
The 3km (2-mile) white-sand Malabar Beach runs parallel to the George F. L. Charles Airport runway, in Castries, to the Rendezvous resort. Vigie Beach, north of Castries Harbour, is also popular. It has fine beige sands, sloping gently into crystalline water. La Toc Beach, just south of Castries, opens onto a crescent-shaped bay containing golden sand.
Marigot Bay is the quintessential Caribbean cove, framed on three sides by steep emerald hills and skirted by palm trees. There are some small but secluded beaches here. Some of the Caribbean's most expensive yachts anchor in this bay.
One of the most charming and hidden beaches of St. Lucia is the idyllic cove of Anse Chastanet, north of Soufrière. This is a beach connoisseur's delight. Towering palms provide shade from the fierce noonday sun, and lush hills are a refreshing contrast to the dark sandy strip.
The dramatic crescent-shaped bay of Anse des Pitons is at the foot of and between the twin peaks of the Pitons, south of Soufrière. The Jalousie Hilton transformed the natural black-sand beach by covering it with white sand; you walk through the resort to get to it. It's popular with divers and snorkelers. While here, you can ask about a very special beach reached only by boat, the black volcanic sands and tranquil waters of Anse Couchon. With its shallow reefs, excellent snorkeling, and picture-postcard charm, this beach has become a hideaway for lovers. It's south of Anse-le-Raye.
You'll find miles of white sand at the beach at Vieux Fort, at the southern end of the island. Reefs protect the crystal-clear waters here, rendering them tranquil and ideal for swimming. At the southern end of the windward side of the island is Anse des Sables, which opens onto a shallow bay swept by trade winds that are great for windsurfing.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.
St. Lucia Activities
Soft Adventures in the Wild
LeSPORT at Cariblue Beach (tel. 800/544-2883) has introduced several "soft adventures." Two river walks, with wading, go deep into the rainforest. One is along the River Doree in the southern part of St. Lucia and the other is along Anse la Raye River, which is mid-island. Mountain climbing takes you to Gros Piton, one of the island's two dramatic sugarloaf peaks, where overnights are often arranged so you can wake up to a spectacular sunrise from a lofty vantage point.
These excursions often pass waterfalls, allowing hikers to swim in the pools below. Many tropical birds can be observed, including the St. Lucia parrot, which once was nearly extinct. During turtle-watching season (Mar-July), LeSPORT guests can camp overnight at Grand Anse beach in order to watch the huge leatherback turtles lay eggs. Escorts from the hotel set up Arabian-like tents and serve a barbecue dinner.
Most of the shopping is in Castries, where the principal streets are William Peter Boulevard and Bridge Street. Many stores will sell you goods at duty-free prices (providing you don't take the merchandise with you but have it delivered to the airport or cruise dock).
Built for the cruise-ship passenger, Pointe Seraphine, in Castries, has the best collection of shops on the island, along with offices for car rentals, organized taxi service (for sightseeing), a bureau de change, a philatelic bureau, an information center, and international phones. Cruise ships berth right at the shopping center. Under red roofs in a Spanish-style setting, the complex requires that you present a cruise pass or an airline ticket to the shopkeeper when purchasing goods. Visitors can take away their purchases, except liquor and tobacco, which will be delivered to the airport.
St. Lucia has an 18-hole golf course (6,815 yards, par 71) at the St. Lucia's Golf and Country Club, at the northern end of the island (tel. 758/450-9905). Reservations are needed.
A tropical rainforest covers a large area in the southern half of St. Lucia, and the St. Lucia Forest and Lands Department manages it wisely. This forest reserve divides the western and eastern halves of the island. There are several trails, the most popular of which is the Barre de l'Isle Trail, located almost in the center of St. Lucia, southeast of Marigot Bay; it's a fairly easy trail that even children can handle. There are four panoramic lookout points with dramatic views of the sea where the Atlantic and the Caribbean meet. It takes about an hour to walk this 2km-long (1.2-mile) trail, which lies about a 30-minute ride from Castries. Guided hikes can usually be arranged through the major hotels or through the Forest and Lands Department (tel. 758/450-2231 or 758/450-2375, ext. 316 or 317).
North of Castries, you'll find the island's oldest riding establishment - Trim's National Riding Stable, Cas-en-Bas, Gros Islet ([tel 758/450-8273), St. Lucia's. Its activities range from trail rides to beach tours, and the stable even offers horse-drawn carriage tours of Pigeon Island.
The best place for tennis on the island is the St. Lucia Racquet Club, adjacent to Club St. Lucia (tel. 758/450-0551). It's one of the finest tennis facilities in the Lesser Antilles. Its seven illuminated courts are maintained in state-of-the-art condition, and there's also a good pro shop on-site. You must reserve 24 hours in advance.
The Jalousie Hilton, at Soufrière (tel. 758/456-8000), has a good program. Vernon Lewis, the top-ranked player in St. Lucia, is the pro. You'll find four brand-new Laykold tennis courts (three lit for night play). .
The waters around St. Lucia are known for their game fish, including blue marlin, sailfish, mako sharks, and barracuda, with tuna and kingfish among the edible catches.
The most dramatic trip offered is aboard the 42m (138-ft.) brig Unicorn (tel. 758/452-8644), used in the filming of the TV miniseries, Roots. Passengers sail from Rodney Bay in Castries to Soufrière and the twin peaks of the Pitons, among other natural attractions of the island.
The best all-around watersports center is St. Lucian Watersports, at the Rex St. Lucian Hotel (tel. 758/452-8351). Water-skiing costs US$17 for a 10- to 15-minute ride (three rounds). Windsurfers can be rented. Snorkeling is free for guests of the hotel.
Camping is now possible on St. Lucia courtesy of the Environmental Educational Centre, a division of the St. Lucia National Trust (tel. 758/452-5005). This reserve features 12 campsites along a beautiful stretch of beach on historic Anse Liberté, in the fishing town of Canaries, 40km (25 miles) southwest of Castries and 13km (8 miles) north of Soufrière. At present you must bring your own tent, paying US$15 per night to rent the site. There are nearby community bathrooms and community cooking areas. The reserve has 8km (5 miles) of hiking trails; staff members give tours of the area and explain the rich history of the Anse Liberté, which literally translated means "freedom harbor."
In Soufrière, Scuba St. Lucia, in the Anse Chastanet Hotel (tel. 758/459-7000), offers one of the world's top dive locations at a five-star PADI dive center. At the southern end of Anse Chastanet's .4km-long (1/4-mile) secluded beach, it features premier diving and comprehensive facilities for divers of all levels. Some of the most spectacular coral reefs of St. Lucia, many only 3 to 6m (10-20 ft.) below the surface, lie a short distance from the beach.
Many PADI instructors offer five dive programs a day. Photographic equipment is available for rent (film can be processed on the premises), and instruction is offered in picture taking. Experienced divers can rent any equipment they need. PADI certification courses are available. Hours are from 8am to 6pm daily.
Another full-service scuba center is available on St. Lucia's southwest coast at the Jalousie Hilton, at Soufrière (tel. 758/456-8000). The PADI center offers dives in St. Lucia's National Marine Park; there are numerous shallow reefs near the shore. The diver certification program is available to hotel guests and other visitors ages 12 and up.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.