Things to Do in St. Lucia
||Temperatures in St. Lucia may range between 83° and 88°. The rainy season is from June to November.
A spate of resort developments on St Lucia has made this high, green island one of the Caribbean's trendy package-tour destinations, but it's still a long way from being sanitised and overdeveloped. Bananas are still bigger business than tourism in this archetypal island paradise.
Much of the island is rural: small coastal fishing villages give way to a hinterland of banana and coconut plantations folded within deep valleys topped by rich, mountainous jungle. The rugged terrain continues beneath the sea in a diving heaven of underwater mountains, caves and drop-offs.
Its most dramatic scenery is in the south, where the twin volcanic peaks of the Pitons rise sharply from the shoreline to form distinctive landmarks. The coastline is pocketed with secluded coves and beaches made for one (or, naturally, at sunset, for two).
The western shores of St Lucia are a mighty fine place to be from February to April when the rain eases off a bit. At this time you can expect daily highs around the 29°C (84°F) mark with conditions getting a bit hotter but much wetter during the rest of the year.
From the costume parades of Carnival to the bright spinnakers of 150 yachts sailing into Rodney Bay at the end of the Atlantic Rally yacht race, festivals add a splash of colour to St Lucia's lush green background.
Carnival takes place on the two days before Ash Wednesday, usually some time in February or March. It's celebrated with calypso music, costumed parades and band competitions. The biggest musical event of the year is the four-day St Lucian Jazz Festival held in mid-May. It often features international stars such as Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan and Chuck Mangione. The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a giant transatlantic yacht race, ends at Rodney Bay Marina in December. About 150 boats manage to reach St Lucia from the starting line in the Canary Islands.
St Lucian public holidays are: New Year's Day and New Year's Holiday on the first two days in January; Independence Day on 22 February; Good Friday and Easter Monday in late March or early April; Whit Monday on the eighth Monday after Easter and Corpus Christi on the ninth Thursday after Easter; Emancipation Day on 3 August; Thanksgiving on 5 October; National Day on 13 December, and Christmas and Boxing Day on the 25th and 26th of December.
Castries, the island's commercial centre and capital, is a busy port city set on a large natural harbour. The liveliest part of the city is just southeast of the port, at Jeremie and Peynier Sts, where the Castries Market houses scores of produce and handicraft stalls. Founded by the French in the 18th century, the city was ravaged by fire three times between 1785 and 1812, and again in 1948. Consequently most of the city's historic buildings have been lost. One area that survived the last fire was Derek Walcott Square, a quiet central square surrounded by a handful of 19th-century wooden buildings with gingerbread-trim balconies, an attractive Victorian-style library and the imposing Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Opposite the cathedral, on the eastern side of the square, is a lofty saman tree that's estimated to be 400 years old.
Marigot Bay is a lovely sheltered bay that's backed by green hillsides and sports a little palm-fringed beach. The inner harbour is so long and deep that an entire British fleet is said to have once escaped French warships by ducking inside and covering their masts with coconut fronds. The bay was the setting for the 1967 musical Doctor Dolittle, starring Rex Harrison.
Marigot Bay is a popular anchorage for yachters and the site of a marina with a customs office, a small market, water, ice and fuel.
Pigeon Island National Park
Pigeon Island is more a historical monument than a nature reserve, with ruins dating from the mid-1700s, including a fortress, barracks and some rusting cannons. The grounds are well endowed with lofty trees, including a few big banyans, and there's fine views of the coast and nearby Martinique.
The island has a spicy history dating back to the 1550s when St Lucia's first French settler, Jambe de Bois ('Wooden Leg'), used it as a base for raiding passing Spanish ships. Two centuries later British admiral George Rodney fortified the island, using it to monitor the French fleet on Martinique. With the end of hostilities between the two European rivals, the fort slipped into disuse in the 19th century, although the USA established a small signal station there during WWII.
Rodney Bay is a large protected bay that encompasses the resort area of Reduit Beach and the small fishing village of Gros Islet. An artificial channel cuts between the two areas, opening to a large lagoon that's the site of Rodney Bay Marina, the island's largest yachting port. The marina is a good place to make contact with sailors if you're looking to hitch a ride or find a crew job.
Gros Islet consists of simple wooden houses with rusting tin roofs, lots of rum shops and a shore full of painted wooden boats. If you hear a conch shell being blown, it's the signal that fishing boats have arrived with catch to sell. Though the town doesn't have many sights per se, St Joseph's Church is a formidable structure at the northern edge of town, and there's a small market near the shore where you can often find fishers mending nets. Gros Islet is also famous for its spirited Friday night 'jump-up'.
The bayside town of Soufrière was founded by the French in 1746 and named after nearby sulphur springs. The coastal Pitons provide a scenic backdrop to the south and the island's highest peaks rise above the rainforest just a few miles inland. Like other fishing communities along the coast, Soufrière has lots of old weathered buildings: some still adorned with delicate trim, others more ramshackle. There's an interesting stone Catholic church in the town centre. On the northern side of the dock is the Soufrière Market, where you can buy baskets, straw hats and spices. Although most visitors to Soufrière daytrip on tours, the town's relaxed provincial character is really only appreciated by those who stay overnight. There are some interesting places to stay, ranging from moderate guesthouses to secluded top-end retreats.
Frigate Islands Nature Reserve
The Frigate Islands Nature Reserve, midway along the eastern coast, is a summer nesting site for frigatebirds, herons and a couple of St Lucia's rare indigenous birds (the Ramier pigeon and the St Lucian oriole). It's also home to boa constrictors and the more dangerous fer-de-lance pit viper. Tours can be arranged through local tour agencies or the National Trust.
Maria Islands Nature Reserve
These tiny islands are the only habitat of the kouwes snake, one of the world's rarest grass snakes, and the Maria Islands ground lizard. A sanctuary for seabirds, it's closed during the summer nesting season, but it can be visited at other times on tours arranged by the St Lucia National Trust.
Sulphur Springs is a barren terrain pocked with pools of boiling mud and steaming vents. The vents release great quantities of sulphuric gases, which are responsible for the yellow mineral deposits blanketing the area. The putrid smell, similar to rotten eggs, is hydrogen sulphide. Visitors used to walk up close to the vents and peer directly into the mud ponds until a local guide leading a group of German tourists stepped through the soft earth and plunged waist-deep into boiling mud. He lived to tell the tale, but everything is now viewed from the safety of overlooks. Despite the fact that this area is promoted as a 'drive-in volcano,' those expecting to peer down into a volcanic crater will be disappointed. The crater walls eroded away eons ago, and now the volcanic activity is along the side of a hill.
Vieux Fort, St Lucia's southernmost town, would be beyond the itinerary of most visitors if it wasn't the site of the island's international airport, which is just north of the town centre. The town has a mix of older wooden buildings and newer structures as well as the island's second-largest port. If you're overnighting here before a flight, check out the white-sand beaches at the east side of town.
There's a lighthouse atop a 730-foot hill on Moule à Chique, the island's southernmost point, which offers a view of the Maria Islands, St Lucia's interior mountains and, if the weather's clear, the island of St Vincent to the south.