Often touted as one of the most magnificent and lovely of the Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is rich in natural splendor. Cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests alive with hovering hummingbirds, spectacular beaches fringed by coconut palms and the twin volcanic spires of the World Heritage Pitons which are this exotic island ́s most iconic landmark; all of this and more are waiting to be explored on this green jewel of an island.
Laid over this natural loveliness is an inspiring heritage drawn from many places which together form a marvelous melting pot of colonial, African and Asian elements. Over the centuries the organic fusion of these has created a distinctive Creole culture which is evident in the language, the cuisine and the music. The heritage is also evident in a quantity of historic buildings and places -former plantations, old and charming French cottages and forts from long ago. These are just some of the leftovers to which can be added a fantastically extensive list of things you can do.
Just about everything you could imagine is possible on this island while there is plenty in the way-out-of-the-ordinary category too. Take a jeep safari into the rainforest or soar above it on ziplines and gondolas. Or perhaps you would prefer to explore St. Lucia ́s exotic delights by horseback, sailboat, mountain biking or hiking. Alternatively you can try your hand at chocolate making, making cassava bread or learning folk dances. Water babies can swim, snorkel, dive or try snuba –a cross between diving and snorkeling which allows you to explore the underwater world even if you are a total novice.
All these elements together make St. Lucia a glorious destination for everyone from devout foodies to thrill seekers and nature lovers to history buffs.
A Morning on St. Lucia
The first half of your St. Lucian day offers you a wonderful blend of enjoying some of the capital ́s highlights followed by a cultural immersion experience at the excellent Latisab Creole Park.
First officially founded in the 1600s by the French, Castries, in appearance, is one of the most modern settlements in the Caribbean area; two devastating fires in the 1900s being the principle reason for this. However, there is still plenty of interest for those interested in culture and history and the city is peppered about with evidence of its British and French colonial heritage. More modern additions such as the beautiful cathedral, art galleries and exceptional shopping add extra elements too and make exploring Castries a great way to begin your St. Lucia adventure.
Castries is something of a shopper’s magnet so bargain, souvenir and gift hunters will have plenty to keep them occupied. One of the city’s most attractive draws for retail-lovers is the duty-freeaspect with La Place Carenage perhaps the best known in this category, offering an air-conditioned mall spread over three floors for clothing, crafts, electronics and more.
For those who want a rather more authentic St. Lucia experience the buzzing part open-air/part covered Castries Central Market close to La Place Carenage is a must-do. Established now for over a century and set behind a facade dating from the 1800s, locals arrive here from every corner of the island with their produce which has been freshly harvested from their plots of land, taken straight from their trees and bushes or crafted in their homes. Wandering among the makeshift canopies of Caribbean color is something of a wonderful multi-sensory experience as the air is filled with the sounds of Creole-and English-speaking vendors and market-goers and the rich aroma of exotic fruits,vegetables and spices.
Besides the vast quantity of fresh produce there is also a wonderful range of handicrafts ranging from batik sarongs to baskets woven by hand and carvings to colorful artwork. If you happen to get a little peckish as you browse you can stop off at one of the many food stalls wafting some truly tempting smells to sample some traditional St. Lucian specialties.
If handcrafts and art interest you Castries has other options to check out as well. One of these is the lovely Caribelle Batik located on the historic Howelton Estate, a short taxi ride from downtown. Besides the fantastic views from this elevated perch, here you can watch artisans at work creating exquisite batiks, each one a beautiful one-of-a-kind artwork.
The city has several art galleries but arguably the most fascinating to visit is Eudovic’s Art Studio in Morne. The exceptional pieces on sale here, crafted from tree stumps and roots, are the work of the island’s most accomplished wood sculptor, Vincent Joseph Eudovic, along with those of his son who now continues the craft as his father takes more of a back-seat. Even if you have no intention of buying anything from either the gallery or gift shop which holds simpler pieces watching the carvers in action at the workshop is engrossing.
Derek Walcott Square and the Cathedral
Just 300m from the market will bring you to the lovely greenery-filled Derek Walcott Square. Named for one of the island’s most-beloved sons –the playwright, poet and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott –this shady space with its ancient monkey pod tree and coconut palms surrounds you with some of the city’s most historic buildings. One of these is the especially beautiful maroon and white Castries Public library which sits on the western edge while a number of pretty wooden houses painted in pastel shades let you get a look at some traditional French colonial architecture. On the square’s eastern side is the Catholic cathedral known as the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception whose fairly unexceptional exterior belies the beauty which can be found within. Constructed in the late 1800s, this cavernous building is the Caribbean’s largest church. However, it is really the collection of highly colorful ceiling and wall murals with trompe l’oeil elements created by a 20th century St. Lucian artist which draw visitors along with some unusual stained-glass windows.
The Vigie Lighthouse
If you have time before you break for coffee you might like to add the Vigie Lighthouse to your Castries highlights tour. Within walkable distance if you have time, this building from the early 1900s isn’t especially remarkable in itself but if you climb to the top there are some beautiful views of Castries and the Caribbean from this harbor-located point.
Morning Coffee in St. Lucia
While Castries obviously has its own selection of cafes if you are looking for somewhere a little special and scenic for a morning pause you may prefer to hop in a taxi for a few minutes to hunt down one of the island’s more notable gems.
The small town of Rodney Bay is ten kilometers to the northand has a lovely selection of waterside venues and atmospheric cafes for you to choose from. For a spot overlooking the harbor and marina head to Cafe Ole where, from the picturesque wooden deck beneath its shady roof, you can take advantage of both views and a sea breeze. Besides its memorable setting Cafe Ole also has something of a reputation for serving some of the best coffee on St. Lucia which you can pair with one of their delicious pastry selections
For an option rather more of the hidden gem kind there is Island Mix. Infused with tranquility, this exceptional place is also set waterside with lovely marina and bay vistas to be had as you sip your coffee but it is so much more than just a cafe with a view. It is the atmosphere which is the real charm as Island Mix is a hub for the island’s artistic community who congregate here to relax, practice their crafts and sell their beautiful handmade goods. Surrounded by locally-made gifts and unusual artwork it is highly likely you will leave this little haven with more than just a memory of a special Caribbean coffee break.
The Latisab Creole Park
For many people discovering something of other cultures and heritage is one of the most fascinating aspects of travel and the Latisab Creole Park at Babonneau offers a rich experience in this aspect. Located a short 20 minute drive from Castries, the park is both celebration and showcase of the oldest Creole traditions -a culture which blends elements of French colonialism with aspects of African heritage passed down over the generations from the island ́s former slaves.
Your cultural experience at the park is designed to be an immersive one so you will be able to join in with or try your hand at a variety of things including traditional food gathering practices, cooking methods and dancing as well as sampling various bounties of nature for yourself. Some of the methods you will see date from many centuries ago but are still practiced today such as using the roots of yucca plants to make cassava bread, cooking on native macambou leaves, collecting honey and catching crayfish straight from the river.
For many visitors one of the most fascinating demonstrations is that of wood sawing which involves the use of a traditional 2-handed tool. The sawyer is perched atop a giant log as chak-chak musicians keep the beat with seed-filled rattles and fill the air with the sounds of St. Lucia. Also popular is the opportunity to join in with Creole folk dances, little changed in centuries. Besides the heritage and history aspect the park has a beautiful setting, nestled within the island ́s interior. You are free to wander the many trails here which are set amid both natural tropical vegetation along with areas of cultivated gardens growing herbs, spices, flowers and vegetables.
Lunch on St. Lucia
Eating on St. Lucia is something of a treat for foodies of all kinds thanks to its incredible diversity. With a history that encompasses many years of French colonialism elements of European cuisine are everywhere while the island ́s slave history is responsible for the Creole aspect with its strong African influences. To that you can add the culinary traditions of the East Indians who arrived to populate the sugar factory work forces.
If you have your heart set on lunching on some authentic traditional cuisine there is perhaps no better (and certainly no more economical) place to head than the Castries market. Open six days a week this sprawling and bustling place is maybe not one for fans of fine dining but the food stalls here serve up a mouth-watering array of traditional island specialties packed with flavor. Feast on such local dishes as the plantain salad topped with fish flakes known as green fig and salt fish, callaloo soup which can be made with seafood or meat or St. Lucian pepper-pot which is a type of stew.
For those who prefer a tranquil lunch right at the water ́s edge head to the lovely Coal Pot located five minutes north of central Castries on the Vigie Marina inlet.
The menu here, created by the French chef, is a high-quality French-Creole fusion and mainly seafood-focused with some meat inclusions while daily specials are dependent on the seafood catch of the day. What all the dishes have in common though is their exciting and incredible richness of flavors and all are put together using the freshest ingredients.
Your dining room is a small open-air patio blissfully cooled by trade wind breezes and your view as you lunch that of boats coming and going.
An Afternoon on St. Lucia
For most the Caribbean is a wonderland of idyllic beaches and St. Lucia certainly has plenty in that category. However, away from its turquoise waters and sparkling sand stretches the island has a rich offering of other tropical delights too and these will be the focus of your afternoon.
Aerial Tram, Zipline or Hiking –Rainforest Experiences
Nestled within St. Lucia ́s interior are a collection of pristine rainforest areas where waterfalls plunge into pools surrounded by lush greenery and colorful birds fly beneath the canopy.
The closest of these areas to Castries is the Castries Waterworks Rainforest Reserve but the island is dotted about with other options too which include the Edmund Forest Reserve and the Quilesse Forest Reserve. Besides a choice of destinations you also have an incredible variety of ways to enjoy these flora-and fauna-filled untouched natural environments too.
From short easy strolls to challenging day-long hikes such as those which ascend the iconic World Heritage-listed twin volcanic spires known as the Pitons -St. Lucia has something to suit hikers of every kind.
The rainforest areas are liberally criss-crossed with trails which plunge you instantly into a tropical world of exotic plants and wildlife.
Officially you are required to have a guide to walk the reserve trails and although not everyone follows this rule it makes sense to do so. Guides are mines of local knowledge and will help you understand the natural environment and its eco-systems while also giving you the best chances of spotting the many species which call these rainforests home.
Birds are the most frequently seen wildlife with many hikes specifically heading out to reward you with sightings of the endangered jacquot –a type of splendidly plumaged parrot which is the national bird of St. Lucia.
If the idea of cooling down in a rainforest pool after the exertions of a jungle hike appeals or you ́d like your walking efforts to include a visit to one of the island ́s lovely waterfalls such as Sault Falls there are several options. One of these is with the Treetop Adventure Park near Dennery which has an exciting menu of activity choices besides just hikes.
If you ́d like to add extra thrills to your rainforest experience one great way to do this is by ziplining above the canopy. While undoubtedly an activity for those seeking to inject a little adventure into their day the island ́s choice of ziplines are also a wonderful way to experience the rainforest sights and the spectacular surrounding scenery in an entirely different way.
St. Lucia ́s longest, fastest and highest option is found at the Treetop Adventure Park where you can traverse the forest on thrilling rides which at times lift you 130ft above the ground as brightly colored birds and butterflies flit around you. In between the cables are a series of platforms which allow you to get your breath back and take in large doses of your beautiful surrounds. The two net bridges on the zipline course add an extra element of fun too.
Another way to get a bird ́s eye rainforest view but in a rather more tranquil way is on the aerial tram at Rainforest Adventures in the Castries Waterworks Forest Reserve. Open gondolas here glide you silently above the canopy so you can gaze straight out and upon Mother Nature in all her glory.
Yoursights will include towering trees, growths of giant ferns, vast webs of strangler figs enveloping their host trees and the vibrant colors of exotic flowers. Each car comes with a nature guide so you will get to learn plenty about what you are seeing and the sounds you are hearing as hummingbirds flit around.
From such a height there are also magnificent views beyond just the rainforest. At the highest points you will have the magical chance to take in both Caribbean and Atlantic coasts of St Lucia at the same time while on a clear day you can even make out the island of Martinique over 80km away.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner on St. Lucia
The mix of magical Caribbean sunsets along with bars and restaurants which overlook sea, mountains and rainforest or dish up anatmosphere of Creole color and beats at every turn ensure drinking and dining on the island veers well into the realms of the extra special. Into this you can add an incredible culinary diversity especially full of freshly-caught seafood choices with something for every budget and every taste.
Cocktails and Caribbean sunsets go together like riches and royalty and on St. Lucia you will have no difficulty tracking down venues ready to mix you up your favorite classic or excite your tastebuds with some entirely new possibilities. However, it isn ́t all about the cocktails and if your preferred pre-dinner tipple is wine, spirits and beers they are all here too.
To make sure you add the pinks, tangerines and crimsons of the sunset to your sundowner experience anywhere located along the island ́s west coast will give you the best possible views. Castries itself has a few options and there is a string of beaches heading south which typically come with their own collection of beach bars. In the opposite direction from the capital is Rodney Bay and as this is generally considered the nightlife hub of the island you will have no shortage of drinking venues to choose from.
One of these is Matthews which perches atop a roof in Baywalk Mall to enjoy panoramic views of the bay and sea. Favored by locals, this bar and restaurant ́s has something of a reputation for great cocktails and exceptionally welcoming staff and should you decide to transition from drinks to dinner the food also tends to receive ravereviews.
For a pre-dinner drinks experience a little different from the more typically found rum cocktails offerings head to the Antillia Brewing Company just a short hop from central Castries on Point Seraphine. Begun in 2015 by a group of Canadian friends, this microbrewery with its artisanal craft beers is one for the ale connoisseur. It is also a tranquil spot for those who like lovely views and sea breezes as the charming beer garden here is sited right next to the waters of the bay.
St. Lucia, as already mentioned many times, is a true cultural melting pot and nowhere, perhaps, is this more evident than in its variety of food. Creole cooking -one of the world ́s original fusion cuisines -combines elements of African dishes with Caribbean flavors while the French influence is evident everywhere. A little more surprising to visitors, however, is the abundant presence of Asian cuisine but the reason behind this is also part of St. Lucia ́s colonial history.
As far back as the 1800s the British –in possession of the island at the time -were shipping in thousands of workers from their colony in India to provide labor on their sugar cane plantations. The descendants of these workers and other Asian immigrants to this day carry on the culinary traditions of their forefathers and the island ́s many Indian and Asian restaurants are responsible for serving some of the best food to be found on St. Lucia.
One such of this kind of restaurant can be found in the lovely Marigot Bay, a ten minute drive from the capital city of Castries. Although not quite as densely packed with bars and restaurants as Rodney Bay Marigot Bay has a good selection of options and several fine dining choices such as the Anse Chastenet Resort with its choice of elegant restaurants ranging from absolute beachfront decks to tree-houses offering views of the Pitons.
Consistently ranked as number one of all its restaurant choices is Masala Bay-an Indian cuisine choice located in the Marina Village. The interior here is simple but inviting while its open-sided deck is especially lovely with its views of the water and the lush greenery covered hills which rise above the marina. The Indian dishes are authentically crafted by the chef owner who runs other award-winning culinary enterprises elsewhere on St. Lucia. Also on the menu are Hakka dishes which, although originating in China, are often found in an adapted form in India ́s northern areas and offer some incredible fusion flavors.
Another Marigot Bay choice, this time for seafood fans, is the Chateau Mygo House of Seafood. Many consider Marigot Bay the prettiest on St. Lucia and once you head down a garden path and enter this restaurant you will be able to take full advantage of that loveliness. From the large covered but open-sided deck you have vistas of both outer and inner harbor as well as the Le Bas Sandspit which was the filming location of the 1960s Dr. Dolittle movie with Rex Harrison.
Even if you arrive after dark the waterside setting is somewhat magical with lights reflecting off the waters and the food alone is reason enough to dine here. The menu features an extensive offering of French Creole and East Indian fusion for some flavors you almost certainly won ́t have experienced before. As the restaurant ́s title suggests the focus here is seafood with shrimp, conch, lobster, octopus, tuna and more incorporated into some truly creative dishes. Steaks, pizza, chicken, rotis, sushi and tacos are also all here so if you can ́t find something to suit it is unlikely you will anywhere on the island.
As the setting for some of St. Lucia ́s leading resorts Marigot Bay can sometimes be a little more expensive than other island areas but casual-atmosphere Chateau Mygo keeps its prices at some of the lowest around and proves delicious dining doesn ́t mean having to stretch the budget.
An Evening on St. Lucia
After-dinner cocktails at a beach bar where you can literally feel the sand between your toes is understandably for many an ideal way to spend an evening on St. Lucia. Music tends to be part of most after-dark activities too and if you really want to immerse yourself in the Caribbean party vibe time your visit to arrive with a ́jump-up ́. The most famous of these is the Gros Islet version which has been taking place every Friday night for half a century.
As the sun sinks the speakers are set up along the fishing town ́s main drag where they will pump out their Caribbean music into the early hours. The side streets are filled with locals barbecuing meat, chicken and seafood fresh from the sea on table tops and serving up the results along with beers and rum punches to St. Lucians and visitors alike. If joining in with the dancing isn ́t your thing you can simply browse the arts and crafts stalls to do some last minute souvenir shopping.
If you can ́t be in town on the evening of a jump up another way to enjoy a Caribbean night with the locals is to join a rum bar hop. Typically organized as night tours these fun excursions take you around a selection of kabaways or rum shops where sudden break outs of dancing are often all part of the evening.
If you prefer just to stroll around Castries or other easily accessible areas from here such as Rodney Bay it is not unusual to come across street musicians offering their various takes on St. Lucian music ranging from jazz to steel band performances.
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