Insight Guides: Pocket St Lucia - Insight Guides (2016)
A-Z TRAVEL TIPS
St Lucia has a reputation for expensive all-inclusive accommodation, but in fact there is a choice of places to stay, with something for every budget, from large all-inclusive resorts or luxury, boutique hotels to small, intimate inns and basic bed and breakfasts. Selfcatering apartments and luxury villas are also available to rent. Most of the resorts are in the north, the drier end of the island, which is where you also find the best restaurants and bars for convenient nightlife around Rodney Bay. Around Soufriere there are some very classy places to stay, where designers have made the most of the dramatic landscape to provide stunning views of the Pitons from the luxurious rooms.
Basic bed and breakfasts run by St Lucians who open up their homes to visitors are popular with budget-conscious travellers who don’t mind staying off the beaten track and don’t need the creature comforts offered by the upmarket resorts. Local people will also be able to point you in the direction of little-known sights and the best places to enjoy authentic Creole cuisine. If you are staying in a rural area or far from reliable public transport links you are best advised to rent a sturdy vehicle, or employ a guide, because taxi fares can mount up.
Long distance scheduled and charter flights, such as trans-Atlantic flights, fly in to Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) at Vieux Fort in the south, 67km (42 miles) from Castries. If you are staying at a hotel in the far north of the island be prepared for a scenic journey of up to 2 hours to get to your destination. Another, smaller airport, the George F.L. Charles Airport (SLU) is located at Vigie, on the outskirts of Castries, which receives inter-island flights. Airlines using the Vigie airport include LIAT, Air Caraïbes, Winair and American Eagle. Daily arrivals and departure information can be found on www.slaspa.com. There is a helicopter shuttle from Hewanorra to George F.L. Charles Airport (St Lucia Helicopters Ltd, tel: 453 6950; www.stluciahelicopters.com). It is not a cheap option but it does cut travelling time right down to 10 minutes for the trip between the two airports.
St Lucia is not easy for cyclists. The roads are steep, twisty, pot-holed and traffic moves fast, often on the wrong side of the road. Watch out for storm drains. Bikes and scooters can be rented from Pirate Rentals, Rodney Bay, tel: 758-724 5111. Off-road cycling for tourists is offered by Bike St Lucia, tel: 758-457 1400, www.bikestlucia.com, on trails at Anse Mamin Plantation, near Soufrière, and by Palm Services Rainforest Cycling Adventure, tel: 758-458 0908, www.adventuretoursstlucia.com, at Errard Plantation on the east coast.
BUDGETING FOR YOUR TRIP
Getting to St Lucia. The cheapest direct scheduled return fares from London in high season are around £600 with either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, although good value deals including accommodation as well as flights are available if you prefer a package holiday.
Accommodation. High season is 15 December-15 April, when prices are at their highest. Substantial discounts can be found at other times of the year, particularly during hurricane season. The cheapest accommodation is in self-catering apartments, which will cost US$30-50 a night depending on location and time of year. The most expensive rooms come with a spectacular view of the Pitons and cost over US$1,000 a night. There are plenty of options in between, but all come with tax of 20 percent.
Meals. If you are self-catering, a visit to the market will reveal a wealth of seasonal tropical fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the price you would pay at home. You can also eat economically at stalls in the Castries market to sample local dishes or at bars and family restaurants around the island. Prices in international-style restaurants in tourist areas or in hotels are much higher at around US$30-40 for a main course. Rum and rum-based cocktails are relatively cheap, but wine or imported spirits are expensive.
Local transport. Bus transport is cheap and easy to use. Short journeys cost as little as EC$1.50 (US$0.55), rising to a maximum of EC$8 (US$3) from one end of the island to the other. However, they do not always go where you want nor when, so taxi or car hire may be a better option, depending on what you want to do. A taxi from Castries to Gros Islet costs US$25 and from Hewanorra Airport to Rodney Bay US$75. A day’s tour of the island is about US$200-250, depending on how far you go and for how long. Fares are set by the Government but you should always verify it in advance and check in which currency it is quoted.
Incidentals. Excursions are likely to be your biggest expense. A 2-hour sunset cruise costs US$60 per person including drinks, while a day sail including lunch, land tours and snorkelling is US$110. Whale watching boat tours are US$50-60 for three hours. An activity such as scuba diving is US$70-90 for two tanks, depending on how much gear you need to hire and whether transfers are included. Popular land-based activities such as segway tours around Rodney Bay start from US$85, while zip-lining ranges from US$40-85, depending on which option you choose.
In St Lucia you drive on the left. Visiting drivers must be over 25 years old and under 65 and should possess an international driver’s licence (with an official stamp from the Immigration Department) or obtain a temporary driving permit, which is valid for three months, by presenting a current driving licence at the main police station (Bridge Street, Castries). The car rental company can also process a temporary permit, for which there is a charge of US$21 (EC$54). The wearing of seat belts is compulsory.
There is a choice of car rental companies with offices at the airports and in many resorts. Most will deliver the vehicle to your hotel and collect it at the end of the rental period. Daily rental rates are around US$50 for a car and US$75 for a SUV, but there is a 15% tax added to everything. It can be cheaper to rent in advance and in high season this is more reliable. The major international agents are: Avis, tel: 758-452 2700, www.avisstlucia.com; Budget, tel: 758-452 9887, http://budgetstlucia.com; Hertz, tel: 758-452 0679; www.hertzcaribbean.com.
St Lucia has a tropical, humid climate with warm sunshine most of the year, cooled by northeastern trade winds. During the tourist high season (December to April) temperatures can reach 28-31°C (82-88°F) accompanied by a light breeze and short showers. The hottest months are June to August, while December and January are the coolest, when night and early morning temperatures can drop to 21°C (69°F). It is several degrees cooler in the rainforest and mountain villages, and colder still on the mountain peaks.
The rainy season runs from June to the end of November and is characterised by sporadic heavy showers. The annual rainfall can be up to three times higher in the mountains in the south (3,450mm/136 inches) than on the coast in the north (1,500mm/59 inches).
The hurricane season is generally between June and November, coinciding with the rainy season. Storms are the most damaging weather phenomenon, but St Lucia’s marinas and sheltered harbours on the Leeward (Caribbean) coast are popular with the sailing fraternity. However, the hilly terrain means St Lucia is particularly susceptible to mudslides caused by torrential rain, which often lead to casualties and huge farming losses.
Stick to cool and comfortable attire in the heat. Wearing skimpy shorts, skirts or beachwear while sightseeing and shopping in town is considered inappropriate. Most restaurants prefer their guests to dress elegantly casual, however some of the more upmarket establishments may require men to wear a jacket and occasionally a tie.
In winter the evenings can be cool, as can the air-conditioning, so it’s best to carry a light cardigan or wrap; don’t forget to take a lightweight umbrella or raincoat to protect you from brief showers during the rainy season.
CRIME AND SAFETY
St Lucia is a relatively safe island but crime, especially petty theft, certainly exists. By all means relax while on holiday but don’t leave home without your common sense. Keep an eye on personal possessions and important documents when wandering in the markets and the busy resort areas; keep your money in a safe place, and leave your expensive jewellery at home or in the hotel safe. If you are renting a car keep valuables out of sight, preferably locked in the boot, and don’t offer lifts to strangers. Avoid the beaches and out-of-the-way sidestreets after dark.
It is likely that you will be approached by vendors offering anything from hair braiding to crafts and a variety of souvenirs on the beach and at tourist attractions. If you are interested in what’s on offer then haggle for an agreeable price, but if not don’t waste people’s time. A firm but polite “no thank you” is usually sufficient to deter any further advances.
Facilities for disabled visitors are few, although some of the newer and larger hotels and resorts will be better equipped. In Castries and elsewhere the curbs and pavements can be high and difficult for wheelchair users and the physically challenged to negotiate, but there are many accessible visitor attractions. Check in advance that your hotel has the facilities you require and that the places you want to visit can accommodate you.
Hiring a car gives you the greatest flexibility when driving around St Lucia, but it is more relaxing to hire a driver/guide for an island tour. You can negotiate an itinerary, you don’t have to worry about twisty mountain roads or losing your way and you will receive a wealth of information about the island.
Road conditions. The government has invested heavily in road improvements in recent years and generally major roads and bridges are in good condition. However, rural roads can be potholed and may require four-wheel drive. In the rainy season there are often landslides which can block or damage roads, so if there has been a storm you should seek local advice particularly before driving down the west coast. Avoid driving after dark; street lighting can be poor and oncoming vehicles often do not dip their headlights.
Rules and regulations. Driving is on the left, as in the UK, although the steering wheel may be on either side. At roundabouts give way to traffic already on the circle coming from your right. Seat belts are compulsory for all passengers. The speed limit is 30mph on highways, 15mph in towns, although this is widely disregarded.
Fuel costs. Filling stations are open from around 6.30-7am and stay open until about 8pm, Mon-Sat. A few open on Sun in the afternoon. Prices are set by the government in line with international prices. Unleaded fuel is about US$1.30 a litre, US$5.90 per gallon. Diesel is a bit cheaper.
220 volts, 50 cycles AC and 110 volts, 60 cycles AC.
EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES
British High Commission, 2nd floor Francis Compton Building, Waterfront, Castries, tel: 758-452 2484; email: email@example.com
US Embassy, located in Barbados, at US Embassy Rd, Bridgetown, tel: (246) 227 4000, http://barbados.usembassy.gov.
The emergency number for Police, Fire and Ambulance is 911.
GAY AND LESBIAN TRAVELLERS
Homosexual acts are legal for women but illegal for men, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison. St Lucian society is deeply conservative and religious and there have been violent homophobic attacks on gay St Lucians. There is no overtly gay scene, although many bars, restaurants and some resorts are gay friendly where tourists are concerned. You are advised to be discreet with your partner with no overt displays of affection in public places.
Air travel. The frequency of flights varies according to the season and many charter flights stop in the summer months and in the hurricane season. Schedules usually change mid-April. There are frequent flights from London Gatwick with both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, while Thomas Cook Airlines fly weekly from Manchester. From the US there are direct flights from JFK New York and Boston with Jet Blue, from Miami with American Airlines, from Charlotte and Philadelphia with US Airways and from Atlanta and New York with Delta. Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and WestJet fly from Toronto, Canada. Air Canada flies from Montréal. There are lots of flights connecting St Lucia with other islands in the Caribbean if you want to island hop with a regional airline, such as Air Caraïbes, LIAT, Caribbean Airlines or American Eagle.
By sea. L’Express des Iles has a high-speed catamaran car ferry service linking St Lucia with Dominica and the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Marie Galante, usually crossing three times a week. Travelling time is short enough to justify hopping over to a neighbouring island for a day or even a weekend, but remember that this is an international crossing and you should take your passport. Avoid island hopping on the day you are leaving St Lucia because there is no guarantee that your ferry will return in time for you to make an airline connection. The agent in St Lucia, Cox & Company Ltd, has an office at the ferry terminal on La Toc Road in Castries (Mon-Fri 8am - 6pm, tel: 456 5022/23/24, www.express-des-iles.com). St Lucia is a popular port of call for cruise ships starting from Florida, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Barbados. The port of entry is Castries and the view across the bay as the ship approaches is stunning. Cruise ships dock at Pointe Seraphine or Place Carenage, either side of Castries harbour, and there is duty-free shopping at both locations.
GUIDES AND TOURS
There are lots of tours available on land and by sea, half or whole day, for which your hotel or the Tourist Board will have details, or you can negotiate a tour with a taxi driver, most of whom make excellent guides. Heritage Tours (tel: 758-458 1454, www.heritagetoursstlucia.org) is a co-operative of tourist sites with a strong community and heritage element offering a range of tours from Créole food and drink specialities to hiking, birdwatching or turtle watching, as well as more historical and cultural tours. St Lucia Reps & Sunlink Tours (tel: 758-452 8232, www.stluciareps.com) offer a full range of tours and excursions for cruise ship passengers and people staying on the island. The St Lucia National Trust (tel: 758-452 5005, www.slunatrust.org) and its affiliate, Eco-South Tours (tel: 758-454 5014, firstname.lastname@example.org), offer nature tours of the Maria Islands and other natural attractions in the southeast.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE
The main public medical facility on the island for residents and visitors was the large Victoria Hospital in Castries (tel: 758-452 2421), but this is now being replaced by the construction of the 116-bed New National Hospital (NNH), with a wide range of facilities and departments. Construction is complete and transitioning and equipping works were undertaken in 2014. When NNH is complete, the A&E Department of Victoria Hospital and the Castries Health Centre will be merged and called the Castries Urban Polyclinic. Private hospitals include St Jude’s Hospital in Vieux Fort (tel: 758-454 6041) and the small Tapion Hospital in the south of Castries (tel: 758-459 2000), both having emergency services available to visitors. Elsewhere there are medical centres and clinics in Soufrière (tel: 758-459 7258/5001) and Dennery (tel: 758-453 3310).
Although St Lucia has been a British territory since 1814 and the official language is English, FrenchCreole (Kwéyòl) is spoken by more than 90 percent of people in informal arenas and, due to a drive to preserve and promote Creole traditions, is increasingly used in official circles as well. For more information, click here.
There are several maps of the island distributed free in hotels and restaurants as well as in the tourist information booths and car hire companies. These are generally adequate for getting around the island on main roads and have local attractions clearly marked. Skyviews, www.skyviews.com, is one of the best, funded by advertising. For a more detailed topographical map, there is the Ordnance Survey map of St Lucia, dating from 1991, while the best road map is the Gizi Map, 2008.
St Lucia’s newspapers can be read in print or online: The Star, http://stluciastar.com; The Voice, www.thevoiceslu.com; The St Lucia Mirror, www.stluciamirroronline.org. Online-only newspapers include St Lucia Times, www.stluciatimes.com and St Lucia News Online, www.stlucianewsonline.com. Tropical Traveller, a monthly magazine, promotes restaurants and gives information about upcoming events, and a biannual magazine, Visions of St Lucia, has listings and features about the island’s attractions. Both are distributed through hotels. There are nine local television channels, including Choice39 TV and DBS. St Lucia also receives a host of programmes from the US via satellite. The island has 13 radio stations including Radio St Lucia, Radio 100 Helen FM, Radio Caribbean International and Hot FM, which broadcast local news and music.
Currency. The official currency of St Lucia is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$), which is pegged to the US dollar. The US dollar and all major credit cards and travellers’ cheques are accepted in most places including restaurants and shops, especially in the resort areas. EC dollars are produced in denominations of $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 notes and $1, 25¢, 10¢, 5¢, 2¢ and 1¢ coins.
Currency exchange. There are foreign exchange and banking facilities in Castries, Rodney Bay, Vieux Fort, Soufrière and at Hewanorra International Airport, which is usually open from 12.30pm until the last flight leaves.
Credit cards. Large hotels, shops and restaurants accept credit cards, but bars and small businesses operate in cash. Banks have ATMs and accept all major international credit and debit cards.
Banks are generally open Monday to Thursday 8am-2pm, and until 5pm on Friday, while in Rodney Bay they are open on Saturday until noon. Government offices open 8.30am-4pm, but close for lunch 12.30-1.30pm. Shops open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm and on Saturday until 12.30pm. Supermarkets operate extended opening hours.
The main police station is located on Bridge Street, Castries (tel: 758-452 2854). In Rodney Bay the police station is beside the St Lucia Yacht Club on Reduit Beach.
The main post office in the capital, Castries, is located on Bridge Street; there you can buy stamps and phonecards. Rodney Bay Mall and Gablewoods Mall have post office counters. There are also small post offices in most towns and generally they are open Monday to Friday 8.30am-4.30pm.
1 January: New Year’s Day
2 January: New Year’s Holiday
22 February: Independence Day
March/April (variable): Easter
1 May: Labour Day; Whitsun (variable); Corpus Christi (variable)
1 August: Emancipation Day
1 October: Thanksgiving
13 December: National Day
25 December: Christmas Day
26 December: Boxing Day
The international country code for St Lucia is 758. Coin and card public phone boxes are found around the island. Mobile phones can be rented from specialist suppliers and are operated by Digicel and LIME. If you bring your own phone from home you can choose whether to select Digicel or LIME networks. The LIME (Landline, Internet, Mobile, Entertainment) office on Bridge Street in Castries, near the post office, has public telephones and sells a wide selection of phonecards. Both Digicel and LIME have offices in Baywalk Mall, Rodney Bay. There are internet cafes and facilities throughout the island, in the resort areas and in shopping centres. Most hotels have computers for guests’ use and internet access for those with laptops, tablets and smart phones.
Four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time in the winter, five hours when Daylight Saving Time applies.
Be prepared to pay a 10 percent service charge and 8 percent government tax on all goods and services supplied by hotels and restaurants. In particular most restaurants and hotels will often automatically add a 10-15percent service charge to your bill, so no further gratuity is necessary unless you would like to tip an especially attentive waiter or another member of staff. Where service is not included a tip of 10-20 percent is appropriate. Porters, chambermaids and taxi drivers expect a tip.
Toilets can be found in shopping malls, the cruise ship complexes, tourist sites, hotels and restaurants.
The St Lucia Tourist Board’s website is www.stlucia.org, http://stlucianow.co.uk or http://stlucianow.com. The Tourist Board’s administrative office is in Castries (PO Box 221, Sureline Building, Vide Bouteille, Castries, tel: 758-452 4094), but there are information booths at Hewanorra and George F.L. Charles airports, Pointe Seraphine and Place Carenage seaports in Castries.
Canada, 60 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 909, Toronto, Ontario M4T 1N5, tel: (416) 362 4242
UK, 1 Collingham Gardens, London SW5 0HW, tel: 020 7341 7005
USA, 800 Second Avenue, 9th Floor, Suite 910, New York, NY 10017, tel: (212) 867 2951/2950
Buses. The public bus system in St Lucia operates from early in the morning until early evening. It is safe to say that more buses run in the morning and that the frequency tends to tail off after the end of the working day. Castries and Vieux Fort have the best services, but the more remote rural areas aren’t always as well served. If you go to Soufrière by bus, it is usually quicker and easier to return via Vieux Fort, where there are better connections.
Buses can be distinguished from other minibuses by their licence plates, which begin with the letter M. The routes are zoned and priced accordingly, so a short hop costs EC$1.50, while a longer trip from Castries to Soufrière costs EC$8; you must have the exact fare. In Castries, buses for the north of the island leave from a terminus behind the market on Darling Road; buses for Anse la Raye and the west coast road leave from the south side of the market; buses for Dennery and Vieux Fort leave from Hospital Road by the river.
If you do travel on the bus you will hear local people call out “one stop” when they want to get off. Once you are familiar with the route, you could try it yourself. Alternatively, ask the driver to let you know when you reach your destination.
Taxis. Taxis are available in the form of a saloon vehicle or a minivan that can accommodate a small group. They are plentiful at the airports, in the resort areas at hotels, at shopping malls and in town at the official stands. Look for the TX licence plate. Taxis are not metered because fares are fixed and the majority of drivers tend to stick to the published rates. However, check the fare before setting off and make sure you are being quoted in EC dollars. A taxi from Rodney Bay to Gros Islet costs EC$25 (US$10), from Castries to Soufrière EC$239 (US$90), Castries to Vieux Fort EC$199 (US$75).
A taxi is the obvious choice for a hotel transfer to and from the airport, unless your hotel offers a shuttle service. You can also arrange for a taxi driver/guide to take you on an island tour, on a shopping trip, or on an excursion to the Friday Night fish fry at Anse La Raye and the Jump-up at Gros Islet. Reliable and knowledgeable local drivers are affiliated to the following associations:
North Lime Taxi Association, Rodney Bay, tel: 758-452 8562; email: email@example.com
Soufrière Taxi Association, tel: 758-459 5562; www.soufrieretaxi.com
Southern Taxi Association, Hewanorra International Airport, Vieux Fort, tel: 758-454 6136; www.southerntaxi.com
VISAS AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Passports are required for entry to St Lucia, except for British, French, Canadian and US citizens on short visits (weekend to one week) holding return tickets. US citizens do however need a passport for re-entry into the US and passports are highly recommended for ease of access into St Lucia for everyone.
http://stlucianow.com The official St Lucia tourist site with information on how to get there, where to stay, how to get around and what to do.
www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/st-lucia Travel advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including safety, security and health alerts.
www.slunatrust.org The St Lucia National Trust has a number of protected sites, details of which are on this website.
http://forestryeeunit.blogspot.co.uk The Forestry Department maintains the forest trails and protects wildlife on St Lucia. This blog by the Environmental Education Unit contains news and information as well as contact details for all the trails.
www.heritagetoursstlucia.org Details of the many Heritas sites around St Lucia can be found on the website.