Insight Guides: Pocket St Lucia - Insight Guides (2016)
WHAT TO DO
Coconut palm and yachts silhouetted at sunset, Marigot Bay
The west coast of St Lucia is blessed with the warm water of the Caribbean Sea and is the ideal place for a wealth of water sports, with something for all levels of expertise. The east coast, however, is the Atlantic Ocean side of the island and can be lashed by high winds and waves, making most of it unsafe for swimming.
Diving and snorkelling
Experienced divers can enjoy rich, colourful marine life just a few yards from the beach in some cases, while beginners can take to the water confidently with an expert instructor. The water here is home to angel fish and seahorses, octopus and turtles, colourful coral and spectacular sponges. Several shipwrecks around the coast provide fascinating artificial reefs in addition to the natural reefs.
Some of the island’s most beautiful dive sites are located in protected marine areas such as the Soufrière Marine Management Area (SMMA). Anse Chastanet Reef attracts novices and experienced divers. The marine life is just a short walk in the water from the volcanic sand beach, and there are caves to explore in the relatively shallow parts.
Many of the larger hotels have dive centres on site, while others can offer dive and accommodation packages with independent operators. Dive Fair Helen is a long-established locally-owned operation in Marigot Bay (tel: 758-451 7716, www.divefairhelen.com). Dive Saint Lucia (tel: 758-451 3843, www.divesaintlucia.com) has a purpose built training pool and classrooms at Rodney Bay marina. Scuba St Lucia is on the beach at Anse Chastanet Resort, Soufrière, tel: 758-459 7755, www.scubastlucia.com with the marine park on its doorstep.
Snorkellers of all ages will find schools of colourful fish and other marine life around Anse Mamin, just north of Anse Chastanet and at Anse Cochon, south of Anse La Raye. North and south of Petit Piton, Malgretoute and Beausejour are also excellent spots for snorkelling.
Diving over stunning coral
Explore the island’s coast, rivers and shady mangrove swamps by water. Guided kayaking tours can combine birdwatching, historical sites, snorkelling and beaches. Dive Fair Helen (Marigot Bay, tel: 758- 451 7716, www.dfhkayaking.com) offers a variety of tours, most starting from Marigot Bay, where you can explore the mangroves or Roseau River before heading north to Castries, Rat Island or as far as Pigeon Island, or turning south to Anse Cochon.
Kayak St Lucia (Anse Chastenet, tel: 758-459 0000; www.kayakstlucia.com) can take you all round the Soufrière area, getting close up and personal with the Pitons, exploring fishing villages and deserted beaches. By private arrangement, you can kayak in the Savannes Bay Nature Reserve to see the mangroves and hidden coves, but there are no regular tours.
Windsurfing and kitesurfing
The southern coast is a magnet for experienced and adventurous windsurfers and kitesurfers who are attracted by the challenge of the strong winds that can whip up the Atlantic waves off Anse de Sables at Vieux Fort.
The best winds blow from December to June, when the trade winds are most consistent and they blow strongly cross-onshore from the left. However, you may still catch a good breeze in the summer months.
Reef Kite and Surf (Anse de Sables Beach, Vieux Fort, tel: 758-454 3418, www.slucia.com/windsurf; www.slucia.com/kitesurf) has plenty of equipment for rent and offers windsurfing and kiteboarding instruction. The centre has good links with several hotels on the island.
Elsewhere, Cas-en-Bas in the northeast is also a popular spot and there are facilities here too offered by Kitesurfing St Lucia (Cas-en-Bas, Gros Islet, tel: 758-714 9589, www.kitesurfingstlucia.com).
Less experienced windsurfers may prefer the relatively quiet Caribbean Sea on the west coast. You can rent windsurf boards or kitesurfing equipment, and take lessons at the water sports facilities of the larger hotels and resorts.
Joining a Bike St Lucia adventure
The warm Caribbean waters are teeming with fish and, depending on the time of year, you could reel in big game fish such as marlin, wahoo, kingfish, sailfish and dorado (mahi mahi, also known as dolphin); tuna and barracuda can also be caught in these waters. Deep sea or sport fishing is very popular and every year there are numerous events and competitions attended by local and visiting fishermen. Visitors can book an entire day or a half-day fishing trip with companies such as Captain Mike’s (Vigie Marina, Castries, tel: 758-452 7044, http://captmikes.com) or Hackshaws Boat Charters (Vigie Marina, tel: 758-453 0553, www.hackshaws.com).
Around this tiny island, many species of resident and migratory whales can be seen in the warm Caribbean Sea. The various species can be seen at different times of year, especially during the migratory mating season from October to April. Most common are sperm whales, pilot whales, humpback whales and false killer whales. Common, spinner, spotted, striped and bottlenose dolphins can also be spotted accompanying the whales, sometimes leaping above the water. The fishing companies above also offer whale watching tours.
An exciting way to explore the coast and see the scenic landscape is by boat. Boat tours can include a spot of diving, snorkelling, swimming or sport fishing, and can be day or sunset party cruises. Full- and half-day sails can be arranged through one of the local boat charter companies based at the marinas at Castries, Rodney Bay, Marigot Bay and Soufrière. One of the oldest, offering catamaran tours, is Endless Summer Cruises (tel: 758-450 8651, www.stluciaboattours.com).
Depending on the time of year St Lucia hosts numerous sailing events, many of them beginning or ending at Rodney Bay Marina (see http://stluciayachtclub.com/events). There are races round the island, to Martinique and back, or just off Reduit Beach while the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers is an annual race from the Canary Islands to St Lucia.
There are mountain bike trips on the trails of Treetop Adventure Park (tel: 758-458 0908, www.adventuretoursstlucia.com) that run through the scenic countryside and dense beautiful forest, and stopping for a dip in the cooling Dennery waterfall. Not for the faint hearted are the bike trails that cut through the lush vegetation on the Anse Mamin Plantation. Bike St Lucia (tel: 758-457 1400, www.bikestlucia.com) has trails for all levels of experience. They vary in difficulty from yellow (lower intermediate), red (intermediate) to black (expert). The most challenging ride is Tinker’s trail, which has a steep uphill and fast downhill track.
The official cricket season runs from January to July when there are inter-island, regional and international matches. There is an impressive national cricket ground in Beausejour, Gros Islet, the venue for some of the Cricket World Cup matches when the tournament was hosted by the West Indies in 2007. St Lucian female cricketers are valuable members of the women’s West Indies team, but the men lagged behind until Darren Sammy was chosen for the West Indies tour of England in 2007. The Micoud-born cricketer was the first ever St Lucian selected for the men’s senior team and he became captain of the West Indies in 2010.
Hiking along a tropical river
Exploring the island interior on foot is one way to experience some of the breathtaking scenery that makes up the volcanic island’s landscape. With almost year round warm sunshine and summer temperatures rising above 31°C (88°F), the high mountain and forest areas, where it is several degrees cooler, provide walkers with welcome relief from the heat.
St Lucia has 77 sq km (30 sq miles) of protected forest land, which is the natural habitat of rare plants, trees, birds and wildlife. As a result walking tours are permitted only with an official guide. Forest walks and hikes vary in difficulty.
The Edmund Forest Reserve has a manned ranger station and a public toilet. A 3-hour hike along the reserve’s strenuous walking trails leads deep into the forest, where you can enjoy the shade of tall ferns, blue mahoe, bamboo and mahogany laced with bromeliads, lianas and orchids. You can also see fabulous flora and fruit such as the bird of paradise, brightly coloured heliconia and hibiscus, banana and pineapple plants.
Visitors need to be fit to attempt the 4km (2.5-mile) Enbas Saut Trail, which takes walkers down 2,112 steps to two cascades that flow into clear pools below, and beyond to the Troumassée River and the hamlet of Micoud on the East Coast.
Nearby the lush canopied Quilesse Forest Reserve is the habitat of the rarely seen St Lucia parrot (Amazona versicolor), known locally as jacquot. The walking trails through this reserve can also provide glimpses of other indigenous island wildlife.
The moderately taxing Barre de L’Isle Trail (1.6km/1 mile) cuts through the forest in an east to west direction and provides unforgettable panoramic views over the Cul-de-Sac and Mabouya valleys and out to the Atlantic Coast.
A short drive (30 minutes) southeast of Castries is the 5km (3-mile) Piton Flore Nature Trail/Forestière Trail. It follows an old French road through a mature forest with lush ferns and fig trees.
For more information about the island’s forest reserves and other national heritage sites or to book a trail hike contact: St Lucia Forestry Department (tel: 758-468 5649, http://malff.com) or St Lucia Heritage Tours (tel: 758-458 1454, www.heritagetoursstlucia.org).
Travelling by ATV
ATV Paradise Tours
With such vast forested areas and a mountain landscape, visitors to St Lucia can spot some of the region’s colourful and rare, indigenous and migratory birds. With patience and luck you may see some wonderful tropical birds such as the endangered St Lucia wren (Troglodytes aedon mesoleucus), St Lucia black finch (Melanospiza richardsoni), the white breasted thrasher (Ramphocinclus brachyurus sanctaeluciae) and the national bird, the St Lucia parrot (Amazona versicolor), with its bright blue face, green wings and a red patch across the throat and chest.
Several forest areas throughout the island are especially good for birdwatching, including the Millet Bird Sanctuary, Edmund Forest Reserve, Quilesse Forest Reserve, Grand Anse, Grand Bois Forest, Maria Islands Nature Reserve, Savannes Bay Nature Reserve and the Monkoté Mangrove swamp.
Birdwatching tours are best arranged through the Forestry Department (tel: 758-468 5649).
A tour through plantation land on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) adds a touch of adventure to any trip. ATV Paradise Tours Ltd (Fond Estate, Micoud, tel: 758-455 3245, www.atvstlucia.com) take small groups with a maximum of four ATVs through Davie Estate where they grow tropical fruits, flowers and vegetables, with stops along the way for sampling and tasting and at the old sugar mill.
There are several places offering zip-lining in addition to other attractions on site. Rain Forest Adventures (Chassin, tel: 758-458 5151; www.rainforestadventure.com) has some good lines through the forest in the northeast, while also offering a canopy tram tour, hiking and birdwatching. On the west coast, in full view of the Pitons, Morne Coubaril Estate (Soufrière, tel: 758-459 7340; www.stluciaziplining.com) has zip lines through the plantation and its fruit trees, as well as tours of the estate, hiking to a waterfall and horse riding. On the east coast, along the Dennery River, is Treetop Adventure Park (Dennery, tel: 758-458 0908; www.adventuretoursstlucia.com), with zip lines down the forested hillside, as well as bike tours, kayaking and a jeep safari.
There is an 18-hole championship golf course at St Lucia Golf Club (Cap Estate, Rodney Bay, tel: 758-450 8523, www.stluciagolf.com) in the far north of the island. Clubs, balls and shoes can be hired, and 40-minute lessons are available on the driving range.
There are two pricey shopping malls in Castries designed to attract cruise ship visitors: La Place Carenage and Pointe Seraphine, while in Rodney Bay there is Baywalk Mall with a variety of shops and a supermarket opposite the older JQ Mall, which also has a well-stocked supermarket. For souvenirs such as cocoa sticks, spices, hot sauces and other local specialities, try the market in Castries, at its busiest on a Saturday morning when farmers come to town. Crafts, T-shirts, hats, sarongs and beach wraps can be found in the Vendors’ Arcade across the road (for more information, click here).
A clothes shop in downtown Castries
St Lucia has no national gallery, but exhibitions of the work of local artists are mounted regularly. The St Lucia National Archives Portrait Gallery (Clark Avenue, Vigie; tel: 758-452 1654) has changing exhibitions of photographs and portraits of eminent St Lucians from all walks of life, some painted by the most famous local artists, Cedric George and Dunstan St Omer.
Commercial galleries include: Art and Antiques (Pointe Seraphine, Castries, tel: 758-459 0891) which exhibits the work of Llewellyn Xavier and other local and international artists; Artsibit Gallery (corner of Brazil and Mongiraud streets, Castries, tel: 758-452 7865) has paintings, sculpture, prints and pottery from St Lucia and the Caribbean; The Inner Gallery (Reduit Beach Avenue, Rodney Bay Village, tel: 758-452 8728, www.facebook.com/theinnergallery) has a selection of work by artists from St Lucia and the Caribbean.
A familiar sound at Christmas time in rural hill areas is the loud crack of bamboo bursting. Traditionally young men hollow out a piece of bamboo, insert a stick and plug the bamboo with a kerosene-soaked rag. When lit the noise of the bamboo bursting can be heard far away.
Children always love the beach
The African influence is best seen through the crafts and art produced on the island, particularly the woodcarvings. Art in wood, of varying quality and size, can be found in artists’ studios, markets and souvenir shops.
Sculptor and woodcarver Vincent Joseph Eudovic works at his Goodlands studio in the hills of Morne Fortune (for more information, click here). His beautiful abstract carvings are created from local woods such as laurier mabouey, teak, mahogany and red and white cedar. His son, Jallim Eudovic, is also carving himself an international reputation.
Choiseul is well-known for its distinctive clay pottery but also fine hand-woven baskets that are sturdy enough to take to market and aesthetically pleasing enough for an excursion to the beach. The craft centre at Choiseul (for more information, click here) sells the work of potters, basket-weavers and woodcarvers, who continue crafts handed down from generation to generation.
The ancient Indonesian art of batik is given a Caribbean flavour at Caribelle Batik. Fabric is printed with bright images taken straight from St Lucian wildlife and natural landscapes.
Kwéyòl culture and festivals
The Folk Research Centre (Plas Wichès Folklò, Mount Pleasant; Mon-Fri 8.30am-4.30pm; tel: 758-452 2279; www.stluciafolk.org) stands near L’Anse Road off the Gros Islet Highway, north of the centre of Castries. The Centre houses a cultural archive and a small museum. The library has an excellent collection of history books, reference material, audio-visual recordings and priceless photographs. This is the island’s best folk history and culture study centre, which was set up to promote and preserve traditional customs and the Kwéyòl language and art. It offers Kwéyòl language classes, school programmes, translation services, orthography, folk art production and exhibitions. There are numerous events and performances during La Rose, La Marguerite and Kwéyòl festivals and at Christmas, but it is especially busy in October during Creole heritage month, culminating in Jounen Kwéyòl at the end of the month.
CHILDREN’S ST LUCIA
There is no shortage of ways to entertain children of all ages and St Lucia is the ideal family holiday destination. The Caribbean beaches are perfect, with a range of sand colours to explore, and wonderfully warm water for playing in. Watersports providers cater for all ages and children will love learning to windsurf, sail or kayak. Snorkelling and learning about what is under the water is incredibly exciting and older children may want to learn to scuba dive. On land they can get an adrenaline rush on a zip line or a mountain biking excursion, work off some energy with a hike through the rainforest identifying birds and other creatures and learn about geology, mud and nasty smells at the Sulphur Springs. Whale watching and turtle watching trips are also great learning experiences.
The food on offer is great for kids, with plenty of carbohydrates (pizza, pasta, burgers) to keep up their energy levels as well as lots of tropical fruits, juices and ice creams to try. Health is not an issue as long as they are well hydrated and avoid sunburn. Take care between 11am-3pm, even on a cloudy day, and especially if out on a boat.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
January Nobel Laureate Week (3rd week). Talks and lectures celebrating the two St Lucian Nobel Laureates, both born on 23 January: Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott.
22 February Independence Day celebrated with exhibitions, sporting events, concerts and talks.
May St Lucia Jazz Festival (variable). Held at a variety of mostly outdoor venues, concerts by local and international artists attract large crowds.
29 June St Peter’s Day. Fishermen’s Feast (Fete Peche) when all the fishing boats are decorated.
June, July Carnival (variable). St Lucia Carnival is a fun-filled celebration culminating with Mas Bands ‘jumping-up’ in colourful costumes and calypsonians vying for the crown of the Calypso Monarch. www.luciancarnival.com
30 August Feast of St Rose De Lima (La Rose, Fêt La Wòz). Dancing and singing by communities in traditional costumes.
October Thanksgiving Day (first Monday). Giving thanks for hurricane survival or the lack of a hurricane.
17 October Feast of La Marguerite. A church service followed by a parade with participants dressed as kings and queens, music, dancing, food and drink. Both La Rose and La Marguerite stem from secret societies set up by African slaves.
October Jounen Kwéyòl Entenasyonnal (International Creole Day) (last Sun). Activities are held throughout the month but culminate with celebrations in four or five communities with local food, crafts, music and cultural displays.
December Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Cruising yachts start in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, in November and race to Rodney Bay, arriving before Christmas for a season of parties and celebrations.
13 December National Day. St Lucy’s Day, the patron saint of light is celebrated with the Festival of Lights and Renewal and a procession with lanterns.
25 December Christmas Day. A Christmas tradition is the equivalent of carol singers, who sing Creole songs to music from a chak chak band.