Editor’s note: unlike Sam, I am a big fan of Caribbean cruises. Like Sam, though, I have come to the conclusion that St. Lucia is pure paradise, even writing that it was my favorite Caribbean island. Compare our visits, and then visit all of Sam’s articles by clicking here.
If you want to know my personal idea of traveler’s hell, it is a Caribbean cruise to the Lesser Antilles Islands. Maybe I should not knock it until I try it; however, here is my perception of it: being stuck on a boat for a week with a bunch of people that stops for only a day at a handful of tiny island nations and territories, none of which have an abundance of historical sights and all blend together. However, when researching places to go, there was one island that kept popping up that changed my perception completely and made it a must-go destination, the island of St. Lucia. St. Lucia stands apart in nearly every way beginning with its very name, being the only nation in the world named after a woman. St. Lucia is considered to be one of the most beautiful and romantic islands in the world, with US News and World Report consistently naming St. Lucia not just the best island in the Caribbean, but also regularly the best honeymoon destination in the world. If you need a higher endorsement, one frequent visitor, Oprah Winfrey, has named St. Lucia one of the top five destinations to visit in a person’s lifetime. While there are many places that I have been that are romantic places but also ideal for a solo traveler, St. Lucia is a destination that I would say is best experienced with someone else, be it a friend or romantic partner. The beauty of the island is something that should be shared and will bring you closer together.
St. Lucia is covered in dense, lush tropical rainforest. During hurricane season, it pours rain, but in the winter and spring there is morning rain and then pure sunshine the rest of the day, making the island clean and green. The teardrop-shaped island is also right where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea with the Caribbean bordering the western half of the island, while the fierce waves and wind-carved cliffs from the Atlantic make up eastern coast. Yet, St. Lucia’s most famous and striking feature that sets it apart from the other islands of the Caribbean is the Pitons, Gros Piton and Petit Piton. The Pitons are volcanic plugs that were formed when magma hardened within the vent of an active volcano forming twin approximately 2,500-foot steep mountains coming up from the water. These peaks were holy places to the indigenous tribes of the island and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are depicted on the flag of St. Lucia as well on the national beer. Near the Pitons are numerous high-end resorts that have a private pool for each room. Though I pride myself on traveling on a budget, for four nights I splurged on the Stonefield Villa Resort and though I continuously stared at the Pitons for four days, their wonder consistently took my breath away. A spectacle at Stonefield is the mysterious petroglyphs dating back nearly a millennium. Go to two other nearby resorts for dinner to marvel at phenomenal sunset views of the Pitons: Ladera and Hotel Chocolat. Hotel Chocolat produces their own chocolate from their onsite cacao fields and incorporates it into nearly every drink and recipe, making it a restaurant with a dessert menu that cannot be beat. Nearby as well is the Tet Paul Nature Trail, which is a 45-minute easy trail that gives phenomenal views of the Pitons. For the more intense hikers, there are trails up to the top of Gros Piton, while Petit Piton is too steep to hike. From the summit of Gros Piton on a clear day, the islands of Barbados, Martinique, Dominica, and St. Vincent are visible. The French territory of Martinique is only a 90-minute ferry ride away, making a good daytrip to what is dubbed the Paris of the Caribbean. Also Near the Pitons is Sugar Beach with its magnificent coral reefs and hundreds of brightly colored fish (and also thousands of jelly fish that shortened our snorkel excursion), the Diamond Botanical Gardens, and also the refreshing and beautiful Toraille Waterfall. Yet, the best excursion is the Sulfur Springs, which are geysers similar to the ones at Yellowstone, except they are full of mud. These springs are a part of the world’s only drive-in volcano, and while there, enjoy the mud baths, which are not only fun but also make your skin feel soft and smooth.
Petit Piton from our resort
The area of St. Lucia where the Pitons and these other volcanic experiences is located is named Soufriere, which, appropriately, comes from the French word for “sulfur.” This name speaks to the history of the island, which was settled by the French in 1660. The French brought African slaves to the island to harvest the fruit trees and sugar cane fields, many of which still remain. Following the French Revolution, the slaves became free and executed their former oppressors. However, with the rise of Napoleon, the former slaves found themselves once again in bondage until the island was taken over by the British. Today, English is the official language of St. Lucia, though Creole is the common language, and though the island became an independent nation in 1979, it remains a part of the British Commonwealth. The French influence still remains though, with every town containing a large, old, stone Catholic Cathedral and the nearly 200,000 residents being over 90% descendants of African slaves. Soufriere is located on the southwestern Caribbean coast, and as you make your way up the coast, you will pass through the most charming fishing villages of Canaries and Anse La Raye. In these towns, fishermen bring in fresh catch every day; they then go through the town blowing a conch shell alerting all the locals that it is time for them to come purchase their dinners. About midway up the coast, you will arrive at the capital, largest city, and main port of St. Lucia, Castries. In the middle of the city is a sprawling market selling handicrafts and also Derek Walcott Square, paying homage to one of two Nobel laureates that the island has produced.
Soufriere and the Pitons
Northern St. Lucia’s main tourist spot is the town of Gros Islet on Rodney Bay. Gros Islet is a popular place for all boating sports and also for sunbathing at the country’s most popular beach, Reduit Beach. Across the water from Reduit Beach is Pigeon Island, which is full of hiking trails, snorkeling reefs and picnic spots with beautiful views. At the top of Pigeon Island is Fort Rodney, an 18th century British fort with cannons that were used to keep French ships out. Pigeon Island is also the venue for the annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival, perhaps the biggest music festival of the Lesser Antilles, which has featured artists like the Jackson family, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, and others. Gros Islet’s most popular attraction occurs every Friday night with its Fish Fry. Locals and tourists alike come together and party the night away, drinking St. Lucia’s famous rum beverages and going from stand to stand eating different fish street food dishes while dancing to reggae music. Throughout the Caribbean, Gros Islet is known as the place to be on Friday nights.
My experience in St. Lucia has made me rethink the places where I travel going forward. It is more of a relaxing destination than my usual adventures seeing historical sites and natural wonders where I am constantly on the go. However, while other places I have been and loved, like Turkey, Japan, Germany, etc. do depend on tourism, they have other industries to rely on. But for the Caribbean nations, their entire economy and job market depends almost exclusively on tourism. As for a year there have been no cruise ships stopping in their ports and a massive decline in overall tourism, the pandemic has taken a greater toll on these nations which have little else to offer the world in terms of industry. Not only will St. Lucia be a wonderful future trip for you, especially as a romantic getaway, but visiting the island will provide help to a nation of beautiful and kind people who are in need of support.
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