Peaks and Sands
Beckon in St. Lucia
By Ginger Warder
Where else can you both hike a Piton and drink one? St. Lucia is arguably the most beautiful and unspoiled of all the Caribbean islands.
Formed from volcanic action, its signature twin peaks, the Gros and Petit Pitons (shown in the photo at right*) are not only one of the top attractions, but also have a Caribbean beer named after them.
Nicknamed the “Helen of the West Indies” (think Caribbean Helen of Troy), St. Lucia has been passed back and forth between French and British rule not once but 14 times.
Located between Martinique and St. Vincent, the island boasts a surplus of excellent harbors.
English is the official language, but you’ll hear a lot of residents speaking a French "patois" as well. Tropical rain forests, an active volcano, and pristine bays bobbing with expensive yachts coexist side-by-side on this lush and laid-back island.
So you might catch the wind on a kitesurfer, ride a zip line through the rain forest, gallop down a sandy beach, or snorkel the amazing coral reefs.
Docking at Castries
Most of the major cruise ships dock at Castries on the northwest side of the island, with stopovers from six hours to a full day.
The harbor at Castries is shown at left.*
Among the many cruise lines that call at Castries are Holland America Line (877-SAIL-HAL or www.hollandamerica.com), Princess Cruises (800-PRINCESS or www.princess.com) and Royal Caribbean International (800-398-9819 or www.royalcaribbean.com), to name just a few. Contact individual lines for specific itineraries and details of shore options.
A Different Kind of Drive-In
You won’t need popcorn for the world’s only drive-in volcano, but you may want to bring along a nose clip. Located near the seaside town of Soufrière, the active volcano and bubbling sulphur springs are a unique, if somewhat odiferous, natural phenomenon.
Hike the split between the Pitons to see the bubbling lava, and cool off in the waterfall deep in the neighboring Diamond Botanical Gardens (758-452-4759 or www.diamondstlucia.com) , or partake of the healing waters at the mineral baths.
Beware of aggressive vendors hawking jewelry and wood carvings and save your shopping for the markets in Soufrière.
A Princess Cruises shore trip to Soufriere costs $49 for adults, $25 for those 12; alternatively, the line offers a catamaran journey for $89 per adult, $71 per child.
Get a Bird’s Eye View
Glide through the rain forest canopy on an aerial tram and you may come eye-to-eye with one of the hundreds of exotic birds that call the treetops home. For the daring, try hanging 50 feet above the forest floor and zipping down a steel cable from platform to platform as you traverse the lush landscape.
Tarzan yells are permitted in zip-lining, but young children are not, so check the age regulations before booking. For example, this type of shore trip costs $129 for adults, $99 for 12 and under on the tram from Holland America, $119 and $95, respectively on Princess.
You can also go airborne with St. Lucia Helicopters (758-453-6950 or www.stluciahelicopters.com), taking off from the cruise ship jetty for a 10 minute tour of the local area or a 30 minute North-South swing; cost is $70 to $155 for six passengers maximum.
One if By Land, Two if By Sea
Who says you can’t have it all? Set sail on a luxurious catamaran and see the Pitons and fishing villages from the serene turquoise sea, stopping to swim and snorkel at Marigot Bay or Anse Chastenet Bay.
Picturesque Marigot Bay is shown at left.*
Land back in time at the Fond Doux Estate (758-459-7545 or www.fonddouxestate.com ), a working cocoa and coffee plantation with a replica of a 16th century Arawak Indian village. An excursion that includes the estate costs $64 for adults, $35 for children 12 and under on Holland America. Alternatively, a combo trip on Royal Caribbean to Soufrière (including an estate visit) cost $84 for adults, $54 for children.
World champion windsurfers and kitesurfers head to Anse de Sable Bay on the southern tip of the island to catch the crosswinds.
Board rentals are available on site at The Reef (758-454-3418 or www.slucia.com/kitesurf). If you want to catch a wave, though, you may have to arrange your own transportation or ask the ship’s activity staff to get you there.
Above right, banana boat rides are a popular diversion.*
Shopping St. Lucia
The best shopping on the island is a mere stroll from your floating hotel at The Shops at Pointe Seraphine, or the historic market in Castries.
Look for hand-woven baskets made from climbing foot palms or beautiful jewelry made from dédéfouden seeds which come from the mammoth trees that form the rainforest canopy.
Island spices are also a popular sale item in local markets.*
Local currency in St. Lucia is the Eastern Caribbean dollar with a fixed exchange rate of $2.70 EC to $1 U.S.
While U.S. dollars will be accepted at most stores in Point Seraphine, you’ll need local currency for shopping at the Castries market. All ATM’s distribute European Commission currency (euros).
Additional Resources and Information
Check the cruise line Web sites for tour options on your specific voyage. Schedules and pricing may vary slightly with each provider. If you prefer to do-it-yourself in St. Lucia, here are some additional helpful resources.
Taxis are on hand at the dock and are recommended for land travel, as the mountain roads are treacherous for visitors, especially when driving British-style on the left.
Taxis are not metered, although rates to popular attractions are fixed, but to be safe, negotiate your fare in advance. Holiday Taxi (758-452-6067 or www.holidaytaxicoop.com), is a cooperative group that features popular tours and can accommodate large groups.
Be prepared to pay between $100-$150 for a guided itinerary to the volcano and Soufrière (about 45 minutes from Castries), depending on the size of your party.
If you do want to rent a car, St. Lucia National Car Rental (758-453-6950 or www.skyviews.com/stlucia/slncr), has an office near the dock at the Pointe Seraphine shopping complex. With a one-day permit, insurance, and taxes, you’ll pay about $80 a day, with a $500 deposit.
MysticMan Tours (758-459-7783 or www.mysticmantours.com) is one of the best boat tour companies on the island from sightseeing to watersports, offering speed boats, sailboats, and sport fishing options.
St. Lucia offers many diversions to entice cruisers. It's often a case of choosing between myriad savory options. The only "plus" is knowing you might return again and have a chance to see and do more the next time!
For More Information
St. Lucia Tourism Board
758-452-4094 or www.stlucia.org
Professional travel writer Ginger Warder, a Tampa Bay resident, learned the "ins" and "outs" of travel as a tour manager and publicist for Grammy-winning artists like Janis Ian. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, she specializes in travel with pets, arts and entertainment, and European destinations.
*Photos on this page are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the St. Lucia Tourism Board. All rights reserved. Please do not link to or copy these photos. Thank you.