Traveller’s Guide: Saint Lucia

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Away from the Caribbean island’s white-sand beaches is an adventure playground of volcanic mountains and dense tropical rainforests, says Kate Simon

My driver drops down a gear to kick-start our car. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just a ritual we have to go through to negotiate the steep roads of Saint Lucia. This Caribbean island may be only 27 miles long by 14 miles wide, but its mountainous terrain (reaching its peak at Mount Gimie at 3,120ft) threw down the gauntlet to the road-builders, who cut as best they could into its volcanic mass. The result is a corkscrew of highways that will take you where you want to go – eventually.

That’s OK. I’m in no hurry and anyhow I’m distracted at each switchback by the dense jungle, steaming in the humidity. Occasionally, we emerge in a community of squat multicoloured houses with corrugated iron roofs, where balustraded porches provide a shady place for homeowners to escape the burning sun. Then it’s back into the foliage, the ocean flashing a blue smile between the trees.

Saint Lucia has sugar-fine sands worthy of lounging on for your whole stay, golden in the northern holiday playgrounds of Gros Islet, and Rodney and Marigot bays, and silvery in the south around the iconic volcanic spires, the Pitons, where the island’s top-end hotels cluster. But the interior is equally magnetic – a tangle of tropical forest filled with possibilities for active fun, from hiking to the island’s tropical heart on the Edmund Rainforest Trail (001 758 457 1427; soufrierefoundation.org), to ziplining at the Treetop Adventure Park (001 758 458 0908; adventuretoursstlucia.com), and slathering your body with restorative mud at the Sulphur Springs Park (001 758 459 7686; soufrierefoundation.org).

There are cultural diversions, too. The spring Jazz Festival and summer Carnival (see “Beat Surrender” panel), and poetry lovers can take a turn around Derek Walcott Square, one of the few places of architectural note in the capital Castries, which honours the poet and Nobel Laureate who set his epic poem Omeros around Gros Islet. The island’s history is neatly told at Pigeon Island (see “Time Travel” panel), and, for a taste of life today, communities such as the fishing town of Soufrière, the old French capital, come alive during market hours. Pretty Anse La Raye is the place to spend Friday night for the Fish Fry.

For a radical alternative to lying on the beach, visit Saint Lucia’s newest attraction, Our Planet (001 758 453 0107; ourplanetcentre.org; US$20/£12.50), which opened in Castries in June. The multimillion-pound centre, a partnership with Noaa and Nasa, invites visitors to explore Saint Lucia specifically and Earth in general to gain a greater understanding of the man-made and natural challenges facing our environment. As well as sampling views of the our planet from space, visitors can play games where they create hurricanes and power cities, and feel the effects of extreme weather in a special-effects theatre. All profits from ticket sales are used to fund environmental projects on the island.

Tourism has been one of the main sources  of income for Saint Lucia for 30 years, but  now the island is going upmarket, hoping to poach high-rolling holidaymakers from Barbados and beyond to the luxury hotels  that have popped up during the past decade, notably Jade Mountain, Boucan and the  transformed Jalousie Plantation, this month reborn as Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Hotel. Catering for increasing demand from premier passengers, British Airways, which operates daily flights to Saint Lucia, added first-class cabins to the 777s flying into the island last summer. This winter, Virgin Atlantic is adding 14 seats to its Upper Class and increasing its flights to five a week.

However, if First Class isn’t quite your stamp, avoid the school holidays and December to mid-April, when you’ll get far less for your Eastern Caribbean dollar. Though still hurricane season, November may be hot and humid but is a cheaper choice, and late April to June is usually blessed by good weather and has similarly lower prices. Tour operators include BA Holidays (0844 493 0758; ba.com/stlucia), Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3865; virginholidays.co.uk), Kuoni (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk), and specialists Tropic Breeze (01752 880880; tropicbreeze.co.uk), Caribtours (020-7751 0660; caribtours.co.uk) and Simply St Lucia (01732 811043; simplystluciaholidays.co.uk).

The only way is up

Saint Lucia has plenty of opportunities to get active in the wild, but the most seductive challenge is its twin volcanic pyramids, Gros and Petit Piton, which stand sentinel on the south-west coast at 2,619ft and 2,461ft respectively. It is the smaller Piton that presents the more arduous climb, but either one would offer a tough step class mixed with scrambling around tree roots and boulders. Local guides from the Interpretive Centre at Fond Gens Libra (001 758 459 3965; soufrierefoundation.org) will lead the way up Gros Piton for US$30pp (£19), a round trip that takes about four hours. There is no official guiding for Petit Piton, due to its perceived dangers.

Time travel

Pigeon Island (slunatrust.org;  US$5/£3), off the north-west coast, may be only 44 acres but it has had a huge role in Saint Lucia’s history. This is where the Arawak lived until the Caribs kicked them out in AD1000. When the British took Saint Lucia from the French in the 1778, Admiral George Rodney fortified Pigeon Island for use as a vantage point to watch the French fleet. The island, now a national landmark, is looked after by the Saint Lucia National Trust. Visitors today can walk across the causeway from Gros Islet to explore its fortifications, learn about its 18th-century history at the Interpretation Centre in the restored Officers’ Mess, and take in the views of Martinique.

Beat surrender

Like the rest of the Caribbean, Saint Lucia loves the Carnival period (luciancarnival.com), held in summer, from 26 June to 16 August in 2013. There’s a packed programme, including steel band, calypso and soca championships, and colourful parades and street parties that originate from plantation times, such as the J’Ouvert, when slaves danced about in costume with painted faces, mimicking and ridiculing the white settlers’ masquerade balls. The island also hosts one of the Caribbean’s top music events, the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival (001 758 452 4094; stluciajazz.org; various prices) from 5-12 May. The brief has widened over the past 22 years from just jazz to include more mainstream music – international stars such as Diana Ross, Hugh Masekela and the late Amy Winehouse have all played here in the past – and performances now take place across the country, from Pigeon Island to Vieux Fort Square.

Just go below

Parrot fish, octopus, turtles and brain coral can all be seen off Saint Lucia, and Snuba, a hybrid of snorkelling and scuba diving, is a novel way to see them. You use a regulator and an air supply that floats on the surface. Training is quick; adults and children can do it, and no formal qualifications are needed. Cox and Company (001 758 285 7354; coxcoltd.com) has a half-day Snuba Marine Park Tour from Pigeon Island to Anse Cochon Bay, for $75 (£47), led by expert instructors.

Where to stay

There is a variety of accommodation, from guesthouses and flats to villas and beach resorts. The tourist board’s website, stlucia.org, offers comprehensive listings. But this season’s big story is the £100m transformation of the Jalousie Plantation to Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort (001 758 456 8000; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/sugarbeach; doubles US$450/ £281). Among the many changes at the luxury 78-room hotel, which sits in the lap of the Pitons, are hillside villas and bungalows on the sands. In the hills above, Hotel Chocolat’s Boucan (0844 544 1272; thehotelchocolat.com; doubles US$350/ £219), pictured, run by the British-based chocolatier at its Rabot Estate, has added eight stylish new lodges and the Cocoa Juvenate Spa. Other news includes the reopening of blu (01268 242463; harlequinblu.com; doubles US$344/£215) at Rodney Bay.

Travel Essentials

Getting there and getting around

Kate Simon was a guest of BA (0844 493 0758; ba.com/stlucia), and Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort (sugar beachaviceroyresort.com). BA has a week next March from £1,869pp  for bookings made before 19 December, based on two sharing, including B&B and flights from Gatwick. Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770; virgin-atlantic.com) also flies from Gatwick. From Hewanorra airport in the south of the island, if your hotel doesn’t include a transfer, you’ll need a taxi – which costs about US$100 (£63) to the far northern resorts. Public minibuses are cheap and run around the island’s main roads – just stick your arm out to hail one. For car hire try Avis (001 758 452 2700; avisstlucia.com) or Cool Breeze (001 758 459 7729; coolbreezecarrental.com); daily rates from about US$84 (£53). You’ll also need a driving permit, price US$27 (£17).

More information

Saint Lucia Tourist Board (020-7341 7000; stlucia.org).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea