St. Lucia

St. Lucia (Loo-sha) remains relatively unspoiled, a checkerboard of green-mantled mountains, valleys, wild orchids, and fishing villages. The island has a mixed French and British heritage, but there’s a hint of the South Pacific about it as well. Music reverberates throughout St. Lucia, and the savory smells of a rich cuisine waft through Marigot Bay and Soufrière. A favorite stop-off for island-hoppers, yachties and jet-setters, St. Lucia offers volcanic rock beaches, lush fruity landscapes, and a lively nightlife of limbo, jazz, and rum punch.

Since most of the island hotels are built right on the beach, you won’t have to go far to swim. All beaches are open to the public, even those along hotel properties. One of the best beaches is Pigeon Point Beach, off the north shore, part of the Pigeon Island National Historic Park. The small beach here has white sand and is an ideal place for a picnic. Pigeon Island is joined to the mainland of St. Lucia by a causeway, so it’s easy to reach. The most frequented beach is Reduit Beach, with soft beige sand fronting very clear waters. Choc Bay is a long stretch of sand and palm trees on the northwestern coast, convenient to Castries and the big resorts. Its tranquil waters lure swimmers and especially families (including locals) with small children.

Marigot Bay is the quintessential Caribbean cove, framed on three sides by steep emerald hills and skirted by palm trees. There are some small but secluded beaches here. Some of the Caribbean’s most expensive yachts anchor in this bay. One of the most charming and hidden beaches of St. Lucia is the idyllic cove of Anse Chastanet, north of Soufrière. This is a beach connoisseur’s delight. Towering palms provide shade from the fierce noonday sun, and lush hills are a refreshing contrast to the dark sandy strip.

The dramatic crescent-shaped bay of Anse des Pitons is at the foot of and between the twin peaks of the Pitons, south of Soufrière. The Jalousie Plantation transformed the natural black-sand beach by covering it with white sand; It’s popular with divers and snorkelers. While here, ask about a very special beach reached only by boat: the black volcanic sands and tranquil waters of Anse Couchon. With its shallow reefs, excellent snorkeling, and picture-postcard charm, this beach has become a hideaway for lovers. It’s south of Anse-le-Raye.

Roll out your towel on the beige sand of popular Reduit Beach or the seclusion of Marigot Bay, ringed by emerald hills. Try to spot whales off Vigie Cove, or dive below the surface at Anse Chastanet. The Atlantic trade winds make for challenging windsurfing in Anse de Sables Bay, while beginners can try Cas en Bas beach at Gros Islet. Away from the beach, take a therapeutic mud bath at the sulfur springs of Soufrière, discover St. Lucia’s agricultural past at La Sikwe Historical Sugar Mill and Plantation, or watch butterflies flit about at the Maria Islands Nature Reserve.

In the capital city, Castries, you can stock up on hot sauce, spices, and luscious fruits and vegetables at the bustling public market, or bring back pottery, wood carvings, and silk-screened textiles from the shops along William Peter Boulevard and Bridge Street. Head to Rodney Bay for original artworks and antique prints, and Soufrière for batik clothing.

Hotels and resorts provide the mainstay of local nightlife, with DJs spinning everything from calypso, soca, and reggae to hip-hop, Latin, and rock at clubs and discos. Drink with the yachting crowd and expats in Marigot Bay, or dance the night away with the jet-setters at clubs in Castries. Friday-night jump-ups are weekly street parties, where rum, reggae, and grilled fish flow. Gatherings in Gros Islet and Anse la Raye keep it hopping until the wee hours.

Creole flavors inspire much of the local cuisine. Taste traditional dishes such as green figs, saltfish, and callaloo soup along with curries and pepperpot stews. Fresh foods abound, from fruits like mangoes, papayas, and coconuts, and fish, including lobster and marlin. Dine on haute cuisine at the higher-end resorts and restaurants in Castries, or join the locals in Dennery for their Saturday night fish fiesta.

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