Framed by the Eastern Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Saint Lucia is an island of rare beauty steeped in fascinating history. Though possessing a population of fewer than 170,000 people (based on a 2005 census) and measuring only 239 square miles, this Windward Island of the Lesser Antilles has assimilated the numerous outside influences of its eventful past into a distinct national culture.
It is now thought almost certain that Christopher Columbus never actually alighted at Saint Lucia in 1499. However, colonial expansion would soon arrive at her shores in the form of European nations seeking trading outposts in the Caribbean. Facing resistance from the indigenous Carib rulers (who had triumphed in their struggle with the Arawaks centuries earlier), the European powers nonetheless continued to seek a strong foothold on the island.
This fierce competition ushered in a period of around 150 years (beginning in the mid-17th Century) during which Saint Lucia became a battleground for French and British armies. Possession of the island switched on numerous occasions before Saint Lucia was eventually ceded to the British in 1815. Saint Lucia remained a British possession throughout both world wars, and became an outpost for US troops in the 1940s. Though Queen Elizabeth II remains Head of State, the island gained full independence on February 22nd 1979 – a date recognised during yearly celebrations.
Though most islanders can also speak Kwéyòle (similar to French), the official language is English.
Saint Lucia's dry season runs from December through to May, during which time average temperatures range from around 21 to 29°C. The rainy season, running from June until November, boasts higher temperatures in addition to infrequent but very heavy downpours. Travelling during the latter season can reduce costs by upwards of fifty percent. Temperatures and humidity in Saint Lucia are often countered by North-eastern trade winds, making the heat somewhat more bearable for those unused to the Caribbean.
Things to see and Do
Belying its small size, Saint Lucia offers a number of attractions sure to please a whole range of visitors. Most resorts are situated along the western coastline of the island, leading up to the capital, Castries, in the North West. Almost entirely rebuilt several times in the past (the last occasion following a huge fire in 1948), Castries acts as the hub of Saint Lucia. It houses the government, the island post-office, and a buzzing (though not yet over-developed) tourist industry. Visitors are drawn to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, situated close to Derek Walcott Square. Walcott's acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992 has helped Saint Lucia to achieve its status as the world's most fertile breeding ground for Nobel Prize winners per head of population. Morne Fortune represents a highly interesting reminder of Castries' past need for strong fortification.
Saint Lucia can truly lay claim to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the region. The iconic Piton Mountains which loom 2,000 feet over the south-western port of Soufrière, are an absolute must, and contain the world's only drive-in volcano! Marigot Bay's natural harbour has an interesting past as a common hideout for pirate vessels. The island's central mountain range is adorned with lush rainforests nurturing rare species, fabulous wild orchids and giant ferns. These can be explored during rainforest walks, or even by car (should you be brave enough to tackle the hairpin bends). The Botanical Gardens are an equally enjoyable way to experience the unspoilt Caribbean habitat of the island. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the Jacquot, Saint Lucia's national bird.
Outside of Castries, Saint Lucia boasts several smaller but no less interesting towns and villages. The local cuisine is a delicious combination of Creole, French and West Indian influences. Definitely ones to try are the local lobster (or langoste), Saint-Lucian brewed Piton Beer, and famous Caribbean rum. It can all be sampled to a soundtrack of traditional calypso, zouk and reggae, and in smaller fishing villages, to the relaxing sound of the ocean. Gos Islet, a relatively new town and host to matches during the 2007 Cricket World Cup, holds a street party every Friday night for those seeking to show off their dance steps. Revellers may wish to practice their Quadrille before Saint Lucia's mid-July carnival, or attend the May-time annual Jazz Festival. Two of Saint Lucia's most enjoyable nightclubs are Indies and The Late Time. Alternatively visit the small sleepy port of Soufrière, birthplace of Napoleon's Empress Josephine de Beauhamais, for a slice of the relaxed Caribbean.
An outing to Vieux Fort in the South is highly recommended, Saint Lucia's second largest settlement with a gorgeous Old Town area. The resort also hosts a surprisingly large fish market on Fridays and Saturdays, selling both familiar treats, along with a few types you probably haven't eaten before. Numerous craft markets, particularly in Castries, offer unique batik and silkscreen designs and further shopping desires can be indulged at Pointe Seraphine which boasts over 30 duty-free shops. No visit to St Lucia would be complete without going to some of the incredible beaches that characterize the island, blessed as they are with white sand and clear blue sea. Malabor, and the Choc and La Toc Beaches are just a few of the large number on offer. Such delightful coastlines have contributed to Saint Lucia's status as a honeymoon and wedding hotspot (nearly 10 marriages a day in 2006), but the beaches offer an equally big opportunity for less romantic exploits, such as water-sports (Anse de Feble is great for windsurfing) or snorkelling and scuba diving. The island also has three great golf courses.
As previously mentioned, Saint Lucia is something of a favourite for both newlyweds and couples in search of a romantic break. Although this is true, the island is similarly recommended for families and parties looking to enjoy both active vacations and more cultural excursions. Hence, Saint Lucian hotels require some research before booking as they look to target specific groups of people.
A reasonably wide variety of prices are in evidence, yet Saint Lucian hotels have good reputations for service and comfort, meaning that many of those on offer represent very good value. The Landera was recently voted the best hotel in the world by Condé Nast, but for those on a tighter budget (which judging by the Landera's prices should be plenty), options remain plentiful. Hotels such as the Villa Beach cottages at Castries meet all but the most extravagant requirements.
Though many choose to stay self-catering or half-board, all-inclusive deals are becoming an increasingly popular for holidays in Saint Lucia. The island has a small number of hostels, of which the Bibs International Backpackers hostel comes with a seal of approval. Camping is also available at the Anse la Liberte.
Saint Lucia is served by two airports, the George FL Charles (or Virgie Airport) and Hewanorra International Airport, near Vieux Fort. Served by Caribbean Start and LIAT amongst others, the airport is about a one and a half hour drive from the capital, along the east coast road. Car hire is readily available in advance or on arrival, roads are generally of a high standard and St Lucians drive on the left hand side. Though there is no rail service on the island, there are good bus-links including those to and from the airport. By way of an example, the Castries to Gros Islet bus runs every 30 minutes and these vehicles can often be flagged down. Taxis are also cheap with no tipping necessary, but be sure to arrange a fixed rate upon getting in the car. Numerous ferries also link Castries to Fort-de-France and Soufrière.
Other Useful Information
- Local healthcare is extremely expensive, so visitors should take out full health insurance for the duration of their stay.
- It is advised to drink bottled water in Saint Lucia.
- Hepatitis A and Tetanus jabs are required. Diptheira, Typhoid, TB, and Hepatitis B can sometimes be required, and this should be checked with your GP.
- Beachwear should not be worn in towns, and any camouflage clothing is illegal.
- There is a rising risk of violent crime in Saint Lucia, and the Foreign Office recommends that vigilance by exercised with regard to this.
St Lucia High Commission
Mr. Emmanuel Cotter
1 Collingham Gardens
London SW5 0HW
Tel: 0207 370 7123
Fax:0207 370 1905