Monday, November 10, 2014

5 Things To Do in St. Lucia

Saint Lucia is a great Caribbean island to visit if you can put up with a few things: mosquitoes, driving on the left side of the road, and hilly narrow roads. However, the mosquitoes are the worst, it almost ruined my vacation. I found the mosquito problem was shared by many visitors with some bites showing signs of infection.

View of St. Lucia and surrounding ocean

St. Lucia is a volcanic island, quite lush and very green. We experienced downpours that lasted no more than an hour. The rivers of water gushing through the streets were phenomenal.

Saint Lucia Pitons
Saint Lucia Pitons

Saint Lucia History

Caribbean map

The French and the British over the years colonized the island, exchanging ownership between the two countries 14 different times. In 1979 Saint Lucia gained its full independence from Britain, in that same year it became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations which has its advantages and disadvantages. Most of the population is Catholic and speak English, however, amongst themselves the local people prefer to speak Patois, a Creole version of French.

Saint Lucia main source of income has changed through the years from sugar to bananas and now tourism.

A waterfall in St. Lucia

Here are my top 5 things to do in St. Lucia

1.   Visit the Castries Market

Castries is the capital of Saint Lucia. It is a walkable tropical town and rather modern that is probably the result of being totally destroyed by fires four times. Downtown Castries has a center square (Derek Walcott Square) surrounded by colorful colonial buildings, the main Cathedral, the Public Library and a 400-year old Samaan tree, locally known as the Massav tree.

Not far from the main square is the local market which opened in 1894 in its current location. It is quite large and you can find almost anything from the local crafts to the bizarre to the interesting.

Castries Market in St. Lucia
Castries Market in St. Lucia

Display of crafts at Castries market
Crafts at one of the vendor stalls at the Castries Market

While at the market, I picked up a couple of bottles of banana ketchup, which sounds strange but is quite good. I also picked up a bird feeder and fruits and vegetables to cook back at our place. We also picked up a few spices including their local fish spice that is superb, which we are enjoying now back at home. I wish I had brought more of it. As with most markets, you need to bring cash, they take US dollars. The best part about our time at the market was eating lunch from a small vendor, it was yummy (!) but it requires a whole new post (in process) St. Lucia Local Foods and Crafts.

Local child in St. Lucia
A local child who wanted me to have a picture taken with him

2.   Visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Through all my travels I can say I have seen my share of pretty churches but this one was just gorgeous. The church was built in 1897 by the French. It is the largest Cathedral in the Caribbean. 

Immaculate Conception Cathedral in St. Lucia

What I enjoyed the most was the colors. The entire inside of the church is decorated in yellow, red and green rich tones with beautiful murals done by St. Lucian artist Dunstan St. Omer. The religious images on the walls show the influence of the African and Caribbean heritage of the area.

Inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral

Religious paint

While the inside of the church was not air conditioned, it was cool enough for us to spend time admiring and taking in the peace and calm ambiance.

Indoor view of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in St. Lucia

The Cathedral is at one of the corners of the main center square (Derek Walcott Square), on the opposite side is the Main Library, a short walk away. The library is small and despite of not having air conditioning, the reading room was very well occupied.

Main Library in Castries, St. Lucia
The Main Library in Castries, St. Lucia

The 400-year old Samaan tree at the center of the main square still looks quite healthy. The trunk base is quite large. The center square is named after Derek Walcott, a native Saint Lucian playwright who in 1992 won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Derek Walcott Square in Castries, St. Lucia

3.   Go Snorkeling

Snorkeling is something we do whenever we get a chance. In my pre-trip reading, I read Anse Chastanet was the best place for snorkeling in the island so we had to check it out.

Snorkeling in Anse Chastanet, a young marine reserve.

Anse Chastanet beach

Anse Chastanet beach

 Anse Chastanet offers good snorkeling because it is a protected marine area. A reserve since 1995, it has some very unique coral and beautiful, colorful fish. We saw eels, vase sponges, sea fans, needle fish, squids and sea horses. The reef is just offshore allowing us to swim to it right from the beach and is about 20 - 140 feet deep which allows you great visibility of the marine life.

Anse Chastanet beach

The water is clear, warm, and calm. The volcanic beach is very nice. The beach facilities include a scuba rental facility, a restaurant, restrooms and very nice tall coconut trees for shade.

Snorkeling in Reduit Beach

Reduit Beach is on the northwest coast of the island. Our resort had a complimentary snorkeling trip to Reduit Beach, so we went. The water was mostly clear, but quite choppy from the passing boats in the area. The marine life was not as abundant as in Anse Chastanet. The views of the island and our resort, Windjammer landing, on our way to and back from snorkeling, were wonderful.

View of Windjammer Landing Resort from the ocean
View of the Windjammer Landing Resort

4.   Tour the Rhythm of Rum Distillery 

I am not an expert on rum but ever since our trip to the Cayman Islands, I enjoy good rum when I am close to a good source. Saint Lucia produces its own rum in Roseau Valley so taking a tour of the distillery was a must for me once on the island. I suggest you take the tour early in your St. Lucia vacation so you get a chance to taste many of the home produced rums and buy them at factory prices to drink and to take back home.

Rum process by-products
Touring the Rum Distillery in St. Lucia

The Rhythm of Rum Distillery Tour costs $14USD and that includes the tour plus the tasting and payment is in cash. The tour itself could be better but you do learn how rum is produced and its history. The tour starts in a room where you watch a recording of the history of rum on the island and then there is a walking tour of the distillery. The best part is the tasting at the end of the tour, it is basically an ALL-you-can-drink rum area. A variety of rums from the highly alcoholic to the flavored types are set out for you to serve yourself. There were at least 25 different bottles of rum available for tasting. I will be writing a post on just rum, Rum is Not Just For Pirates.

5. Go on a Customized Tour of the Island

Whether you rent a car or not, doing a tour of the West side of the island is a must. We did not rent a car and I was happy about that, driving on this island means maneuvering tight hilly roads and sometimes not very well paved. Instead, I opted to hire a touring company with a private driver to take us on a customized tour lasting about 9 hours, and it was the best thing we did. 
There are many local touring companies and you can expect to pay (cash) $200 - $250 USD but it is well worth it. I hired Fabian tours and Curtis our driver was very knowledgeable about his island history, people, vegetation and flavors. He was a very good driver with a great personality. 

Photo of people against the Pitons, St. Lucia
Curtis, our private driver in St. Lucia during our tour of the island

In our tour we stopped at Mount Fortune, the Rum Distillery for a tour and tasting, stopped at a banana plantation shack to eat bananas, drove through fishing villages, visited a waterfall, visited Marigot Bay, stopped to take photos against the Pitons, stopped to snorkel in Anse Chastanet, visited a small local craft gallery, stopped to get several local fruits (coconut, soursop, papayas and mangoes), visited a small local store making cassava bread which was to die for, and bought fish from a local fisherman, the best ever! To see more pictures and information read my upcoming post, St. Lucia Local Foods and Crafts. 

View of the ocean from a villa at the Windjammer Landing, St. Lucia
The view from our patio at the Windjammer Landing Resort, St. Lucia

All in all Saint Lucia is a fun Caribbean island to visit but the mosquito problem could hold me back from visiting again anytime soon plus the fact that I have a few other Caribbean islands yet to see. So the question is where to go next? Any suggestions? Which is your favorite island?

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Wishing you all, Fabulous Travels.

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