By land or sea, there's a lot to discover
From green-clad peaks and lush garden valleys to shimmering waters and palm-fringed beaches, St. Lucia is a place of great natural beauty. Small wonder that it is home to some of the most romantic resorts in the Caribbean. But there’s also a slightly wilder side to this gem of an island, and this fact isn’t lost on travelers looking to do more than recline on the beach or admire the views from a hillside terrace. Here are some of the soft adventures that await on land and sea.
In the Woods
More than three-quarters of St. Lucia remains covered in forests, with substantial portions of the land protected within national parks and nature preserves. Miles of hiking trails give access to sites ranging from remote beaches to mountain ridges and volcanic valleys. The most famous hike is the path up Soufrière Volcano, where trekkers journey into an alien landscape of bubbling mud pools and odoriferous sulfur hot springs. Another bragging-rights walk is the steep climb to the summit of Gros Piton, which will challenge the fit, and reward with amazing views. Less demanding are the shaded pathways of the Millet Bird Sanctuary and the Diamond Botanical Garden, which is home to one of the most colorful waterfalls in the Caribbean.
Swap hiking shoes for bike shorts and more backcountry adventures await. Off road riding in St. Lucia centers around the Anse Mamin Plantation, which is part of the 600-acre estate belonging to the Anse Chastanet Resort. Here, miles of off-road bike trails run through jungle foliage and the abandoned stone structures of a French sugar plantation. All trails are mulched to reduce mud and prevent erosion. Roots and other sharp projections are removed, and there are routes suitable for novices to experts.
Different thrills await at La Soufrière Mountain. Here, an elevated tramway ferries passengers up the green-clad slopes of a forest reserve, where a network of zip lines runs through the forest canopy, providing exhilarating flights that showcase aspects of the highland rainforest that can’t be seen from the ground. Those wanting a closer look at St. Lucia’s forest canopy can also take their time on an elevated adventure course that includes suspensions bridges strung through the treetops.
On the Water
With clear Caribbean waters washing its shores, and coral reefs just a short swim from the beach, St. Lucia is a water sports playground for paddlers, sailors, snorkelers and divers. Most dive and snorkeling sites are close to shore, where narrow coastal ledges at depths of 15 to 30 feet transition to slopes. The majority of these sites are accessed by boat, but there are also several excellent shore dives. Some slopes are gentle and lead to intermediate depths, others are steep to vertical, and drop to depths below 100 feet. Additional features include pinnacles, boulder fields and underwater canyons. St. Lucia is known for colorful sponges, hard and soft coral growths, and for a high diversity of reef-dwelling species.
Paddling excursions take place all along St. Lucia’s western coast, which is sheltered from trade winds and easterly Atlantic swells. A number of resorts provide kayaks and stand up paddleboards for local exploration, and there is also a wide range of organized tours to enjoy, including longer routes that venture into the mouths of coastal rivers and over coral reefs. Itineraries may also include stops at remote beaches, seaside villages and snorkel sites. Favorite itineraries include trips to the nature park and an 18th-century British fort at Pigeon Island, entries into the banyan-tree shaded channel of the Roseau River and sunset paddles around the Pitons.
Marigot Bay is the island’s center for sailing and fishing trips. Visitors can ship out for a relaxing day sail down the coast to the Pitons, or wait until late for a scenic sunset cruise, with a chance to see the fabled green flash as the sun drops below the horizon. Dolphin watching trips are offered year-round, and in winter there is a good chance of seeing sperm whales, humpback whales and pilot whales in the deep waters that run close to shore.
Around the Town
Less thrilling but no less memorable are the cultural adventures and civilized indulgences that await in the towns and resorts of St. Lucia. A long political tug-of-war for sovereignty between France and England saw the island change hands some 14 times over a 200 year period, creating a unique cultural blend of Anglo and Franco traditions that intermingle with the traditions of West Africa. While the official language of the island is English, a great deal of the St. Lucians speak French “Patois” which adds further to the island’s tropical mystique. St. Lucia’s heritage and culture can be discovered not only on formal tours of historic sites and landmarks, but also by simply visiting a local market, or joining the weekly village street parties known as the Fish Fry. Bigger events include annual celebrations such as Carnival, Dive Fest, Chocolate Heritage Month and the Jazz & Arts Festival.
Mind and Body
St. Lucia’s lush surroundings set the stage for unique and upscale resorts that blend luxury, indulgence and rejuvenation. Premier spas focus on therapies adapted to fit the needs of each individual patron. In addition to traditional massage and cleansing programs offered at a number of spas, guests at premier resorts including Anse Chastanet, Ti Kaye and Jade Mountain can experience specialties such as Chavutti deep barefoot massage, Anpagal four-hands massage, and touch therapies from a Master Bhutanese practitioner, who delivers Kora Healing through a combination of deep tissue massage, Indian stretches and Reiki energy work. Equally popular as this pampering are the integrated wellness, fitness and nutrition programs at The Body Holiday that can turn a vacation into a physical and mental reboot. Days can begin with beachside yoga and include guided walks that encourage mindful awareness of nature or Pranayama meditative breathing sessions to calm and strengthen the mind.
At the Table The island’s rich volcanic soil yields a cornucopia of tropical fruits and vegetables. This bounty is reflected in the savory dishes of traditional Creole cooking, and it has inspired a new wave of organic and fusion cuisines that have earned island chef’s top honors in international culinary competitions. In addition to enlivening resort kitchens, St. Lucia’s farms and orchards support a thriving agricultural export sector that includes bananas and chocolate. One of the island’s sweetest day trips involves a tour of historic cacao plantations, followed by a chance to create your own chocolate confections.