The glorious Caribbean island of St Lucia boasts all of the tropical trimmings, with year-round sunshine, sun-soaked coves and translucent, bathwater-warm seas. Yet there’s plenty to do away from the beaches too, thanks to jungle-cloaked mountains, volcanic landscapes and dense rainforest fragrant with bananas, mangoes and papayas. A favourite with families, honeymooners and hikers, these are the things you shouldn’t miss on this idyllic island – if only you can tear yourself away from the sand.
St Lucia’s volcanic soil, warm sun and mountain slopes make it ideal for growing cacao, with the island’s beans used in some of the world’s most famous bars. Learn a little more about everyone’s favourite sweet treat by visiting one of the island’s plantations, where you may even get to sample the real deal. La Dauphine Estate offers the full bean-to-bar experience, while in Fond Latisab Creole Park, cacao grows among trees heavy with bananas and cashew nuts on the banks of a river teeming with crayfish.
Hold your nose at the slightly whiffy Sulphur Springs, a dormant volcano that last erupted in the 1700s. Take a tour of the volcano to walk through the crater past bubbling hot springs and plumes of steam then head to the mud pools, where the thick grey mud is said to detoxify the body and help sunburn, eczema and even sore joints. Submerge yourself in the warm, mineral-rich pools and slap the mud on your skin for a baby-soft feel – just don’t don your best swimwear.
A popular spot to visit to wash off the mud from Sulphur Springs, Toraille Waterfall is one of the biggest waterfalls on the island, tumbling 8m (26ft) into a bracing plunge pool surrounded by jungle. If you’d rather swim in silence, try the slightly smaller Latille Falls instead, a fairytale pool buried deep in the rainforest and fed by a cooling waterfall. Bring water shoes if you have them as the pool is rocky underfoot and it can get slippery near the waterfall.
The distinctive Piton peaks are St Lucia’s most famous landmark and a Unesco-listed Site. The two volcanic mountains rise steeply from the southwestern coast of the island and are a magnet for keen hikers looking for a challenge and unsurpassed sea views. Head out early so you’re back before dark and consider using a guide when you go. If that sounds a little like hard work on holiday, book a catamaran cruise to see the peaks from the water instead.
Leave the lounger behind and get out on the water if you’re visiting St Lucia between October and February. Those months are the best for spotting majestic sperm whales, pilot whales and, more rarely, humpback whales as they move to the island’s warm waters to mate. Boat trips usually leave from Castries and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll spot spinner and bottlenose dolphins darting through the water too.
This is an island that loves to party and no visitor to St Lucia should miss one of the weekly “jump-ups” – late-night street parties where the music’s loud, the beer is ice cold and fresh fish and spicy chicken are served straight from the barbeque. On Friday nights, head to the fishing villages of Gros Islet or Anse La Raye, while on Saturday the party moves to the beach in Dennery where stalls are loaded with lobster and cocktails chock with rum.
Find everything from snacks to souvenirs at the large, lively open-air market in the island’s capital. Stalls are piled high with sweet-smelling fruit and vegetables while others stock necklaces, locally made straw bags, bags of exotic spices, gifts and even banana ketchup. Sip from a fresh coconut as you browse to the sounds of reggae in the air and be sure to pick up some cocoa sticks to grate into boiling water to make cocoa tea – a rich, chocolatey local speciality.
Learn more about St Lucia’s colourful past at Pigeon Island, connected to the main island by a causeway near Gros Islet. The beautiful islet was once the home of the Amerindians – the first settlers on the island – and was later occupied by pirates before becoming a military base during the wars between the French and British. Visitors can still spot the ruins of military buildings and climb Fort Rodney for spectacular views of St Lucia and Martinique.
Fly through the rainforest on a thrilling zip-line course at the Treetop Adventure Park, deep within the island’s tranquil jungle. Cross wooden bridges and rope walkways to reach platforms in the trees where twelve lines will whizz you over the rainforest canopy below. Sound exhausting? Plump for a ride on the Rainforest Aerial Tram instead, where you’ll enjoy a bird’s eye view of the forest from an open-air gondola, with a naturalist on hand to point out the jungle’s sights and sounds.
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