Breathtakingly beautiful, St Lucia is one of the Caribbean’s most visited islands. Its lush scenery, sandy beaches and luxury hotels draw everyone from families to honeymooners. And, with direct flights from the UK taking just 8-9 hours, getting here is easy.
Last year I visited on a short escape. With only five days on the island, I was conscious of making the most of my time. To plan my itinerary, I trawled the internet, chatted to travel agents, and spoke to friends who had visited, and loved, St Lucia.
When to go
The Island is hot all year round. High season runs from mid-December to mid-April, when the weather is at its best. Hurricane season falls between June and October, so is best avoided if possible.
Annual events, like the world famous Jazz festival (early May), are busy times to visit, so you need to book in advance for the best hotels. My trip fell in early December, when hundreds of boats were arriving into Rodney Bay with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) – the world's largest ocean-crossing race.
Outdoor adventure & natural beauty
More mountainous than many other Caribbean islands, St Lucia owes its natural beauty to a tropical climate and volcanic terrain. The Pitons – two cone-shaped volcanic ‘plugs’ in the south – are some of the Caribbean’s most photographed landmarks. Climbing the largest plug, Gros Piton (786m), was top of my list for outdoor adventure.
To learn more about the island’s tectonic make up, I was keen to visit the Sulphur Springs. Part of the dormant Qualibou volcano, this is apparently the world’s "only drive-in volcano," with bubbling mud pools, steaming fumaroles and a nose-curling smell of sulphur.
More recently, St Lucia has become known for its extensive jungle zip lines, which whizz through the rainforests. A friend who visited a few years ago, told me that this was the single best thing he did in St Lucia.
Snorkelling and kitesurfing were also on my wish list. Snorkelling is said to be good from almost any St Lucian beach and, with a roped-off area that is nicknamed "Fairy Land," Anse Chastanet beach (in the south) has some of the best.
For kitesurfing, the season runs from November until June, so I had my fingers crossed for some early-season wind. The main kitesurf spot is Anse de Sables in the far south but there are several other locations to choose from, including Cas-en-Bas beach in the northeast.
Unsurprisingly, beaches are a big part of the island’s appeal. In the north, Reduit Beach is the busiest, with lots of bars, restaurants and watersports. Nearby are the tiny beaches of Pigeon Island, which you can reach via water-taxi or by walking across the causeway.
Already on my list was the snorkelling beach of Anse Chastanet. located on the southwest coast, these silver sands are backed by the exclusive Anse Chastanet Resort. Ten minutes’ drive or a water taxi away is Anse de Pitons, which sits beneath the Pitons – said to be one of St Lucia’s most beautiful beaches, the white sands here were imported from Guyana.
Vibrant local culture
Alongside a thriving tourist industry, St Lucia is known for its down-to-earth culture. On the northwest coast, the capital city of Castries has a weekly market and historic landmarks that include the La Toc Battery. I’d been told that this would be a great place to experience everyday life.
The town of Gros Islet, near Rodney Bay, is famous for its Friday night Jump Ups, when food vendors fill the streets and the bars stay open late. Annoyingly, my visit didn’t fall on a Friday but I was assured that it’s a "must do" experience if you can make it.
During my research, however, there was one town that I was told to visit time and time again: Soufrière. Dubbed by travel guides as the "heart and soul of St Lucia," this seafront town has colonial-era buildings and lots of local life, set beneath the Pitons.
Incredible colonial history
Throughout its history, St Lucia changed hands 14 times between France and Britain before gaining independence in 1979. To experience this past, I’d need to visit Pigeon Island, which is connected to St Lucia via a causeway. The islet played a key role in colonial history, and was where the British launched an attack on the French during the 1782 Battle of the Saints.
Plantations are another essential attraction. For centuries, everything from sugar cane and coffee, to cotton and cocoa was grown here, and you can experience this at former plantations like Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens, and the Marquis Estate near Castries.
Choosing a base – North or South?
Having done my research, the next task was deciding whereabouts on the island to stay. In the north, the tourist hub of Rodney Bay Village has the best choice of hotels, amenities and tourist activities, while the more tranquil south has hidden beaches, historic plantations and the Pitons.
I decided to split my holiday between north and south, booking two nights in Rodney Bay and two in Soufrière. A twin-centre holiday would mean I could experience both ends of St Lucia at my own pace – although, the island’s relatively small size means that you could easily explore it all on day trips from a single base.
Making a priority list
To make sure I’d have enough time to see the sites at a relaxed pace, I decided on a short-list of must-see attractions. Reduit Beach and Pigeon Island made the cut, along with Gros Piton, Anse Chastenet and Diamond Falls Botanical Garden.
If I had enough time, I also hoped to go kitesurfing at Anse de Sables and zip lining n a rainforest, as well as visit the Sulphur Springs and Castries.
Nonetheless, five days isn’t long and, as with any Caribbean holiday, factoring in enough time to stretch out on the sand, sip rum punch and indulge in some unadulterated island relaxation is, of course, essential.