From beaches and rainforests to colonial ruins, St Lucia is brimming with exciting attractions and activities. Although these are scattered across the island, the town of Soufriere has the highest concentration of must-see local sites, and you can experience several in the same day.
Based on my recent visit, here are five of the best:
The Pitons are the most photographed landmarks in St Lucia, and Soufriere is the best base for appreciating them. Draped in tropical foliage, these two volcanic plugs soar above the town. The larger of the two, Gros Piton (771m) is surprisingly easy to scale. To reach its base I took a taxi (30mins) from Soufriere to Gros Piton visitor centre.
From Gros Piton visitor centre it takes around 2.5 hours to climb to the summit on a marked trail. Although it's easy to navigate, walking with a registered guide is mandatory. Once you're at the top, the reward is a panoramic view that is arguably the best in St Lucia.
Just outside Soufriere, Anse Chastanet is easily one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Fringed by palm trees, this gently curved bay is lapped by warm waters and overlooked by The Pitons. From Soufriere, you can drive (5mins) or stroll (20mins) here along a rugged track. When I visited, I was the sole person walking to the beach, and only a couple of cars passed me en route. Don't be put off by the barriers when you arrive – this is a public beach and there's no charge for entry.
Everything from scuba diving and snorkelling, to sunbeds, toilets and a restaurant are on site. One of St Lucia's best spots for aquatic life, the sea has a roped-off snorkelling spot, and turtles regularly nest on the beach.
If Anse Chastanet is busy, follow the coastline for another ten minutes and you'll arrive at a second, more secluded beach called Anse Mamin. And if you simply can't tear yourself away at the end of the day, you could stay at the luxurious Anse Chastanet Resort or the exclusive Jade Mountain Resort, which is tucked in a hillside behind the beach.
Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens
Part of the historic Soufriere Estate, Diamond Falls is a managed botanical gardens that has an incredibly lush and almost wild feel about it. Located a few miles outside the town, it takes around five minutes to drive or take a taxi here from Soufriere.
For an entrance fee of US$7 you can spend as long as you like following six acres of pathways, bridges and streams that lead through the foliage. As you walk, vivid flowers burst through the green, like torch ginger, golden shrimp, pink heliconiaceae, and bright red lollipop plants.
For many, the real highlight of these gardens is the mineral-laced waterfall. Here, the Diamond River plunges to a pool below. Nearby, you can bathe in the mineral pools for US$7.
St Lucia's Sulphur Springs are set in the most geothermally active area in the Lesser Antilles (the eastern Caribbean's long arc of volcanic islands). Here, a road runs right through the crater of a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1780. When I visited, I could smell the egg-like sulphur as soon as I stepped out of the taxi.
After paying a US$15.00 entrance fee, I set off on a private tour with a chatty local guide. As we walked across a bridge over a trickling stream, she told me that the water here was warm enough to bathe in. I couldn't resist nipping down to the waters edge to test it with my toe – she was right!
Continuing through the park, we walked just metres away from bubbling mud pools and steaming fumaroles – some of which were hotter than 100°C. For an extra fee you can enter the natural thermal pools and mud baths. Sadly, I didn't have time but the grinning faces of the mud-caked tourists that passed me confirmed it was good fun.
Tet Paul Trail
Around ten minutes' drive from Soufriere, this community-run nature trail gives a fantastic insight into farming, nature and local life in St Lucia.
Meeting my guide at the entrance, I joined two other tourists for a 45-minute tour. Setting off through a working organic farm, our guide pointed out fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants, before demonstrating how raw cassava could be processed by hand to make flour.
Learning about St Lucia's natural history as we walked, we were treated to stunning, elevated views. Gazing over the treetops towards the glittering blue sea, I realised how incredibly lush, green and beautiful St Lucia really is.
The best view, however, was from the Stairway to Heaven viewpoint. From here, a breathtaking panorama takes in The Pitons, the town of Vieux Fort, acres of emerald green and, in the far distance, the neighbouring islands of Martinique and St Vincent.
Planning your trip
If you make an early start, it's possible to visit all five of Soufriere's top attractions in a single day – although this wouldn't give you much time to take it all in. When I visited, I climbed Gros Piton early on day one, and then relaxed at Anse Chastanet in the afternoon. On day two, I visited the Sulphur Springs, Tet Paul Trail and the Botanical Gardens. Ideally, I'd have liked an extra day for more beach time – believe me, once you arrive at Anse Chastanet you won't want to leave!
Whether you visit Soufriere for a single day or a full two weeks, I guarantee it'll leave a lasting impression. Climbing Gros Piton and visiting Anse Chastanet were two of the best things I did during my time in the Caribbean, along with experiencing Soufriere town itself – with historic buildings, local life and stylish cafes, it's a fantastic base for experiencing the best of St Lucia.