It's true that the majority of holidaymakers that choose St Lucia as their destination do so for its serene allure, it's great relaxing potential and its inherent romantic appeal due to the beauty of its pristine beaches backed by lush mountains like the iconic Pitons.
Most travellers escape to St Lucia because of its tranquillity and the lure of its five-star resorts poised in stunning locations, many of which also offer dramatic views over secluded beach coves fringed by lush nature. There's also its inescapable romantic appeal and the lack of large tourism crowds or rowdy guests. It's little wonder then that St Lucia has been repeatedly named the "Caribbean's most romantic location" and has featured heavily on TV programmes like The Bachelor, a U.S. dating reality TV show.
But while St Lucia's most attractive assets are well-known to most, not all travellers are aware of the many experiences to be had beyond the beaches, should you seek a change of scenery after days of beach-basking, if you want to engage with the locals in meaningful ways or if you are simply in need of more active pursuits to make for a more well-rounded holiday.
These are 25 ways to get to the essence of St Lucia with meaningful, often indulgent experiences. I've split them into different categories so that failing the ability, or interest, in doing one or two (or three) of these you can choose an alternative similar or completely different activity of the same nature.
Hiking the Pitons
Whichever one of the two you prefer to climb, this is an exhilarating experience that no true adventurer at heart should miss whilst in St Lucia. These twin peaks that dominate most postcard-style pictures of the island and feature prominently on holiday brochures are actually volcanic plugs formed by the magma that cooled at the top of the now dormant volcanoes. Out of the two Pitons, Gros Piton (771 metres) is the most popular and easier to climb, despite being taller. Petit Piton (734) is doable but requires an even higher fitness level as it's a far more strenuous journey (some locals may warn you that it's only suitable for expert or professional climbers).
Guided hikes taking you to the top of both mountains are available and strongly recommended. You can still go it alone if you wish but a guide will definitely come handy (especially if you plan to climb Petit Piton). The journey to the top will be at least six hours long, so do come prepared with snacks and plenty of water. The views to be admired from the top of the Pitons are simply priceless - probably one of the most rewarding experiences of your trip to St. Lucia.
Zip-lining your way through the rainforest
Glide from treetop to treetop to enjoy a birds' eye view of St Lucia's virtually untouched jungle, taking in glorious vistas that you'll never forget. Rainforest Adventures takes you on an amazing journey where you'll be "flying" from platform to platform, and there's 18 in total! As you whizz past, you'll feast your eyes on incredible wildlife, vibrant flowers and cute local creatures. If that doesn't sound hardcore enough to quench your thirst for adrenaline, you can try it at night, where you'll glide along the jungle under a dark mantle, lighted only by the moon and stars.
Exploring the world's only drive-in volcano
Yes, you will be literally driving right into the crater of a dormant volcano to enjoy privileged views of its bubbling mud pools and hissing sulphur springs. The Qualibou caldera (also Kanoa at La Soufriere Volcano) is a one-of-a-kind in the world and you can really get close to the crater, once at the top you can hike or bike your way around and you'll know as you get closer by the strong smell of "rotten eggs" (what sulphur smells like) but fear not the smell is bearable and nowhere near as bad as to deter you from a visit.
While you do not have to do any arduous climbing or strenuous physical activity to get here the drive up here feels adventurous and the ride is incredibly scenic, so lots of photo-ops! After inspecting the bubbling and steaming pools, you can take a dip in one of the mud baths, hailed for its skin-nourishing and detoxifying properties. The Sulphur Springs website actually claims that you'll step out looking 12 years younger! Be mindful that this is a popular attraction so if you want to avoid crowds go early in the morning or an hour or so before closing time.
Partying the night away in Rodney Bay
Due to the number of bars lining the so-called Rodney Bay Strip, this is the number one place in St Lucia to down a few cocktails and dance into the wee hours of the morning. Elsewhere in St Lucia it tends to remain fairly quiet, so if you want nighttime action in the form of lively bars and sleek clubs, this is the place to be. Just don't expect Cancun-style mega clubs and raves.
The nightlife here tends to stay raw and authentic, moving to the sounds of soca, reggae, hip-hop and R&B, giving you a great opportunity to "wine" with the locals and maybe even learn a new move or two. A few more modern and trendy nightclubs that have popped up in recent years will have DJ sessions where international hits are played, old and new while the smallest bars will be shack-like and small but with plenty of charm.
Joining Gros Islet's Friday Jump-up
This weekly street party gets locals and tourists moving to the sound of live and recorded music as local vendors fill the street with the sweet aromas of grilled and freshly cooked bites. Every Friday, giant speakers are set up, music is cranked up to full blast and everyone starts dancing, only stopping to sip some rum punch and nibble on tasty bites. A great place to discover local cuisine while having a blast.
St Lucia Jazz
Every spring St Lucia comes alive to the sounds of national and international jazz. The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival takes hold of the country every May for a week, treating visitors to the best of jazz with an impressive line-up of award-winning performers and international stars. Past performing guests have included Santana, R. Kelly, Amy Winehouse, John Legend, Rihanna, Boyz II Men, Elton John and Lauryn Hill, to name a few. In fact, the St Lucia Jazz Festival is so big that it's been ranked the second best in the Caribbean even after the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
St Lucia Carnival
Despite being little known for years and flying under the radar for most tourists and remaining a fairly "local for locals" event, the Saint Lucia Carnival has been growing in the past couple of years, with ongoing efforts from authorities to promote it and make it a bigger tourist attraction. And it looks like they've achieved the worldwide pre-ignition they'd been seeking. After the success of the recently celebrated 2018 St Lucia Carnival, we dare say they've surpassed expectations, with hotel occupancy levels reaching an all-time high for this time of year. Next year it's expected to be even bigger and better and few other events are as effective at getting you close and personal with local culture, so deficient an experience not to be missed!
Beachscapism - snorkelling, diving, kitesurfing and beach-bumming
First of all, it must be said that all beaches in St Lucia are public so regardless of which hotel or resort you stay at, nothing can stop you from visiting all other beach stretches around the island.
Chilling in Anse Cochon
A great alternative to the busier, more popular Reduit Beach in the north, this pretty beach located half way down the island's western coast, wedged between Castries and Soufriere is a magical place of pristine dark sands fringed by jungle undergrowth. The eco-friendly Ti Kaye up the hillside is the most idyllic place to stay and conditions on this untouched part of the island are exceptional for snorkelling and scuba diving, with many underwater excursions organised by the hotel.
Rewarding seclusion in Grand Anse
This isolated stretch of beach is one of the prettiest in St Lucia with no tourist crowds in sight due to its off the beaten path location, well removed from the lure of hotels and resorts. Found on the island's eastern coast, access is not that straightforward. You'll need to catch a bus from Castries and walk the rest of the way, which is quite a hike. Alternatively, you can hire a 4x4 car and drive here yourself but the ride is bumpy and tricky (with fantastic scenery to take in along the way!) But it all adds to the excitement of having a beach practically to yourself.
Kitesurfing in Anse des Sables
If you're after a more active water activity above the surface (at least that's the idea, most of the time!) then the wavy waters off Anse des Sables on Sandy Beach are the best to enjoy this water sport. When the wind is up you'll notice colourful sails in the distance with keen kite surfers riding the waves. The lack of obstacles and smooth waters make this an ideal destination for the sport, attracting international kite surfers from all corners of the planet. If you're a novice you can book private classes at the Reef, as well as rent kitesurfing equipment.
History and Nature
Trekking to Pigeon Island
If you're based in Gros Islet or anywhere in the north, the journey to Pigeon Island National Park is a definite must. Once a pirate base some 500 years ago and later a naval base for a British army, this blessed and picturesque islet contains historic relics and is now connected to mainland via a man-made causeway, making it easily accessible either on foot (if you fancy a hike) or via a water taxi.
The entire island is a protected national park and you'll have to pay a small fee to enter it ($10 East Caribbean dollars). Once there you can cover all of it in half a day, although a full day is recommended. Stop by the beautiful ruins of former barracks, spotting cannons along the way before inspecting the remnants of Fort Rodney. After climbing to the top of the fort you'll be rewarded with the most amazing panoramic views. Winding paths will lead you through tropical foliage and into other ruins like Musket Redoubt and at the end of the day you can cool down with a bit of snorkelling in the shallows of a dreamy beach. Pure heaven with a bit of action on the side.
Spotting the St Lucia parrot
Follow the trails of Des Cartiers Rainforest to spot the island's national bird, as colourful as its habitat, with a blue head, green wings and a yellow tail. Found only in St Lucia, this endangered beauty is not as easy to spot as one would like, with a remaining population of around 500. Yet if you watch out for mango trees you are likely to come across one or two, as they love the fruit. Before embarking on the birdwatching journey, pick up a map of the 2.5-mile trail (available at most tourism centres) and don't forget to bring your binoculars!
Doing the Tet Paul Nature Trail
If you want a hiking challenge that's far less demanding than climbing the Pitons, this 45-minute nature trail is ideal for you. Even kids can do it! The bonus part is that you'll get to drink in spectacular views over the twin peaks all the same! This is a very quiet trail to do and along the way, you'll enjoy captivating landscapes, so it's great for learning about local flora and fauna. Don't forget to bring your best camera or DSLR as the views at the top are simply breathtaking.
Cooling down in a waterfall
In St Lucia you can choose from the Toraille Waterfall, shockingly cold water but beautiful falls, Anse La Raye Falls, in the midst of the rainforest and accessible after a scenic hike, Piton Falls, with warm pool, or the falls at Diamond Botanical Gardens; a former plantation turned into park, with stunning ornamental plants, mineral bath and a small yet photogenic waterfall. For a more dramatic experience, the more hidden Sault Falls are sure to leave a lasting impression and great photos!.
Immersing in the world of cocoa
There is more than one way to get a sweet taste of St Lucia during a holiday. All chocoholics and cocoa-lovers are in for a treat at either of two locations: Morne Coubaril Estate, where you are taken through the step-by-step process of cocoa production and Boucan by Hotel Chocolat where you can see how their gourmet chocolate is produced at their own plantation and not only taste the result but also feel it at the onsite spa offering innovative massages and beauty treatments using cocoa butter and cocoa nib as the main ingredients in exfoliating rub downs.
Taking a cooking class
You can do this at many resorts and hotels where they offer complimentary or payable cooking classes, some of which are hosted by renowned, award-winning chefs. Alternatively, there are places offering daily cooking experiences, like The Little Lucian Cooking School in Castries, offering an enjoyable immersion into the island's culinary traditions down to the use of traditional cookware, from natural bowls to coconut cups. Here you can learn about the Caribbean's "Seven Secret Ingredients" and sample the famous cocoa tea. What better way to truly appreciate the magic behind St Lucian flavours than by trying your hand at replicating them?
Sipping Piton beer
Image courtesy of Aneil Lutchman.
This locally produced brew has won award after award for its exceptionally refreshing taste. It won the "Gold Medal" at the Monde Selection 2017 Awards for the second year in a row and continues to be highly ranked among Caribbean beers, so it'd be practically sinful not to try it during your time in St Lucia unless beer is not your thing, of course!.
Treating your palate to refined delicacies in Castries
Beyond the traditional St Lucian dishes to try, many of which revolve around seafood, in the form of fish stews as well as hearty local favourites like Callaloo soup, there is a world of culinary delights to discover in a more refined and avant-garde way. Culinary innovation can be found in many Castries restaurants, where the Pink Plantation House serves Creole specialities with amodern twist. In terms of international flavours, the widest variety of fine dining venues can also be found in Castries.
Taking a stroll through this open-air market in St Lucia's vibrant capital of Castries makes for a fantastic urban experience as well as a delectable culinary one. Full of stands selling all manner of souvenirs and food, this buzzing market has actually been ranked the number three food market in the world by National Geographic. The best time to come is Friday or Saturday where activity is at its peak, and the flurry of people to and from adds to the lively atmosphere.
Anse La Raye Seafood Friday
This local street party is similar to Gros Islet's Jump Up but also completely different. Yes, there is music pumping, and yes, there are people dancing, but the experience revolves more around food, in this case freshly caught fish, and the ambience is more family-friendly and relaxed. The fish fry is exceedingly good and the event gives you a great opportunity to people watch and mingle with the local crowd.
Pure indulgence and romance
Sailing along Marigot Bay in style
For the ultimate indulgence, you can do like the rich and famous and hire a yacht the perfectly serene and romantic Marigot Bay. The refined Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina is an obligatory stop for sumptuous mega-yachts arriving in St Lucia from all corners of the world. If staying at this boutique resort you can act like a Kardashian for a day and charter a boat for a private cruise to Castries harbour. Or, you can make it a full day adventure with a one-day sailing course aboard a luxury yacht and literally learn the ropes of this elite sport.
Rejuvenating with a Zen treatment at Sugar Beach
For the ultimate pampering experience head to the Rainforest Spa at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort. The spa itself is a collection of seven individual treehouses nestled in the heart of the jungle and offering bespoke signature treatments that range from bamboo massages to hot rock therapies, facials and salt scrubs, all using chemical-free, 100% plant-based local ingredients. The backdrop music will be the singing of birds and the soft sea breeze. What could be more heavenly?
Dining under the stars at Jade Mountain
One could argue that there isn't a more irresistibly romantic resort in St Lucia than the Jade Mountain, the jewel in the crown, the one offering the most sweeping views over the Pitons. But beyond the great twin peak views, which are all the more dramatic from its private en-suite infinity pools, there's the opportunity of dining under the stars overlooking the infinity pool at Jade Mountain Club or arranging a private dinner at the "Celestial Terrace". Dreamy, right?
A holistic experience at The Body Holiday
The only resort in the island to put its entire focus on costumers wellbeing via a wholesome approach integrating body, mind and spirit, this one-of-a-kind haven has been designed so that guests leave all stresses and worries at the door. The main concept is that you yourself design the experience and choose from the many restorative possibilities, from personalised exercise and yoga classes to customised spa treatments and relaxation therapies. It's currently undergoing a $20 million renovation and due to reopen its doors renewed and refreshed on 26th August 2018.
Flight-seeing for aerial views of St Lucia
With St. Lucia Helicopters you can enjoy privileged views over the island's most panoramic spots. You'll be soaring above landmarks like La Soufriere Volcano and the Pitons and taking in astonishing views from the co-pilot's seat. Bring a camcorder to forever immortalising the amazing aerial views as you glide over waterfalls, villages and lush rainforest.
Any room for more?
This list of top 25 things to experience St Lucia is by no means exhaustive or exclusive and while it does include some of the best things to enjoy in the island, that's not to mean there aren't more ways to get a deeper flavour of enchanting St Lucia. For example, while St Lucia is a popular family-friendly haven due to the serenity and safety of its shallow waters (as well as fantastic kids clubs at hotels and resorts) there aren't many children-focused activities here, except the Splash Island Waterpark, a fun floating obstacle in Reduit Beach popular with youngsters and families of all ages.
Like this one there are other attractions to discover in St Lucia not found in this list, and likely more to come in the near future as the island renews itself to attract more visitors. In any case, we'll keep you updated, watch this space!