Saint Lucia is one of the most mountainous Caribbean islands and of its numerous peaks the ones which will most surely stick in your mind are the Pitons. Together they’re the country’s number one landmark, but these aren’t so much 'mountains' in the normal sense, as dramatic, conical outcrops looming over the sea.
Gros Piton is the larger of the two (the other one being – logically enough – Petit Piton). It’s a popular climbing destination but a glance at its steep slopes will tell you it’s no walk in the park, especially in the tropical heat. But if you’ve got some climbing experience, your ascent to the 2,619 foot (786 meter) summit will reward you with awe-inspiring views of the sapphire blue sea and lush green coastline.
Could Marigot Bay be “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean” as novelist James A. Michener described it? It’s certainly among the most photographed and filmed, its white sands, swaying palms, turquoise waters and verdant green hillsides ticking every box in the “tropical paradise” questionnaire.
Minimal development has ensured that this remains a dreamlike location, with the most obvious signs of life being the luxury yachts lolling in the bay or moored at the marina. The luxury Marigot Bay Hotel draws discerning guests but there is no charge to come to the beach for the day and enjoy this island idyll.
Deep in a sheltered gorge at the foot of the Pitons, the Diamond Botanical Gardens is part of the Soufriere Estate, one of the oldest and best-preserved estates on the island, still owned by the original family to whom the land was granted by King Louis XIV in 1713. The gardens sit at the edge of the Sulphur Springs Park, and the rich volcanic soil nourishes an incredible collection of tropical plants and flowers.
In addition to walking trails flanked by a lush mix of flora and fauna, the garden is home to a historic mill, a waterwheel and the Diamond Waterfall, one of the most colorful falls in the Caribbean with mineral-laced water that gives it a rainbow-like appearance. Proximity to the sulphur springs means these grounds also boast volcanically heated mineral baths that have been used as relaxing soaking tubs since King Louis XVI built his troops a bathhouse here in 1784.
One of Saint Lucia’s most beautiful beaches, Anse Chastanet enjoys a prime location in a sheltered cove within sight of the distinctive peaks of the Pitons. Much of the immediate hinterland is taken up by the Anse Chastanet resort, a development in harmony with its surrounds which still allows public use of the beach.
There are few better places in the world for sipping on something fruity than the beach’s bar, right on the sand. The walk back to your hammock or thatched hut might very well be the only exercise you care to indulge in. But the crystalline waters aren’t just there for resting your eyes on as you recline; you’re just a stone’s throw from a reef known by divers the world over for its superb visibility and huge variety of coral and sea creatures. The dive center at the southern end of the beach is your gateway to this sub-aquatic paradise.
Rodney Bay, on Saint Lucia’s west coast, is almost completely enclosed but for a narrow channel leading out to sea. An ideal spot for mooring, in other words, and indeed this protected anchorage is Saint Lucia’s foremost marina. Consequently nearby Reduit Beach, a stunning white-sand stretch facing the Caribbean, is a noted hangout of the rich and famous.
Kite surfing is a local specialty if you can’t bring yourself to lie on the beach all day. In Rodney Bay itself, everyone heads for dining and dancing at Lime restaurant, and there are a number of bars and eating places around the marina.
Saint Lucia’s pint-sized port capital Castries is usually experienced as a stopping-off point on the way to one of the island’s beaches or resorts. While successive fires and hurricanes have periodically devastated the city there are still traces of the colonial era, when Saint Lucia bounced between French and British control. The Castries Heritage Walk will point out the city’s historical highlights.
Otherwise the city’s greatest appeal lies in its relaxed lifestyle, providing an easy introduction to the leisurely pace of island life. Head for the Jeremie Street Market to savor the taste of the tropics or just wander the streets and start adjusting your body clock.