St. Lucia & the Caribbean
Deciding where to visit in the Caribbean can be a tough decision. With so many beautiful islands, how can you pick just one? St. Lucia is appealing for a number of reasons; mostly its rugged terrain and beautiful beaches. Also, its southern latitude make the island less susceptible to hurricanes. It is the most mountainous island in the Caribbean and for that, plus the beaches, I chose it to visit. I was not disappointed!
Soufriere's harbor with the Pitons in the background.
Where to stay?
The island has numerous resorts, which I'm sure are wonderful. I visited the beaches that many were situated on and if you have the money, by all means go for it! I'm much more of a bargain traveler, so I began my search on #airbnb. The west (Caribbean) side has the best beaches (and the most mountains). Soufriere is the old French capital of the island and is situated closer to the Pitons (and the airport) than the current capital, casteries to the north.
I found a wonderful Air BnB in Choiseul, just a few miles from Soufriere and relatively close to the airport. The cottage was situated on the top of a mountain with beautiful views. It's location outside of town made it very peaceful. I particularly would recommend this Air BnB for the additional amenities it provided.
How to get around?
There are taxis and rental companies that will get you where you need to go from Hewanorra International Airport. Taxi fares from the airport seem to be $75 at the minimum, regardless of distance travelled. The Montete Cottage from Air BnB conveniently offers direct car rentals to their guests. My host picked me up from the airport, rented me a car for every day of my stay, and dropped me off when it was time to leave. With prices much lower than the rental companies, I'm not sure what deal could be better than this. The convenience and price made this option a no-brainer.
If you do plan to drive during your stay in St Lucia, I will just point out two important things to know:
1. You drive on the left side on the road here. I didn't realize this until I got in the car at the airport. I had never driven this way in my life. After driving the 15 or so miles to my place, I quickly got the hang of this. Don't be nervous, just don't mess it up! ;)
2. You will need an international drivers license. You can get this at a gas station leaving the airport for $22 USD.
After getting settled into my lovely accommodations , I was ready to mingle with the locals. Soufriere really is a charming town, but the capital city of Castries on the northwest side of the island is the center of city life in St. Lucia. It is also the port for all cruise ships visiting the island. Every Friday there is a street party in Gros Islet, just north of Castries. It usually starts picking up around 8pm and takes place rain or shine. The streets are closed off and vendors set up stations for grilled food, drinks, and local arts and crafts. If you are on the island on a Friday night and looking for something to do, definitely check this out.
The Caribbean side of the island has much nicer beaches than the Atlantic. Most of the iconic mountains (the Pitons) are located on the Caribbean side as well. I didn't make it to all of the beaches, but I found some great ones!
From my place in Choiseul, Laborie is very close. I actually passed through the town on the way in from the airport. This nice and quiet beach actually has a reef located just a few hundred meters from the shore, making it a wonderful snorkeling destination! With no resorts around, this quiet beach is a great place to mingle with the locals. You will find many locals fishing here as well.
Perhaps the most beautiful beach I visited on the island, Sugar beach is sandwiched directly between the Pitons, just south of Soufriere. The beach is located at the Sugar Beach Viceroy Resort, but is open to everyone. Guests who are not staying at the resort are required to park outside of the premises (at the top of a hill) and hike down to the beach. There appeared to be taxis at the entry available to ferry visitors down the hill, but I chose to make the hike up and down. The views here are spectacular. The resort, the Pitons, the beach, and the bay are absolutely gorgeous. Don't skip this one. If you are interested in hiking to the top of the Pitons, the trailhead to do so is along the road into Sugar Beach Resort. It is around $30 USD for the guided hike and I'd imagine it's not the easiest hike you will do. I'm sure the views are spectacular from the top. I chose to enjoy them from lower elevations.
This beach is somewhat remote, but absolutely worth the journey. Heading north through Soufriere, there is a road that goes to the left, up a mountain, just as you are leaving town (where the main road curves right up a hill and out of town). It is the same road that provides access to the Hummingbird Resort. The road continues past the Hummingbird and up the mountain, along the bay, and towards the coast. This road is very rough, but if you take your time, it is easily accessible with any vehicle. This beach is also located inside a resort. Visitors may park outside of the gate and hike in to the beach. The hike is no where near as arduous as Sugar Beach. There is also a ferry/water taxi that will bring you by boat from Soufriere. This secluded beach was wonderful and also one of my top picks to visit on the island. Don't miss this one. There are also great views of Soufriere and the Pitons as you drive in and out of the beach.
New Year's Eve
There were many celebrations on the north side of the island, near Castries, but I opted to stick closer to Choiseul and headed into Soufriere, where a fireworks display was planned for midnight. The street parties started in the early afternoon and the vibe was similar to a Friday night in Gros Islet. I really wanted to get some good photos of the fireworks and the Pitons. After checking out a few different places early in the evening, I decided I would trek up to a viewpoint just south of town that I had visited on prior days for some beautiful sunset shots. I spent the evening mingling with locals and after dinner, I drove up to the viewpoint. By the time midnight was approaching I was very much not alone. Dozens of locals decided to visit the viewpoint to enjoy the display as well. I was not disappointed with the view or the company!
My trip to St. Lucia was just what I hoped for. The people were lovely, the views were inspiring, and the beaches were relaxing. I highly recommend this island to anyone looking for some quiet R&R in the Caribbean. Six days was just enough to enjoy the entire island.