Traveling to St Lucia is an experience like no other, from the volcanic beaches and emerald-dipped landscape to the mouthwatering cuisine.
I was born and raised on the island and still find it impossible to exhaust the wonders of my favorite Caribbean jewel. I will always book a window seat on the left side of a flight back home just to see the magnificent Pitons slowly come into view, and I will never tire of searching for the best bakes and accras outside of my grandmother's.
St Lucia has a well-earned reputation as one of the most tranquil and exquisite places to visit, but if you've never been, you might have some questions. What is the best way to take it all in? What attire suits the tropical climate? What about the hurricane season? What if you’re flying solo?
Here are a few of the most important things to know before you pack your bags for the Helen of the West Indies.
1. A greeting goes a long way
St Lucians are very courteous people, as you will quickly observe. You will hear some variation of "good morning," "good afternoon" or "good night" (which is interchangeable with "good evening") when you enter any store, public bus, restaurant or pretty much anywhere.
Not reciprocating might draw some curious looks and get you branded with the dreaded “unmannerly” label. When the chance arises, don’t be afraid to engage in some light banter when interacting with local residents, especially vendors or people who are providing some sort of service. The community's elders are typically treated with respect as well.
2. Marijuana was only recently decriminalized
The casual use of marijuana is a common Caribbean trope. In reality, St Lucia decriminalized – not legalized – the personal use of small amounts of 30 grams of cannabis or less in 2021. A second piece of legislation cleared the records of people whose only crime was being caught with less than 30 grams of cannabis.
St Lucia's government has discussed plans to launch a public awareness campaign, a medical marijuana program, and a bill to legalize cannabis production on the island. These plans, however, are in the early stages of development.
3. Always carry some cash
Credit and debit cards are accepted forms of payment at most major businesses, hotels and various other establishments. However, cash is still the most common form of payment, and the official currency of the island is the Eastern Caribbean dollar.
When riding public transportation or purchasing from vendors along the roadside, having cash to hand will be especially helpful. You can get by with US dollars or euros as well, but it is a good idea to have some EC dollars on hand just in case.
You can find ATMs and banks all over the island to exchange currency, but verify whether your home bank will charge any foreign transaction fees for using your card abroad before you leave.
4. The roads are a maze of sharp turns and bends
The island’s roads are filled with unexpected turns, and there are a few potential hazards you should be aware of before getting behind the wheel. St Lucians drive on the left-hand side of the road, which is a departure from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Vietnam and multiple European and African countries.
Drivers frequently make sudden stops in traffic without warning – especially public buses – and speeding is common. Keep an eye out for motorcycle riders who may weave between other cars.
5. Hurricane season is not off-limits
St Lucia is usually warm and balmy throughout the year, but the hurricane season – which coincides with the rainy season – begins in June and runs until November. But it is very rare for it to rain nonstop for a whole day or several days at a time.
Even though St Lucia is technically in the hurricane belt, the strongest part of the belt is to the far north of the island. Most of the time, hurricanes in the Atlantic get stronger and more dangerous as they move west, away from St Lucia and toward the United States.
So, the hurricanes that do hit the island are usually much weaker than those that wreak havoc on islands to the northwest and on the US mainland.
However, it is still important to know what to expect during hurricane season. Be sure to check the latest weather forecasts and hurricane precautions before making any final plans for your trip.
6. Dress for the occasion
During carnival celebrations, revelers shed layers of fabric, seemingly in a nod to the tradition’s roots in emancipation. But there is a limit to liberation on the island’s beaches. It is a major no-no to go topless or nude on the beach.
The majority of St Lucians identify as Christians and attitudes are quite conservative. All Catholic holidays and sacraments are observed throughout St Lucia and churches can be found everywhere.
Other denominations include Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah's Witness. If you wish to join residents in worship, there is no specific dress code but err on the side of modesty – moderate-length dresses and skirts, blouses, and trousers. Think casual and comfortable but not revealing. Remember to throw a cover-up over your swimsuit if you’re heading into a restaurant or any other place of business.
7. Is St Lucia welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community?
St Lucia, like the rest of the Caribbean, has a generally conservative attitude toward the LGBTQIA+ community. Public displays of affection (such as hand-holding or kissing) between both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples are rare.
Certain homosexual acts are still illegal in St Lucia, though the law is rarely enforced. Travelers identifying as LGBTQIA+ should be aware of cultural norms and understand that showing affection in public may draw unwanted attention.
However, the island has been taking steps towards fostering inclusivity. St Lucia became one of the few countries in the Caribbean to provide legal protection to same-sex couples who are victims of domestic violence on March 8 when its Parliament passed the historic Domestic Violence Act, 2022.
Additionally, it is the only country in the region that expressly forbids discrimination in applying such laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
8. Don’t be afraid to feed the strays
Dogs and other pets are welcome at various Airbnbs, apartments and villas. It’s also not unusual to find a few cats roaming freely around the premises of some hotels and outdoor restaurants.
But larger pets like dogs are not generally allowed into business places and eating establishments. You will, however, run into stray dogs along the beaches, particularly in the Pigeon Island area. Those dogs are generally friendly and accustomed to receiving food from kind visitors and locals.
9. Is St. Lucia safe for solo female travelers?
Traveling around St. Lucia by yourself is generally safe. Public transportation, such as taxis and buses, is usually a risk-free option for travelers. But like many popular tourist destinations, crowded areas are prime spots for petty theft like pickpocketing and bag snatching.
And as busy as the capital city Castries is during the day, it’s much more deserted at night. You should always take some measures to protect yourself while traveling.
- Always have your cell phone handy in case of an emergency. If you need a local SIM card, pre-paid mobile phone cards are available island-wide at telecommunications companies Digicel and FLOW.
- Do not get in a car with a complete stranger, even if they seem nice. If possible, use public transportation or a taxi. Authorized buses have green number plates beginning with the prefix M and taxis sport light blue plates with a TX prefix.
- Avoid carrying around large sums of cash. Instead, pay with a debit or credit card where possible and just keep small bills to pay for snacks and drinks where cards aren't accepted.
- Never leave your accommodation without telling someone you trust where you are going and when you expect to return.