St Lucians are generally laid-back, friendly people influenced by a mix of their English, French, African and Caribbean origins. For instance, if you walk into the Catholic cathedral in Castries, you’ll find a building of French design, an interior richly painted in bright African-inspired colors, portraits of a Black Madonna and child, and church services delivered in English. About 85% of St Lucians are Roman Catholics.
The population is about 170,000, one-third of whom live in Castries. Approximately 85% are of pure African ancestry. Another 10% are a mixture of African, British, French and Indian ancestry, while about 4% are of pure Indian or European descent.
The predominantly African heritage can be seen in the strong family ties that St Lucians hold and the survival of many traditional customs and superstitions. Obeah (Vodou) is still held in equal measures of respect and fear in places like Anse La Raye.
The local snakeman is visited by islanders for his medicinal powers. One such muscular remedy he uses involves massaging the thick fat of the boa constrictor on aching limbs.
There is an eclectic mix of cultural ideologies within St Lucia. But with the arrival of globalization, economic disparity has had a negative effect on the cultural identity of some young people. Violent crime, mostly drug-related, is on the rise.
Derek Walcott: Writer
In the art world St Lucia’s favorite son is writer Derek Walcott. The gifted poet and playwright won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992. Strongly influenced by Tolstoy, Homer and Pushkin, his writing is literate, intense and sweeping. His 1990 epic poem Omeros is a shining example of his work. The ambitious project, retelling Homer’s Odyssey in the modern-day Caribbean, was praised for its panache, scope and success.
The musical sounds of the Caribbean are alive in St Lucia – calypso, reggae, soca and dancehall all play an important role in the lives of locals. Though the majority of artists aren't local, the grooves are a way of life and provide a soundtrack for everyone on the island.
Landscape & Wildlife
The striking landmass of St Lucia is one of its defining features. At only 27 miles long, the teardrop-shaped island packs a variety of topography into its 238 sq miles. Standing nearly as tall as they are long, the rolling hills and towering peaks of the interior make this green island an apparition of altitude rising from the sea.
Banana plantations dominate every flat section of land, and some not so flat. The Caribbean cash crop is a staple industry for St Lucia. Lush tropical jungle forms a rat’s nest of gnarled rainforest, filling the interior of the island with thick bush.
In the north the island flattens out a little and the beaches get a bit wider – allowing infrastructure to get a foothold. In the south the land rises sharply and continues in folds of green hills that stretch right to the shoreline. It’s in this portion of the island, near Soufrière, that St Lucia’s iconic landmarks are found. The twin peaks of the Pitons, which are extinct volcano cones, rise 2600ft from the sea and dominate the horizon.
St Lucia’s vegetation ranges from dry and scrubby areas of cacti and hibiscus to lush, jungly valleys with wild orchids, bromeliads, heliconias and lianas.
Under the British colonial administration much of St Lucia’s rainforest was targeted for timber harvesting. In many ways the independent St Lucian government has proved a far more effective environmental force, and while only about 10% of the island remains covered in rainforest, most of that has now been set aside as nature reserve. The largest indigenous trees in the rainforest are the gommier, a towering gum tree, and the chatagnier, a huge buttress-trunked tree.
Fauna includes endemic birds, bats, lizards, iguanas, tree frogs, introduced mongooses, rabbitlike agoutis and several snake species, including the fer-de-lance and the boa constrictor.
Twitchers are sure to get a buzz in St Lucia – there are a number of desirable new ticks for their list, including five endemic species: the St Lucia parrot, the St Lucia warbler, the St Lucia oriole, the St Lucia peewee and the St Lucia black finch. The St Lucia parrot (Amazona versicolor), locally called the Jacquot, is the national bird and appears on everything from T-shirts to St Lucian passports.
Good birdwatching spots include Millet Bird Sanctuary and the Des Cartiers Rainforest Trail.