Sometimes you just want to lie on a beach chair and drink daiquiris through a bendy straw – you can do that just about anywhere in the Caribbean and have a fantastic time. But if you’re looking for a less predictable vacation, then St Lucia, a rocky chunk of emerald green ringed by silver beaches, is just the spot. Here are some of our top tips for the intrepid traveler, the solo adventurer, the off-the-path wanderer.
Ditch the cookie-cutter resorts and sleep in a tree house
You don’t have to climb a ladder to get into bed, but at Crystals (stluciacrystals.com), a delightfully eclectic collection of cottages and villas built onto the hillside overlooking the southern town of Soufrière, you’ll wake up to the sight of glossy coconut palms and papaya trees waving outside your window. Located up a dirt road and surrounded by jungle, this is decidedly not your typical resort. The cottages, decorated with bamboo and orange and magenta silks, each come with their own private plunge pool. The thatch-roofed tree-top bar is a trip in itself.
Bike the jungle
Maybe you’ve been mountain biking before, but have you been mountain biking through the rainforest on the side of a volcano? We didn’t think so. Bike St Lucia (bikestlucia.com) has created a series of trails cutting through the densely forested mountainside ranging in difficulty from basic to tooth-rattlingly advanced. Jump tree roots, coast through sun-dappled clearings, fly off ledges of volcanic rock and splash through creeks on sturdy Cannondale F800 bikes with their guided tours. You’ll finish the day sweaty, mud-splattered and exhausted, but exhilarated.
Take home an unusual souvenir
Castries is chock-a-block with shops hawking the usual t-shirts, batiks, straw dolls and so on, but in a little white cottage in the shadow of the Petit Piton volcano, Zaka Masks offers souvenirs of a more interesting sort. Handmade on site by a small team of artisans, these hardwood masks are painted in the colors of the Caribbean – clownfish orange, lime green, the deep indigo of the sea at night. They’re not cheap, but they’ll brighten up your home far more than an ‘I Love St Lucia’ t-shirt ever will.
Swim on the wild side at St Lucia’s lesser-known beaches
Cas En Bas beach, a smooth c-curve of silver sand on St Lucia’s Atlantic side, sees far fewer visitors than Caribbean beaches due to its remote location and wilder waters. The waves are much bigger here, making it a favorite of kitesurfers. If you want total solitude, a short hike to smaller neighboring beaches will give you the quiet you crave. Bring your own snacks and don’t forget the sunscreen! The adjacent protected mangrove swamp attracts all manner of sea birds, so if you’re into ornithology, binoculars or a camera may be in order. The beach is on the northeastern tip of the island, a short hop northeast of Castries.
Get even further away from the crowds at Anse Cochon (literally ‘bay of pigs’), located just south of Castries and accessible only by boat or via a very long rough trek. Bring a snorkel and paddle just off the shore to reach a protected reef brimming with tropical fish, starfish and sea urchins. Another option is to hike from Soufrière to Malgretoute Beach, a lovely swath of coast framed picturesquely by the looming presence of Petit Piton. The sand is a bit gravelly, but the water is incredibly clear and the silence is so thick you can practically taste it.
Eat like the locals
Like any popular resort destination, St Lucia has more than its fair share of mediocre seafood, overpriced burgers and fabulous but expensive haute cuisine. But eating as the locals do offers by far the best bang for your buck. St Lucian cuisine is simple but flavorful, using local ingredients such as taro, green bananas, shellfish and coconut, and incorporating some French cooking techniques. The classic St Lucian meal is ‘salt fish and green fig’ – salt fish is cod that’s been heavily cured in salt, while the green ‘fig’ is actually unripe banana. It’s cooked with cabbage, tomato, onions and garlic, and served up as a hearty breakfast, lunch or dinner. Other local dishes to look out for are Creole-spiced shrimp, pumpkin soup and homemade banana bread. Try Flavours of the Grill, a colorfully painted Creole restaurant in Gros Islet, for an authentic taste of St Lucia’s bounty.
Get on top of the island, literally
The island of St Lucia is cut in half by the commanding Barre de L’Isle ridge. Hike the divide along the 1.5-mile Barre de l’Isle trail, which traverses a nature reserve and offers jaw-dropping views of both the pale cerulean Caribbean and the moodier Atlantic. Other rewards of huffing up to the top of Mount La Combe include beach panoramas and views of the lushly forested valleys on either side. The forestry department maintains the trail; hikers must get permission and pay a small fee to enter. Check with locals before embarking – parts of the trail are sometimes closed due to mud or fallen trees.
This article was first published in October 2014 and refreshed in January 2017.