Nicknamed 'The Helen of the West' in reference to the greatbeauty of Helen of Troy, St Lucia is a picture perfect oasis ofmountains, rainforest and white sand beaches, perfect for honeymooncouples and families alike. Renowned as the most welcoming islandin the Caribbean, St Lucia presents an exciting mix of differentcultures. Interesting characters are a given; the island hasproduced more Nobel Prize winners per capita than any other countryin the world.
The Pitons rise from the sea to dominate the south west cornerof the island. Between these iconic peaks lies the charminglycolourful town of Soufriere and the famous Sugar Beach. Just southof the capital city of Castries, Marigot Bay is a picturesqueharbour surrounded by steep cliffs protecting it from the tropicalstorms that can hit the region. To the north is Rodney Bay, home tonumerous restaurants, bars and hotels.
77 percent of the island is covered in tropical rainforest. Iftourists need a change from snorkeling or scuba diving, they canventure inland to hunt for wild orchids and bird life such as therare St Lucia parrot. St Lucia plays host to numerous visitorsseeking out its natural spa. Sulphur Springs owns the strangedistinction of being the world's only drive-in volcano. Touristscan drive right to the heart of the volcano, where the mineral richwaters and mud have healing properties for those who can stand therather strong sulphuric odours.
The pristine beaches and emerald waters of St Lucia draw inhordes of visitors every year. The island has earned the title ofworld's leading honeymoon destination no fewer than eight times,and with good reason.
Most guests arrive on cruise liners at the island's main port,Castries, where they can go hunting for souvenirs at the CastriesCentral Market. Many then head for the white sands of Sugar Beachand enjoy snorkeling in the crystal clear waters.
More adventurous souls can enjoy a mountain bike ride beneaththe dense rainforest, or brave a zip-line tour through the treecanopies. A visit to the fascinating Soufriere Volcano with itsbubbling sulphur springs is not to be missed. Likewise theUNESCO-listed twin peaks of the Pitons, which await the daringhiker. Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens offers a stunning retreatfrom the world, with its astonishing variety of tropical fauna andflora, hot mineral springs, and rainbow coloured waterfall. ThePigeon Island National Park is also popular among tourists for itspristine beaches. For the best panoramic views of the island,visitors can head up to the old town of Vieux Fort.
Not just the domain of the newly weds, St Lucia has plenty forthe whole family. Children can enjoy attractions such as the safeswimming beach of Anse Chastanet, and pirate-themed seaadventures.
North of Castries lies the small, rather unremarkable fishingvillage of Gros Islet, a collection of dilapidated wooden homeslining narrow streets and a rather grubby beach. But come Fridaynight this unprepossessing town is the place to be for everyone onSt Lucia, local or visitor.
The renowned Friday night 'jump-up' starts at around 10pm whenthe streets are blocked off, scores of vendors arrive withdelicious snacks and cold beers, bars open their doors and speakersare set up on street corners. The party goes on most of thenight.
Gros Islet also offers daytime activities for families. Childrenas young as two years old can enjoy riding at the InternationalRiding Stables with trained guides, while older children can enjoyriding ahead, depending on their level of experience.
Children will also love the riding tour with a beach picnic atCas en Bas, a scenic ride through the countryside and a stop on thebeach for swimming and cantering through the lapping waves.
Pigeon Island, north of Castries, is St Lucia's first nationalpark, reached from the mainland across a causeway. The islet has aromantic past, having been the hide-out of Jambe de Bois, themuch-feared peg-leg pirate who preyed on Spanish galleons. It wasalso from here that Admiral Rodney set sail in 1782 to destroy theFrench fleet in one of the most decisive sea battles in Europeanhistory.
Pigeon Island features two white sand beaches and aninterpretation centre, where a multimedia display explains thelocal history. The centre includes the Captain's Cellar OldeEnglish Pub, a re-creation of an 18th century English pub. Theisland is ideal for nature walks and has numerous marked trailswhich bypass historical sites, like the remains of an 18th centuryBritish fort.
Soufriere in the south is the oldest settlement on the island,having served as the French capital in the 18th century. Thedeep-water port stands at the base of St Lucia's main landmarks,the two towering extinct volcanoes known as the Pitons, rising to2,619 feet (798m) above sea level. The town itself is pretty, witha cluster of colourfully-painted arcaded buildings against thebackdrop of dense jungle.
Most visitors, however, are drawn by the nearby attraction ofthe 'drive-in' volcano, Mount Soufriere, where it is possible toenter by car into an ancient volcanic crater filled with sulphursprings and steam geysers. Also at Soufriere are the DiamondMineral Baths, the Diamond Waterfall and the Diamond BotanicalGardens.
St Lucia's second largest town is on the south coast, adjacentto the island's busy Hewanorra International Airport on thesouthernmost tip of the island. At St Lucia's most southerly pointjust outside the town is the Cape Moule, a Chique Lighthouse, whichoffers one of the best panoramic views of the island. The town hasa beach called Anse de Sables which is popular for windsurfers.Near the beach is the Maria Islands Interpretive Centre, whichcontains a small natural history museum and an office wherevisitors can book trips to the Maria Islands about half a mileoffshore.
St Lucia may not have coral reefs, but it does have perfectlyclear emerald waters and brightly coloured tropical fish, perfectfor snorkelling and other aquatic activities. All of St Lucia'sbeaches are public and travellers can pop onto any of the island'smost famous stretches of sand. Some of St Lucia's best beachesinclude Anse Cochon or the solitary beaches on Anse Comerette. AnseLouvet is one of the best beaches for snorkelling, while thesheltered bay at Anse Chastanet is great for younger and moreinexperienced swimmers.
Although St Lucia's mountain bike trails may not be the easiestin the world, they are definitely some of the most beautiful. Anattraction geared more towards older children and adults, junglebiking is a great way to see the island and get outdoors with thefamily for a fun-filled day.
Bikers will ride past the ruins of an 18th-centuryFrench-colonial sugar mill, an old church, and a reservoir. Thereare plenty of great locations to stop for a picnic, and seasonedbikers can take the Tinker's Trail for a thrilling ride. Children'sbikes and helmets are available to rent.
Children will go mad for this exciting tour aboard the BrigUnicorn, the actual boat from the Disney movies. The 140-foot (42-metre)replica of a 19th-century tall ship takes passengers from St VigieCove sailing south towards Soufriere into the open waters toexplore the mystical Caribbean Sea. Lucky sailors will even get toexperience the ship's cannon being fired, walk the plank or swinginto the sea from the ship's ropes. The ship drops anchor at PigeonIsland, where old ruins can be explored. Lunch and drinks areserved on the cruise back to St Lucia. Booking is essential.
Located in the Diamond Botanical Gardens, the Diamond Waterfallis a popular attraction and a great walk for the whole family. Thiswaterfall is created by the water from the bubbling sulphur springsof the Diamond Mineral Baths and changes colours a few times a day,from yellow to black, then green and finally grey.
For cruise passengers to St Lucia, the Castries Central Marketwill be the first port of call for those looking to stretch theirlegs, do some shopping and take in some local culture. Thiswonderful fresh goods and produce market provides a greatintroduction to the vibrancy and colour of St Lucia, as well as atasty introduction to its incredible range of fresh fruits andvegetables. There are also numerous food stalls in the CastriesMarket, selling local favourites such as freshly-prepared curriesand jerk dishes. Across the road from the Central Market is theVendor's Arcade, which is probably the best place to shop on theisland for crafts, curios and souvenirs. Visitors looking to takeadvantage of duty-free deals should head to Pointe Seraphine(located on the northern end of Castries' harbour), where a modernmall offers discounted prices on items such as liquor (especiallylocal rum), perfumes and jewellery.
Known as the 'world's only drive-in volcano', Sulphur Springs -located near the gorgeous town of Soufriere - is a popular touristattraction for visitors to St Lucia. Sulphur Springs is a dormantvolcano (some scientists say that it is due to erupt within thenext 100 years), and the on-going physical and chemical processesat the site are at once thrilling and deeply interesting toexperience.
The first thing you'll notice as you approach Sulphur Springs isthe overwhelming smell of sulphur in the air - in fact, thepresence of sulphur is so strong in the area that you shouldn'twear any silver jewellery in case it gets discoloured. Once inside,from the safe confines of a boardwalk tourists can gawk atseething, bubbling mud pots and their 50-foot steam vents risingfrom the volcanic crater, and admire the strange orange, purple andgreen streaks left on the surrounding rock by mineral deposits.
The highlight of the visit is the chance to take a hot bath inthe sulphur-enriched mud - which supposedly does wonders for yoursinuses. A unique and exciting attraction, budget at least twohours to take it all in.
The Pitons - two volcanic plugs that stand like sentinels on theheadland outside the St Lucian town of Soufriere - are not onlyUNESCO World Heritage Sites, but provide active visitors with aglorious opportunity to do some hiking in what are uniquelypicturesque surrounds.
Gros Piton, with an elevation of about 2,500 feet (770m), is themore popular to climb, as it is not as steep at Petit Piton, andboasts a richer variety of plant and animal life as well assuperior views from its summit. The trail that leads up Gros Pitonbegins at an elevation of about 600 feet (180m), and ascends quitesharply through dense tropical vegetation, broken here and there bycool caves and rocky outcrops that provide outstanding views ofPetit Piton rising from the expanse of the Caribbean Sea below.
The climb takes about four or five hours in all, and can beundertaken by fit visitors with little or no mountaineeringexperience. Local guides, trained in emergency medical procedures,are available for hire and will enrich your hike by pointing outinteresting flora and fauna along the way.
The climate in Castries is tropical, featuring hot and humidweather year-round, which is sometimes cooled slightly by tradewinds. June to November sees the highest rainfall in Castries. Thebest months to travel there are from December to May, whentemperatures average around 27°C (80°F).
Like all Caribbean islands, St Lucia enjoys a hot, tropicalclimate throughout the year. The average daily temperatures of 80°F(27°C) tend to be tempered by trade winds. The driest time on theisland is between January and March but showers can occurthroughout the year, however they are usually over quickly.Hurricane season is generally from June to November.
The unit of currency in Saint Lucia is the East Caribbean Dollar(XCD), which is tied to the US Dollar. The EC$ is divided into 100cents. US dollars are also accepted at most tourist establishmentsand ensure a better exchange rate. ATMs are available in Castries,Rodney Bay, Soufriere and Vieux Fort. Banks are open Monday toFriday from 8am to 2pm, some are open till 5pm. Major credit cardsare accepted at all large hotels, shops and restaurants. Mosthotels will exchange foreign currency, and there are change bureauxin Castries.
English is the official language, but St Lucian Creole iswidely spoken.
240 volts, 50Hz. Three square-pin plugs arestandard.
US citizens require a passport valid for the period of intendedstay in St Lucia. US citizens don't require a visa for stays of upto six weeks.
UK citizens must hold a passport valid for the period ofintended stay. UK citizens don't require a visa for stays of up tosix weeks.
Canadian citizens require a passport valid for the period ofintended stay in St Lucia. Canadian citizens don't require a visafor stays of up to six weeks. Stays can be extended for up to amaximum of one year.
Australian citizens must hold a passport valid for the period ofintended stay. Australian citizens don't require a visa for staysof up to six weeks.
South African citizens must hold a passport valid for the periodof intended stay. South African citizens don't require a visa forstays of up to six weeks.
Irish citizens must hold a passport valid for the period ofintended stay. Irish citizens don't require a visa for stays of upto six weeks.
US citizens require a passport valid for the period of intendedstay in St Lucia. US citizens don't require a visa for stays of upto six weeks.
New Zealand citizens must hold a passport valid for the periodof intended stay. New Zealand citizens (except those with apassport issued by the Cook Islands) don't require a visa for staysof up to six weeks.
Visitors must hold documents for the next destination, return oronward tickets and sufficient funds. As part of the WesternHemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travellingbetween the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and theCaribbean region are required to present a passport or other validtravel document to enter or re-enter the United States. It ishighly recommended that passports have at least six months validityremaining after the intended date of departure from St. Lucia.Immigration officials often apply different rules to those statedby travel agents and official sources.
There are few health risks associated with travel to St Lucia,although the mosquito-carried dengue fever is a risk throughout theisland. HIV/AIDS is prevalent and precautions are always advised.Bilharzia is endemic. No vaccinations are required, however ayellow fever certificate is necessary for travellers arriving frominfected areas. Health care costs are high on the island and healthinsurance is recommended, which should cover medical evacuation.EHIC card holders are entitled to emergency medical treatment inthe case of evacuation to Martinique, on the same terms asMartinique nationals, of which 70 percent of the costs can bereclaimed.
A service charge is not automatically added to bills and about10 percent of the bill is expected. Taxi drivers, porters andchambermaids also expect small tips.
Most visits to St Lucia are trouble-free, but visitors shouldtake common-sense precautions against robbery and theft. Isolatedareas, such as beaches, should be avoided after dark. Hurricaneseason is generally from June to November.
It is an offence for anyone to dress in camouflage clothing.Homosexuality is illegal.
Due to its popularity as an offshore banking location, businessdress in St Lucia requires a level of formality. Handshakes forboth men and women are the common form of greeting at the beginningand end of meetings, and business cards are usually exchanged.Business hours are generally 8am to 4.30pm throughout the week and8.30am to 12.30pm on Saturdays.
The international access code for St Lucia is +1 758. Theoutgoing code is 011 followed by the relevant country code (e.g.01144 for the United Kingdom); the outgoing code is not needed forcalls to Canada and the US. City/area codes are not in use. Thereis wifi access in St Lucia, but the connection speeds can sometimesvary. Most accomodations and restaurants have wifi access. Networkproviders such as Digicell offer sim cards with local calling plansor calling/data plans, which are a good, inexpensive option if youcannot connect to wifi.
Travellers to St Lucia, over the age of 18, may bring in 200cigarettes, 50 cigars or 225g tobacco, 1.2 litre wine or spirits,and other gifts or souvenirs to the value of $250 without payingcustoms duty.
St Lucia Tourist Office, Castries: +1 758 452 4094 orwww.stlucia.org
St Lucia Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 3646792.
St Lucia High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 73707123.
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States High Commission,Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 8952.
United States Embassy, Bridgetown, Barbados (also responsiblefor St Lucia): +1 246 227 4000.
British High Commission, Castries, St Lucia: +1 758 4522484.
Canadian High Commission. Bridgetown, Barbados (also responsiblefor St. Lucia): +1 246 429 3550.
South African High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (alsoresponsible for St. Lucia): +1 876 620 4840.
Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago(also responsible for St Lucia): +1 (868) 822 5450.