The ribbon of road that rings around St Lucia affords jaw-dropping views of coastal villages and rainforest-shrouded valleys.
Had it not been for the terrifying nature of our ride from Soufrière to Castries, I would have likely traveled with my eyes glued to the window. Yet, the minivan filled with passengers zoomed around each hairpin turn with such seemingly reckless haste, that I couldn’t help but clutch my seat and stare straight at the road ahead.
Even with my eyes glued firmly to the road, however, it was immediately apparent that St Lucia’s natural beauty extends far beyond the dramatic and oft-photographed Pitons near Soufrière. For the northern part of the country, too, is blessed with a wealth of pristine beaches, verdant mountains and hidden coves.
While the Pitons are St Lucia’s iconic symbol, most tourists choose to stay on the northern part of the island due to the plethora of upscale hotels and resorts in and around Rodney Bay and Castries. The abundance of luxury accommodation and Western food options in the area, ensures that the conveniences of home are never more than a few steps away.
Since none of us were particularly keen on staying in one of the cookie-cutter beachfront hotels, however, we decided to base ourselves down the road in Gros Islet–a local fishing village near Rodney Bay that has still somehow managed to retain its local charm and character.
Every Friday night, locals and tourists alike flock to Gros Islet for a street party that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. Vendors set up portable minibars and food stalls–selling fresh fish, grilled meats and rum punch.
We arrived in town just in time for the street party and spent a few hours enjoying the buzz of activity, before retiring to bed in preparation for our day trip to Marigot Bay the following morning.
Marigot Bay, on the western coast of St Lucia, is an easily accessible day trip from Rodney Bay, Gros Islet or Castries. Visitors can reach the turnoff to town by taking local minivans that leave Castries when full. The bus route does not stop at the bay, but walking the remaining stretch of road to the beach is both scenic and easily manageable.
Deemed by American novelist James A Michener as “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean,” Marigot Bay is a refuge for wealthy yacht owners. It is also known as a filming location for Dr Doolittle, and as an important battleground during France and Britain’s struggle for control of St Lucia throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Wedged between forested emerald hills and surrounded by translucent blue-green waters, the palm-fringed, white-sand beach of Marigot Bay lies hidden from view and is not immediately visible from the main road. It is only after walking over the hill that descends into town, that its sapphire waters and sprinkling of palm trees come into focus.
We spent the afternoon relaxing on the little strip of glistening white sand and watching the swaying palms overhead. A few other tourists occupied the lounge chairs on the sand but, for the most part, we were able to enjoy this little slice of paradise to ourselves.
The next morning, we set out to visit Pigeon Island–one of St Lucia’s premier natural and historic landmarks and undoubtedly a must-see attraction during any visit to the tiny, tear-shaped island.
The construction of an artificial causeway joined St Lucia to the mainland in the 1970s, making the historical site easily accessible by car or on foot. Pigeon Island requires a $7 entrance fee and offers visitors access to ruins, beaches and breathtaking island views.
In 1778, British Admiral George Rodney arrived on Pigeon Island, expelling the native Arawak population and building a fort on the hill, called Fort Rodney. From the fort, the British were able to monitor the French fleet in Martinique, which resulted in the defeat of the French in the 1782 Battle of the Saintes.
Today, many ruins–including Fort Rodney–remain scattered around Pigeon Island. Footpaths wind around the remains of barracks, cannons and garrisons. We spent our day enjoying the island’s two beaches, hiking to its lookout points and exploring the remaining relics of the island’s past.
We’d spent a lot of time debating whether to skip northern St Lucia altogether in favor of visiting Martinique–an island so close that we could practically see its outline from St Lucia’s shores. Yet I’m glad that, in the end, we chose to stay. For leaving St Lucia prematurely would have meant skipping out on some of the country’s major highlights.
As it was, staying in St Lucia allowed us to savor the unique beauty of the island and gave us the excuse to one day come back to the Caribbean and pick up where we left off.
Note: Many travelers to St Lucia visit as part of a cruise. If you only have one day on the island, I recommend you read Luke’s article on things to see during your day ashore.