With its volcanic mountain peaks and lush, forested interior, St Lucia looks like an island uprooted from the South Pacific and plopped down in the Caribbean.
Like the islands of French Polynesia, St Lucia is more renowned for its rugged, volcanic interior than for its ring of sandy beaches. The island’s dramatic twin peaks, the Pitons, tower more than 700 meters above the sea, sheltering dense, flower-speckled rainforest, bubbling thermal pools, tan-colored beaches and quaint, laid back fishing villages.
Exploring St Lucia on a budget is challenging. Thanks in large part to the the island’s dependence on cruise and luxury tourism, inexpensive meal and accommodation options are few and far between.
St Lucia’s steep prices–despite the general lack of development on the island–are not surprising. Like much of the Caribbean, luxury tourism has fostered an environment that caters to wealthy travelers, while the local population suffers from poverty and high unemployment.
In 2011, Dan and I had our eyes set on the Caribbean for a Spring Break getaway, but were disheartened when we realized the cost of traveling in the region. In the end, we chose to split our ten days between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, since the two islands seemed to be the only ones with readily available information about independent and budget travel.
I’d wanted to return to the Caribbean since our Spring Break trip but, due to the relatively high cost of visiting, reluctantly put my return on a back burner.
Until this past March, when the rainy Seattle weather left me craving a bit of sun and I was able to string together enough days to justify a short vacation.
We spent our first few days on St Lucia around the charming colonial town of Soufrière–a coastal fishing village where jungle meets sea, that lies at the base of the majestic UNESCO-recognized Piton Mountains.
Soufrière is at the heart of a mountainous region of old plantations homes and beautiful beaches that, though often part of large resorts, are all accessible to the public.
When we arrived in St Lucia, we were exhausted from the journey, so we spent the morning relaxing at our apartment and adjusting to the sticky Caribbean heat. In the afternoon, we began walking up the hill away from town, toward Anse Chastanet—an ash-colored sandy beach that is known to have some of the island’s best snorkeling.
Unfortunately, we got such a late start to our day, that we had just enough time to snap a few pictures and turn back toward town before nightfall. Luckily, views of the mountains, beaches and colorful Soufrière, made the walk a worthwhile activity in itself.
The next day, we decided to spend the morning lounging around the striking stretch of sand at Sugar Beach. Cradled between the two Pitons, Sugar Beach boasts an unparalleled setting. It is easy to see why the Viceroy Resort chose Sugar Beach as the location for its luxurious hotel. The views are simply breathtaking.
We spent the morning swimming, sitting in the shade and marveling at our surroundings. Then, we made our way up the steep mountain road to Martha’s Tables for a tasty, home-style lunch of creole fish and rice. As with our walk the previous day, the path afforded us stunning views of the mountains at every bend and unrivaled, birds-eye panoramas of Soufrière from above.
At sunset, we walked along the waterfront to a stretch of beach in front of the Hummingbird Resort and plopped down on the sand–watching the lights of town reflect on the lapping waves and admiring the twinkle of anchored sailboats in the distance.
We may not have stayed at a luxurious all-inclusive resort, but we were able to enjoy the magic of this charming Caribbean island all the same. By eating at family owned restaurants, staying at an apartment outside of town and getting around either by public bus or on our own two feet, we were able to stay on the island for a week, at the same price that most people spend each night.
And by doing so, we proved that traveling St Lucia on a budget, while challenging, is certainly possible.
- For those interested in hiking the Pitons, I suggest you take a look at Emily’s post on hiking Gros Piton.
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