GET OUT THERE
Pigeon Island National Landmark, Fond D’Or Nature Reserve and Historical Park; Mamiku Gardens, the Pitons UNESCO World Heritage Site are just some of the places worth visiting in St. Lucia.
For the best overall view of St. Lucia with unique photo opportunities, take a tour with St. Lucia Helicopters. Their thirty minute tour flies over Pigeon Point, Rodney Bay, the central mountain range, Soufrière, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rainforest and the villages along the Caribbean coastline, including Marigot Bay.
For those who like terra firma, hiring a car or a taxi with a knowledgeable chauffeur is the best way to get around.
The Derek Walcott Square is at the heart of the St. Lucia’s capital, Castries. It is named after the Honourable Derek Walcott, the St. Lucian author who in 1992 won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There is a monument to St. Lucia’s war dead, and a large Samaan tree, known locally as the Massav tree. It is said to be over 400 years old. At the eastern end of the square is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the illustrations on the interior walls and the altarpiece are the work of local artist Dunstan St. Omer. The Central Library is on the western corner of the square.
Between 1796 and 1948 four devastating fires destroyed much of Castries.
Many of the buildings, modern examples of traditional wooden architecture complete with latticework balconies are still standing, particularly along Brazil Street, on the southern side of the Derek Walcott Square. La Place Carenage, an air-conditioned duty free shopping complex on the Castries waterfront, is a modern interpretation of old architectural techniques.
The Vigie peninsula forms the northern side of the Castries Harbour. On its southern shore is Pointe Seraphine, a cruise ship port, with a duty-free shopping complex and visitor information centre. Along the northern shore is Vigie beach, a long, unbroken white sand beach. The Vigie Lighthouse offers excellent views of the north and south coastline. Nearby are the ruins of a small powder magazine built by the French in 1784.
High on the southern side of Castries lies Morne Fortune. The road that snakes up its slopes offers spectacular views of the town, Castries Harbour, Vigie and the north of the island. along the route is Bagshaw’s Studios where visitors can watch original silk-screen patterns being made. A short drive up Old Victoria Road is Caribelle Batik where St. Lucian craftsmen produce fine batiks. Visit the Caribelle orchid garden. Also on the Morne is the historic century old Government House, which is the official residence of the Governor General. This is an outstanding example of Victorian architecture. Le Pavillon Royal is the museum on the Government House grounds.
Morne Fortune was one of the most heavily fought-over sites in the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries. The French began construction of the fortifications in the mid-18th century and work continued under the British until 1905.
The most famous battle took place on May 24, 1796 when, after a tremendous uphill struggle, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers captured the Morne from the French. A monument to their valour was erected. The Morne is still covered with numerous old fortifications, gun emplacements and cannons. In recent years, several of the military buildings have been restored and converted into the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, named after the St. Lucian scholar who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979.
Heading south, you wind downhill into the Cul de Sac Valley with its endless banana plantations. The turn-off for Marigot Bay, one of the most secure anchorages in the Caribbean, is along this road. Marigot was the setting for the movie Doctor Doolittle—the original film starring Rex Harrison and not the latest Eddie Murphy version. Marigot is a yacht charter centre.
After Marigot Bay, the road runs through the Roseau banana fields, and climbs into lush hills. Inland is the small community of Millet, the location of the Circle River Trail, one of the Heritage Tourism Programme’s attractions. The highlight of this trail is the Venus River which winds through Millet, all the way down to the Roseau Valley. This is an easy trek and includes an exceptional, freshwater bathing area.
Back on the main road, in a southerly direction, the villages of Anse La Raye and Canaries are situated in coves at the foot of steep hills. South of Canaries is the Anse La Liberté Camping and Heritage site. This 133 acre property is managed by the St. Lucia National Trust. Six miles of hiking trails have been created at Anse La Liberté and there is also a small secluded beach.
The road twists and climbs through fringes of rainforest: the western edge of the forest reserve and home to the indigenous St. Lucia parrot, the Amazona Versicolor. Visits to the forest are best done with the company of a guide.
Leaving the forest, the road descends into Soufrière, St. Lucia’s first capital, a town filled with natural and historic sites. Most imposing are the towering twin peaks of the Pitons, which thrust up from the water to heights of over half a mile. While the peaks appear to be next to each other, one rises from Soufrière, the other from the neighbouring village of Choiseul. You can climb them with guides but a high level of fitness is necessary.
Not far from the Pitons are the Sulphur Springs, a seven-acre crater billed as the Caribbean’s only drive-in volcano. A walk through the crater takes you past pools and hot springs bubbling and belching with sulphur-laden steam. Just outside the Springs, you can bathe in the warm sulphuric river, noted for its soothing effects. The Pitons and the Sulphur Springs are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated for its geological importance. This part of St. Lucia tells the story of the creation of the entire Caribbean basin.
Nearby are the Diamond Botanical Gardens Waterfall and Mineral Baths. Originally built in 1785 with funds from King Louis XVI, the baths were intended to restore the health of battle weary soldiers fighting the insurgents in the Haitian war of independence. The baths have been rebuilt, and, for a small fee, you may visit the waterfall and gardens and enjoy a steaming, healthful bath.
Soufrière Estate offers another glimpse into the history of St. Lucia. The property was part of a 2,000 acre estate granted to the Devaux family by King Louis XIV in 1713.
Morne Coubaril, the first major estate established in St. Lucia, has recreated the old way of life on a West Indian plantation. A tour around the estate will acquaint you with the traditional ways of processing cocoa, copra and sugar before the days of mechanization. There is also a museum.
There are bus and taxi tours to Soufrière. The town is also accessible by sea with all-day sea excursions down St. Lucia’s western coastline. Mystic Man Tours, based in Soufrière offers a variety of boat trips around the coastal areas of the town.
After Soufrière, the road climbs, offering views of the countryside. Between Soufrière and Choiseul lies the Fond Doux Cocoa Plantation. This is a Heritage Tourism Site where the cocoa transforming process takes place. Visitors can see the beginning of the transformation process that turns cocoa into chocolate.
The road continues on through the villages of Choiseul and Laborie before descending into Vieux Fort on the southern-most part of the island. At the extreme tip of St. Lucia is Moule-A-Chique peninsula with lighthouse at its extremity. The cliffs are home to numerous sea birds and the heights offer views of the coasts of St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Off the Atlantic shore of Vieux Fort is the Maria Islands Nature Reserve. The reserve is home to the indigenous St. Lucia Racer (kouwès), a small, nocturnal snake, and a ground lizard - the St. Lucia Whiptail (zanndoli tè). Many birds nest here and the reserve is closed during the reproduction season. Tours are booked through the National Trust offices at Pigeon Point National Landmark on (758)458-5005. The reef-protected Anse de Sable Bay also offers one of the finest, longest beaches on the island. It is arguably the best wind- and kitesurfing location in the Eastern Caribbean.
North of Castries lies Pigeon Island National Park. This 44 acre site was once an island accessible only by sea. The causeway, joining Pigeon Island to the mainland was built in the 1970’s. Grasslands, dry tropical forest and beaches are the geological interests of the Park. It was once a British garrison used to observe the French activities in neighbouring Martinique. There are forts placed on the two summits of the island. In 1550 it was the hideout of a notorious French privateer, Jambe de Bois. Today Pigeon Island is the centre stage venue for the annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival.
An interpretation centre tells the story of Pigeon Island. There are two restaurants on the island and a couple of quiet beaches. There is an entry fee to get into the park.
From Vieux Fort, the road meanders north along St. Lucia’s spectacular eastern coastline, where the Atlantic Ocean vents itself on rocky cliffs. The 33-mile drive back to Castries takes you through the villages of Micoud and Dennery and across the Barre de L’Isle mountain range.
Just north of Micoud, on the road to Mahaut, are the LaTille Waterfalls, situated in an organic garden. Mahaut is the beginning of two of the Forestry Department’s hiking trails. The long rainforest hike runs from Mahaut across the breadth of the island’s forest reserve to Fond St. Jacques in Soufrière and the circular Descartiers trail, a four-mile meander through natural rainforest with spectacular lookout points. There is lots to see including the St. Lucia Parrot. But be wise, go with a guide!
Praslin, a community south of Dennery, is home to Mamiku Gardens, a 12 acre botanical garden that was once a plantation. It is the site of a battle between the British forces and revolutionary Maroons in 1797.
Between Micoud and Dennery, just off the coast, lie the Fregate Islands, another nature reserve. The small islands are the nesting spots of the Frigate bird. Tours can be arranged through the National Trust (Tel. 452-5005) and there is usually a guide on site. The Trust has also opened a hiking trail that starts at Mandélé, to the north, and ends at the Fregate Islands Reserve.
After Dennery, the road runs west into the central mountains but before climbing the hills, it passes through the Mabouya Valley and the Fond D’ Or Nature Reserve & Historical Park. The latter is a Heritage Tourism Site. The ruins of a sugar plantation can be visited. An Amerindian site is found within the Park, which also includes a campsite.
At the summit of the Barre de L’Isle is another Forestry Department hiking trail. The hike takes three hours and offers views of Mount Gimie, the tallest peak in St. Lucia, the Bexon Valley and the Fond D’Or Valley on the Atlantic Coast. There are stands of pine, blue mahoe and mahogany. The Barre de L’Isle is the limit of the range of the St. Lucia Parrot.
North of Pigeon Point is Cap Estate, an old 1,500 acre sugar cane plantation. It is now dotted with some of the finest homes in St. Lucia, including several rental villas. Cap Estate is also home to an 18-hole golf course.
Internationally acclaimed St. Lucian artist Llewellyn Xavier has his studio at Cap Estate. Perched on a hillside overlooking the entire island, visitors are welcome to meet the artist and see his fabulous work. Call (758) 450-9155 for an appointment.
Another worthwhile stop is Marquis Plantation: a working banana estate that has old stands of mahogany, teak, coffee and cocoa. A boat trip from the plantation down the Marquis River to the Atlantic Ocean drops you off at the beach for a swim.
At Union, the government’s Forestry division maintains a nature trail that showcases a microcosm of the island’s flora as well as a medicinal garden that contains plants used to cure an assortment of maladies. The Union Zoo houses some of the rare species of fauna found on St. Lucia.
Heritage Tours offer visitors the most authentic St. Lucian experience. The only other way to get a close-up look at local culture and traditions and the wild side of St. Lucia, is by living here. All Heritage Tour sites are locally owned or part of the St. Lucian patrimony. Tours are kept small to respect the carrying capacity of each site and to enhance visitor experience. The buzz words at Heritage Tours are sustainability, respect for the environment and community involvement in the development of tourism.