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Saint Lucia is a British Commonwealth country that is an island in the Caribbean, off the coast of Central America. It lies between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, north of Trinidad and Tobago.
The twin Pitons (Gros Piton and Petit Piton) are striking cone-shaped peaks south of Soufriere that are one of the scenic natural highlights of the Caribbean.
Tourism is vital to Saint Lucia's economy. Its economic importance is expected to continue to increase as the market for bananas becomes more competitive. Tourism tends to be more substantial during the dry season (January to April). Saint Lucia tends to be popular due to its tropical weather and scenery and its numerous beaches and resorts.
Other tourist attractions include a drive-in volcano, Sulphur Springs (at Soufrière), the Botanical Gardens, the Majestic twin Peaks "The Pitons", A world heritage site, the rain forests, and Pigeon Island National Park, which is home to Fort Rodney, an old British military base.
Saint Lucia's first known inhabitants were Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America around 200-400CE. Numerous archaeological sites on the island have produced specimens of the Arawak's' well-developed pottery. Caribs gradually replaced Arawaks during the period from 800 to 1000CE.
Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502 during Spain's early exploration of the Caribbean. The British failed in their first attempts at colonisation in the early 17th century. The island was first settled by the French, who signed a treaty with the local Caribs in 1660. Like the British and Dutch, the French began to develop the island for the cultivation of sugar cane on extensive plantations.
Caribbean conditions were hard, and many slaves died before they lived long enough to have children. The French (and later British) continued to import slaves until the latter nation abolished the trade, and then the legal institution. By that time, people of ethnic African descent greatly outnumbered those of ethnic European background.
Thereafter Saint Lucia was much contested by the two European powers until the British secured it in 1814. It was part of the British Windward Islands colony. It joined the West Indies Federation (1958–62) when the colony was dissolved. In 1967, Saint Lucia became one of the six members of the West Indies Associated States, with internal self-government. In 1979 it gained full independence.
Tropical, moderated by northeast trade winds; dry season from January to April, rainy season from May to August; Experiences hurricanes.
Map of Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia is volcanic and mountainous with some broad, fertile valleys. The highest point is Mount Gimie at 950m (3117 ft)
St. Lucia has two airports,
George FL Charles Airport (SLU), which is near Castries.
Hewanorra International (UVF), which is near Vieux Fort. This airport is immediately next to the town of Vieux Fort. From the town, it's easy to think that it's just a few minutes walk to the airport terminal. Alas, although the control tower is easily visible from the town, the actual terminal entrance is located about 2 miles from the town centre. That entrance is located on the eastern coast road, ie, the road that the buses take to get to Castries. The airport entrance is not on the road that goes up to Soufriere. So, if you're walking, prepare yourself for about a 2 mile walk. That's not so bad, unless it's really hot. A bus can drop you right at the airport terminal entrance, if you're so inclined. If your luggage takes up a seat, you'll have to pay for that seat.
- George FL Charles Airport is closer to many of the all-inclusive resorts, has a modest terminal and runway able to easily support inter-island commercial flights. For less-experienced pilots in high-performance aircraft, the over-water approach and hills on both sides of runway can seem a bit harrowing, but prevailing winds are usually favourable. The airport is right next to Vigie beach, so it's possible to top up your sun tan while you wait for your flight. The terminal is about two miles from downtown Castries, so it is walkable if you do not have much luggage.
- Hewanorra is larger, but can be an 1 hour by taxi from most of the major resorts in the north. However, the journey north is a good way to see the island except if you arrive at night.
More information on both airports can be found on the official website for the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority
Ferries to and from neighbouring islands are available, if rather expensive.
The most extensive official service is operated by Express des Isles, which runs services to Martinique, Guadeloupe, etc.
Channel Shuttles Inc. operate a slightly cheaper ferry service (XCD235 including departure tax) to Martinique operating from Castries at 10:00 on Wednesday and 15:00 on Thursdays. They can be contacted on 7139701/4518161 or their office can be found in the ferry terminal just outside of Castries.
Cruise ships (usually one or two at a time) are frequent visitors to the small, picturesque harbour. An open air mall abuts the main pier and offers "duty free" shops. See "Buy" below.
Catamaran rides from Soufriere to Rodney Bay are also offered through a local tour company (to be updated).
The main way for tourists to get around St. Lucia is by taxi, either arranged by the hotel, taxi agency or individual operators. The tours arranged by resorts are usually the most expensive way to travel but might offer food and drink. Using a local taxi operator to plan your own adventure will be much more affordable. Your hotel staff should provide you with a number of a taxi agency or operator that they use regularly. The prices are generally fixed but you can shop around to get the best rate if given several numbers. Many taxi drivers that run from the resorts to the marketplaces will offer tours of the island for around $145 per van load. Each van will hold between 6 and 12 people.
A taxi from Hewanorra airport to Gros Islet is $85 USD. Renting a car is substantially cheaper than taxis. A taxi from Gros Islet to the Pitons and back is $160 USD.
For the budget travellers or the more adventurous tourists, local buses provide a cheap and fun way of getting around. They are small vans which hold around 10-14 people and vary in quality. They run irregularly, but frequently from rural towns to urban centres, (i.e. Soufriere to Castries, Soufriere to Vieux Fort, Vieux Fort to Castries), each day most travelling to Castries in the morning and returning to Soufriere late afternoon. They are very affordable and provide a unique experience each time; the vehicle operators often decorate the interiors and play their own music, either a mix of Caribbean flavours or country. If you want to try and take a transport discuss your route and travel time with one of the local staff familiar with the bus system. Many of them likely take a transport to and from work. Further information: click here.
Water taxis are a main source of income for many locals and can be a much quicker, convenient and picturesque method of travelling short distances to private beaches or coastal towns. Many water taxi operators in the Town of Soufriere can be found at the jetty. The rates of these drivers are a little high and can be bargained down. There are a few taxi owners who regularly play dominoes and sell drinks near the Hummingbird Hotel and Soufriere beach. They can offer a much cheaper rate. From Soufriere, you can take a water taxi to Anse Chastenet and Jalousie Beaches.
A helicopter taxi can be taken from Hewannora airport to Vigie airport and is a quick and spectacular way to get to the resorts on the Northern end of the island.
Renting a car is also possible at rates similar to those found in the United States or Canada. Driving is on the left-hand side and drivers require a permit (USD12 for one day, USD22 for 3 months).
All St. Lucia - Offers a range of services from Airport and St. Lucia Transfers to St. Lucia Tours and Excursions.
Drive-A-Matic [www.drivestlucia.com] Cheap car rental. Delivers your car to the airport or hotel, and collects it at the end.
English (official), French patois
Virtually all residents will be able to converse with travellers in English.
Pigeon Island nature reserve - just north of Gros Islet, the park has some of the oldest buildings on St.Lucia and affords views across to Martinique.
The Sulphur Springs - just south of Soufriere, these hot springs are one of the main attractions on the island. There is a pool that the hot water runs through, so make sure to take your swimming trunks and go for a dip! There are various entrance prices, depending on whether or you want to actually go into the baths themselves or if you just want to go on a tour. Plus, Saint Lucia has a dual pricing discrimination policy, and non Saint Lucians are required to pay about 4 times what the locals pay.
Rainforest hikes - there are several official hiking routes on the island. The Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries site has links to information about the ones they support.
Climbing the Gros Piton is an achievable goal for most people. The trailhead begins at an elevation of about 600 feet (c. 180m) above sea level and requires about two hours of moderate to strenuous hiking to reach the summit of about 2600 feet (c. 800m) above sea level. A further 1-and-a-half hours are needed to descend. Guides are required and entrance costs USD30. Taxis or local buses can be used to reach the trail head.
Snorkelling is popular and a number of beaches are suitable.
SCUBA diving - done at Pigeon Island, one of the island's Historical Landmarks, as well as between The Pitons, a World Heritage Site.
Catamaran Sail, St. Lucia has become a very popular destination for catamaran sailing. One company that specializes in this is Sea Spray Cruises.
The East Caribbean Dollar is pegged to the US dollar at 1 USD = 2.7 XCD. Cash machines on the island dispense XCD. Do bring US dollars, because you will most often (but not always) get better value spending in US dollars than in East Caribbean dollars. You cannot easily get USD on the island.
Castries market is a good place to buy gifts as is the JQ Shopping Mall in Rodney Bay. There is also La Place Carenage, a duty free and gift and souvenir outlet located in the main harbour of Castries. There you will find fine jewellery arts and crafts, ideal for gifts.
Supermarkets have quite good prices on rums produced or bottled on the island, e.g., Elements 8, Admiral Rodney, and especially Chairman's Reserve.
Visits by cruise ships over the years have generated a duty free mall (at dockside, Point Seraphine, Castries) with jewellery, souvenirs, art, liquor/rums and other offerings typical for cruise shoppers.
You may also find lower, "duty-Free" prices available across the island in strip malls and resorts. You may need identification as a visitor to qualify for duty-free treatment.
St Lucian food consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and a variety of curry, jerk, rice and stewed dishes. The coal pot is a delicious stew, traditional to native carib cultures and can be found at many local restaurants in Castries, Soufriere and Vieux-Fort. Vegetarian and meat rotis can be found at a number of small local restaurants. Ask any local for the best roti shop and he or she will tell you how to get there. Rotis are usually made fresh in the morning so, if eating a spicy early lunch is of interest, it's highly recommended. Local cuisine is prepared throughout the island so, depending on where you are staying, ask a local if he or she knows someone/somewhere that prepares local food and you will be sure to be welcomed somewhere nearby. Many rum shacks in rural towns also prepare food if given advanced notice. Fish, veggie, chicken and goat meals are very common and usually come with a number of sides including salad, plantain, breadfruit, macaroni, and rice prepared a number of different ways.
For a quick snack, barbeques with chicken and pork can be found in any community on a Friday night. The food is well marinated and spiced. Soak up the sauce with a barbequed or fried bake. Fried chicken and fish can also be found, and are quite delicious.
There are weekly parties and festivals held in various communities throughout the island where you can also sample a range of local foods, including sea food, barbequed meats, salads and drinks. These festivals are filled with dancing, drinks, food and music. Let your hair down, try some cuisine and lime it up. Be sure to ask what is in the pots before you sample the food. For those environmentally conscious, blackfish is porpoise.
Friday night: Anse La Raye "Seafood Friday"
Friday night:Gros Islet Jump-up
Every Second Saturday: Canaries Creole Pot
Saturday: Dennery (East coast) Fish Fry