ST LUCIA - WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Think of all the things a Caribbean vacation used to spark —serenity, great natural beauty, crystal-clear waters, fine dining, and a slow-paced island ambiance where all your problems are days away. The influx of mega-resorts, mega-cruise ships and fast food venues has, on some islands, damaged the traditional image of the unspoiled Caribbean. However, there’s at least one West Indies destination where the true, exotic Caribbean experience is alive and thriving—the beautiful and captivating island of Saint Lucia.
St Lucia is one of the most classic Caribbean vacation experiences that’s available today with resorts ranging from all-inclusive to luxury villas, classic inns, as well as boutique hotels with spas and wellness programs in settings that will take your breath away and make you understand why it has become known as the premiere romance destination and an emerging family destination.
Now that you are dreaming of St Lucia, let me familiarize you with her history, culture and general island information that will better prepare you to visit this beautiful island.
Saint Lucia is an island in the Caribbean Sea. It is one of the Windward Islands, which is situated between Martinique and Saint Vincent and to the northwest of Barbados.
A subtropical climate, kept mild by cooling trade winds, makes Saint Lucia a year-round delight. From June to November, be prepared for sporadic tropical showers.
Saint Lucia lies in the Atlantic Standard time zone and is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, five hours during daylight savings time. It is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time, except in the summer, when the time zones are the same.
English is the official language, but Saint Lucians also speak a French-Creole commonly called Patois, which is used in day-to-day affairs.
Hewanorra International Airport in Vieux Fort is located 40 miles south of Castries, the capital city. George F. L. Charles Airport is an inter-island airport located just outside Castries.
The island is made from memory-making experiences. Mini-buses and Taxis serve as the main ground transportation for the island. These buses run on varied times depending on the route. Fares range from EC$2.50 to EC$8.00. Taxis are easily available at taxi stands or by telephone. Fares vary by destination and nature of trip. Before you hire a taxi, confirm the fare.
From Hewanorra International Airport to Castries takes around an hour. Automobile Rental Cars, 4-wheel-drive vehicles and scooters can be booked in advance or locally at the airports, hotels or car rental offices.
A temporary driver’s license is required for visitors and may be obtained upon presentation of a valid driver’s license on arrival at the airport, the police station in Castries or the car rental offices. Remember to drive on the left side.
Ferries: Those who prefer to do much of their traveling on the water will find that Saint Lucia is well serviced by ferries, making it easy to include Saint Lucia on any island-hopping tour. Several ferry lines connect Saint Lucia with Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe.
Helicopters: Spectacular aerial tours of Saint Lucia are possible, and helicopter transfers between Hewanorra and George FL Charles airports reduce the travel time between the south and north of the island.
The duty free allowance for arriving passengers is 200 cigarettes or a half-pound of tobacco or 50 cigars; 40 fluid ounces of wines or spirits. Duty free shopping is available at Pointe Seraphine, La Place Carenage, the shopping malls and the departure lounge at Hewanorra Airport.
The currency of Saint Lucia is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, which is linked to the U.S. dollar at the exchange rate of US$1 to EC$2.70.
220 Volts, 20 cycles AC (a few hotels are 110 Volts, 60 cycles). Adaptors are generally available at the resorts.
The international dialing code for Saint Lucia is 1 (758).
Service Charges and Taxes
There is a value added tax of 10% on hotel and restaurant bills. A service charge of 10% is also applicable. In some instances, these charges are included in prices quoted so it is best to clarify. The prices on labels in shops and supermarkets may attract value added tax.
Foreign nationals visiting or entering Saint Lucia are required to have a valid passport from their country. Passports should be valid for 3 months upon entering Saint Lucia. Visas are not required where the visitor is a U.S., UK or Canadian citizen or where there is an agreement for exemption between home country and Saint Lucia. Most other countries that are not listed above, do require visas.
Departure tax is included in the price of the ticket for all passengers over 12 years old leaving the island via air travel. For passengers leaving via sea travel, the departure tax is EC$33 or US$13 to be paid at the time of the departure.
Its history and culture is as unique and fascinating as her natural beauty, stretching back thousands of years to the Arawak and Carib Indians, joined by pirates during the 1500s. The unruly colonial history began in the early-1600s with the French taking over in 1659. The British and French waged a 150-year seesaw battle for control, with the British finally taking possession in 1838, and leaving a colorful legacy of pirates, colonial intrigue and a unique mix of European influence.
Ancient Arawaks and Caribs inhabited Saint Lucia long before the arrival of the Europeans. Some archaeological finds have been dated back to 1000 B.C. The Caribs arrived around A.D. 800, conquering the peaceful Arawaks and assimilating them into Carib culture. The Caribs would live on Saint Lucia through the ferocious 16th century piracy period with Francois le Clerc. Even though their numbers dwindled, they lived in Saint Lucia until well into the 18th century. While local lore often points to Christopher Columbus having touched land here, actual records show that during his four visits to the New World, Saint Lucia was not on his navigational charts. However, 67 English settlers arrived here in 1605, blown off course on their journey to Guyana. Within a few weeks, the Caribs had massacred most of them, only allowing 19 survivors to leave the island in a dug-out canoe. Over the next two centuries, England and France battled over possession of Saint Lucia, with the island changing flags 14 times. It was the French, however, who secured the first lasting European settlement at Soufriere in 1746. Capitalizing on the area’s fertile soil, estates were swiftly established and slaves were brought in from Africa to work the land, starting with cotton and tobacco plantations and later adding sugar, which became the most profitable export. (Today, bananas dominate the plantation landscapes.)
Saint Lucia’s colonial history, however, continued to seesaw back and forth between conquering powers, as a British invasion succeeded in 1778, establishing naval bases at Gros Islet and Pigeon Island. England finally got the permanent upper hand in 1815, under terms of the Treaty of Paris. And under the British, the 1838 Emancipation freed the slaves, giving them the right to own their own property, although many families chose to remain at the estates as free men. Fast-forward over a century to 1967 when Saint Lucia gained internal autonomy, and then to February 22, 1979, when the island achieved full independence, with the official status of an independent state within the British Commonwealth.
Taking a close look at the Saint Lucia we know today – measuring approximately three times the land mass of Washington, D.C. or one-sixth of Rhode Island – we find that: while Great Britain contributed the official language, political structure, educational and legal systems, it is the French and African influence that dominates this island-nation’s cultural grass roots – its village names and villager surnames, its French patois created by African slaves, Catholicism, cuisine, music and the arts in general. Tune into the heart and soul of the country, and you discover a colorful and homegrown combination of English, French, African, Carib-Indian and East Indian cultures.
Historical Locations to Visit
For today’s visitors, Saint Lucia presents many captivating reminders – from Arawak inscriptions to military sites and plantation estates – of her often turbulent, colorful and multicultural past. If you are a history enthusiast, consider visiting these locations on your next trip.
• Jutting out from the northwest coast, Pigeon Island was used by the French in the mid-16th century as a base for raiding passing Spanish ships. Two centuries later, British Admiral George Rodney fortified the island to use as a base for monitoring the French fleet on neighboring Martinique. The Admiral set sail from this island in 1782 for his most decisive military engagement, the Battle of the Saints. Joined in the 1970s to mainland Saint Lucia, Pigeon Island is now officially a national park, administered by the Saint Lucia National Trust; its attractions include the hilltop, well-preserved Fort Rodney.
• Sitting atop the 2,785-ft. Morne Fortune – Hill of Good Fortune is Fort Charlotte, whose construction began under the French and continued under the British. Because of its strategic location overlooking Castries (about a 3-mile distance), the fort was a source of fierce battles between these colonial contestants. Fort Charlotte has been renovated and given new life as the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, which today includes a small obelisk monument commemorating the 27th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers retaking control of Morne Fortune from the French in 1796.
• Halfway up Morne Fortune is Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General of Saint Lucia and one of the few remaining examples of Victorian architecture. By appointment, one can visit its Le Pavillon Royal Museum displaying artifacts, crockery, silverware, historical photographs and documents.
• Saint Lucia offers many chances to peek into the past for insight into the plantation world that dominated the country for so long. One of the earliest French estates established in 1745 was the 135-acre Fond Doux Estate near Soufriere. Still a working plantation, it produces cocoa, citrus, bananas, coconut and vegetables. A guided walk introduces visitors to various aspects of today’s cocoa, fruit and flower production, as well as the original plantation house and the estates military ruins.
• Also near Soufriere is the Morne Coubaril Estate, a working cocoa and coconut plantation that gives visitors the chance to see first-hand the processing of copra, cocoa and manioc. Additionally, the estate still has its historic buildings and the ruins of a water and sugar mill.
• Then along the southwest coast, you have the Balenbouche Estate, established in the 18th century by the French first as a coffee plantation, then adding a water-powered sugar factory to produce sugar and rum. Today, this heritage site includes an 18th century plantation house, surrounded by gardens, as well as jungle-covered ruins of a sugar mill, water wheel and ancient Amerindian potholes. Visitors are introduced to the history of the estate, including the present life and activities on the plantation, by the family-owned plantation and guesthouse. Located outside the town of Choiseul, the estate is a half-hour from Soufriere.
• Not much of 19th century Castries, the island’s capital, has survived the ravages of wind, rain and fire; however, around Derek Walcott Square, named in honor of the hometown poet who won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, stand a handful of wooden buildings with gingerbread-trim balconies. Dominating the Square is the grand stone Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1897. Its interiors are exquisite, painted with trompe l’oeil columns and brightly colorful biblical scenes, whose primary colors and Black Madonna and child incorporate a mixture of Caribbean and African influences.
Health & Wellness Balance
Wouldn’t you know it: it was the French—King Louis XVI, in fact—who introduced wellness through mineral baths to Saint Lucia. In 1784, the king provided funds for the construction of a dozen large stone baths for his soldiers after analysis of the waters found their curative properties to be similar to those of Aix-les-Bains in France. All this took place at the Soufriere Estate, a 2,000-acre land grant made by the Crown in 1713 to three brothers from Normandy in recognition of their services to France. Located in present-day Soufriere, the estate is still owned by their descendants who have restored the baths, part of the Diamond Botanical Gardens & Waterfall attraction. For a small fee visitors can slip into a bathing suit and bathe for 30 minutes in one of the outside pools; a private bath costs a bit more, although it was probably free to Empress Josephine Bonaparte who was said to have bathed in these very waters bubbling up from underground Sulphur Springs.
Today, it is Saint Lucia’s elegant resorts that are looking to the country’s natural sources to nurture the bodies and souls of their guests through restorative spa treatments inspired by indigenous ingredients—from volcanic minerals to rainforest plants. In addition to heavenly spas, visitors discover other wellness options, including state-of-the-art-fitness centers and mountaintop yoga platforms.
Saint Lucia counts among its natural wonders a drive-in volcano, a highly endangered parrot, and the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Pitons. Equally esteemed is its enriched culture, rooted in this Caribbean country, originating from the English, French and African. Its most modern asset is its welcoming people. Saint Lucia is the perfect destination for today’s traveler who is interested in new and involving experiences, getting to know the land, and getting to meet the locals. Let us highlight just a handful of ways to enjoy the discovery of Lucian heritage and a colorful, homegrown Creole culture.
New Year’s Day Celebrations
Saint Lucia celebrates New Year’s with a giant fair held in Assou Square that marks the beginning of the new year. The fair highlights some of the island’s cultural activities such as Masquerade, Toes and Papa Djab, as well as fun rides and games.
Nobel Laureate Week
Per capita, Saint Lucia has more Nobel laureates than any other country. To celebrate Nobel Laureate Week, there are major lectures, panel discussions, plays, poetry, drama and music.
On Feb. 22, Saint Lucia celebrates its anniversary of independence from British rule. In 1979, Saint Lucia was reborn as an independent state after being a colony of Great Britain.
The days of Holy Week are the most solemn on the Saint Lucian calendar. The dominant Catholic traditions are evident during this time, particularly on Good Friday. Easter Sunday resembles Christmas Day with its church services, gift-giving and festivals. Easter weekend is also one of the best times for kite flying.
The Annual Saint Lucia Jazz Festival
All eyes focus on Saint Lucia for 10 days each May when the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival welcomes renowned international musicians who perform at Pigeon Island National Park and other island venues. From its inception in 1992, Saint Lucia Jazz Festival has grown and is now regarded as the premiere jazz event of the Caribbean. The festival is a series of concerts that bring together elements of jazz, rhythm and blues, pop and world music. Multiple shows embrace straight-ahead jazz, and new age jazz, with acts originating from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. Past performances have included those of George Benson and Wynton Marsalis, to name only a couple.
Pro Tip: Plan your trip at least 9 months in advance for best hotel/resort availability and pricing.
Carnival in Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia’s summer Carnival is one the island’s major festivals. Carnival lovers from around the Caribbean and North America converge in Saint Lucia during the second week of July. Preparation for the Carnival season launches in June when the mas (bands) camps are formed and members begin to build their costumes, steel-bands practice in the streets and calypso tents throughout the island. Come July when Carnival is in full swing, there are competitions for beauty queens, as well as for the King of Soca and Calypso; and the bands compete for the coveted “band of the year” title. Right after the competitions (Monday morning), everyone heads off to the streets of Castries for the ultimate street party and Jouvert (pre-dawn “jump-up” that starts at 4 a.m.). A truly spectacular cultural affair worthy of watching and participation.
AUGUST & OCTOBER
Saint Lucia Flower and Creole Festivals
Saint Lucia’s local culture and traditions are showcased through two flower festivals during the months of August and October. The Feast of St. Rose de Lima is the festival of the Rose Flower Society, celebrated in August, while the Feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque is observed during October. Each year, the events are hosted by a number of selected communities throughout the island, and weekly festivities include religious services, as well as weekly parades in the streets with society members dressed as kings and queens, princes and princesses, doctors and nurses, policemen and soldiers. These weekly society meetings and festivities (called seances) culminate in the colorful Feast of the Rose on Aug. 30 and Les Marguerites on Oct. 17. On both occasions, there is a royal court presentation, feasting and dancing.
Creole Heritage Month
Creole Heritage Month includes the celebration of International Creole Day or Jounen Kweyol Enternasyonal. Culturally oriented visitors or those interested in experiencing Saint Lucia’s traditional expressions by doing everything in Creole, will find the month of October packed with cultural activities, including an Arts & Heritage Festival. A fascinating display of folklore, traditional cuisine, and authentic Creole customs that have been carried on for generations are on show during this village-based affair.
Roots & Soul Festival
This celebration is dedicated to musicians who are setting new trends in reggae, conscious hip-hop, Afro-punk and R&B, with performances, master classes and encounters between artists and other actors in the music business. Like Saint Lucia Jazz, there will be free and paying concerts, in various parts of the island.
Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival
Visitors will have plenty of opportunities to taste the islands delicious cuisine.
This event celebrates the island’s unique culinary offerings derived from its French, British, African and Indian heritage combined with the finest rums of the Caribbean and the world. There are typically rum-infused menus at the many restaurants and street party events as well as exciting collaborations between the island’s national culinary teams and celebrity chefs.
Saint Lucia Dive Fest
Dive Fest showcases and celebrates the stunning underworld of Saint Lucia starring its unique marine life and biodiversity. It will feature an excellent mix of activities, a dive seminar, and symposium plus daily dive odyssey’s at the best dive sites in Saint Lucia.
Weekly Street Parties
The Gros Islet Friday Night Street Party, the longest running street party in Saint Lucia, is a hotspot for locals and visitors alike. This little fishing village really heats up on Friday nights when the weekly jump-up gets going. The streets are alive with pulsating rhythms emanating from speakers manned by island DJs. Dancing mixes easily with dining at a variety of bbq grills serving up chicken, pork and seafood, prepared Lucian-style. It’s known as the must-stop for people who love to party.
Located on the west coast south of Castries, the sleepy village of Anse la Raye wakes up big time once a week for Seafood Friday. It has become one of the highlights for Saint Lucians from all over the island. Street stalls offer up the catch of the day, as well as delicacies such as squid, octopus, shrimp or lobster. And of course there is Caribbean music to keep everyone grooving most of the night.
It’s Saturday night live at Dennery Fish Festival on the east coast of the island, which keeps its fish heritage alive with a myriad of dining options, from informal little venues to street food. Music goes hand in hand with fish feasting, and this town makes loud and clear its preference for soca, dancehall and reggae, mixed up with a bit of R&B.
Take a Heritage Tour
The Heritage Tourism Association of Saint Lucia (HERITAS) is a non-profit group dedicated to the marketing and provision of travel products to natural and cultural heritage sites that offer a unique Saint Lucian experience. The groups commitment has arisen out of broader efforts—including those of the Saint Lucia National Trust—to preserve the country’s heritage and to maximize benefits to Saint Lucia from eco and heritage tourism. Tours include visiting fishing villages, plantations, waterfalls, centuries-old estates and historic gardens. Consider this Heritage Tour sampling:
Fond d’Or Nature Reserve and Historical Park: Located in the heart of the Mabouya Valley on the east coast, this park was first settled by the islands pre-Columbian Amerindian inhabitants, and was later used by European sugar planters. Within the park one finds historic sugar mill ruins and an Amerindian site, as well as various historic plantation buildings—a windmill, a boiling house, a steam mill and two cattle barns—dating to between the 17th and 19th centuries. A guided tour includes a trail walk through the estuarine tropical forest, mangroves and dry scrub woodlands, as well as time on a broad white sand beach, which is a nesting site for leatherback turtles between April and October. A half-day tour includes lunch at the Interpretation Center and Museum.
Lushan Country Life: Less than a 15-minute drive from Castries, Lushan Country Life is on display at Anthony’s Farm, at the traditional and historic residence at Morne-Du-Don/Balata, and at the 100-year-old family farmhouse. The tour includes birdwatching (27 identified species) in the tropical forest. Along the Garden Trail, one finds ginger, cocoa, cinnamon, mango and cashew nuts, and stops are made to taste seasonal fruits and identify many of the 134 plant species. Additionally, local guides share their knowledge of customs and herbal medicines, charcoal making, bee keeping and cassava making.
Lucian Cuisine 101
Recommend clients dine on local cuisine while at jump-ups and street fairs.
♦ Saint Lucia’s cornucopia of tropical fruit and vegetables includes bananas, mangoes, passion fruit, cassava, dasheen taro, plantains, breadfruit, okra, avocados, limes, pumpkins, cucumbers, guavas, pineapples, papayas, soursop, yams, chayote and coconuts.
♦ For an overview of local produce, visit the Castries Central Market, the largest on the island and packed with stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and spices. (For handicrafts and clothing, cross the street to the Vendors Arcade.)
♦ The French influence on local cooking is strong, and most chefs cook with a Creole flair.
♦ Standard among Caribbean dishes are callaloo (soup made from leafy green, similar to spinach), stuffed crab back, pepper-pot stew, curried chicken or goat, and lambi (conch).
♦ Soups and stews are prepared in a coal pot, a rustic clay casserole on a clay stand that holds hot coals; one of the culinary landmark restaurants is called Coal Pot (in Castries).
♦ Jump-ups and street fairs are the places to eat grilled fish or chicken legs and bakes (fried biscuits)—accompanied by rum or beer (the local brand is Piton).
Regardless of where you stay on Saint Lucia, whether you choose the bustling Rodney Bay or quieter Soufrière, you’re sure to find something you love. Great food, amazing snorkeling, and pristine beaches are right around the corner and beckoning you to stay longer.
If you’re not quite sure where to start planning, I’d love to help you. I work with many different budgets and styles of travel. Head over to my website to schedule a quick 15-minute chat at a time that suits you. www.escapefromcorporate.com