St Lucia is one of the most beautiful islands of the Caribbean basin with its breathtaking natural resources such as the emerald green covered Piton Mountains, dense bird- filled rainforests and mind blowing waterfalls. Most tourists end up in the northern area of the island near the capital city, Castries. Rodney Bay, Cap Estate and Gros Islet are home to some of the most sought after luxury resorts in the world, where celebrities are frequently spotted winding to some good reggae, Soca or calypso music.
But you don’t have to be a celebrity to enjoy the luxuries of this exceptional vacation spot. Some truly hidden gems that will not pinch your pocketbook can be found in the south of the island. The best sites of the island are near Soufriere. One thing to keep in mind about St Lucia, that unlike some of the other Caribbean islands, this island is not known for a lively night scene, except on weekends. During the week, spend your energy hiking, swimming, snorkeling, walking, diving, wind surfing, sunbathing, taking leisurely drives and relaxing under waterfalls. Most of these activities are very reasonable, some even free.
The currency used on the island is Eastern Caribbean (EC) which is currently 2.65 to 1 US dollar. Basically, if something is 15EC, divide by 3 to get a price of US5.00. On a calculator it actually translates to $5.66 US dollars, but I just divide by 3 to make it easy on my brain. When you are visiting the craft shops in Choiseul, and there are several, this will help you to quickly calculate how much that beautiful wood carving will cost.
Budget accommodations are easily found if you know where to look, some offering a stunning view of the ocean and perhaps a Salsa lesson or two. Renting a car is the best way to enjoy the island but for budget conscious travelers, there is island wide bus service that is very affordable. The buses will have license plates that start with an M and the fare to ride from Vieux Fort to Castries, about a one hour, trip runs $3.00 each way. Typically they just run along the one main highway but if you need to go off this road a short ways, ask the driver and they will usually comply. Tip them a little if they do.
The town of Soufriere has some fantastic attractions. Among my many favorite things to do is a visit to the Diamond Falls Botanical Garden which has mineral baths from the days of King Louis XXIV, where you can soak and take in the therapeutic waters that pour straight from a volcano in a breathtaking waterfall. Entrance to the Gardens is $5.00, mineral bath in outdoor pool is an additional $4.00 or for a private indoor bath the cost is $6.00. The gardens are a visual treat with luscious tropical flowers, homemade benches and stunning waterfalls.
Some of the very best snorkeling on the island is in this southwest corner near Soufriere. Anse Chastanet has a buoyed off snorkeling area called Fairy Land which drops from 20 to 140 feet into a wall of coral and spectacular underwater life which is an underwater photographer’s paradise. Nearby Jalousie Plantation also has some fantastic snorkeling – hit their spectacular wall dive, Superman’s Flight – beneath the Piton Mountains. The wall drops to a depth of 1600 feet and boasts excellent visibility via the crystal clear waters. You can get equipment rental and directions at any local dive shop.
Ladera Resort was rated by Conde Nast 2005 as Best Hotel in the World. If the accommodation rates for their three sided ocean view rooms is to steep for your budget, at least stop in for a drink at their bar snuggled between the majestic Piton Mountains. The view is worth the slightly higher drink price.
Across the street, the new Hotel Chocolat, on the historical Rabot Estate, is busy growing and harvesting the best cocoa for delicious chocolates and treats. Two more excellent working plantations that encourage visitors are also in this region: Fond Doux Estate, which includes guest cottages, restaurant and hiking tours, and Mourne Coubaril, a reconstructed 18th-century village which provides visitors with a historical glance into Creole life.
On the road to the Jalousie Plantation Hotel, be sure to stop at the Piton Falls. Entrance to this little paradise is only about $2.00 US. A 10 minute walk through the tropical gardens leads you to a mineral waterfall cascading into a refreshing waist high pool. After you take in the warm thermal waters of this pool, all of your aches and pains will melt away. There’s also a cooler pool to invigorate your senses. Be sure to go to the Sulphur Springs Volcano and take their short tour of the bubbling sulphur and the volcano’s history. Treat yourself to some sulphur soap hand made by locals while you are there, it is great for aching joints and those who have arthritis pains.
Enjoy southern St Lucia, there is so much rich culture and beautiful scenery, there isn’t enough time to see all the waterfalls, snorkel all the coves or hike all the trails that abound. Plan to go back, really soon.