St. Lucia is visited by thousands of tourists every year, but unfortunately, very few of them get further than the resorts or the cruise ships. Not only is this too bad for the local St. Lucian businesses, but those folks are really missing out!
St. Lucia is undeniably a great destination for luxury vacations in the Caribbean, but in being so, it actually provides far more than just a pretty view. As always, exploring the small island country beyond your accommodation in St. Lucia really is the way to go. I went to St. Lucia for work, and then stayed on a few days, because that’s how I roll. In the short amount of time that I was there, I was able to figure out the most important things to know about travel to St. Lucia. So here are the basics, in no particular order, because travel essentials make planning that much easier 🙂
Why Travel to St. Lucia?
This is kind of a no brainer, since St. Lucia is a beautiful Caribbean island and all. But there is more!
Firstly, St. Lucia’s local language is French Creole, which is spoken by 95% of the St. Lucian population, but the working language is full on English. Granted some folks speak with pretty heavy accents, but that’s just something for you to get used to!
Secondly, St. Lucia is pretty relaxed. I felt like the pace of life was neither too fast nor too slow, and that people were generally pretty friendly. I did get a bit of attention from the local men as a solo white female in St. Lucia, but that’s kind of the way it goes in the Caribbean, from my experience. “Whoa, your legs are so white…”
Thirdly, St. Lucia is safe. People may drive a little fast, but generally speaking I felt very comfortable and at ease in St. Lucia whether it was on the beach, in my guesthouse or walking along the street.
Fourthly, there are tons for great things to see and activities to do in St. Lucia! More on this later…
Arriving into St. Lucia: 2 Airports!?
This is interesting: for such a small island, St. Lucia has two airports.
The reason for this is that the smaller George F.L. Charles airport in the north of the island does not have enough runway space for the jumbo jets to land. Small volcanic islands=limited flat stretches of land
Therefore, most mega airplanes from North America and Europe will land in the Hewanorra International Airport in the south of the island near the town of Vieux Fort. The drive from Hewanorra to the north where most of the large resorts are takes about 90 minutes. If your accommodation offers a free airport pick-up, do it!
Where to Stay in St. Lucia
There are 4 main settlement areas in St. Lucia. Castries (the capital city) and Gros Islet (home to most of the all-inclusive chain resorts) are the busiest of the 4 and are located in the North of the island. Vieux Fort is in the far south and Soufriere is on the west coast near the Pitons.
Gros Islet is where most tourist attractions, activities, and services can be found. That said, there are hotels, resorts, guesthouses and vacation rentals all over St. Lucia, most of which will get you pretty close to the seaside.
I stayed in Soufriere because I wanted to be close to the Gros Piton hike, it is right on the beach, and it is close to many natural hot springs. Others choose to stay in Vieux Fort if they want more waves in their ocean.
There is a large range in accommodations in St. Lucia, but I can assure you that none of it is what I would call defensively budget. My guesthouse charged about 30USD for a pretty basic room (and a freezing cold shower with crap water pressure, literal droplets) and then charged an insane $15 for breakfast. WTF?
How to Get Around St. Lucia
Despite St. Lucia being a small Caribbean island, things are spread out and there is a lot of rural country-side between towns, natural attractions, and accommodations.
As it is a developing country, there is a healthy public transit system in St. Lucia that can carry you basically wherever you need to go. Whether by bus, minivan, or share taxi, you can usually get wherever you need or want to go in St. Lucia. I took the bus from Castries to Soufriere, about a 70 minutes ride through the mountains and it cost me about 8USD. Be warned, the public transit is VERY casual, you will be squished and your bags may come out nice and dirty. But hey, that’s the Caribbean. I played with a baby on my bus, you don’t get that in a private limo!
There are also private taxis, though they will probably charge you an arm and half your leg to go 5 minutes up the street.
But if you really want to explore the island and have that complete independence, my advice would be to rent a car. There are many different rental companies working out of Gros Islet and the airports, and with your own wheels you can really see the island on your terms. Driving is on the left hand side of the road, and drivers in St. Lucia can be a bit erratic. Roads are winding and not well lit, but the main routes are well maintained and wide enough. Maybe avoid driving at night on a route you have not already driven during the day, and definitely make way for faster drivers, especially buses. Compared to some other Caribbean countries, driving in St. Lucia is fairly safe for the visiting tourist.
Also, hitchhiking is common. Not that I would ever suggest anybody do this nor do I ever do this… cough.
Best Things to See and Do in St. Lucia
St. Lucia is all about natural beauty! Even if you rent a car only for one day, drive around the island and poke into the small, secluded beaches and epic lookouts. At the southern most tip of St. Lucia, just south of Vieux Fort, stands a lighthouse and a fabulous view of the great Caribbean. You can drive right up to the lighthouse and wander around a bit. Watch out for some of the foliage, there are some major prickles!
Water sports are in abundance in St. Lucia, with fantastic scuba diving, snorkeling, kite-surfing, and fishing. Or if you just want to be on the ocean, day-long catamaran tours or sunset sails go out of Gros Islet, Castries and Marigot Bay every day.
Hiking the Gros Piton is the medal of honor that any active traveler to St. Lucia must achieve. I did it, obviously. It was very hot and sweaty, but the views from the top and along the way were spectacular. Plus, I did not sprain my ankle and it didn’t start raining until I was almost at the bottom. So wins all around!
The mud baths and geothermal hot springs of the west coast of St. Lucia are amazing. I went in three different natural baths within 3 days, I just couldn’t get enough. The Caribbean’s Only Drive-In Volcano is located 3 km south of Soufriere, where you can mud bath right up and leave your skin silky smooth. I also loved the natural hot water waterfall, Piton Waterfall, also south of Soufriere. It’s basically taking a warm shower, outside. Those fancy waterfall shower-heads on HGTV were modeled after the Piton Waterfall.
The Diamond Botanical Gardens and Waterfalls is also a great place. The gardens and the waterfalls are beautiful, as are the mineral pools for yet another natural and very public bath.
And last but definitely not least, watching the sun set from St. Lucia is a past time itself. Anywhere you stay along the West Coast of the island, Soufriere, Castries, or Gros Islet, should give you excellent viewing spots. Grab a Piton beer, find a beach, a restaurant patio with a view, or drive up to a lookout and breathe it all in.
Food in St. Lucia
St. Lucia has really wonderful food, it does celebrate French, African and Indian heritages after all. Creole cooking has it all, amazing flavours, fresh ingredients and hefty portions. Some of my favourite things!
Rotis are the casual lunchtime mainstay and they are really something. The size of my calf and with more chicken and beef curry filling, you may end up skipping dinner. No, just joking, I never skip dinner.
Baked goods hearken back to the French heritage with fresh baguettes and warm homemade loaves to go with your eggs in the morning. Bakeries also offer delicious treats, and yes, they use real butter.
Seafood is of course big in St. Lucia. It is surrounded by water you know! Be it the catch of the day in fish, fresh shellfish and lobster or an abundance of conch, keep it casual and eat that seafood with your hands. Who needs to be fancy?!
The national beer in St. Lucia is Pitons brew. Named after the countries epic mountain symbols. Pitons beer is tasty, I approve. Being the Caribbean, there also local rum, the St. Lucia’s Distillers Group of Companies. If I could redo my trip to St. Lucia, I would definitely fit in a rum tour at the distillery in the Roseau Valley . #regrets
St. Lucia also makes fantastic chocolate, due to the large number of cocoa plantations on the island. Most famously, the Hotel Chocolat offers chocolate tours (and tastings). Many other resorts on the island also have chocolate spa packages, because spas are not luxurious enough without a bathtub full of warm chocolate.
Money in St. Lucia
St. Lucia is part of the Organization of the East Caribbean; therefore the country uses the same currency (the Eastern Caribbean Dollar or ECs) as places like Montserrat, Grenada, Dominica, and Anguilla. If you travel with cash, your best bet is to show up in St. Lucia either with ECs or American cash. I showed up with $600 in Jamaican currency and was fresh out of luck. No banks would exchange it, so my credit card got a healthy workout.
On the topic of money, St. Lucia isn’t a cheap country, but it also doesn’t have to be too expensive. Yes there are amazing boutique resorts and fine dining in those hotels, but you can also find moderate guesthouses, local cafes and bars, and local transport to bring down your daily costs significantly.
Travel Tips for St. Lucia
Hit up the local bakeries, fruit stands, and grocery stores for breakfasts and snacks. This will save you cash, plus the food is fresh and delicious and the ladies selling the grub will be super jolly.
Everything closes on Sundays, and don’t expect that public transport to work for you. If you can swing it, don’t expect to do much or move anywhere on a Sunday.
Super random tip: if you have a car and you are in the South around lunchtime, stop by the True Value Hardware store, stop in at the roti shop. These are the best rotis in St. Lucia, as guaranteed by a St. Lucian native. I ate one, and it was AMAZING!
Most folks will do a week all inclusive in St. Lucia. A week is a great amount of time to spend in St. Lucia, but I would advise a vacation rental or at least a most independent accommodation (Boo on all-inclusives!). A week will allow most visitors the chance to get well around the island, do a day boat cruise, lounge on the beach, hike the Gros Piton, and whatever else you fancy. If you want some more relaxation time, or to stay in different parts of St. Lucia, opt for 10 days.
If you’re in Soufriere and want to get back up north, but do not want to take a bus, talk to the catamaran tour companies! I had to get from Soufriere to Gros Islet on a Sunday, so there was no public transport. So I asked the boat people if I could hop onto the second half of their day boat cruise from Castries that stops in Soufriere for lunch. Sure! $30 later I was sipping rum punch (free open bar) and sunning myself on the deck of the ship, watching the Pitons fade in to the distance.
Take an old bathing suit. I know you want to look cute. But you will not want to get your awesome suit gross in the mud baths of St. Lucia. Trust me, this is why I buy all my swimsuits at WalMart.
One does not necessarily need to fly to St. Lucia. A daily ferry services to St. Lucia, L’Express des l’Iles, connect St. Lucia with Dominica, Guadeloupe, Marie Gelant, the Saintes and Martinique. Schedules and rates change based on the season, but the ferry is inexpensive, surprisingly efficient, and from what I know, in a solid state of repair.
I loved St. Lucia. I thought it was epically beautiful, the people were friendly and inviting, the food was delicious, and the pace of life totally up my alley. I did not stay in mega resorts, and the closest I came to a day tour was as a basic stowaway on a catamaran.
All in, I can guarantee that solo travel in St. Lucia is not only possible, but I loved it, and I was able to fully appreciate the island. Until we meet again St Lucia… because I need to go on both the rum and the chocolate tours. #gluttony
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