Lay of the Land
“The market ladies sell spice necklaces—garlands of cloves, cinnamon bark, bay leaves, cocoa beans, mace, and nutmeg—that are irresistible.”~Ann Vanderhoof
St. Lucia, located twenty-one miles south of Martinique in the Lesser Antilles, is twenty-seven miles long and fourteen miles wide. The island’s west coast faces the Caribbean Sea, while the more rugged east coast faces the Atlantic Ocean (swimming on this side is not recommended, as the currents are strong, and both locals and tourists have drowned here in the past). The main development so far has been focused on the northwest end, where the capital of Castries, touristy Rodney Bay and popular Reduit Beach are situated. The more quiet, scenic south has many of the natural sights, like the Pitons, Mount Soufrière, known as the drive-in volcano, the rainforest, and Diamond Botanical Gardens, and its coastline is speckled with fishing villages like Anse-la-Raye and Canaries. Navigating your way around the island is time-consuming, so it’s important to decide where you want to be based.
As for the landscape, there’s something primordial about the 239-square-mile island, one of the Caribbean’s most mountainous. The Pitons, two rocky pyramids that rise out of the Caribbean Sea in the southwest, are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and have become St. Lucia’s most iconic symbol—even the local brew is called Piton beer. In addition, the rainforest here covers 19,000 acres and is so untouched in parts that it easily could have served as the backdrop for the television series Lost (in fact, the movie The Jewel of the Nile was shot on the island). Driving across St. Lucia, along roads that snake up and down steep hills with heart-stopping hairpin turns, you will see the island’s beauty at its most spectacular: sweeping green valleys, expansive banana plantations and everywhere flowering jasmine, orchids and frangipani plants.
There are two airports on St. Lucia—George F.L. Charles Airport, known as Vigie after its location, in the north, where inter-Caribbean flights land, and Hewanorra International Airport, near the southern town of Vieux Fort. The drive from north to south takes about an hour and a half. Be sure to know exactly where your resort is located, as driving on the mountainous roads can be an adventure. If you arrive in Hewanorra but are staying in the north, consider booking a ten-minute helicopter ride to Vigie with St. Lucia Helicopters (www.stluciahelicopters.com). It significantly cuts down on travel time. From Vigie you can take a taxi to your hotel.
If your itinerary allows, a better way of getting around is by water taxi. Not only is travel by water much faster than on the winding roads, but you’ll also get to see St. Lucia’s villages and dense vegetation from another perspective. You may even be lucky, as we were, to spot a leatherback turtle, or dolphins. And water-taxi fares are comparable to those on land.