St. Lucia: A teardrop of joy
Many people think of the islands of the Caribbean as interchangeable, when, in fact, each has its own unique character. They share the commonality of being sun-splashed and surrounded by twinkling blue waters, but they also can be as different as night and day. With the Caribbean Sea spanning more than 2.6 million square kilometres, it is no understatement to say the region is many things. Summing it up as just sea and sand is like saying jalapeno peppers in hot sauce can be a tad warm.
St. Lucia is living proof of this unique character. Devotees of the island take great pains to point out it offers a beauty unparalleled in the Caribbean. The Caribbean’s Windward chain of islands is a world of attractive greenery, but St. Lucia is its four-leaf clover.
Descending to Hewanorra International Airport on the island’s southern tip, where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea mix, gives you a first glimpse of this precious teardrop. The rich south has many of the island’s most startling attractions, and is the gateway to the lush wonders of south/central St. Lucia. It is in this moment that a lifelong love affair with St. Lucia starts for many.
Stretched along the sheered Caribbean shore to the west are most of the island’s world-class accommodations. The pampered fare of quaint inns and exquisite resorts is the norm here, but even the all-inclusives encourage guests to get out and soak up the splendor of this paradise. You can hide in the obscurity of deck chairs and poolside buffets brimming with juicy tropical fruits, but it would be a foolish choice. This is an island to be experienced. The shamelessly idle need not apply.
Make sure you explore
The obligatory exploration begins with St. Lucia’s famous twin peaks, the Pitons, described by Fodor’s as one of the Caribbean’s best scenic views. Gros Piton and Petit Piton (although the British won a lengthy tug-of-war for the island, plenty of French names and influences remain) climb regally out of the sea. Hop on one of the many boat excursions to get up close and gain a true sense of their majestic rise to 720 metres. With a little advance planning, you can combine your sightseeing with dinner on the open-air terrace at nearby Dasheene, one of the Caribbean’s most mouth-watering outposts for fresh seafood with an island flair.
Rugged natural wonders such as the Pitons help set St. Lucia apart from its Caribbean cousins. Nowhere else in the region can you find the combination of a 7,600-hectare rain forest, thriving banana plantations, spectacular underwater dive sites and a “drive-in” volcano – dormant La Soufriére that offers up gurgling black pools of steaming water. A short distance away is Diamond Botanical Gardens with its romantic walking trails, waterfalls and the curative waters of mineral baths that were once a popular “hot” spot for Louis XVI’s troops.
Don’t miss the party
One aspect the island shares with its neighbors is the love of a good party. Carnival each February, the mini-celebrations of Autumn Feast and the word-class St. Lucia Jazz Festival each May are prime examples (click here for a calendar of events). Even better, St. Lucia is known for the liveliest regular party in the Caribbean, where tourists and locals mix in a tropical cauldron of island fun called Jump Up. It runs each Friday night in the small village of Gros Islet, just minutes from the sleepy capital of Castries toward the island’s northern end.
The main street of Gros Islet is shut off for Jump Up, forming a welcoming entranceway to the combination street party and chaotic outdoor funhouse. Dusk barely arrives before the savory scent of sizzling skewers of barbecue chicken begins to tease your nose and coolers brimming with the local ale, aptly called Pitons, appear. Soon after, a mass of gyrating bodies starts to form. The atmosphere is electric.
Jump Up hits its climax at the end of the street near the waterfront, where speakers the size of semi-trailers flood the sweet air with an infectious beat. The fun-loving islanders are at their best here, convincing even the shyest tourist to be swept up in the music. The square is transformed into a pulsating mix of locals and tourists from around the world, often red-nosed from the sun or with their freshly-braided hair swaying like coco-palms in the breeze. Jump Up is a chance to be an islander, at least for the evening, which rarely ends before well into the wee hours.
This combination of rich lands and colorful people makes my memories of St Lucia as sweet the local mangoes. That first image, born from an eloquent guidebook phrase, is now a memory that lives on in my mind with as much vivid beauty as the moment I first laid eyes on this Caribbean oasis, this teardrop of joy in the shimmering southern sea.