Seasoned island travelers will tell you that St. Lucia, one of the Lesser Antilles, is more like a South Pacific island than a Caribbean one. Giant fern trees and wild orchids in the tropical rain forest, multihued parrots, banana plantations and latent volcanoes all add to the mystique of this exotic hideaway.
HistoryChristopher Columbus has traditionally been given credit for discovering St. Lucia in 1502, but some theories challenge this view. According to one, Juan de la Cosa, a lieutenant under Columbus, discovered the island in 1499. Another version attributes the find to a group of shipwrecked French sailors who allegedly landed here on December 13, 1502, the feast day of St. Lucie. And an incongruous fact is the appearance of the island of St. Lucia on a Vatican globe dated 1502.
At any rate, during the next 300 years, St. Lucia was alternately occupied by British and French forces as they battled on land and sea for control of the West Indies. In 1802, the Treaty of Paris established France's sovereignty over the island, but by the following year, the two nations were at war again. The 1814 Treaty of Paris ceded St. Lucia to Britain, and the island remained a British possession until 1967, when it became a self-governing associate state of Great Britain.
In February 1979, St. Lucia became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.
SightseeingCastries Harbour is one of the busiest ports in the West Indies because of its safe anchorage. At the harbor mouth next to the main port is Pointe Seraphine, a delightful duty-free shopping complex that also houses the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association.
The capital, Castries, on the south side of the harbor, is the best place to begin an island tour. The city still retains much of its Gallic past. French names endure for most of the streets and historic battle sites. However, many of the city's landmarks, such as Government House and the century-old main hospital named after Queen Victoria, were constructed by the British. Castries Market, built after the 1948 fire, is a picturesque tin-roofed structure on Jeremie Street that shelters a bustling morning market. South of Morne Fortune you can catch a glimpse of 3,117-foot Mount Gimie, St. Lucia's highest peak.
The road continues south and winds through huge banana plantations past Marigot Bay toward Soufriere, St. Lucia's second-largest town. This quaint fishing village, where fishermen still cast homemade nets from primitive dugout canoes, is perhaps the loveliest on the island. Soufriere was the earliest French community on St. Lucia; today it charms visitors with its French provincial architecture. Beyond the town are the magnificent twin volcanic peaks called the Pitons, standing 2,619 and 2,460 feet high.
The area's other stellar attraction is Mount Soufriere, better known as the "drive-in volcano" because you can actually drive into its crater and walk among the seething mud holes and the bubbling sulphur springs. At nearby Diamond Falls and Mineral Baths, originally constructed in 1785, you can enjoy a dip in the cooler and more pleasant-smelling natural springs. One of the best ways to see many of these sights is by taking a Shore Excursion. Check with your Cruise Director for more information.
BeachesSt.Lucia is endowed with a bounty of beautiful beaches on its calm leeward side. Some of the best are Vigie Beach and Choc Bay, both located north of Castries Harbour, and the reef-protected stretches near Vieux Fort.
SportsMost hotels are situated on the beach, and many of them rent sailboats and windsurfing equipment. Gamefish are plentiful, and arrangements can be made for fishing charters. The best snorkeling and diving reef area is at Anse Chastenet Beach near Soufriere. Golfers can choose between the La Toc golf courses or the Cap Estate Golf Club, north of Castries.
ShoppingShopping here begins and ends in Spanish-styled Pointe Seraphine, one of the most modern and extensive duty-free shopping facilities in the Caribbean. Pointe Seraphine offers an uncrowded shopping atmosphere with over a dozen unique shops. Bargains include jewelry, watches, china and crystal. You'll also find Caribbean screen- and hand-printed resort wear, island handicrafts, T-shirts and souvenirs.
In Castries, you'll discover a host of establishments that serve more practical purposes, such as photo developers and bookstores.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please