An Island Tour of St Lucia
In April 2014 we sailed the Carnival Valor our of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a Southern Caribbean itinerary and one of our ports was the island of St. Lucia where I did an island tour. This was my second cruise on the Valor but my first time to a couple of the islands on this trip, including St Lucia which is a regular stop for most cruise lines heading south.
The island of St Lucia is in the Eastern Caribbean and bordered by the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. About 60% of the population resides in the capitol with of Castries, which is very busy with narrow roads and a lot of traffic. The culture of this island is influenced by Africa, East Indian, French and English. The main language is English but about 95% of the islanders speak a Patois (pat-WAH) which is St Lucian Creole French. This island is known for tourism and offshore banking and… bananas. Yes, St Lucia grows a lot of bananas which are exported to Europe.
We got off our ship and quickly made our way to meet our tour as it was going to be a long day of sightseeing. Ten of us got into an air conditioned taxi van (would seat 12 easily) and headed out of Castries through morning rush hour traffic up our first mountain road. At the top of this hill our van stopped and we were able to take our first photo of the bay and the cruise ships. If you ever go to St Lucia, keep in mind that this is a mountainous volcanic island with very steep and narrow roads that zig zag constantly. While the roads themselves were in great shape (far better than my roads here locally), if you are prone to motion sickness a long land tour is probably not the thing for you! I had done my research and was traveling with motion sickness medicine due to the 7 hours I knew I would be spending in the vehicle. Here’s a photo looking back to the ships:
First stop done, we headed out of town towards a hilltop with a view Marigot Bay where we could get out and take photos and browse the vendors:
Vendor areas were interesting because besides being able to purchase snacks and beverages (water, soda, beer and spirits including rum–there’s rum everywhere in the Caribbean), there was a restroom available for a fee. Pay restrooms were commonplace on this tour but the plus side is that these are incredibly clean. Bring small bills, like plenty of one’s and five’s, to cover these little expenses and other tips:
St Lucians tend to be a bit more conservative with their own attire and expect their visitors to stay covered up too, as evidenced by the sign above.
After our view of Marigot Bay, where the original Dr. Doolittle was filmed back in the 1960’s, we headed back down the hill towards the fishing village of Anse Le Raye, stopping at a banana plantation. Our driver explained that the growing and export of bananas are important to this island and are mainly exported to the United Kingdom.
I learned that the banana fruit is bagged while growing, and the trees only produce once and then are cut down, sort of like a cornfield. Bananas are very important to St Lucia and are mostly grown on small family farms in all of the Windward Islands (St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Mustique and Martinique.) I never thought about bananas being grown on anything other than huge plantations in Costa Rica because of what we see in the supermarkets in the USA. Its amazing what you learn on a tour when you ask questions of the people who live there.
After our banana break we headed through the fishing village of Anse La Raye. This location had been around since the 18th century and is known for its French and Colonial architecture, and a Friday night fish fry, which is a tourist attraction. The major fare hitting the grills on Fridays is only what fished out of the sea – lobster, octopus, Dorado, shrimp, lambi (conch), whelks and more. Unfortunately no fish fry for us, and we headed towards our next stop of Soufriere Bay where we would take a water taxi to the Pitons.
By now we had been riding in our van for quite a while. Speed limits are around 30 mph and the roads are in better condition than my county roads in the USA with very little traffic out of town, but they are not very wide. There is no highway and with all the switchbacks and zig zagging and climbing up and down its a long trip to get to places. Its interesting to go 30 mph all day because I live in the country and speed limits are 50mph. Even though I have to go 12 miles to the grocery store I’m still there in less than 20 minutes.
Finally we made it to Soufriere where we pulled up to a beach and got out to transfer to a water taxi so we could get to the Pitons.
The Pitons are the two mountains rising out of the ocean that grace most St Lucia tourism media. Our boat took us to what was referred to as Sugar Beach, which was actually the Marine Reserve at the base of the Pitons.
The Marine Reserve is also known as Sugar Beach, which is beautiful and there is a gorgeous resort on one side but alas, the chairs were only available to their resort guests. We were permitted to walk and sit on the sandy beach there, and swim. The other side of the dock was available to the public. Unfortunately this was a small beach with a rocky bottom and not much in the way of unoccupied chairs. Should you wish to have a chair they were available for a fee. We were going to be here for over an hour so we found a couple of rocks to sit on in the shade and I pulled out my inexpensive travel phone and tapped into the resort wifi to check email and upload some photos. Many ship excursions were in this area as were private tour providers and it was very crowded. The public beach did have a restroom (no charge, surprise!) and changing facility as well as a place to buy some food and more vendors.
Finally our boat came back to pick us up and we headed back to Soufriere and piled back in our van. The driver had bottled water and St Lucia beer, called Piton, but I was feeling the heat and really needed water. We then headed inland towards the volcano and mud baths.
Thankfully it was just a short trip to the next stop, but with four ships in port, this place was pretty busy! St Lucia is home to the world’s only ‘drive through’ volcano. As strange as it sounds, its actually pretty interesting and reminded me a lot of Yellowstone National Park with the steam vents and sulphur smell. One option for visitors is to take a dip in the mud baths. Water temp is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was black–and not for me. Too many people and we had a long ride yet to get back to Castries. Here are some photos:
There were a lot of people, and vehicles, at this location and getting out was a challenge. At this point I was happy to not be driving. Our driver probably did this every day and wasn’t phased and he took us to our next destination, which was Toraille Waterfall.
The Toraille Waterfall is another tourist destination, albeit in the shade of the jungle where it was a lot cooler than in the hot sun of the volcano. After going in (fees are charged, which were paid as part of our tour) we had the opportunity to go down towards the water. The idea is to get dirty in the volcano and rinse off in the waterfall. Again, lots of crowds so we just stayed on the path and enjoyed the beautiful flowers. There were some vendor booths outside the gates and I bought some chocolate for making hot cocoa as well as cinnamon sticks.
Finally it was around 2:00pm and we had a ship to return to as we were sailing at 5pm, and we probably had a good 75 minutes of driving to get back to Castries. Our driver promised us that we’d make it on time so we again piled in the taxi van and headed back the way we came; there are no shortcuts due to the mountainous nature of this island and the fact that the roads mostly are on the coast.
Finally we made it back to the cruise port around 3:30pm and all I wanted to do was get on the ship and have a sandwich and some more water. We had heavy snacks around 10am courtesy of our driver, but no real meal since our breakfast around 7am. I confess to leaving that taxi and just blasting through the cruise port very quickly to get back on the ship: I made no attempt to shop or look at what was available. No t-shirt or coffee mug for me this time.
In summary, this was a very long tour! However I found it to be very interesting and I do feel that I learned quite a bit about this island. I will return to St Lucia in the future and if on a cruise ship its likely that I will just pick one place to visit. The seven hour island tour is not for me.