Looking for a winter sun destination with beautiful beaches, majestic scenery and activities? Try St Lucia. Situated only 322km (200 miles) north of Venezuela, between the islands of St Vincent, Barbados and Martinique, this tropical haven may be small, but the diversity of its scenery certainly won't leave you disappointed.
Saint Lucia’s best beaches
From silvery grey to golden, St Lucia’s beaches are colourfully enticing. Granted, they aren’t to everyone’s taste but I loved the island’s dark volcanic sand beaches. After all, they’re fairly unusual, and the sand is just as soft. For a beach with a molten history, try Anse Cochon, half way down St Lucia’s west coast and great for snorkelling and snoozing, or, a little further south, Anse Chastanet. Surrounded by palm trees, the latter is attached to the hotel with the same name but is open to the public, and has a coral reef, hence its popularity with scuba divers and snorkellers.
But if only pure, white sand will do, Anse des Pitons, which lies in between the iconic Pitons, is impressive. Further north is Reduit Beach, which is very popular and generally accessible from the tourist hub of Rodney Bay Village.
If it’s beach activities you’re after though, Sandy Beach at Anse de Sable (located in Vieux Fort) offers kite surfing and watersports.
Once you’ve had enough of lying on sand, there’s a lot to see and do on the island. Despite the fact most hotel accommodation is situated in the north, it’s almost sacrilege not to head south, via the old fishing village of Soufriere, to the world’s only drive-in volcano. You’ll probably want to hold your nose – the stink of sulphur isn’t great – but the tour, costing US$8 is short and worth doing. Still hot, but much less so are the mud baths just next door, said to contain volcanic minerals – excellent for the skin. A dip in the mud bath costs US$5.
Hike the Tet Paul Nature Trail
Close to Soufriere lies virtually untouched forest. To immerse yourself, take the Tet Paul Nature Trail, an easy 45 minutes walk up through exotic local flora and fauna; you’ll see the Robusta coffee plant, the torch lily, prickly pear and the cheesey-smelling noni fruit, renowned for its antioxidant and colon-cleansing properties.
The trail was built four years ago, and is a community project funded by the non-governmental Soufriere Foundation. It’s exceptionally good value, starting at only $5 for a guided walk up, past the Rastararian farmers who are allowed to farm the land. Once you get to sign that says ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and take a few steps up to Piton Heights, you’ll be greeted by the sight of the Caribbean sea, both Pitons and the infamous Sugar Beach resort below, as well as views over the Fond Gens Libres community (which literally translates as ‘valley of the free people’, having been established after slaves hid here from their masters in the 1700s). Such is the beauty of the spot that when it rains here, the locals call it ‘liquid sunshine’.
From canopy adventures to Segway tours
If you want to let your hair down though, the Zip Wire at Treetop Adventure Park in Dennery is lots of fun and costs US$22. The adrenalin flowed as I whizzed from one treetop platform to another, looking down through the trees with only the sound of my breathing for company.
Also recommended are Segway Tours, where you’ll spend two hours zooming up (to secret hideaways with great views) and down (to the tiniest beach bar on the island) the trails of Rodney Bay on this cute, two-wheeled vehicle. The tour costs $85.
Tucked away in the Anse Mamin Plantation in the island’s south west, is jungle biking company, Bike St Lucia. Attracting cyclists staying at nearby sister hotels, Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain, as well as those coming from further afield, these guided mountain bike trails range have something to offer all levels (including beginners, for whom an introductory skills class is offered), and even the shorter rides (1-2 hours) take you deep into the plantation, helping you to get the true mountain biking experience. One thing though – don’t forget to treat yourself to one of the exceptional burgers at Anse Mamin Beach bar after your ride.
Hike the Pitons
It’s unlikely that staring at St Lucia’s beautiful Piton mountains (which look close together, but are in fact two miles apart) could ever get dull, but if you fancy experiencing them in a different way, then a hike up one or both peaks could be the answer. The Gros Piton (the tallest peak at 786m (2,505ft) ) is the second highest on the island after Mount Gimie and takes around four hours to conquer. Some say it’s actually easier to climb than 739m-high (2,424 ft) Petit Piton, where the ascent may take less time, but is much steeper. Whichever one you choose, you’ll probably have to set an alarm, as daily tours with the Soufriere Foundation start at 5am.