A crow taking a trip over St Lucia could be forgiven for having a good belly laugh at the idiots in their metal machines below. The straightest route from A to B simply isn’t an option and a key aspect of driving in St Lucia is winding round hillsides. It’s a spectacular island, but it wasn’t created with road-makers is mind. Once you get over the fear factor (local drivers aren’t exactly renowned for their lane discipline), it’s a magical place to go for a drive.
On St Lucia, the temptation can often be to just stick to the resort. Many of them are of an extremely high quality, and offer enough activities to keep guests busy for weeks (though keep in mind, you will save money by booking St Lucia tours ahead with a company such as Viator). To take a case in point, one day’s activity list at the Windjammer Landing resort included watersports, a snorkelling trip, a stretch class, beach volleyball, table tennis and a banana boat ride. It’s a similar story elsewhere, but it is worth breaking out and taking to the long and winding roads.
St Lucia: Real island life
Those not wanting to go through the car hire rigmarole can head out on an island tour or hire a driver and his taxi for the day. And once that’s sorted, there’s something to see around every corner. The views of bays and banana plantations as you hug the bends are well worth the detours. Despite its upmarket reputation, St Lucia isn’t a sanitised made-for-tourists island. Driving through the villages and hillside shanty towns it’s clear that most of the St Lucians live a very different life to the pampered visitors. The island has a more African / Central American feel to it than many Caribbean islands; just that little bit of an edge that makes it more exciting.
Step away from the resorts and real life takes over. Choose a local bar over the hotel bar, and you’ll start getting real insights – as well as the odd impassioned rant – from the St Lucians. The best place to really get into the spirit of things is Gros Islet on a Friday night. This is where the ‘jump up’ takes place. It’s essentially a big, raucous and often steamy street party. A lot of tourists go there, but it’s primarily for the locals and music ranging from R&B to calypso blares out of the many speakers. But that’s for the evening. In the day, it’s time to explore the island.
St Lucia: Driving day tour
From the resorts in the north-east, a popular driving route is to head south through the capital, Castries, and down towards the scenic town of Soufriere. The town sits in the shadow of St Lucia’s most iconic image, the Pitons. These two green, pyramid-like peaks form a postcard pretty headland around the bay. They’re World Heritage-listed and often photographed. The Pitons are both volcanoes, although to all intents and purposes, they’re extinct. They do give a clue as to what’s around the corner, however.
Sulphur Springs is pitched as the world’s only drive-in volcano. It’s a brilliant marketing gimmick, although perhaps not quite as exciting as the description may sound. You don’t go hurtling through flowing lava, let’s put it that way. Instead you rock up, park up and get a guide to take you around the hissing vents and hot pools. Some of the bubbling black water is at boiling point, while the steaming bits reach up to 170C (338F) degrees. Putting a hand in the wrong place is not advised.
Some visitors come to have mudbaths, and as our guide somewhat dubiously expounds, “every bath takes 10 years off your age.”
Sulphur Springs, as the name would suggest, is a somewhat smelly place, but that’s the price you pay for being in the middle of a giant volcanic caldera. It formed over 30,000 years ago when a crater collapsed and although there has been no eruption since the 18th century, scientists still keep a close eye on things. The steam is a good thing. If it stops, that means pressure is building and an eruption could be on the way.
St Lucia’s bananas & cocoa plantations
Another legacy of St Lucia’s volcanic nature is the soil. Put simply, the country is excellent for growing stuff. Along the roadsides, it’s possible to take in banana plantation after banana plantation. The banana plant, I’m told, is the world’s biggest herb, and St Lucia sells the fruit all over the world. But it’s not just bananas that grow here – and the Fond Doux Estate is an excellent spot in which to dig deeper.
Not far from the Sulphur Springs, many visitors head over here to have a wander through the gorgeous gardens. But it’s also a working cocoa plantation with a 250 year history. Staff are happy to take tourists around to explore the cocoa-growing process. It’s possible to taste the cocoa in the various stages in its journey from pod to guilty mid-afternoon snack. You see the beans in their raw state, as well as fermenting in the sun – the smell is somewhat alcoholic. But while some of St Lucia’s land is agricultural, much of it is still occupied by rainforest. And strange creatures lurk therein.
St Lucia’s Treetop Adventure Park
At the Treetop Adventure Park near Dennery, those bizarre beasts are usually nervous cruise ship passengers. The frightened herd is presented with a multi-faceted obstacle course, involving rope bridges, zip wires and other adventurous ways of getting from A to B. Assisted by guides and an intricate system of carabiners, clip-on wires and platforms, the willing guinea pigs gently make their way across the forest. They’re high above the leafy floor, wobbling and gulping, but gradually gaining confidence. To complete the course takes around an hour-and-a-half, but by the end most make the leap from fear to fun.
After conquering the adventure park, those that have developed a taste for action have a wealth of available options. Rainforest hikes, catamaran and sailing trips, cycling, diving, kitesurfing and horse riding are all options on various parts of the island.
And tempting though lounging around in an all-inclusive may be, these are surely good enough reasons to venture outside and enjoy the island for its beauty rather than its sunbeds.