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Castries, St. Lucia

Destination:

Saint Lucia is a British Commonwealth country that is an island in the Caribbean, off the coast of Central America. It lies between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, north of Trinidad and Tobago. It is called the "Helen of the West Indies".
The twin Pitons (Gros Piton and Petit Piton) are striking cone-shaped peaks south of Soufriere that are one of the scenic natural highlights of the Caribbean.

Understand

Tourism is vital to Saint Lucia's economy. Its economic importance is expected to continue to increase as the market for bananas becomes more competitive. Tourism tends to be more substantial during the dry season (January to April). Saint Lucia tends to be popular due to its tropical weather and scenery and its numerous beaches and resorts.
Other tourist attractions include a drive-in volcano and sulphur springs (both in Soufrière), the Botanical Gardens, the Majestic twin Peaks "The Pitons", A world heritage site, the rain forests, and Pigeon Island National Park, which is home to Fort Rodney, an old British military base.

History

Saint Lucia's first known inhabitants were Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America around 200-400 CE. Numerous archaeological sites on the island have produced specimens of the Arawak's' well-developed pottery. Caribs gradually replaced Arawak's during the period from 800 to 1000 CE.
Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502 during Spain's early exploration of the Caribbean. The British failed in their first attempts at colonization in the early 17th century. The island was first settled by the French, who signed a treaty with the local Caribs in 1660. Like the British and Dutch, the French began to develop the island for the cultivation of sugar cane on extensive plantations.
Caribbean conditions were hard, and many slaves died before they lived long enough to have children. The French (and later British) continued to import slaves until the latter nation abolished the trade, and then the legal institution. By that time, people of ethnic African descent greatly outnumbered those of ethnic European background.
Thereafter Saint Lucia was much contested by the two European powers until the British secured it in 1814. It was part of the British Windward Islands colony. It joined the West Indies Federation (1958–62) when the colony was dissolved. In 1967, Saint Lucia became one of the six members of the West Indies Associated States, with internal self-government. In 1979 it gained full independence.

Climate

Tropical, moderated by northeast trade winds; dry season from January to April, rainy season from May to August; Experiences hurricanes.

Terrain

Volcanic and mountainous with some broad, fertile valleys.
Natural hazards: volcanic activity.
Highest point: Mount Gimie 950 m

Cities

Get around

The main way for tourists to get around St. Lucia is by taxi, either arranged by the hotel, taxi agency or individual operators. The tours arranged by resorts are usually the most expensive way to travel but might offer food and drink. Using a local taxi operator to plan your own adventure will be much more affordable. Your hotel staff should provide you with a number of a taxi agency or operator that they use regularly. The prices are generally fixed but you can shop around to get the best rate if given several numbers. Many taxi drivers that run from the resorts to the marketplaces will offer tours of the island for around $145 per van load. Each van will hold between 6 and 12 people.
For the budget travellers or the more adventurous tourists, local buses provide a cheap and fun way of getting around. They are small vans which hold around 10-14 people and vary in quality. They run irregularly, but frequently from rural towns to urban centers, (i.e. Soufriere to Castries, Soufriere to Vieux Fort, Vieux Fort to Castries), each day most travelling to Castries in the morning and returning to Soufriere late afternoon. They are very affordable and provide a unique experience each time; the vehicle operators often decorate the interiors and play their own music, either a mix of Caribbean flavours or country. If you want to try and take a transport discuss your route and travel time with one of the local staff familiar with the bus system. Many of them likely take a transport to and from work.
Water taxis are a main source of income for many locals and can be a much quicker, convenient and picturesque method of traveling short distances to private beaches or coastal towns. Many water taxi operators in the Town of Soufriere can be found at the jetty. The rates of these drivers are a little high and can be bargained down. There are a few taxi owners who regularly play dominoes and sell drinks near the Hummingbird Hotel and Soufriere beach. They can offer a much cheaper rate. From Soufriere, you can take a water taxi to Anse Chastanet and Jalousie Beaches.
A helicopter taxi can be taken from Hewannora airport to Vigie airport and is a quick and spectacular way to get to the resorts on the Northern end of the island.
Renting a car is also possible at rates similar to those found in the United States or Canada. Driving is on the left-hand side and drivers require a permit ($12 US for one day, $21 US for 3 months).

  • Windward Islands - Windward Islands, the yacht charter company, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed in St Lucia (starting Rodney Bay and Marigot Bay), Martinique and St. Vincent. Operating from 8 offices (USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Monaco).

Talk

Languages 
English (official), French patois
Virtually all residents will be able to converse with travellers in English.

See

  • The Pitons - Two volcanic plugs arising from the sea created by volcanic activity in the past. They are listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and depicted in the national flag.
  • Pigeon Island nature reserve - just north of Gros Islet, the park has some of the oldest buildings on St.Lucia and affords views across to Martinique.

Do

  • The Sulfur Springs - just south of Soufriere, these hot springs are one of the main attractions on the island. There is a pool that the hot water runs through, so make sure to take your swimming trunks and go for a dip!
  • Rainforest hikes - there are several official hiking routes on the island. The Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries site has links to information about the ones they support.
  • Climbing the Gros Piton is an achievable goal for most people. The trailhead begins at an elevation of about 600 feet (approx. 180 m) above sea level and requires about two hours of moderate to strenuous hiking to reach the summit of about 2600 feet (approx. 800 m) above sea level. A further 1-and-a-half hours are needed to descend. Guides are required and entrance costs $30 US. Taxis or local buses can be used to reach the trail head.
  • Snorkeling is popular and a number of beaches are suitable.
  • SCUBA diving - done at Pigeon Island, one of the island's Historical Landmarks, as well as between The Pitons, a World Heritage Site. (758) 484 3346/ (758) 285 7354.
  • Ziplining - Several courses are offered throughout the island. The courses in the northern part of the island are more complex and offer views of the rainforests. The course at the Morne Coubaril Estate by Soufriere is simpler and provides a view of the Pitons.

Buy

Castries market is a good place to buy gifts as is the JQ Shopping Mall in Rodney Bay. There is also La Place Carenage, a duty free and gift and souvenir outlet located in the main harbour of Castries. There you will find fine jewellery arts and crafts, ideal for gifts.
Supermarkets have quite good prices on rums produced or bottled on the island, e.g., Elements 8, Admiral Rodney, and especially Chairman's Reserve.
Visits by cruise ships over the years have generated a duty free mall (at dockside, Point Seraphine, Castries) with jewelry, souvenirs, art, liquor/rums and other offerings typical for cruise shoppers.
You may also find lower, "duty-Free" prices available across the island in strip malls and resorts. You may need identification as a visitor to qualify for duty-free treatment.

Eat

Local

St Lucian food consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and a variety of curry, jerk, rice and stewed dishes. The coal pot is a delicious stew, traditional to native carib cultures and can be found at many local restaurants in Castries, Soufriere and Vieux-Fort. Vegetarian and meat rotis can be found at a number of small local restaurants. Ask any local for the best roti shop and he or she will tell you how to get there. Rotis are usually made fresh in the morning so, if eating a spicy early lunch is of interest, it's highly recommended. Local cuisine is prepared throughout the island so, depending on where you are staying, ask a local if he or she knows someone/somewhere that prepares local food and you will be sure to be welcomed somewhere nearby. Many rum shacks in rural towns also prepare food if given advanced notice. Fish, veggie, chicken and goat meals are very common and usually come with a number of sides including salad, plantain, breadfruit, macaroni, and rice prepared a number of different ways.
For a quick snack, barbeques with chicken and pork can be found in any community on a Friday night. The food is well marinated and spiced. Soak up the sauce with a barbequed or fried bake. Fried chicken and fish can also be found, and are quite delicious.
There are weekly parties and festivals held in various communities throughout the island where you can also sample a range of local foods, including sea food, barbequed meats, salads and drinks. These festivals are filled with dancing, drinks, food and music. Let your hair down, try some cuisine and lime it up. Be sure to ask what is in the pots before you sample the food. For those environmentally conscious, blackfish is porpoise.

  • Friday night: Anse La Raye "Seafood Friday"
  • Friday night: Rodney Bay Jump-up
  • Every Second Saturday: Canaries Creole Pot
  • Saturday: Dennery (East coast) Fish Fry

International

Rodney Bay is full of people from all over the world and the restaurants reflect the diversity. You can find a variety of cuisines, from East Indian to Italian including local dishes of course, in a small area.

Drink

St. Lucia has fantastic Rum Punch. It's hard to go wrong. Highly recommended:

  • Chairman's Reserve (cask-aged dark rum)
  • Crystal Lime (clear rum infused with lime)

Most bars will have both, even at the smaller resorts.
In addition to rums, Piton Lager beer is brewed and bottled on the island and is quite good (although it has a slightly higher alcohol content than most American beers). It's usually offered in eight ounce bottles, often for $1 US.
Also seen in coolers: Heineken, Champagne, Wine, Water, Coke (usually $1 US)

Stay safe

St Lucia is not an incredibly dangerous place, but rates of homicide, rape, and mugging have increased drastically over the past several years. You should exercise the same caution as you would at home. You should also try to stay in groups and be careful in any secluded area. Muggings at gunpoint while you are in the water have become increasingly popular criminal activities, so make sure to hide your valuables. Pickpockets are in every country - just be careful in crowded areas.
Use of camouflage bags is illegal in Saint Lucia if you're not military personnel. If you show up at the airport with one, it will be confiscated.
Street vendors are decidedly less aggressive than most Caribbean nations. A simple "no thank you" is sufficient.
Some of the locals will offer gifts when you stop however don't be naive - they expect something in return, so either refuse the gift in the first place or be prepared to pay a dollar or 2 for the proffered "gift". These people are very poor and unemployment is high so tourists are often the sole means they have to make some money.
Driving can be fun, but you should be a confident driver as driving is on the left, the roadways can be narrow, steep and in rough condition. A 4x4 or similar high-clearance vehicle is necessary if you decide to venture into the mountains. There's only one main roadway so it is difficult to get lost, but should it happen the locals will help you find your way.
Sexual acts between men are illegal and carry a custodial sentence of up to 10 years, though it is not known how strictly this is enforced. Gay travellers should be safer here than in, for example, Jamaica. However caution is advised and public displays of affection may be met with hostility. There is no law which explicitly forbids lesbianism.

Stay healthy

This island is a series of hills and mountains. The main west coast roadway is the most hair-raising series of winding hair pin turns you have ever seen, particularly between Castries and Soufriere. The east coast roadway is more direct but it still takes approximately 90 minutes to drive from the airport in Hewannora (UVF) to Castries and Gros Islet in the north. In preparation for the shuttle, people who are staying in the north and are prone to motion sickness, should bring Dramamine and take it immediately upon arrival at Hewannora Airport.
Tap water is safe to drink, however bottled water is widely available for those who desire it.

Respect

  • All beaches on St. Lucia are open to the public.
  • Nude sunbathing is illegal in St. Lucia.
Source:
Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0
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