Dates: 24/01/2012 to 31/01/2012
Visa: No visa needed if you hold a Spanish, British, Japanese or USA passport. For other countries check here.
Currency: local currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$). US dollars are accepted everywhere but you will get your change in EC$ most of the times. The exchange rate used was US$1 = 2.67 EC$, give or take a couple of cents.
London Gatwick (LGW) – Saint Lucia Hewanorra (UVF). Direct flight with British Airways in a Boeing 777. Outbound flight time was 8h40m and inbound flight time was 7h40min. Return flight was delayed over 2h because the connecting flight left Trinidad and Tobago late. Both flights almost full. Hewanorra Airport is at Vieux Fort, in the south tip of the island. The drive from the airport to Rodney Bay area takes approximately between 1h 30 min and 1h 45min depending on the traffic.
We bought a pack with Trailfinders that included flight, hotel (B&B) and the commute from/to the airport in St Lucia. It was cheaper than buying the flight and hotel separately. All went smooth with Trailfinders and no complaints.
Coco Palm Rodney Bay Hotel
We were very happy with the hotel choice as it was exactly what we were looking for: not too big, more a hotel than a resort, secluded and isolated from the noisy main street. And just a 5 minutes walk from both the beautiful Reduit Beach and the restaurants/supermarkets area. Free wifi was included. The hotel is a 2 stores high colonial style building. The rooms were big, bright, clean and well maintained. The hotel workers were helpful and really friendly (a constant around the island). The beds were super-king size (1.80 m wide). I’d definitely recommend it and if we were to go back to SL we’d probably repeat here. They were kind enough to give us a room to have a shower after we had checked out and before we jumped into the plane.
Note than in several travelling forums it is recommended not to go for the so-called “criolle rooms”, which belong to the hotel but are located outside the hotel perimeter, by the noisy main street. I imagine it must be difficult to be able to sleep.
The breakfast is served in the hotel’s restaurant, called Ti Bannane, shaped as a hut and sitting outside the main hotel building. The breakfast included could be either continental (cereals, fruit, toasts) or english (eggs, pancakes, sausages). Both were very good.
Sunset at Reduit Beach
Rental car and driving in St Lucia: after checking with a couple of companies around Rodney Bay area we decided to rent the car with Drive-a-matic through the Trailfinders representative. The prices were almost identical in all the companies. The car we got was an automatic Suzuki Jimny in very good condition.
The total price for 2 days rental was US$207 (EC$552.69) broken down as follows: US$61×2 for rental + US$12×2 for CDW + US$5×2 for local taxes + US$21 local driving license + US$30 fuel prepay. As it happens in other Caribbean countries like Antigua&Barbuda it is mandatory to get a local driving license. Once purchased it is valid for 3 months.
The fuel prepay is a rip off but all the companies do it. They give you the car with half of the fuel tank full so you “don’t have to bother or waste time refuelling” and you can give the car back with the tank empty. If you hardly use the car and you give it back with almost all the fuel it had they will not reimburse you any money.
When driving in Saint Lucia, if you stick to the main roads it is not difficult at all and you will not need a 4WD type car. In any case careful driving is needed as the island is quite rugged and the road can be very steep with sharp bends at many areas. But the tarmac is in generally in good condition despite a pothole here and there. A 4WD or SUV is recommended if you plan to reach some remote areas within the inland national parks. The locals drove ok, we did not have any scary moments or witness reckless overtaking as in so many other places. In general we felt safe and relaxed.
Diving: I did a diving day with Eastern Caribbean Diving (www.easterncaribbeandivingstlucia.com). I booked them through the office “Tours-r-us” has in Rodney Bay. I was happy with ECD, they were professional but also fun and relaxed. The price for a 2 tank dive was US$120 and US$71 for my wife’s snorkelling. All the gear was included and it was cheaper if you brought yours.
I was told that the best place to dive in SL was in the Pitons-Soufriere Marine Park so I decided to go for it. There seems to be another good spot: a wreckage a little bit further north. In the Marine Park the underwater landscape was spectacular. There is a “third Piton” that did not make it out of the water and fishes from different sizes and colours, although no really big ones. Both dives were just in front of the Pitons so the views from the boat were superb. It is a great day out either for diving or snorkelling.
As a tip, if you go diving/snorkelling to the Soufriere area is exactly the same path of the typical and popular boat tour to see the Pitons, so you can skip the second one and save some money. While resting between and after the dives we had plenty of time to enjoy the landscape and swim, apart for getting some feedback about the areas and villages we were passing. All in all was a perfect day out (we were picked up at 7:45 and dropped back at the hotel around 16:00).
Izumi and the Suzuki Jimny
I found most of the restaurants around Rodney Bay area going from not cheap to expensive, with US or European price ranges (average of US$25 to US$30 per person). They take all sort of credit cards and US dollars in all of them. For lunch we had mostly sandwiches and fruit on the beach. There are a couple of big supermarkets in the malls stuffed with USA products, not cheap either. Quick recap of the restaurants we tried:
As mentioned above is the restaurant of the Coco Palm hotel. It is shaped as a hut and all made in wood. It has 2 different areas: the bar and the restaurant. The bar had 3 big TV screens and they played US sports most of the time. The atmosphere on the restaurant side was nice, the service was friendly and the food was really tasty (my goat curry was excellent). Price was US$28 per person.
Located right on Reduit Beach, it is very popular and tends to be packed all throughout the day, specially for dinner. Food was good but nothing special, better the fish than the meat. We paid US$24 per person.
Recently open, they present their food as Caribbean Fusion. Located slightly off the main street that leads to Reduit Bach. It is very beautiful and offers a good and sophisticated environment, great service as well. It is more expensive than the previous ones mentioned. Food was good but with strong taste that might not suit everyone. The portions were small. We paid US$24 per person despite ordering only light starters.
Whiskey in the Jar
An American style grill right in the heart of the main street. Pure US atmosphere inside. Someone recommended it to us and it was good. In fact the baby ribs were very good, but a bit pricey (we paid US$28 each).
Jambe de Bois
Despite being far from Rodney Bay area we decided to go as it was widely recommended, both in guides like LP and RG and by locals. It was the best place we went for dinner by a long shot. It is located in Pigeon Island within the PI National Landmark area, inside the historical area that can be visited (once you pass the gates turn left and it will take a 5 minutes walk). The place has an unpretentious rustic style with old sailing motives and a lovely terrace by the sea. The food was great and the atmosphere as well. A band played live music one of the days we went. The owner and the service were very friendly and they always had a genuine smile in their faces. And it is almost half the price compared to the restaurants in Rodney Bay (we paid US$15 per person the first day and US$16 the second).
The only problem is how to go there from Rodney Bay. The first time we went we had our rental car and it was easy. The second time we took the public bus to Gros Islet and from there we walked some 30 minutes till we reached the restaurant. For the way back to RB the staff ordered a taxi for us and we paid US$12. Don’t miss it!!
Petit Piton (left) and Gros Piton (right) from the boat
RODNEY BAY AND THE NORTH
Rodney Bay (named after british naval officer George Brydges Rodney) is in the northeast of the island and it is the main touristic area in Saint Lucia. The village itself is not a pretty one: a couple of roads packed with bars, restaurants and hotels. Despite all is a practical area to establish a base as in a range of a couple of kms you have most hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and shops. But if what you want is a taste of the real Saint Lucia better choose a place somewhere else. The best attraction of the area is the wonderful Reduit Beach, one of the best beaches in the island. An arc-shaped stretch of golden fine sand with Mt Pinard at the south bottom and limiting to the north with the entrance to the modern and big marina (one of the best in the Caribbean, worth visiting if you like yachts). The sea has a nice colour, water is very clean and the waves are small. Despite the numerous hotels and condos in the area it was not too crowded when we were there. The quietest part in the southern one, just by Mt Pinard: a good shadow, acceptable snorkelling around the rocks and a small hut run by locals serving drinks and a quick bite.
I cannot say much about the capital, Castries, as we hardly dedicated any time to it. The few times we drove around it was always bustling with people, even more when you were getting closer to the Central Market. There were some nice and colourful colonial style houses here and there. It is located at the very end of a deep bay where the cruise liners stop (we saw up to three at the same time). George F.L. Charles airport is in the surrounding, where small planes connect SL with the islands around. There are some beaches around Castries but we did not visit them.
Just up north of Rodney Bay and also by the coast is the village of Gros Islet. It has a superb beach (that in fact is just the continuation of Reduit Beach) that extends to the little peninsula called Pigeon Island. Although they are really close in distance, the contrast between Rodney Bay y Gros Islet is enormous, being the latter the typical Caribbean village and offers a more accurate idea of local life style. During the weekdays it is really nice to go to that part of the beach as tends to be more empty. During weekends and specially on Sundays it gets much busier when locals bring their cars here to prepare bbqs and play loud reggae music.
Within Pigeon Island is Pigeon Island National Landmark, one of the few historical visits that can be done in the island. During the middle part of XVI century the french pirate Jambe de Bois (wooden leg) used the island as his base to attack spanish galleons on their way back to Spain. When the english took possession of the island they fortified Pigeon Island to keep an eye on the French fleet moored in the nearby island of Martinique. It is possible to visit (paying the entrance fee) the remnants of the barracks, walls and other military buildings. From Rodney Bay you can go to Gros Islet using public bus 1A (in fact a van) for just EC$1.5 and takes some 10 minutes. On Friday night there is a famous street party with food and drink stalls. Locals mentioned constantly that it is a good fun and that we should go but we decided not to.
The northern tip of Saint Lucia (going further north from Pigeon Island) is more remote and rugged, filled with small hills. The landscape is different, a bit drier and dominated by scattered summer villas and condos mainly owned by foreigners, including a golf club. It has a quiet and sleepy feeling to it. Very close to the north tip of the island (Pointe du Cap) there is a beautiful and pleasant cove called Smugglers’ Cove, that is accessed walking down the cliff via some hidden steps. It is not easy to find the entrance (no signs point to it) and we had to ask around. The cove has a small bar for drinks and a bite where they rent gear for water-sports. Since it is bordering the Atlantic the wind was stronger and the wave bigger, so be careful when swimming as the tide was strong.
On the Atlantic side (East) of the island, just a short car ride from Rodney Bay is the beach of Cas en Bas. The beach is a long horseshoe-shaped stretch. Despite being a very nice day on the Caribbean side it was very windy and not very pleasant there. The beach was almost empty, with just a bunch of people doing water-sports (mainly kite surfing) and no one swimming. We also saw some groups horse riding. It is easy to understand why there are much less condos and houses on this side of the island, since the feeling is wilder and more exposed although the beach is fairly secluded from the ocean. There is a place to eat and drink (Marjorie’s) with a curious item on display: one of the parts of a rocket booster that fell nearby.
Rockets booster part in Cas en Bas
THE PITONS, SOUFRIERE AND CENTRAL-WEST AREA
The central-west area is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the island specially around the Pitons. The road that goes down from Rodney Bay to the Pitons well paved and in good condition overall. After passing Castries and Marigot Bay you reach the fishermen village of Anse la Raye. It is a laid back Caribbean fishermen village: small size, the houses painted in lively colours, people sitting relaxed in the front porches…it really feels worlds apart from Rodney Bay and even Castries. In the main street (which you have to go through to continue down south) there were stalls with local crafts and other souvenirs. Minivans full of tourists stop here for a few minutes and when they leave the village gets back to its sleepy atmosphere. Anse la Raye had a nice beach but there was no one either sunbathing or swimming and it did not feel too inviting.
Once you pass Castries the road swerves up and down steeply, offering amazing views of the low parts where the beaches are and the green valleys that extend inlands. The section between Anse La Raye and Soufriere is particularly stunning. Just before you start driving downhill to reach Soufriere there is a viewpoint with astonishing views of the village and the Petit Piton in the background. Soufriere is bigger than Anse La Raye but still maintains the refreshing atmosphere of the authentic Saint Lucia. It is a good place to stop for lunch or just for a break and a walk around. Once more you have to go through the entire length of the village to continue in the main road down south. Just before Soufriere there is a side road leading to one of the most famous beaches in the island for its beauty: Anse Chastanet. We could see it from the boat during the diving trip and it looked stunning, but we did not go with the car.
Soufrieres and the Pitons in the background
Our final destination was Jalousie Beach where we spent the rest of the day before heading back. It is a truly magical spot just in between the two magnificent Pitons. Even if it is just to visit this beach is worth going all the way to Saint Lucia. To me it is one of those places I will never forget. While swimming in crystal clear waters you can see the imposing moles of the Pitons just meters from you, emerging abruptly and powerfully from the water almost vertically. The beach was a secluded arc with powdery white sand. The beach is public but you have to access it through a luxury resort called Jalousie Plantation. Coming from the main road you drive around the Petit Piton and follow the indications that lead to the resort. You have to leave the car parked at the entrance parking (it is free) and then walk downhill for some 10-15 minutes till you reach the Jaulosie Beach. The resort itself is beautiful, with colonial style bungalows and an elegant restaurant-bar by the shore. The hotel rents towels and beach chairs. It was not too full at all the day we were there and very pleasant. Such a spectacular place!
The Gros Piton from Jalousie Beach
In that same area and very close to Jaulosie Beach you can find the famous Sulphur Springs, where we stopped by to see the volcano crater and have a mud bath. The entrance fee to enter the volcano area (including a guided visit) and the baths costs EC$30. The crater looked like a lunar landscape with the usual rotten-egg smell of these type of places and the water bubbling. You can peek into it from an elevated wooden platform and the guide was friendly and helpful. We went in the early evening, just one hour before they closed. Tour buses had already left and it was not crowded. The mud baths area was very quiet as well, just 6 people or so including us. The natural hot water comes running down from a small stream filtering from inside the earth and is taken to a small concrete pool where you have buckets full of mud that you can spread all over your body, face included. From there the water continues to a natural pool just a few metres down where you can sit and relax. They had a few showers and changing rooms.
Sulphur emissions inside the crater
A FEW MORE THINGS
- We had been told that Saint Lucia was the most beautiful island in all the Lesser Antilles as it is covered with thick lush vegetation and for its mountainous landscape. So far we agree with this.
- It is possible to climb up the Gros Piton but you need to hire a guide at the base. I really wanted to do it but apparently the hike is short and quite tough at times, not ideal for a four months pregnant lady as my wife was at the time, so we skipped it. Maybe next time?
- From Rodney Bay marina there is a ferry going to Fort de France, the capital of the nearby island of Martinique. It departs daily but the departure time may vary, so better check in advance if interested. Travel time takes 1h30min.
- The bus that goes from Hewanorra airport to Rodney Bay passes through the less visited Atlantic coast of the island, crossing to the Caribbean side around the middle part of the island. roughly, doing the last bit by the east coast. The Atlantic coast was rougher and maybe less attractive but still worth keeping the eyes open for the duration of the ride.
Reduit Beach with Mt Pimard
The Petit Piton
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