Saint Lucia travel guide: the vivid jewel in the Caribbean crown
Island of golden sands, lush rainforest and rich history is the perfect post-pandemic treat
Last year my wife and I drove out of the Blackwall Tunnel in east London – surely one of the least salubrious tunnels on the planet – and were greeted by a gigantic poster enticing us to visit Saint Lucia.
Underneath a gorgeous picture of the Pitons – two extraordinary, Unesco-listed volcanic peaks that burst out of the Caribbean Sea during a volcanic eruption millions of years ago – the caption read: “She is waiting for you.”
We had, in fact, booked a trip to Saint Lucia more than two years ago but couldn’t travel because of the pandemic, so were glad to learn that she was still waiting for us. And she was certainly worth the wait.
Saint Lucia is the rock star of the Caribbean, dripping with charisma, character and charm. Rich in history, the island offers so much more than the stereotypical West Indian attractions of sun, sea and sand.
After a shutdown that devastated tourism – far and away the most important industry on the island – Saint Lucia is very much on top of Covid. After showing our vaccination certificate and health screening form on arrival, we were presented with a white wristband to wear for the duration of our stay. It featured the inscription: “St Lucia: Let her inspire you.”
Surrounded by nature
As we drove out of the airport, what grabbed us immediately was the sheer vibrancy of the colours. Wherever we went on the island, we were constantly assailed by a dazzling array of vivid hues, from the eye-catching purple bougainvillea tumbling down the walls to the flamboyant red of the felicitously named Flames of the Forest trees by the roadside.
The colours of the rainforest, which covers 8,000 hectares of Saint Lucia, are equally compelling. Who knew there were so many different shades of green? The jungle has an elemental, Jurassic Park vibe. When a giant fern rustled in front of us, it wasn’t hard to imagine that a T. rex was about to come charging out of the foliage.
The rainforest is also astonishingly fecund. Locals say that even if you had no money, you would never starve on Saint Lucia because you could feast on the fruits in the rainforest. There are, for example, more than 50 species of mango on the island.
Where to stay
We stayed in two hotels on Saint Lucia. Jade Mountain, on the southeast coast, is an absolute showstopper. Hand-built into the face of a vertiginous mountain and shaped like an ocean-going liner, it looks like something out of a James Bond movie. It is a statement edifice simply oozing drama, a truly visionary work of art.
But, if you can believe it, the exterior of the 29-room hotel is not even Jade Mountain’s most memorable feature. We were met at reception by our personal butler – hello to the marvellous Davidson! – who led us to our room across our own individual bridge.
He paused at the door – drum roll, please – before flinging it open to reveal a hotel room quite unlike anything I had ever seen in 30 years of travel writing. There was no fourth wall, leaving the room entirely open to the elements and hitting us with a stunning widescreen view of the aforementioned Pitons. The Blackwall Tunnel it isn’t.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the room also featured its own five-foot-deep infinity pool, where we could swim (short) lengths.
The design of Jade Mountain, part of a 240-hectare estate, is a complete triumph. The “wow factor” is an overused phrase in travel writing, but I defy anyone not to employ it when they behold this room. If this doesn’t knock your socks off, nothing will.
And if you’re wondering how we managed to avoid getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, this is the really clever part. The rooms at Jade Mountain only use yellow lights, which do not attract infernal nocturnal biters. So the only thing likely to keep you awake at night is the gentle lapping of your pool.
We were also guests at East Winds, a very pleasant old-world hotel north of the capital Castries. Comprising 30 lovely spearmint-coloured cottages scattered around a gorgeous garden, this was a very tranquil place to stay, a world away from the “24-hour party people” atmosphere of bigger resorts.
Outside each cottage was a feeder filled with honey that attracted delightful purple- and green-throated hummingbirds. And when our legs tired from wandering around the pretty gardens, we made use of the inviting hammocks strategically dotted around the property.
What to do
Rainforest Sky Rides is an unforgettable 800-metre cable car trip up through the canopy of the jungle. Travelling 140 metres above the ground and escorted by a very knowledgeable guide, we ascended to 1,400 metres above sea level where we were treated to a spectacular view of the west coast of the island.
En route, we took in everything from enormous 150-year-old coconut trees to the sort of vines Tarzan used to swing through the jungle on. They are called, er, Tarzan vines.
And Saint Lucia is bursting with as much culture as wildlife. It boasts everything from the 45-hectare Sulphur Springs Park (the only drive-in volcano in the Caribbean), to Fort Rodney, a dramatic, ruined, hilltop British fortification situated in the Pigeon Island National Park.
Built in 1780, Fort Rodney has witnessed the turbulent imperial history of the island. Over 150 years, St Lucia was colonised 14 times – seven times by the French and seven by the British, who happened to hold dominion when the music stopped.
If you’re looking for a dreamy holiday to give you a most welcome boost after the doom and gloom of the pandemic, then Saint Lucia is the place for you.
Yes, the island has more golden sands than you can shake a Tarzan vine at. But there is so much to do beyond the beach.
Nightly rates at Jade Mountain start from £875 in a Sky Sanctuary based on double occupancy. Nightly rates at East Winds start from £239 per room per night on an all-inclusive basis. Further information can be found at stlucia.org.