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St. Lucia

About St. Lucia

No island has the ability to capture the beauty of the Caribbean quite like St. Lucia, thanks to the local commitment to protect some 19,000 acres as rainforest preserve. With its lush mountainsides, cobalt waters, swaying palm trees and white-sand beaches, this island-nation draws travelers from all over the world. Nestled amid its steep terrain and sheltered harbors is a rich and vibrant culture, with the capital of Castries at its heart.

The nation’s modern history has strong ties to France and Great Britain, two countries that variously ruled the island for 150 years. Both were drawn to St. Lucia’s flourishing sugar industry, and the territory changed hands fourteen times.

In 1814, the British gained permanent control over the island, restoring a system of slavery that had been abolished by its previous French owners during the days of the French Revolution. In 1838, Britain also ended the practice and all men and women on the island became free. By that time, Africans were the ethnic majority in St. Lucia.

During the 20th century, St. Lucia’s self-governance grew dramatically. In 1924, a constitution was drawn up that instituted an elected representative government. In 1951, all adults on the island were granted voting rights, and in 1979, St. Lucia gained full independence from the United Kingdom, though it remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

St. Lucia Lifestyle and Culture

St. Lucian culture draws influence from African, English, and French heritages. Though English serves as the country’s official language, Antillean Creole is a widely spoken and influential secondary tongue. Individuals of all religious beliefs have made their home on the island, though Catholicism is St. Lucia’s most practiced faith.

Elements from both Africa and Western Europe have shaped the tempo of St. Lucia’s rich and colorful musical traditions. Music acts as a powerful force on the island, existing as a core subject in St. Lucian public education and playing an important role in folk holidays and festivals. St. Lucia’s most iconic folk instruments are the banjo and cuatro, a kind of lute, which are typically played in island folk groups and shak-shak bands.

Most residents on the island are loyal to one of two associations and have developed a friendly rivalry around them: The Rose and The Marguerite. Each group hosts an annual festival celebrating the virtues of its respective flower. Preparations for these festivals begin many months in advance and on festival day, society members dress in garments inspired by their bloom and parade through the streets, gathering later at their church for a feast.

St. Lucia also enjoys a rich artistic tradition. Castries is the birthplace of Derek Walcott, the Nobel Prize–winning poet, and its city square is named for him. Its Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is adorned with lush murals painted by a local artist. What’s more, batik artisans keep a cherished tradition alive in their shops, creating colorful fabric with the traditional process of wax-resist dying.

St. Lucia Sights and Landmarks

A tropical climate, stunning scenery and cream-colored sand beaches are the typical draws for travelers. But there’s more to this lush and picturesque island, from soaring beauty to rich history and vibrant Creole culture.

The St. Lucia Botanical Gardens are the oldest in the country, featuring a diverse range of tropical flora. Its 56-foot-tall Diamond Waterfall, the most colorful in the region, is peppered with volcanic minerals and is said to change both color and appearance. On the island’s west coast in the town of Soufrière, the landmark Gros and Petit Pitons, a pair of breathtaking rocky pylon peaks, soar over pristine beaches. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a symbol of the island.

Morne Fortune, a quiet hilltop suburb of Castries, was the site of the battleground that witnessed many skirmishes between the French and the English. The Inniskilling Fusiliers Monument here honors the British regiment that captured the hill from the French in 1796. Today it offers sweeping views of Castries and of the sheltered sun-flecked harbor. Old plantations also dot the emerald-hued landscape, from the Marquis Estate, once the largest banana plantation on the island, to the 17th-century Morne Coubaril Estate.

St. Lucia Entertainment and Activities

The volcanic twin Pitons (Gros Piton at 2,617 feet and Petit Piton at 2,460 feet) attract much attention on St. Lucia, and rightly so. They tower over the sands of the palm-lined Anse Chastanet Beach and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. But if you miss seeing them, you can at least toast their beauty with a glass of Piton beer, the local brand named for them.

Nearby, the dormant Soufrière Volcano emits its steam and boiling mud. Known as the world’s only “drive-in volcano,” its filled-in crater is accessible by road. Consider joining the locals for a dip in the natural mud baths; they are said to enhance your complexion.

The French fort on Pigeon Island provides insight into island history. The 40-acre national park, vine-laden ruins of the citadel, and white-sand beaches can all be reached via a man-made causeway.

St. Lucia Restaurants and Shopping

The food of St. Lucia blends inspiration from Africa, Europe and East India. While St. Lucia’s national dish is green banana and saltfish, macaroni pie, rice and peas and stewed chicken are also island favorites. Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, garlic, nutmeg and parsley are just a few spices commonly used on the island.

The Pink Plantation House, a fine restaurant and an art gallery, is housed in a stunning colonial mansion in Castries. Both the Creole cuisine and the views from the veranda are inspiring. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, head to the Coal Pot, a hidden treasure down the road and around the harbor. Its French chef cooks up unforgettable fusion dishes using fresh produce and local spices. For good food at great value, settle in on the shaded balcony of Kimlan’s for true Caribbean fare.

For a local island shopping experience, browse the Castries Central Market, a collection of fresh fish, locally grown produce and handicrafts such as richly colored batik cloth.