Less than 10 minutes after leaving the airport on St. Lucia, I pulled up to the Coconut Bay Resort. Within 15, I headed to the beach, cocktail in hand.
St. Lucia was a destination I longed to see but knew little about. I found out a lot after a few days of exploring what turns out to be one of the Caribbean’s best eco-destinations. In fact Natural History Magazine picks it as one of the top 50 eco-tourism destinations in the world.
From volcanic peaks to visiting working fishing villages, St. Lucia has an abundance of things to see and do, but it’s also a great place to simply relax. Even a hard-working travel editor needs some down time between adventures. St. Lucia and Coconut Bay fit the bill.
De Fish, Mon
Near Coconut Bay is one of the quaintest villages to be found anywhere in the Caribbean, Soufriere. This gem is the second largest settlement on the island. Soufriere is still a fishing village, and its island shabbiness is very charming. St. Lucia’s most noticeable landmarks, the primeval Pitons’ twin peaks, pop up nearby. The sheer steep peaks of Petit Piton and Gros Piton are as glorious a vision as any traveler could want. Topping out at over 2000 feet, they have long been a beacon to pirates and those who pull a living from the rich fishing grounds nearby.
In the harbor, small crafts pace and circle and large vessels become high diving boards for the local kids. On the streets, proud roosters prowl and French Creole can be heard around the stands selling local produce. Small shops serve the locals; luxuries are not to be found. If you are looking for the shopping-tourist thing, head to Castries, St. Lucia’s capital; Soufriere is for those who want to immerse themselves in genuine island culture.
As we headed out via small boat to Marigot Bay, the magnificent Pitons rose far above the villages and waves crashed at their base. As our captain noticed my fascination with them, he told me that climbing them is possible with permission from the Forest and Lands Department. I filed the info for another day, because I had other fish to fry.
The stunning Marigot Bay, with its glazed white beaches and swaying palm trees, could be another pretentious beautymark on the Caribbean; fortunately it isn’t. It’s true that there are classic yachts and luxurious lodgings to be found there, but those amenities don’t obscure in the least the sense of history that permeates the area. It was in this very bay that British Admiral George Brydges Rodney chose to camouflage his ships with palms, preparing to attack French frigates.
Filled with history, I wandered off to the Restaurant de Paletuvier where I attacked fresh fish served with spicy Creole sauces. Deep fried balls of crab made me declare amnesty to a wee bit of high cholesterol intake. Sugar birds land at empty nearby tables to serenade those lingering over a cappuccino, gathering strength for a snorkel stop on the return to Soufriere.
Under the Sea
My wife once described snorkeling as laying on the world’s best water bed. Anse Chastenet makes for one great bedroom! This reserve, located on the left of the bay, provides visual delight; schools of fish pass effortlessly. Coral in a wide range of colors completes the picture. If snorkeling isn’t your thing, the sandy beach will be and it is stunning.
As if I were in a Lewis Carroll daze, I heard the sounds of a string quartet penetrate the surface. On the cliff above, the quartet was playing for a wedding. St. Lucia is a great place to wed, and this particular couple picked a premier spot. All too soon, it was time to head back to Soufriere for a cold Caribe beer.
On an island filled with diversity, I decided to pick two extremes, both located near Soufriere. Stop number one was the Diamond Botanical Gardens, located on what was once an old estate. The estate was called the Soufriere Estate and was built by the French in 1713. The estate was used for cultivating cocoa and sugar until 1785, when the mineral waters were commissioned for French troops and baths were built.
Even today, the baths are available for soaking. Old paths meander through the gardens and take you through lush vegetation with thousands of plant species. Especially grand are the Diamond Waterfalls that glimmer in multiple colors, thanks to the mineral deposits that the flowing waters leave.
The falls have starred in several movies, such as Romancing the Stone. It is no wonder that the gardens have been named as one of the top 25 nature experiences in the Caribbean.
On the flip side of lush is the burning, bubbling sulphur water of Sulphur Springs Park, a drive-in volcano. While the last major volcanic eruption on St Lucia occurred about 40,000 years ago, in 1780 the island spit up and continues today to vent sulphur; the heated pools boil.
The seven-acre depression is called a caldera; the surface crust is soft and over a soft substrate. After a guide fell into the scalding water a few years ago, the observation now takes place from solid, safely distant overlooks. (The guide, please know, survived and went on to father several children.)
The colors around the 24 boiling pots come from deposits of iron, copper oxide, magnesium and many other minerals. Further below the caldera are springs with therapeutic value, comparable to the springs of Onzendaki in Japan and Prezzuoli in Italy.
It’s a Bird; it’s a Plane it’s…
From my perch about 40 feet from the rainforest floor, everything seemed small. As soon as I pushed off, Sani’s instructions ran through my head, “One gloved hand behind the pulley and one on the harness.”
By the second zip-line run, I felt like Indiana Jones. By the third, I could actually concentrate on fluorescent butterflies, multi-colored birds and thick foliage found only in the rainforest. The sound of water flowing in the stream below mixed with rushing wind and beating heart.
The course has nine platforms and six zip lines running through 9,000 acres. This is one cool adventure set in the spectacular interior of St. Lucia.
After my daily dose of adventure, I returned nightly to the Coconut Bay Resort for a few ultra-cold Piton beers and a dip in the freeform pool. Nightly, a festive atmosphere took hold and happy, smiling faces joined together for great food and lively entertainment. Yet solitude and privacy could easily be found on the property.
The long beach curved the length of Savannes Bay and a quiet pool near the spa gave me room to chill.
The 85 acres of lush grounds were a delight to explore; the amenities were plentiful. The resort’s location on the south side of the island, which is relatively undeveloped, provides for a peaceful vacation.
From my balcony the sound of the ocean swirled with the sounds of a local band playing at the jump up or local feast. The moon shone bright and the breeze was heavenly as I planned my next day’s adventure. I never thought relaxing could be so active.
“Intimate yet encompassing” best describes my base for my stay; life at the resort is easy and the grounds are spacious. With no neighboring megaresorts sitting side by side as is often found in the Caribbean, Coconut Bay Resort and Spa stands alone. It’s located on 85 lush coconut-fringed beaches, with lots of space and privacy. For an all-inclusive price, you’ll get great food, drinks and plenty of activities.
Day adventures can be arranged at the concierge desk at Coconut Bay or by contacting St. Lucia Palms Service, (758) 458-0908. The zip line Canopy Tour is priced at about $75, well worth the cost.
Information on the volcanic pools can be found at Planetware.com.
For information about the Diamond Botanical Gardens, check out SpasAbout.com.
For an overview of all St Lucia offers, go to the tourism site at StLucia.org.