St. Lucia is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations. Only thirty years ago, it was a quiet island dependent on banana and sugar cane exports. Today, it is bustling with tourists who flock to the island’s numerous waterfront resorts. St. Lucia is definitely one of the more beautiful Caribbean islands, featuring bubbling volcanoes, hot sulphuric springs, lush mountain scenery, wild orchids, exotic plants, tropical banana groves, white-sandy beaches, and brilliant blue waters. The weather is also perfect – warm but breezy. And the people are some of the friendliest and most hospitable in the Caribbean. This should come as no surprise – life is good for them: leisure, sun, beaches….
St. Lucia lies in the eastern depths of the Caribbean Sea about 25 miles northeast of St. Vincent and 20 miles south of Martinique. It is part of the Windward Islands and is the second largest in that group, occupying an area close to 240 square miles. The population is about 160,000.
St. Lucia is largely volcanic, especially in the southern region where hot springs, bubbling pools, and sulphur vents are found. The interior is forested and mountainous with peaks such as Mount Gimie reaching as high as 3,120 feet. Most of the rainforests are found on the higher slopes while the lower levels have been cleared to grow crops. In the southwest, you’ll find St. Lucia’s “Pyramids”: two volcanic pinnacles rising out of the sea in the shape of pyramids; both Gros Piton and Petit Piton which measure 2,620 feet and 2,460 feet high, respectively, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, and both are densely-forested slopes.
St. Lucia has a network of over 450 miles of paved roads. The best way of traveling around the island is by renting a car or jeep, at least for visitors planning to stay for a week. Otherwise, the island has a number of operating taxis and buses. The taxis are inexpensive and readily available. Taxi drivers are also trained to act as tourist guides. And they can be hired for hours or even days.
Minibuses are a fun ride and a great way to travel around the island. Services run in the north between Gros Islet and the capital of Castries. However, services to the south are infrequent, although you’ll find scheduled services from Castries to Vieux Fort.
St. Lucia is known as the “Helen of the West Indies” because it has spawned numerous wars over the years between various states vying for this prized Caribbean gem. In fact, St. Lucia has changed hands more than a dozen times between the British and French. Christopher Columbus was the first to “discover” the island on his fourth voyage in 1502. The island was used during the 16th century as a base for pirates; it was also the hideout of Francois de Clerc who is famous for his wooden leg. The Dutch were the first to establish a fort, setting up Vieux Fort in the early 17th century. The English, however, made early attempts at colonizing the island in the early 17th century, but were unsuccessful because of disease and the presence of the war-like Caribs.
In 1651, the French successfully established a settlement, but the British took over the island soon afterwards in 1664. From then on until the early 19th century, St. Lucia changed hands between the British and French several times. In 1746, the French set up the first town on the island, Soufriere, and a dozen more were established by 1778. During this period, the French set up cotton and sugar plantations and brought slaves over to work them. The British took over, however, in 1778 and converted Gros Islet into a naval base for their Caribbean fleet.
During the French Revolution, French slaves and deserters waged an unsuccessful guerilla war with the British. In 1814, St. Lucia was finally ceded once and for all to Britain and became a Crown Colony. Slavery was abolished in 1834, resulting in a decline in St. Lucia’s sugar cane industry. The island survived during the 19th century and early 20th century as a coaling station for steamships. Hundreds of ships docked in Castries, the island’s capital, to refuel on coal every year. When ships switched to oil, St. Lucia turned to the cultivation of bananas and cacao. The island obtained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1979, and it has since become heavily dependent on tourism.
Philpott, Don. Visitor’s Guide to the Windward Islands. Ashbourne: Moorland Publishing Company Ltd., 1996. ISBN: 0861905598.
“St Lucia Travel Guide – Overview.” < http://www.worldtravelguide.net/country/263/country_guide/Caribbean/St-Lucia.html>
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 Philpott, 116
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