10 years ago, my family group-traveled to the Caribbean for my uncle’s wedding on the beach at the all-inclusive Hotel Riu in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My parents love the West Indies and have since been itching to return. Wanting to plan another family vacay, my mom searched around the islands to find the next country she’d most like to visit. Upon seeing breathtaking photos of the island’s famed pitons, she continued clicking through tourism review sites until deciding that St. Lucia would be the perfect place to call home for eight June days in 2017. When asked if I’d join, and informed that the trip could be my 30th birthday gift, I didn’t hesitate to book out from work!
The Landings St. Lucia
After a 5 1/2 hour flight from LAX to Fort Lauderdale and another 5-ish hours to St. Lucia, we landed in a small airport in Vieux Fort. My stepdad is an Aussie and is, therefore, well-versed in driving on the left side of the road, so he was able to rent a car and drive us 40 miles through dense jungle from the southern tip of the island to Gros Islet in the northwest. The trip takes about 1 1/2 hours by car, and upon arriving, we were welcomed into a beautiful 3-bedroom waterfront villa (with outdoor jacuzzi!) at The Landings near St. Lucia’s famed national park, Pigeon Island.
The major tourist draw in St. Lucia is, of course, its two dramatic volcanic spires known as “pitons” (pronounced: pee-tohn). A brewery based in the island nation, Windward & Leeward Brewery Limited (owned by Heineken), has taken it upon itself to mass-produce a pilsner in honor of the two mountains. Although, from what I can gather, the beer hasn’t made its way out of the country as an export. So, cheers to you, pitons!
Because the surf at the Landings is non-existent, the hotel offers plenty of rentals to occupy your time. Wanting to have a fun family day in the sun, we opted to be towed by these two gentlemen on a giant inflatable couch, known as “Great Mable.” Three runs back and forth from north to south of the hotel, and we found ourselves wanting to do it again. So, we did!
It also happened to be Father’s Day when we arrived. Since my stepdad taught me to drive, I figured it’d only be appropriate to commemorate that major milestone by taking him for a high-speed spin on a SeaDoo. The Landings does not rent these out; however, there are some independent salesmen walking up and down the beach renting them out in half-hour increments.
There are three formal restaurants on the grounds of the Landings: The Palms, The Beach Club and the Callalloo Beach Bar & Grill. These are in addition to options offered for in-room dining and private chef and personal pantry services. But, one night a week, the hotel throws a sort of “beach party” barbeque for its guests, at which entertainers, including fire dancers, fire eaters, and gymnasts, perform. They even light a limbo rod on fire and take turns shimmying lower and lower beneath it.
Although we did dine onsite a couple nights, we also ventured off-property to a few locations. One evening, we drove about a mile to the north to the north to Cap Maison, a high-end resort situated on its own clifftop estate, with stunning views of Pigeon Island to the south. Here, we dined at an open-air restaurant called The Cliff, which has the most stunningly beautiful private wooden deck built on a shoal below with a singular table placed for a romantic dinner for two. We dined watching over it admiringly. Another night, we dined next door to the Cap Maison estate, where a concrete staircase leads down to a picturesque private cove with a thatch-roofed creole seafood restaurant called The Naked Fisherman. If you want ambience, these two restaurants are beyond perfect.
But, if the most delicious food in Gros Islet is what you’re after, you might want to try Big Chef Steakhouse in Rodney Bay Village. Although the building isn’t much to look at, particularly from the outside since it’s located in a bit of an outdoor shopping plaza, the food is killer. Upon meeting the restaurant’s chef, it was no surprise why: Chef Rosie Joinville was a top student at London’s Cordon Bleu Cooking School, and her wanderlust coupled with opportunity attracted her to reside on the beautiful island of St. Lucia—and whip up the number 1 restaurant in Gros Islet (per TripAdvisor) while she was at it! Having lived in London for quite a few years, my stepdad really hit it off with Rosie, and I listened to them conversing, in their respective accents, about the city they both once called home while I inhaled the most incredible southern comfort bread pudding imaginable.
There seem to be packs of homeless dogs living all around the island. And, sadly… a lot of them are pretty skinny, which likely means that they are pretty hungry. And, not to sound too off-color, but pregnant bitches be running wild. We did our best to shower them with affection and feed them scraps of food when we saw them. The locals assured us that a service drives around daily to feed them, although I wish there were a service in place to spay and neuter them as well.
Catamaran Cruise to Soufriere
Rather than book in advance, we wandered down to the concierge service at The Landings to book some excursions over our several-day stay. For our first day-long excursion, we boarded a catamaran in Rodney Bay and set off for adventure. I definitely spotted my 13-year old brother sampling the free rum punch hosted at the bar below, but since St. Lucia doesn’t really enforce their drinking age, which is 18, I figured it’d be okay not to bust him as big sis 😉
It was about a 2 1/2 hour ride along the western shore of the island, but finally we made it to our first and southernmost stop for the day, a town beneath St. Lucia’s famed pitons: the colorful seaside village of Soufriere.
We loaded onto an old bus and were driven through Soufriere up to the very pretty Sapphire Falls and then to Sulphur Springs Park, which touts itself as the “Caribbean’s Only Drive in Volcano.” Here is where we stripped down to swim suits and covered ourselves in mud before taking a dip in the mountain’s natural volcanic mud baths, which are said to be detoxifying and healing.
Morne Coubaril Historical Adventure Park
After rinsing off, we were driven to our next destination for the afternoon: Morne Coubaril Estate, where we enjoyed a historical estate tour and creole buffet lunch. We walked through beautiful gardens to the Monplaisir family’s grand estate house, outside of which we were given a live demonstration of how to de-husk a coconut using only a steel spike.
We also sampled a seed from a cocoa pod, which our guide playfully called “jungle candy.” I tried it, and I’m not a fan.
After lunch, we got back on the catamaran and headed north to return to Rodney Bay. Along the way, we made a couple stops to snorkel and also to gawk at, quite possibly, the most beautiful bay in existence: Marigot Bay. Its claim to fame is that it was used as a filming location for various scenes in 1967’s Doctor Doolittle. It’s also of historical significance, having been the site of a number of battles between the French and English navies.
If you’re staying in the northern portion of the island, I definitely recommend booking some sort of day tour to the south. Speed boats will get you there faster than catamaran tours and allow you more time on land. So, it’s really dependent on preference. I was completely exhausted from spending so much time on the water, and I’m generally not a lover of sea travel, so I think if I were to do it again, I might opt for the speed boat. But, the catamaran tour was fun, and I’m glad we did it!
Horseback Riding in the Ocean
While the boys set off on a sport fishing trip (leaving at 5am- no thanks!), my mom and I slept in and then rolled out of bed, put swimsuits on under some casual wear with close-toed shoes, and headed to the lobby to await our 9am pickup from Barefoot Holidays. A driver picked us, and a few others, up and drove us a quick 30 minutes to a horse ranch on the northeastern tip of the island, where about 30 others would-be riders were already getting fitted for riding gear. After being given a helmet (and very attractive hairnet), some of the ranchers assessed our riding skillsets and matched us with horses we’d be able to handle. My mom, owning horses of her own, was given a stallion; I was given a horse a little more tame. But, we rode up front leading the rest of the horses a mile or so down to Cas en Bas Beach. Our four-legged boys were smart in running ahead; a tour guide would ask us to pause so the rest of the group could catch up, and the horses would sneak to the edge of the road to snack on wild grass. Clearly, they’ve done this before!
Once we arrived to a colorful little beach shack, which housed a cash retailer of trinkets and souvenirs, we dismounted and tied the horses to a network of posts. We got down to our swimsuits and took turns mounting horses whose soul job it was to swim in the ocean all day- not a bad life! It was a little tricky staying on the horses: in place of saddles were water mats akin to those you ride face first down slides at water parks.
Back on land, a young man named “Paparazzi Cash Money” machete’d open a coconut for a few dollars and took it upon himself to freestyle rap for me and my mom. He also told us about Friday night street parties in Gros Islet, a weekly event that brings the whole township together, and that we had to go! So, we marked our itineraries a few days in advance for the festivities.
After walking the beach for about 20 minutes, we put our clothes back on over our swimsuits and rode back to the ranch. We fed our sweet horses some mangoes off the ranch’s fruit trees and said our goodbyes before getting picked up and taken back to our hotel for the afternoon.
I’d never been ziplining before, so what better place to play Tarzan than in the heart of a tropical rainforest? We arrived at Treetop Adventure Park in Dennery, signed our lives away and were outfitted with a tangle of straps and buckles in addition to, again, a very attractive hairnet and helmet combo. We’d be gliding across 12 lines, approximately 5,100 feet in total length, ranging between 83 and 800 feet in length each, at an elevation of about 150 feet above the forest floor.
So, I have to say… ziplining in my head was much more thrilling than I found it to be in real life. But, the lines at the adventure park didn’t seem very long, and, I think: the longer the line, the better. I’m told they’re much longer in other places, which seems like it’d be more fun for picking up speed- at least that seemed to be the case on the 800-foot line we got to ride. I also imagined the lines would be more downward tilted than they actually were, but I suppose that doesn’t make too much sense because stopping would be insanely dangerous if that were the case. Overall impression: ziplining is chill and not at all scary. But, I’m an acrophile, so maybe it’s a little scarier for someone who’s afraid of heights!
We again enlisted the services of Adventure Tours to take us on a “Northern Sights” excursion around the northern edge of the island. I didn’t drive 🙁 because I don’t have the required licensure to drive on the left side of the road. So, we were driven by a guide in one buggy and my stepdad in the other! We switched buggies halfway through so we could take turns sitting up-front. The four-person buggy has backseats, and I’m definitely known to get carsick when riding in the back for extended periods of time.
You know how you sometimes randomly choose a spot on the globe that you’d like to one day visit? Mine, since I was a child, was Martinique. I think I liked the name of the island country and the fact that Paul Gauguin lived there for an extended period of time. Anyway, Martinique can be seen across the ocean west from this point, although it didn’t look like an impressive land mass, let alone large enough to be its own sovereign nation, when photographed from across the sea. So, here’s a photo up the coast of Pigeon Island instead 🙂
Gros Islet Street Party
Our last night in St. Lucia happened to be a Friday night, so we made it a point to venture out to the Gros Islet Street Party, which was said to be a very fun weekly event. It didn’t disappoint.
An elderly gentleman by the name of Vincent was having the time of his life dancing in the middle of the street. I couldn’t help but join in with him. He would make up the silliest dance moves, and I would mimic them back to him. He found it very entertaining, as he continuously shouted over the music, “Break it down now!” He was so fun to watch that a huge crowd gathered around him just to watch him dance. And, I felt that he embodied the very spirit of the night- strangers coming together with strangers, without judgment or barriers, having a great time and enjoying the energy of the island. It was the best possible way we could have spent our last night on this beautiful Caribbean island.
So, having said that, check out these sweet dance moves!