Caribbean Chillout

Caribbean Chillout

Saint Lucia has been a dream destination of mine for as long as I can remember, probably dating back to junior school geography lessons. I’m not sure why this Caribbean island stood out for me, but having now been, I can thoroughly recommend it if you want a mix of relaxed 5* pampering as well as excellent sightseeing and a fun party vibe.

We stayed at the Royalton Saint Lucia in Smugglers Cove, at the Northern tip of the island. This is a new Royalton hotel, refurbished after purchasing the property from its former owners. It is a beautiful and top quality resort, akin to a Sandals resort. It never felt overly busy, getting a table at the various restaurants was always easy and the food quality was great. The only downside to this resort is the 2 hour transfer from Hewanorra Airport, which is at the Southern end of the island. Opt for a taxi rather than a coach transfer, it won’t be that much faster, but it will be a more comfortable journey. If they offer a boat transfer snap their hand off.

One thing we’d researched ahead of this trip was the weekly ‘Jump Up’ that takes place every Friday night in the centre of Gros Islet, which is a short taxi ride from the resort. The Friday night street party encompasses several blocks, which have to be informally cordoned off. Locals sell steamed fish, barbecued chicken, Saint Lucia’s own Piton beer and rum from makeshift stalls. Music can be heard throughout the old fishing village, with locals and tourists dancing in a central cross section in the small streets to the sounds of calypso, zouk, reggae and R&B. This is what a community can do when they all pull together and create a cash generating tourist attraction. It didn’t feel artificial at all, with the locals enjoying the event equally as much as the visitors. You certainly got the feeling that if the tourists were not there, the profits would be lower, but it wouldn’t stop the party. The atmosphere was amazing and apparently the week we went was fairly quiet! Top Tip: Don’t wait until you are desperate for the toilet as you will find limited options available and long, long queues!

Our second adventure of the week was a gentle stroll from the resort to Pigeon Island. Although not that far (just over 3k) it was 30°C and far too hot for hiking. We stopped off at a beach shack bar for a quick livener before paying to enter Pigeon Island National Park. There are two peaks on the island. The smaller of the two is known as Fort Rodney, named after the Admiral that took over the island in 1778. To establish clear viewpoints, Rodney ordered all trees on Pigeon Island to be cut down. From the higher peak, Signal Hill, Rodney was able to observe the French naval base on Martinique. Both climbs were hard and made all the tougher by the heat, but the 360° views from each were stunning. After a well-earned beer in The Captain’s Cellar Bar, we headed down to the Jambe de Bois restaurant for a curry lunch and then sensibly took a taxi back to the resort.

Our third and final excursion was a full day out exploring the island. The itinerary was initially just to include Sulphur Springs and the Toraille Waterfall, both on the outskirts of Soufrière. There was a resort planned excursion, but this was expensive, so we cut a deal with the taxi driver that took us to the ‘Jump Up’ and he drove us and another family for the full day for $40 each. In addition to the major attractions, we stopped off at a couple of roadside trinket sellers, a wood carving workshop, Boucan by Hotel Chocolat and a lovely restaurant that was recommended by our driver.

Sulphur Springs is the “world’s only drive in volcano”…weird but true. The creation of Sulphur Springs came from a weak spot in the crust of the enormous collapsed volcano crater, creating an upheaval of lava 410,000 years ago. Up until the mid-1990s, tourists were able to walk right up to the edge of the tar-coloured pits. However, following an accident where a local tour guide named Gabriel fell through the crust into a pit and received second degree burns, the formation of what is now known as Gabriel’s Hole has restricted viewing to a platform a few hundred feet away. A couple of hundred yards downstream from the springs, the water temperature is still hot (around 45°C), but cool enough for tourists to enter and give themselves a mud bath. These mud baths are believed by some to contain medicinal properties. All I know is that it was like getting into the hottest post-rugby match communal bath I’ve ever experienced. It had as much mud in the bottom as I remember from those rugby days! It was a great day out, topped off with a visit to a local supermarket to buy presents for home.

Our last day at the resort was a bit of a blur to be honest as we went to the weekly pool party the night before. It wasn’t anywhere near as lively as the pool party we enjoyed at Moon Palace in Cancun, but after a heavy drinking session we ended up sleeping on sun loungers for most of the night, returning to our room at 5am covering in 50+ mosquito and ant bites each! The coach transfer back to the airport was horrendous due to the mix of hangover and broken air conditioning. Amanda nearly passed out in the check-in queue, but every cloud has a silver lining as they say, as the wheelchair they provided got us fast-tracked through security.

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Well that’s another brilliant trip in the bag. Saint Lucia is a beautiful island and our resort was, in my opinion, so much nicer than the ones I’ve stayed at in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It is absolutely on par with the Sandals resort in Jamaica, if not slightly better. Highly recommended and so much fun, both on and off the resort complex. Our number one tip is to avoid paying the inflated organised excursion prices and hire your very own taxi driver for the day. Next up is Halloween in Orlando…bring it on!

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