Last month, the 23rd Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) brought 211 yachts from 21 nations across the Atlantic Ocean 2,700 nautical miles to St. Lucia. While some of the yachts leave soon after arriving each year, perhaps to prepare for winter charter operations based elsewhere, many linger to savor St. Lucia’s abundant charms. Here, you’ll find some of the Caribbean’s most sophisticated, highest-rated resorts with fine dining to match.
Some ARC participants may choose to stay right where they are in Island Global Yachting’s Rodney Bay Marina, where a multi-million dollar reconstruction is reaching its completion, with a full 248 slips and refurbished retail and restaurant facilities on shore. Rodney Bay’s newest pier will offer 32 berths just for megayachts, up to 250 feet in length, with on-site Customs & Immigration, Wi-Fi, concierge, crew facilities and other goodies.
Other cruisers may head down the west coast to the smaller Marina at Marigot Bay, just in front of the Discovery Resort and Spa. The marina accommodates 40 yachts from 30 to 250 feet. More than simply a hurricane hole, the bay is known for its lush essence-of-Caribbean scenery that inspired a number of film producers.
From either comfortable base, St. Lucia, the beautiful “Helen of the West Indies” is easy to explore. Winding roads lead down the west coast from Rodney Bay to Soufriere, the oldest town on the island, settled by the French in 1746. It’s a lengthy trip—so instead of keeping a nervous eye on the roads, consider a day sail down the coast. Take your own boat or let someone else drive while you indulge in flowing rum punch.
For about $75 to $90 US per person, full day sails via catamarans leave from both Rodney Bay and from Vigie Cove in Castries. For that price, you’ll receive a roundtrip cruise, lunch, touring in and around Soufriere, a swim and snorkel stop, and the aforementioned rum punch. There may also be dancing on deck, limbo poles, and perhaps a bit of Calypso-style singing by the captain. Corny, yes, but actually lots of fun.
Best of all—by mid-morning, the famous Pitons will come into view, surely the most-photographed twin peaks in the world. Petit Piton is actually taller at 2,619 feet than Gros Piton at 2,460 feet, but Gros Piton is so-named because it is wider across at the base. Together, they are knock-out symbols of St Lucia, and the ultimate in tropical scenery. Hiking is allowed up Gros Piton, but it’s a rough climb and you’ll need a paid guide and permit from the Forest & Lands Department.
Once you are ashore at Soufriere, there are attractions worth seeing in the hills above the town, including the Drive-In Volcano. A guide will lead you close to strong-smelling sulphur springs with burbling pools of mud. Nearby are the Diamond Botanical Gardens and Waterfall, part of the Soufriere Estate, 2,000 acres given first by Louis XIV in 1713 to three brothers. Their descendants own and maintain the lush property full of gorgeous flowers and springs. Bring both your camera and a swimsuit if you’d like to bathe in steaming pools.
The 24 X 14 mile-island is laced with a number of nature reserves and a National Rain Forest that allow hiking and will provide stunning views and abundant opportunities to learn more about tropical flora and fauna. www.slunatrust.org and the tourist office can provide details on arranging a challenging trek.
Anglers should be sure to schedule a day of sportfishing—kingfish, sailfish, blue marlin, and more are waiting for you to catch-and-release. Horseback riding on beaches and trails can be arranged for people of all skill levels, and Scuba diving down walls, wrecks, reefs, and piers will give divers days of pleasure.
Meanwhile, back on the northwest end of the island, some sailors will want to take advantage of the St. Lucia Golf and Country Club, a public course with clubs and shoes for rent. Shoppers will do their own stalking for works of art, baskets, crafts and silk-screen fabrics, and should plan to hit the Saturday morning Castries market for produce, hot sauce, spices and herbal medicines. South of Castries, tour the Bounty Rum Distillery to provision some of the local product on the spot where it is made.
Jutting out into the sea just above Rodney Bay, 44-acre Pigeon Island National Historic Park, once a pirate hang-out according to local lore, can be reached via the Rodney Bay ferry. It offers military ruins to explore, a museum, restaurant and small beaches, and has been the wedding site for at least one ARC-couple.
Regain your land legs with all St. Lucia offers. But don’t forget some time to veg—all beaches are public, with many north of Castries situated by hotels. Reduit Beach at Rodney Bay is considered by many to be one of the finest. Whatever beach you choose—kick back on the sand, sip a Piton beer, and soak up St. Lucia’s delights to the fullest.
Chris Goodier is the editorial director of All at Sea. Her freelance articles and photographs have appeared in numerous other publications including Caribbean Travel & Life and Caribbean Meetings & Events.