We all know that cliché description of a Caribbean island: white sand beaches, crystal blue water, the relaxing sound of surf. But as someone who has lived on a Caribbean island the majority of my life, what I really love is when an island surprises, offering me more than a stock photo of a palm tree on a beach.
Enter Saint Lucia. At 239 square miles, she's not just another beautiful, small island in the Caribbean and, while she does boast her fair share of Sandals resorts and fancy beachfront hotels, Saint Lucia is really an adventurer's paradise.
For starters, the island is the arrival point for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the largest transoceanic rally in the world. Every year in November, more than 200 boats leave Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for the warmer waters of the Caribbean, arriving in St. Lucia two to three weeks later.
None of the sailors really had to leave the many amenities of IGY's Rodney Bay, the marina serving as home base for the ARC, to find fun, especially considering the endless parties that were organized in their honor. But the ARC is a fleet of adventurous voyagers and, on arrival, many of them wanted even more excitement, especially this year, after great breeze the whole way gave these adrenaline junkies a taste for more action and speed.
It's exactly why the rally and the island of Saint Lucia were made for each other. With more than 78 hiking and biking trails, two scenic mountains called the Pitons, and an array of waterfalls, boating, and athletic activities on the island, ARC crew didn't have to look far for a good time on dry land. Neither did I when I went to cover the arrival of the regatta in December. The ARC organizers had island tours and activities lined up and waiting for us.
The most popular activity in a group of thrill-seekers like ARC crew, of course, was ziplining. So in the spirit of the island and the event, I decided to face my fear of heights and join a group of crewmembers on the four-hour excursion put on by Treetop Adventures.
The tour company drove us across the island while our guide Kim fed us fun facts and tidbits of island history the whole way. A short drive and we had been transported to a completely different place, the rainforest; I had trouble believing we were on the same island and I was eager to see more. At the tour site, they put us into our harnesses and we were sent on our way into the green.
Eleven separate zip lines guided us high above running streams and across valleys in the mountains of the island's interior. No one seemed to mind when rain began to fall as we traveled through the trees, and even though my fear of heights made the treetop stops between lines almost unbearably terrifying, the view and the thrill of the entire experience kept me going. By the end, all I wanted was more.
The next day, to temper my sudden impatience with solid ground and a nice piece of beach, I took an island tour. Bypassing the capital, Castries, I traveled to Marigot Bay, the Anse La Ray Waterfall and Soufriere, where I got a beautiful view of the Pitons, a world heritage sight. I also visited the sulphur springs and the Caribbean's only "drive-in volcano," where a natural mud bath of soothing warm water can be had for a few EC dollars.
A single day wasn't enough to cover all that there is to do on Saint Lucia, and words certainly don't make up for the warmth of the people and the stunning, vibrant colors that greet you at every turn along the mountains and rainforest. White sand beaches and calm blue waters are great. But give me a strong ocean breeze on a boat – or a physical inland challenge – and I'll take that any day of the week.
Andrea Bailey is a sports writer and recent graduate of Georgetown University, Washington, DC. A former collegiate sailor, she has returned to her home island of St. Thomas, USVI.