Island Driving Guide: Saint Lucia

The Roads of Pain

IMG_3852Driving in the Caribbean can range from excellent to awful. Saint Lucia’s Western road contains some of the most nerve-wracking stretches I have come upon – steep curves, large open ditch drains on the sides of roads, especially in towns…imagine navigating that with two cars on a narrow road. MAJOR MAJOR potholed sections of road that require intrepid driving to try to evade, and some stretches are just a rocky adventure…bump bump bump… add to boot, the car the rental agency gave us was an old junker (so much for the car we thought we reserved), so the only way to handle these roads was manual over-drive despite an automatic transmission.

IMG_3949 If you are arriving internationally, you will most likely at Hewanorra International Airport on the very southern tip of the island. Visitors arriving from another island might wind up at George FL Charles Airport in Castries, on the northwest side of the island. Most of Saint Lucia’s developed tourism is on the Western side of the island, with a far quieter Eastern side.

 

 

Stop 1: Hewanorra Airport

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Fairly efficient immigration and I never check bags for these short Caribbean getaways, so it was straight out to Budget to complete the usual unnecessary paperwork and get our car. I reserved a Suzuki Sx4, but received a beat up old sedan. Great!

 

 

 

Stop 2: Sandy Beach

DSC_0200If you are arriving on one of the morning flights out of the US, it’s lunch time and you’re probably getting pretty hungry. You can rush over to the Western side of the island, where you are probably staying, or drive a few minutes over to Sandy Beach. My friend recommended a stop at the Reef Beach Cafe, and she was spot on! Saint Lucia is hideously, hideously, hideously (I emphasize hideously) expensive with some budget gems hidden around the island, and the Reef Beach Cafe had some of the most reasonable drinks and food we encountered, and it’s right on one beautiful beach.

DSC_0853Stop 3: Choiseul

Choiseul is a great first stop to get a feel for the towns of Saint Lucia. Very narrow streets, hilly, and side big old open drain ditches on both sides of the road pretty much everywhere. I already had experience driving on the left side of the road, but getting anxiety about driving into one of the roadside ditches was another ballgame! I have no photos of Choiseul. Either I was too much of a nervous wreck driving around the town and/or I couldn’t find parking in most of the town.

IMG_3878Side note – I am not a big shopper but we decided to swing by what was called the Choiseul Arts & Crafts Center. After driving back and forth on the Saint Jude’s Highway and almost imagining this place did not exist, we finally found it, and boy, was it a surprise. The center was one run-down room, the few ladies running it seemingly shocked we actually found the place, and holding a bunch of generic crafts with Saint Lucia. We looked around for five minutes and politely said our goodbyes.

Stop 4: Soufriere

IMG_3798The stretch of road from Hewanorra to Soufriere is far better than what lies north. We opted for the Stonefield Villa Resort, a boutique set up of semi-private villas not really anywhere close to a beach (most of the beaches in Saint Lucia are pretty mediocre anyhow), but with some stupendous views of the Pitons, the famous cone-shaped peaks that practically identify Saint Lucia.

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This was a special occasion getaway so it was time to splurge. I’m usually a mid-range traveler in the $100-150, preferably closer to $100 and if something decent comes in for less than that, great! Saint Lucia accommodations are mostly in the range of $250/300 and up, with very few affordable accommodations showing up. It really isn’t a great destinations for solo travelers and/or travelers on a budget, especially when I compare it to islands like Saint Maarten or Barbados.

 

IMG_3812.JPGStill, once in a while, I guess it’s ok to pamper yourself, right? The private plunge pool and hammocks were truly a wonderful treat, although you can never truly compare value in the Caribbean to value in some other parts of the world.

Soufriere, yet another small town with big old drainage ditches, was right nearby and like Choiseul, parking was a nightmare and I used it primarily as a pass-through on my way to other destinations, but it is a good place to fuel up, buy some snacks and eat at a couple of more reasonable restaurants like Fedo’s and Ruby’s.

Stop 5: Sulphur Springs

IMG_3923Saint Lucia is a volcanic island, the epicenter of the volcanic activity is right in Soufriere. Described as the world’s only “drive in volcano”, the volcanic caldera is a great place to not only get a geology crash course about the island, but to enjoy the hot sulphuric waters resulting from the volcanic caldera.

 

IMG_3925Guides are on-hand to give a quick walk looking out at the steam vents, and then we had a chance to take a dip down into the waters, where a special clay can be scraped off the ground to be used as a mask.

 

 

Stop 6: Anse Chastenat and Soufriere Bay

DSC_0097Once you hit Soufriere, there are two roads to make an exit…one that heads up north, and a very special road leading west to Anse Chastanat. The road west may look short, but I was driving at the lowest speed possible since it was a fully cratered road, every second a full body massage. Once the torture ends, you arrive at the Anse Chastanat Resort and beach.

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I love to do at least a little bit of snorkeling on the islands. Scuba Saint Lucia, associated with the resort, runs short snorkeling trips out into Soufriere Bay, right by the Pitons.

 

 

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After snorkeling, we checked out the over-priced chair rentals on the beach and grabbed a bit at the beachfront bistro. Before beginning the painful drive back to Soufriere

 

 

 

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There are a ton of pull-out stops along the main Saint Lucia, like this one looking out at Soufriere

 

 

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But maybe it looks better from the sea?

 

 

 

 

 

Stop 7: Canaries 

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It’s like this Barbados Flag was specifically planted as a photo op

Stop 8: Anse La Rey

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From yet another pullout

Stop 9: Marigot Bay

I wasn’t terribly excited by this stop, except for the nice cafe we found on the waterfront shopping complex. The view of the bay is disturbed by power lines, but headed up north, Rodney Bay has such a far superior view.

Stop 10: Rodney Bay

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After a stop at Rodney Bay Marina for lunch, we headed up to the best views in Saint Lucia at Fort Rodney. The Pigeon Island Beach is just ok and has a couple of bars, while there isn’t much of interest in the town, a far more commercialized and modern (and touristy) town compared to other towns like Soufriere and Canaries.

 

 

 

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Fort Rodney sits on a separate island, Pigeon Island, right next to the mainland, and was used by the British to check on French ship in Martinique. The fort is not particularly well-maintained, but it is safe enough to take a walk up to take in sweeping views of Rodney Bay.

 

Stop 11: Driving North to South

The Castries – Gros Islet highway is the road of scenic pullouts. I kept my eyes peeled and this was one view I really loved – the Pitons framed.

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Stop 12: Debbie’s Homemade Food

Whether you are headed out of the airport or into the airport, Debbie’s Homemade Food, right on the main road, provides a quiet, reasonably-priced meal of local specialties and even fresh juice! My alternative is re-visiting #1, Sandy Beach.

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Dining in Style

This was a splurge trip, so we hit up a few nice restaurants around Soufriere

  1. IMG_3809Dasheen at Ladera – Living in the NYC area, there is nothing that makes my eyes pop out more while traveling than menu’s at a fairly average place where the prices are higher than those I would pay at a nice, upscale Manhattan restaurant, except the food is much better in that Manhattan restaurant. That’s how I feel about Dasheen. There is no feeling like spending $60-70 on a totally mediocre lamb roast.

 

 

 

IMG_38702. Stonefield Villa – sometimes you are too tired to make the trip out for dinner. I don’t scoff at eating at one’s own hotel restaurant, although it usually ends up being not terribly exciting. We were excited because Sunday nights at the restaurant feature a Tapas-style menu where we got a chance to try out a bunch of different small plates instead of ordering expensive, potentially mediocre main courses.

 

IMG_39013. Boucan by Hotel Chocolat – Hotel Chocolat is a renowned brand for its chocolate, and the hotel here features an estate where cacao is produced. The restaurant, while as pricey as many of the other upscale options around, is cool because most dishes contain some element of cacao. I must say having a duck roast with cacao nibs was a surprisingly elevated culinary experience. On the the other hand, my champagne was mixed cacao juice, which ended up tasting like sour yogurt – maybe cacadoesn’t belong in everything.

 

Saint Lucia

IMG_3940Saint Lucia has plenty of beauty, and there are some inexpensive options to dine and sleep on the island, but:

  • The dining and accommodation scene as a whole is way more expensive than similar islands
  • Driving on Saint Lucia is not for the faint of heart. If you are given a junker, I would argue and get a better car – you will need it to handle the road conditions.
  • I would give Saint Lucia a very low solo travel score. Overall, most of the island seems geared more towards upscale romantic getaways than a casual island trip.

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