St. Lucia’s Natural Wonders
St. Lucia is home to incredible biodiversity, from dense rain forests in the heart of the island to dramatic volcanic landscapes by the sea. When visiting, be sure to explore beyond the beaches to discover lush botanical gardens, tropical forests full of birds, rushing waterfalls, and even a drive-in volcano.
Take a break from days at the beach with a stroll through these quiet, lush gardens. The nature trail is well marked and easy to navigate. Identify the local birds, including the St. Lucian parrot, with the help of labels and pictures along the trail. The water of the garden’s Diamond Falls is a unique rustlike color due to the minerals picked up along the stream’s path past a volcano, two miles upstream. The waterfall’s colors change according to the recent rainfall. Though you can’t swim in the falls, you can relax in hot mineral spring baths. Visit early in the morning, and avoid cruise-ship days so you can have the place to yourself.
Vieux Fort, St Lucia
A permit and a guide are required to hike in the Edmund Forest Reserve, in the interior of the island. A permit can easily be obtained through your guesthouse or hotel, and a forest guide can be hired at the reserve. The 18,000-acre park offers various hiking trails: The Edmund Rainforest Trail is a four-hour, seven-mile strenuous hike concluding with a view of Mount Gimie. A less intense hike is the Des Cartier Rainforest Trail, on relatively flat terrain, with plenty of flora along the way. Bird-watchers will love the Millet Bird Sanctuary Trail, a two-mile loop through the habitat of over 30 species, including the St. Lucian parrot and hummingbirds.
P3F9+R73, Vieux Fort, St. Lucia
The Maria Islands—Maria Major and Maria Minor—off the southeastern coast are among the region’s most pristine environments. You can visit the protected wildlife reserve via a 20-minute boat ride from Pointe Sable. On Maria Major, a verdant trail leads you past a variety of unusual tropical flora and fauna, most notably the habitats of six rare native reptile species. Look for St. Lucia’s whiptail lizard and the racer, a nonvenomous grass snake that might appear from a rock crevice. Snorkeling off the beach is part of the experience, too, as the island’s waters are rich with coral reefs. The reserve, a birder’s paradise most of the year, is closed to the public in the summertime to accommodate the nesting season of migratory birds that flock here from Africa.
Castries, St Lucia
Hike around the ruins of Morne Fortune (“good luck hill”), a former military outpost overlooking the harbor it was meant to protect. The site was hardly good luck during the 18th century: Several bloody battles between the French and the British took place here. The remaining structures on Morne include guard cells and a powder magazine, the building used to store gunpowder and ammunition, as well as French and British burial grounds. At the top of the hill, near a memorial to the British infantry regiment that captured Morne Fortune in 1796, you’ll find a great spot for a panoramic view over Castries and its harbor.
Who can resist a waterfall, especially on this lush tropical island? There are a couple of easy options: Diamond Falls (though you can’t swim in its mineral-laden pool) and the 50-foot-high Toraille Falls, right off the main road near Sulphur Springs. For the more adventurous, some rocky hikes through dense rain forest come with the reward of stunning cascades. Dennery Falls, also known as Errand or Sault Falls, tumbles down from 55 feet up and is rarely crowded, though you’ll need a guide to find it. A two-hour guided hike through the steep Edmund Forest Reserve leads to Enbas Saut Falls, and its clear, cold pool is well worth the effort.
A visit to Sulphur Springs, which is dubbed the world’s only drive-in volcano, is one of the most unusual excursions you can make in the Caribbean. You’ll smell the rotten-egg stench of sulfur and see steam rising around the dormant volcano’s crater upon arrival. (Don’t worry: The last time the volcano erupted was two centuries ago.) Locals claim that soaking in the mud baths then rinsing off with a dip in the hot springs will rejuvenate your skin and relieve mosquito bites and minor skin problems. Be sure to take a before-and-after selfie to determine whether you look younger after the experience.
St. Lucia’s iconic twin peaks—Gros Piton and Petit Piton—dominate the island’s scenery, soaring 2,500 feet from the sea on the island’s southwest Soufrière corner. Designated a World Heritage Site along with the surrounding Pitons Management Area, these volcanic spires take every first-time visitor’s breath away. There are various ways to experience the Pitons. The brave hike either peak—Petit Piton is more strenuous, and the trail isn’t marked; Gros Piton has marked trails and is a two- to three-hour hike from the village of Fond Gens Libre. Others opt to take it easy and sail past them on a catamaran cruise, or view them from land along the coast or from the terrace of La Haut’s restaurant. Sugar Beach, facing Gros Piton, offers a frontal view of the peaks as you swim.