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While the spectactular twin Pitons that rise up on Saint Lucia's west coast appear a little out of the ordinary on a Caribbean island, most of Saint Lucia's attractions read like a list of a dozen other Caribbean destinations: watersports, diving, deep sea fishing and, of course, simply lazing by the beach. But Saint Lucia definitely has its charm. An avid nightlife thrives in the more populated areas, with many bars and clubs presenting live entertainment. An attractive national park at Pigeon Island boasts the largely intact remnants of Fort Rodney, a strategic fort used both by the French, British and Americans in their time. But Saint Lucia's most clear-cut edge over its fellow Caribbean islands are undoubtedly the Pitons: two majestic volcanic peaks jutting 800 metres above sea level.
Saint Lucia's first known inhabitants were Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America around 200-400 AD. Caribs gradually replaced Arawaks during the period from 800 to 1000 AD. They called the island Hiwanarau, and later Hewanorra, which is now the name used for the Hewanorra International Airport in Vieux Fort.
Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502 during Spain's early exploration of the Caribbean. The Dutch, English, and French all tried to establish trading outposts on St. Lucia in the 17th century but faced opposition from Caribs whose land they were occupying.
The French assumed ownership again of Saint Lucia by the Treaty of Paris in 1763 (the table is incorrect) and introduced the sugar cane industry in 1765. The Battle of the Saints in which Admiral Rodney, who sailed out of his port in St. Lucia, defeated the French Admiral De Grasse took place between the French and British navies during the American War of Independence on 15 December 1778, and insured British naval dominance of the Caribbean henceforth.
Increasing self-government has marked St. Lucia's 20th century history. Ministerial government was introduced in 1956, and in 1958 St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, a semi-autonomous dependency of the United Kingdom. As an associated state of the United Kingdom from 1967 to 1979, St. Lucia had full responsibility for internal self-government but left its external affairs and defense responsibilities to the United Kingdom. This interim arrangement ended on February 22, 1979, when St. Lucia achieved full independence.
Saint Lucia is an island between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean. It is located north of the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and south of Martinique. The island consists of an area of 620 km², which is about one and half times the size of the Isle of Wight. It has a mountainous terrain and the highest peak is Mount Gimie at 950 metres above sea level. Two other mountains, the Pitons, form the island's most famous landmark. They are located between Soufrière and Choiseul on the western side of the island. Saint Lucia is also one of the few islands in the world that boasts a drive-in volcano.
Saint Lucia is administratively organised into 11 quarters; Anse la Raye, Canaries, Castries, Choiseul, Dennery, Gros Islet, Laborie, Micoud, Soufrière and Vieux Fort
Pigeon Island National Park is more a historical monument than a nature reserve. There are ruins dating to around 1750, including a fortress, barracks and some rusting cannons. The grounds are beautiful with lofty trees, including a few big banyans, and you'll get fine views of the coast and even nearby Martinique when the weather is clear. The island's history starts somewhere in the 1550s when St Lucia's first French settler, Jambe de Bois used Pigeon island as a base for raiding passing Spanish ships. During the 18th century the British admiral George Rodney fortified the island, using it to monitor the French fleet on Martinique. After this, the fort was not in use anymore except as a small signal station by the USA during WWII.
The Pitons Management Area is the only sight on Saint Lucia which is on the Unesco World Heritage List. This 2900 hectares big area near the town of Soufriere includes the Pitons, two volcanic cones rising from the sea at more than 700 metres above it. They are linked by the Piton Mitan ridge. There is a geothermal field with sulphurous fumeroles and hot springs. The Marine area includes coral reefs. The area has a high biodiversity with 168 species of fish and 60 species of cnidaria, including corals, molluscs and sponges. The dominant vegetation is tropical moist forest and subtropical wet forest and there is dry forest and wet elfin woodland on the summits. Here you can also find almost 250 different species of plants, of which eight are rare tree species. The Gros Piton is home to some 27 bird species (five of them endemic), three indigenous rodents, one opossum, three bats, eight reptiles and three amphibians.
South of Soufriére at Malgretout you can find a quiet, undeveloped beach (heaven if you know how touristy some beaches in Saint Lucia can be) and mineral waterfall. This beautiful waterfall has a real Garden of Eden-like setting, but visitors are allowed to shower in its warm volcanic waters. And this is something you can't do at the more touristy waterfall at Diamond Botanical Gardens. So if you have to choose, go to the Malgretout Waterfall instead.
The Central Rain Forest Reserve is a mountainous, 7600 hectares big well maintained park in the highlands of the interior of Saint Lucia and is real natural paradise. Unfortunately, the only way to get here is by joining an organized rainforest hike through one of the main tour agencies. Hiking by yourself is not permitted because of safety reasons and also to safeguard the forest's sensitive ecological balance.
Saint Lucia has a pleasant tropical climate with hot and humid weather but a nice sea breeze to cool things off a bit. Daytime temperatures average around 28 °C to 30 °C year round and night temperatures are just slightly lower at 24 °C to 26 °C. Although rain is possible anytime, the wettest period is from June to December, with peaks in August and November with almost 400 mm of rain.
Hewanorra International Airport (IATA: UVF, ICAO: TLPL) near Vieux Fort is where all long haul flights arrive and depart. Air Jamaica flies to this airport from several main cities in the United States, Jamaica and Barbados. Other airlines flying in from the USA include American Airlinies, Delta Air Lines and US Airways. From the United Kingdom, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and XL Airways fly direct from London. There are also direct flights from Toronto and Frankfurt and a charter from Rome.
George F. L. Charles Airport (formerly Vigie Airport) (IATA: SLU, ICAO: TLPC) near the capital Castries mainly caters regional flights from neighbouring islands. LIAT and Air Caraibes have connections to Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Barbados and Saint Vincent.
Saint Lucia - Guadeloupe vv
Express-des-Iles has several weekly sailings a week between Guadeloupe and Saint Lucia. Although most ferries stop on at Martinique and Dominica along the way, there are direct services in high season.
Saint Lucia - Martinique vv
Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.30pm and Sundays at 3.30pm, L'Express des Iles travels from Fort-de-France to Castries on Saint Lucia. In the opposite direction, ferries leave 5 times a week. Both crossings take about 80 minutes.
Saint Lucia - Dominica vv
L'Express des Iles has 3 to 5 weekly sailings between the capitals of Dominica and Saint Lucia, Roseau and Castries respectively. All of them stop on their route in Fort-de-France, Martinique (see above). Most boats leave around 10am and take about 4,5 hours to complete the total journey.
Saint Lucia - Barbados/Saint Vincent vv
From October 2009, BEDY Ocean Lines, will have a ferry in operation for residents only, connecting Saint Lucia with Barbados and Saint Vincent.
There are helicopter transfers between Hewanorra and Vigie airports, Vieux Fort and Castries respectively.
Car rental agencies have offices at both airports and at Rodney Bay. It's a good way to cover a lot of the island and roads are generally in good condition although there are many hilly parts and speed is slow therefore. You need a special local driving permit which can be obtained at the rental agencies or local police station. Driving is on the left.
Minibus services connect many places with the capital and there is a good service from Castries to Gros Islet in the north of the island with buses departing every 30 minutes during the day. Note that there aren't much services on Sundays. You can flag busses down or get of the busses almost anywhere. Taxis have fixed prices (agree upon price before leaving) and is affordable when you don't use them too much and with several people.
Although there are no regular passenger services, there are boat charters available at Castries, Marigot Bay and Rodney Bay.
Citizens of the following countries do not need visas: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Beglium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark (includes Faroe Islands and Greenland), Dominica, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, and Zambia.
If your nationality is not mentioned anywhere above, you will need to apply for a visa. Most nationalities pay $50 for a single-entry tourist visa. It lasts 6 weeks, and extensions can sometimes be made at Saint Lucia's immigration department. You have must a completed application form, passport, 1 passport-size photo, funds to cover your stay, the $50 fee, and an travel ticket for leaving Saint Lucia to get the visa.
Everyone will need a passport except citizens of countries in the OECS. For stays of 6 months or less, citizens of Canada or the USA can enter with any type of national ID card and proof of an onward ticket.
To apply for a visa, go to the nearest embassy or consulate.
The currency of Saint Lucia is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, or EC$. It has existed since 1965 and is used by 7 other states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States as well. Only the British Virgin Islands (the nineth member) doesn't use it, but uses the US$ instead. The EC$ is subdivided into 100 cents and has been pegged to the United States dollar at US$1 = EC$2.7 since 1976. The EC$ comes in coins of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 25 cents and a coins of 1 dollar. There are notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar.
Virtually all residents will be able to converse with travellers in English. French Patois is another language spoken on the Island.
St Lucian food consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and a variety of curry, jerk, rice and stewed dishes. The coal pot is a delicious stew, traditional to native carib cultures and can be found at many local restaurants in Castries, Soufriere and Vieux-Fort. Vegetarian and meat rotis can be found at a number of small local restaurants. Ask any local for the best roti shop and he or she will tell you how to get there. Rotis are usually made fresh in the morning so, if eating a spicy early lunch is of interest, it's highly recommended. Local cuisine is prepared throughout the island so, depending on where you are staying, ask a local if he or she knows someone/somewhere that prepares local food and you will be sure to be welcomed somewhere nearby. Many rum shacks in rural towns also prepare food if given advanced notice. Fish, veggie, chicken and goat meals are very common and usually come with a number of sides including salad, plantain, breadfruit, macaroni, and rice prepared a number of different ways.
For a quick snack, barbeques with chicken and pork can be found in any community on a Friday night. The food is well marinated and spiced. Soak up the sauce with a barbequed or fried bake. Fried chicken and fish can also be found, and are quite delicious.
Saint Lucia has one of the highest densities of all-inclusive resorts of all Caribbean Islands. Most are located in the northwest, at Gros Islet and especially near Rodney Bay. But there are many other types of accommodation to choose from, ranging from hidden treasures along the west coast to more simple guesthouses in towns like Castries or Soufriere. As the west coast is the most popular area to stay, these are mentioned below. If you like to stay more to the south and east, you can always check the official Saint Lucia Tourism Board for more details.
Gros Islet and Rodney Bay
Castries and surroundings
Anse La Raye
Soufriere and surroundings
St. Lucia has fantastic Rum Punch. It's hard to go wrong. Highly recommended are Chairman's Reserve (cask-aged dark rum) and Crystal Lime (clear rum infused with lime). Most bars will have both, even at the smaller resorts.
In addition to rums, Piton Lager beer is brewed and bottled on the island and is quite good.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Saint Lucia. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Saint Lucia) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Saint Lucia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
St Lucia is not an incredibly dangerous place, but rates of homicide, rape, and mugging have increased drastically over the past several years. You should exercise the same caution as you would at home. You should also try to stay in groups and be careful in any secluded area. Muggings at gunpoint while you are in the water have become increasingly popular criminal activities, so make sure to hide your valuables. Pickpockets are in every country - just be careful in crowded areas.
Use of camouflage bags is illegal in Saint Lucia if you're not military personnel. If you show up at the airport with one, it will be confiscated.
Street vendors are decidedly less aggressive than most Caribbean nations. A simple "no thank you" is sufficient.
Some of the locals will offer gifts when you stop however don't be naive - they expect something in return, so either refuse the gift in the first place or be prepared to pay a dollar or 2 for the proffered "gift". These people are very poor and unemployment is high so tourists are often the sole means they have to make some money.
See also International Telephone Calls
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