A local "Callabash" (the national tree of St. Lucia) enscribed with a welcoming message!
This past month I was off to the tropical isle of St. Lucia for a much needed winter break! It would appear there are lots of more or less “self-contained” resorts on the island that offer pools, private beaches, and even all inclusive food and drinks. So, I opted to stay at one of these called “Smuggler’s Cove.” I really had no idea what to expect, so I just shopped on price.
The tiny St. Lucia Airport.
Upon arriving at St. Lucia, I first noticed how tiny the airport is. I hope you enjoy stairs because this is one old school airport that makes you board and disembark via a giant staircase.
Waiting for the bus to the resort.
Immediately out the airport door, I was shuffled to the area to wait for the bus to take me to Smugglers Cove. Holy Crap! People told me to take Dramamine with me for the ride back from the airport, but I ignored them. Big Mistake! It takes like an hour and a half to cover the distance from the airport to the resort area in the north of the island. The cab drivers all drive quickly up and down the most winding mountain roads you can imagine. The entire island is only 27 miles long.. but you probably need to drive 100 miles to get from one end to the other when you budget for the twisty-turny roads. It definitely got me a little green around the gills. At least one person I rode with declared they would never come back simply because of this airport trip!
Smuggler's Cove Main Gate... Loosely guarded 24 hours a day.
Eventually, I did arrive at Smuggler’s Cove. Despite the fact this isn’t the “best” resort on the island, overall the place is pretty good. I think they upgraded my room as the entry-level rooms (the one I purchased) were all full.
My bungalow room at Smuggler's Cove
Inside my upgraded room at Smugglers Cove
A couple notes about this resort:
- They have a bunch of feral cats running around everywhere. I suspect they are there to keep the rat population down. Now, I never saw a rat the entire time I was there... but there were suspicious looking "rat holes" peppering the entire grounds.
Suspicious looking "rat" hole at Smuggler's Cove. There are lots of these around.....
- There are four restaurants on the resort. Three you need to make reservations for dinner, and one is a buffet. BE WARNED: They do expect you to have a collared shirt and long pants (men) for dinner. If you don't have the required dress, you need to eat at the buffet. Actually, the buffet is just as good or better than the restaurants... so I ate there most of the time.
- The Piton Lounge is a passable open air bar/stage where on occasion you can see a show or listen to some local music. Overall, the quality is a bit more than your local Karaoke bar.. but okay to pass the time if you are not out and about. After 11pm they close this lounge and shuffle the drunks into an inside bar to keep the noise down. Even this bar will close at 2am.. they don't care where you go... but you can't stay there.
Night life at the Piton Lounge. Don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed.
I have no idea what this is... but it was creepy and I took a picture of it.
- They have three pools at Smugglers Cove. One with a "swim up" bar. Obviously, this one is strictly for adults. The other two are for kids/families. Don't expect any late night swims. They close all the pools at 6pm. On the plus side... they seemed very clean and well maintained.
Family Pool at Smugglers Cove
- Smuggler's Cove does have free drinks. The beer is limited to the local brew (Called "Piton" after the famous St. Lucia twin mountains. The liquor is mostly no named brand stuff. They serve it in tiny glasses.... but you can get as much as you want. As you can imagine, the rum is the local distillery (Bounty Rum).
The ubiquitous Piton Beer
The very first day of my vacation I was off to Pigeon Island. This is within walking distance of Smuggler’s Cove and actually isn’t an Island anymore. They built a causeway back in the 70s, and put Sandals on it.. so you can easily walk there. On the island itself, there isn’t really a ton to see. There is a bunch of old ruins from the British/French dating back to the early 1800’s. There are a few signs explaining what each building was (barracks, kitchen, etc.) and some of them are in advanced states of decay and are being shored up in half-assed fashion with timbers.
Ruins of British and French fortifications on Pigeon Island
The remains of a British soldier's barracks on Pigeon Island
Some of the ruins are continuing to deteriorate. Some of the buildings are propped up with timbers... be careful!
St. Lucia changed hands between the French and British about 14 times over the years. You can see that each conqueror built on top of or otherwise modified the structures of the vanquished. The French used stone in construction, the British used brick.. so it is somewhat easy to see who was building what. If you are feeling really energetic you can hike up the tall hill to see Fort Rodney. On a clear day, you can easily see Martinique from this vantage point. There are a couple of cannons lying around, some stone walls and that’s about it.
Fort Rodney as seen from the beach
Random cannon number 2. This one sports a concrete carriage... completely non-historic and also broken.
Interesting looking cacti are all around Pigeon Island.
Basically, this concluded my tour of Pigeon Island. All in all pretty interesting and well worth a half day romp.
The next day.. I signed up for the “Land and Sea Tour.” This tour is recommended if you want to see a ton of sites on the island in one day. Your head is going to literally spin with all the stuff you do! But to be honest most of the sites can be seen or done quickly. First thing in the morning.. a small group from my hotel boarded our “bus” which is basically a bunch of seats mounted in the bed of a pick-up truck. The roll cage is covered with pipe insulation you buy at Home Depot.... gotta love the "do it yourself" island mentality. If you are over 5 foot 5… expect a cramped ride. We spent the next hour or so.. just going around to multiple area resorts and picking up one or two more passengers.
The "bus" for the Land and Sea Tour... seems pretty safe.
First stop was a drive by the Governor's Mansion. We didn't even get out of the truck.. just stopped for pictures. Surprisingly, the Governor was not interested in see us... although I did inquire if he would.
Govenors Mansion, St. Lucia
The driver then proceeded to take us to sample some local fruit. We stopped in a little dumpy town and were directed towards a card table where for two US dollars we could sample all different kinds of local fruit (and also a plethora of Chinese-made souvenirs). The guys running the fruit stand were probably cousins of our tour guide... but I guess I can't blame them for trying to make a buck off the tourists. The fruit was tasty and I did not have any unpleasant gastroenterological effects!
Sampling the delicious local fruit of St. Lucia
The grapefruit were literally picked right off the tree next to the fruit tasting.
We again boarded the bus and headed into another small town for a free mango punch and a quick tour of the local church. Nothing remarkable here except for a big mural, a very cool homemade cactus garden, and a few feral chickens.
Mural outside a small church.
Awesome homemade cactus garden... are those Clorox bottles?
Some semi-feral chickens wandering the streets of St. Lucia.
Eventually, we hopped on the bus again (I was getting good of climbing in and out of that thing by now) and continued on our journey. Soon, I got my first glimpse of the famous "Pitons." These are the two big mountains the beer is named after and can be found on every T-shirt, wood carving, and trinket at the souvenir stands. You can hike to the top if you want. Since I was on a relaxing vacation.... I opted just to take a picture.
The famous "Pitons"
We next stopped at Toraille Falls.. which is one of the two touristy waterfalls St. Lucia sports.
Toraille Falls, St. Lucia
There is a little changing booth were you can don your bathing suit and wade into the falls. How often do you get to stand under a waterfall? Next up was “Diamond Falls Botantical Gardens.” Here we took a little hike to look at all the plants and flowers… and also see Diamond Waterfall. Apparently they filmed this waterfall in “Romancing the Stone.” The mineral deposits made it look a little creepy… and apparently there was no wading allowed here.
Heliconia flowers as seen in the Botanical Gardens. Apparently most of this "flower" is actually just colored leaves... still pretty though.
And some more Heliconias... and more and more. There are alot of Heliconias on the tour.
Diamond Waterfall... the waterfall seen in "Romancing the Stone"
We continued our fast paced trip with a visit to the famous Soufriere volcano and hot springs. In my opinion, this place has been completely over-hyped. I have seen some websites describing it as a “drive-through volcano.” To me it look just like steam coming out of a hole in the ground…. I didn’t see any lava or magma. At any rate, when we pulled in the tour guide gave us the choice of either taking a walking tour of the “volcano” or taking a mud bath. I opted for the mud bath. But it isn’t what you think! Our tour guide took a five gallon bucket and scooped some mud out of the hot springs. At this point, you were expected to stand in the little trickle of a river, slather yourself in this grey goo (complete with sharp gravel) and then let it dry. Next, you sat in a mineral bath complete with floating band-aids, toenails, and all the sunburned skin soaked off of the previous 5,000 bathers. Everything stunk like sulfur and my bathing suit turned brown. Also, I had to keep my eye on my wallet the whole time as there were no lockers. All in all, there is no point to going to St. Lucia and NOT doing this…so yeah… it was an experience. On the other hand, don’t expect a relaxing spa treatment either.
Some of my companions "drying their mud" at Soufriere. I sure hope to God they don't ever find out I posted them here on my blog!
After the mud bath, we stopped for lunch and literally a 10 minute tour of the Fond Doux Resort and Plantation. We briefly toured the drying cocoa beans and witnessed the "cocoa dance". I really couldn't understand the purpose of the cocoa dance.. but it has something to do with preparing the fermented beans. Nothing I enjoy more than seeing a sweating guy putting his feet all over something I will eventually be eating.... delicious!
Drying cocoa beans at Fond Doux Resort and Plantation.
The "Cocoa Dance!" What is it? I don't know.
We finally arrived at the last leg of our tour. A catamaran took us to a small, secluded cove for 45 minutes of snorkeling and then music and free rum punch, all the way back to where we started. It was surprising how much faster the boat ride was as opposed to taking the bus on the circuitous roads!
A quick stop for snorkeling
Catamaran Ride... free rum punch, but not much shade. Bring your sunscreen!
I completed the day completely exhausted. However, I was happy that I was able to cram so much into a single day, and the price was very reasonable.
The next day was a big more relaxing. I just took a trip to Castries (the capitol city) to do some shopping and poke around. If you are after tourist trinkets… you are going to get the best prices here at the "craft market".
The craft market in Castries, St. Lucia
There is a wide selection of T-shirts, skirts, wood carvings, magnets.. and all the rest of the crap you would expect. There are little stands selling this stuff everywhere, but I suspect alot of the folks buy it here and then mark it up. Also, be warned about buying the homemade local rum. If it doesn’t have a label indicating % alcohol content, customs will confiscate it if they catch you! I also ate lunch at a local stand. It was very old school and complete with unmatching dishes and glassware.
A local St. Lucian lunch with bone-filled chicken, beans, rice, deep-fried breadfruit and a few other indistinguishable items.
Also, you should know that throughout the island if you order a chicken dish... they just chop up the chicken bones and all and serve it to you. I guess St. Lucia don't mind picking chicken bones and gristle out of every bite. However, my lunch was cheap, tasty and I didn't get diarrhea.. so I was happy with it. In addition to crafts.. you can visit about 500 different fruit stands. Why St. Lucian's need so many fruit stands is beyond me. If you can, try a local green coconut. They will chop a hole in it with a machete and give you a straw to drink the fresh coconut water for about a buck. If you are really industrious you can try to scoop out the "jelly" too. I gave up before I got that far.
A typical St. Lucian fruit stand.
While shopping, I was carefully reminded where I should not spit and piss by some friendly St. Lucia signs. In fact, check out my full gallery of weird St. Lucian signs!
The following day, I was off to try an underwater adventure to check out some of St. Lucia’s beautiful coral reefs. During my investigation of my options, I learned that there are actually two different types of underwater adventure you can try. The first is “Snuba,” which is basically just a snorkeling with an air hose that leads back to the surface. The second is “Sea Trek.” Sea Trek is essentially a big helmet you wear (which reminds me of the old school diving helmets made of brass) with air pumped down to you. I opted for Snuba because the enclosed helmet involved with Sea Trek scared me (what if that thing filled with water???). I took a quick bus ride back to Pigeon Island (yes, this is where they Snuba), got a safety briefing, donned my fins and mask and headed into the water.
Sea Trek Helmets lining the beach
So, the way it works is that there is an air tank floating in a raft with 20 foot hoses leading down to you with a regular scuba-type regulator. Four people share a raft. This is a little inconvenient, because all four of you have to swim together and it is somewhat difficult not to get tangled. Also, someone in our group more or less panicked and couldn’t do it… so she kept going to the surface and hanging onto the raft. I did get about 40 minutes underwater to check out some coral reefs. They weren’t quite as vibrant and colorful as I expected, but it was fun to try something new. I also bought a disposable underwater camera (at the jacked up price of $20 USD), to take some pictures… only a few came out… but it is worth a try.
Thursday was ziplining day! Once again, I boarded a bus in the early morning and we made the rounds to the other hotels before reaching the ziplining area high in the rainforest. There are a few different options regarding the ziplines through the rainforest. You can hike up the top of the mountain and zipline all the way down. You can take a cable car (they call it an “aerial tram”) up to the top, zipline part of the way down, and then take a cable car down, and there are a couple other variations on these themes as there are multiple zipline courses. I opted for the cable car route. So, when I arrived, I was given a locker (for a few dollars), a stupid surgical cap (they say it is to keep your hair out of the pulleys and to keep the helmets clean), and a helmet. Next, they suit you up with the harness and pulleys. I definitely put on some bug spray and sunscreen before I started all this. When everyone was suited up we were herded onto the aerial tram for a 30 minute ride to the top!
Boarding the aerial Tram
Aerial Tram ride to the top of the rainforest mountain.
Along the way, our guide told us how they built this cable car system and showed us some tropical rainforest plants. I really enjoyed the “tree ferns”, which are basically 50 foot versions of the backyard ferns you can find in New Hampshire.
50 foot Tree Ferns in the rainforest of St. Lucia
After the tram ride, we got on the first zipline. Everything seemed pretty standard… until I realized I actually landed on a treetop about 150 feet in the air. I was on a little platform made with typical St. Lucia robust construction (i.e. recycled packing crate lumber and rusty nails) swaying in the breeze! This ziplining adventure is not for those afraid of heights!
Ziplining through the treetops. If you are afraid of heights... better pass on this activity!
Eventually I finished all nine ziplines with getting stuck, injured or dying. I was exhausted, but excited for my second to last day in St. Lucia! For my last adventure, I chose a tour of Roseau Valley Distillery, makers of the local "Bounty Rum" and other liquors.
In the morning a van picked us up (a real van.. not a truck!) and whisked us away from the hotel. However, before we hit the distillery, there was a bonus. We stopped at a small “museum” called “Lushan Country Life.” Basically, this is something that someone built in their backyard to rake in some tourist loot. It was a hodge-podge collection of ancient St. Lucia re-creations (huts, tools, ovens, and food) from the pre-colonial era, different botanical exhibits (including plants, flowers, and how to shell a coconut), tropical fruit tasting exhibit, bird feeders to attract colorful jungle birds, a single boa constrictor in a cage, and small wedding chapel (if you can believe it!).
Lushan Country Life Headquarters... and presumably the family residence as this museum seems to be centered around a private home.
A re-creation of a traditional St. Lucia hut as seen at Lushan Country Life
A pineapple in the early stages of development as seen on the grounds of Lushan Country Life
A giant philodendron (yes the houseplant familiar to North Americans) snaking up a tree.
At Lushan Country Life, Coconuts litter the ground and can be seen spouting new trees.
The one sad little boa on display. Don"t expect a zoo here.
Would you like to have a wedding at Lushan Country Life? Well if a no frills eco-wedding is what you are looking for... this place delivers! Here we have the wedding chapel.. very fancy and romantic.
Despite the amateurish nature of many of the exhibits… it was actually pretty interesting.Our guide was relatively knowledgeable and energetic… and he wouldn’t let me leave without telling me to post my adventures on Trip Advisor (of course I would never give away free material to another website). All in all, Lushan Country Life is worth a look.
After Lushan Country Life (and I got guilted into handing over a ten dollar tip because everyone else in our group cheap-ed out and stiffed the guides) we were back on the road to the distillery. For some strange reason they had mannequins all over the place along the guided tour.....
The mannequin that greeted us at the start of our tour. Is this PC?
First stop, was a lovely tour of the loading dock.
The Bounty Rum Loading Dock... I checked for rats.. didn't find any.
Next we saw the giant (900 ton) molasses tank.
The giant molasses tank. The barrels are actually from Jack Daniels distillery. Apparently they only use them once and then ship them to St. Lucia to age the rum.
St. Lucia no longer grows sugar (bananas have displaced the sugar cane) and all this must be imported from South America. We were then shuffled into a room with a TV hanging from ropes (too look nautical?) where we were forced to watch a ten minute commercial for “The spirit of St. Lucia… Bounty Rum” (the jingle is still in my head!).
Time to watch some Rum TV!
After that, we toured a bunch of open air tanks where the molasses is distilled (I wonder how many dead flies and other debris wind up in there?) and then saw all the magnificent piping and copper pots full of the maturing rum.
Molasses fermentation vats... I'm sure FDA approved.
Rum distillery innards galore!
Last but not least… we stopped by the rum tasting area and of course the gift shop where we were encouraged to buy as much rum as possible.
Free Rum Tasting.. tiny cups though.. hard to get a buzz.
The Spirit of St. Lucia.... By some Rum!
When I inquired as to why “Bounty Rum” is not readily available in the U.S., I got a big speech about how Bacardi was using the FDA to ban Bounty Rum due to some ridiculous reason. Who knew that “Big Rum” was lobbying to squeeze out the little guy? And thus concluded my tour of the distillery. But the day was not over. That evening I took a cab over to Gros Islet for a "street festival." Oh boy.. now we are talking touristy. This particular street party.. was basically the whole neighborhood setting up a table in front of their house to sell anything to anybody... while ear splitting Caribbean music blared at 200 decibels in the background.
Street Festival at Gros Islet, bring your earplugs and cash.
I did find a cool Rastafarian guy selling wood carvings, and he talked me into buying one. This is definitely my favorite purchase while in the island.
Rastafarian artist signing the wood carving I bought.
The next morning, I went for a final swim in the warm tropical waters and mad the horrific cab ride back to the airport.. which was jam packed beyond belief (thank god there wasn't a fire... we all would have died), I also had the opportunity to stop for a "Rituals" coffee.. which looks and tastes surprisingly like Starbucks (must be a coincidence???)
Please we need more seats in this overcrowded airport.. Can't St. Lucia afford another waiting area?
Rituals Coffee.. Starbucks are you aware of this? Copyright infringement lawsuit coming soon.... and look phone booths! When was the last time you used one of them?
In summary, I had a great time in St. Lucia. I wasn't expecting a hell of alot of refinement on this small island, so I wasn't disappointed. If you are looking for a tropical island that is pretty easy going, relatively easy to navigate, takes US dollars, is more or less family oriented, and has a good deal of activities.. this is the place to go. If you are looking for more gambling (only one small casino on St. Lucia), or partying, or fewer children Aruba might be your speed instead. However, you might want to give St. Lucia a try! I will leave you with a gallery of random photos I couldn't figure out how to work into this post.....