Lucia is home to incredible biodiversity, from dense rain forests in the heart of the island to dramatic volcanic landscapes by the sea.
St. Lucia is home to Mt. Soufriére, a natural attraction protected by the island’s National Trust. Known as the world’s only ‘drive-in volcano’, visitors can drive within yards of the volcanic activity, where for a small admission fee they can explore the area on a guided tour.
Considered an active volcano, Mt. Soufriére emits sulphur gas from bubbling pools of mud and steaming vents on the crater’s surface. With steam clouds shooting fifty feet in the air, the strong smell of sulphur permeates the surrounding area, giving the attraction its second name of Sulphur Springs. Water runs over the volcano’s surface, carrying with it minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium and zinc, striping the rocks with brilliant colours. The mineral-saturated water runs down the mountainside in six different waterfalls, the most prevalent being Diamond Falls, located in the Soufriére Botanical Gardens.
The Soufriére Estate, dating from the early eighteenth century, is home to beautiful botanical gardens and the Diamond Falls and Mineral Baths.
Originally built in 1784 by King Louis the XVI of France for his troops, the mineral baths were restored in the early twentieth century by owner André du Boulay, and more recently renovated less than thirty years ago. The baths are still available for use; for a small fee visitors can access the private bath houses and open pools, whose water is said to be equivalent to those at the more famous bathhouses in France and Germany. Surrounded by palm trees and a variety of tropical blooms, the hot spring baths are fed by the stunning Diamond Falls, the lowest of six waterfalls fed by the active volcano Mt. Soufriére. Diamond Falls flows through a mineral-streaked gorge, creating an unforgettable natural setting ideal for relaxation, meditation and photo opportunities.
The botanical gardens are the creation of Mrs. Joan Devaux, daughter of du Boulay, and feature a variety of tropical flora and fauna, including coconut, cocoa and mahogany trees as well as brilliant flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. Visitors can learn about the island’s local vegetation, and a guide is available for questions. There is a walking trail, Japanese garden, several sitting areas and a gazebo. Visitors can also view the estate’s old mill and waterwheel, the latter of which is still in use.
Originally inhabited by the Carib Indians and later occupied by pirates, Pigeon Island has played an integral role in St. Lucia’s history. During the struggle between the English and French for control of St. Lucia, Pigeon Island was used by British Admiral George Rodney as a vantage point to monitor the French Fleet stationed at neighbouring Martinique, resulting in the British victory at the Battle of the Saints in 1782. Today, the island is a 44-acre reserve and is considered to be one of the most important monuments in St. Lucia. Joined to the mainland by a man-made causeway in 1972, Pigeon Island National Park features ruins of military buildings including barracks, magazines and a signal station used by the United States during World War II. At the top of the island is Fort Rodney, a well-preserved fortress offering a panoramic view of the Northwest coastline. After exploring the historical ruins, well-manicured lawns and the Interpretation Centre, visitors can relax on one of two beaches or dine at the historically-themed pub and restaurant housed within the fort.
Visible from nearly every point on the island, the Pitons are St. Lucia’s most famous natural landmark. Distinguished as a World Heritage Site in 2004, the two peaks, known as Petit Piton and Gros Piton, are remnants of two volcanic domes formed thousands of years ago. The Pitons, nearby Sulphur Springs and the surrounding geography present a history of volcanic history of over 5 million years. Reaching over 2,000 feet at their highest point, only the most adventurous climbers have ventured to the Pitons summits. Despite its higher elevation, Gros Piton is much easier to climb than Petit Piton, although still a difficult task for most climbers. The round trip is approximately five hours and going with a guide is highly recommended. Adventurers will find an amazing range of vegetation ranging from rain forests at the lower levels to dry forest and woodland at the summits. Petit Piton is home to over 100 plant species while Gros Piton is home to over 150 plant and 30 bird species.
The Pitons ascend dramatically from the Caribbean Sea, providing a distinctive landmark for sailors. Coral reefs cover almost 60% of the adjacent marine area, home to hundreds of aquatic species, including finfish, corals, mollusks, sponges and other tropical water inhabitants.
Most locals and visitors say the best way to view the Pitons is by boat; however excellent views are also attainable along the west coast road, where visitors will find several vantage points for taking photographs of the peaks.
The Maria Islands Nature Reserve is located in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Vieux Fort. The reserve consists of two small islands, 25-acre Maria Major and 4-acre Maria Minor. Home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, the reserve features several rare species including the Maria Island Ground Lizard and the Kuowess, a harmless grass snake thought to be the rarest in the world, and many frigate bird species and other wildlife. Visitors can explore the reserve’s untouched forest, vertical cliffs covered with cacti and a coral reef ideal for snorkeling or diving, located just off a small beach. There are no public amenities on the island, so be sure to bring your own food and beverages. Tours are administered by the St. Lucia National Trust by appointment only; all visitors must be accompanied by a licensed guide. Public access is prohibited from May until August each year, when the reserve’s sea and land birds nest on the windward cliffs of the islands.
St. Lucia has been recognized as one of the premier whale watching sites in the Caribbean, due in large part to the efforts of the St. Lucia Whale & Dolphin Watching Association (SLWDWA), established in 1997 to promote the development of whale watching around the island. Over 20 species are spotted regularly in the surrounding waters, including humpbacks, pilot and sperm whales as well as false killer whales. Spinner and spotted dolphins are also common in the island’s waters, often swimming playfully alongside catamarans and other charters.
Whale watching tour boats depart from Soufrière, Castries and Vieux Fort. For those wishing to stay on land, elevated locations between Castries and Gros Islet (including Pigeon Point and Anse Chastanet) also provide excellent opportunities to view pilot whales and dolphins, as do promontories near Vieux Fort and the Maria Islands. Both species regularly swim within visual distance of the island in sizeable pods, numbering between 20 to 100 animals.
From mid-March to the end of July, the desolate Grand Anse Beach comes alive as leatherback turtles return to the beach to lay their eggs. Turtle-watching exhibitions have become a popular activity in St. Lucia and avid turtle watchers camp overnight hoping for the chance to see the majestic turtles emerge from the sea by moonlight. After the incubation period, turtle watchers return to the beach to watch the newly hatched turtles miraculously make their way to the sea, where they will live until it is their time to lay their own eggs. These tours are carefully managed by local environmental groups to ensure that the leatherback turtles, their eggs and hatching grounds are well-protected. For further security, St. Lucia has placed a permanent suspension on turtle hunting.
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