Why We Chose St. Lucia
ICYMI, John and I visited St. Lucia back in July 2021. And, for those of you who didn’t miss all my social media posts during our trip—yes, I’m three months behind on blogging about it. This is where that “better late than never” cliché comes in handy.
Okay, but get this, y’all. Can you believe that of all the international trips I took over the past several years, St. Lucia was my very first Caribbean island destination? Heck. I even lived in Florida for five years. I was so close! But nope.
If you’re wondering, why St. Lucia?…
Well, my answer isn’t anything profound, though possibly still helpful. Once John and I settled on the Caribbean for our trip, we agreed to pick a place less popular than say the Dominican Republic or Jamaica or the Bahamas. Next, we looked to Costco to tell us where to go. Not kidding. For y’all who aren’t Costco members, Costco offers travel packages. Pretty good deals, actually! We browsed through those deals, narrowed it down to St. Lucia, Aruba, and a few others, and then looked at flights to St. Lucia and the other places to compare prices. Thirdly, we factored in things to do. St. Lucia won us over with slightly cheaper airfare and ample hiking and other adventurous excursions. Oh, and St. Lucia travel restrictions seemed relatively simple to comply with at the time. (I won’t go into all the steps we completed to be accepted into St. Lucia, just because it’s likely different now or could change anytime. But, I will say we had to fill out some pre-travel forms, submit test results through a portal, bring all the documentation with us, and then get tested before re-entering the US.)
Our St. Lucia Experience
Alrighty, so entry into St. Lucia went smoothly. Just some extra time in line inside an older hangar on the airport property for processing. Hewanorra International Airport—St. Lucia’s only international airport for everything but regional, inter-island flights—is located on the south tip of the island. Aaaaand, the Costco deal had us staying at the Hideaway at Royalton St. Lucia, near the very TOP of the island. Basically, a two-plus hour taxi ride from the airport to the resort that was included with our Costco package.
In hindsight, we might have researched the distance more thoroughly; but honestly, it allowed us to see so much more of the island, so no regrets—other than the major car sickness I felt nearly the entire time. The roads are winding and narrow and much of the drive was rural, through mountains. We passed gobs of banana trees, vegetation-covered hills and mountains, and overall the coastline areas just looked lush. Towns and homes we passed were colorful. Vibrant. People out and about. Car sickness aside, it was a beautiful experience, driving across the island.
Though I’ll preface this by saying I’ve only stayed at one other resort in my entire life, the Hideaway at Royalton lived up to our expectations. Our balcony faced the small, private beach and bay. Our room was clean and updated. Numerous pools and sunbathing areas covered the middle of the resort complex. And we were impressed by the variety of restaurants with flavorful food that even catered well to my dairy free dietary restrictions. Also, the Hideaway side of the Royalton is adults only. Otherwise, the Royalton St. Lucia is for families with kids. Both sides share some amenities, but for the most part, we didn’t see a lot of children around. Based on our five-night stay at Hideaway at Royalton, I’d stay there again. No question!
Gros Piton Hike
For excursions, we booked two experiences with Serenity Vacations & Tours, opting for custom, private tours for both. Number one on our excursion list was hiking Gros Piton. The Pitons are twin volcanic peaks in Pitons Bay on the southwest corner of the island, with Petit Piton being the other, slightly shorter and skinner peak. While taller, Gros Piton is actually an easier hike, since Petit Piton requires some rock climbing. Note: I use “easier hike” very loosely here. You’ll see…
But let me back up. First, a driver from Serenity Vacations & Tours picked us up at the resort and drove us two hours south to Soufriere, where the hike begins just outside of town. A few things to note about this hike:
- The peak is 2.6k feet above sea level, with a total hike elevation gain of about 2k feet.
- Total roundtrip mileage is just under 4 miles.
- Unless you come from the beach or find another way up, you have to pay a guide to take you up. Guides are $50 USD per person, even if you only need one guide. So, for John and I, it was $100 USD for just one guide. You don’t have to book a guide in advance. Just show up and pay.
- The hike is split into four parts, with planned resting points along the way.
- For the 1st quarter, elevation gain was minimal—just a lot of stepping over rocks.
- 2nd quarter… things started getting real. I was ready for that midway break. Having a full view of Petit Piton is also a great excuse to stop. Honestly, it’s the best view of the entire hike!
- Ohhh that 3rd quarter. Quads burned. Lungs burned harder. It was basically stairs all the way. Yes, actual wooden steps with handrails, but every one step felt like 2 or 3 steps in height. I wanted so badly to not stop till we got to the 3rd resting point, but I sounded like I was about to hack up a lung—and felt like I had no lungs—so I made John and the guide stop twice for like 10 seconds so I could catch my breath.
- The 4th and final stretch was more switchback stairs and up, up up. But then, toward the end, the landscape turned to rainforest with some rock scrambling. I’ll take rock scrambling over stairs any day!
Reaching the top, the wind felt goooood. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever been so sweat-drenched in my entire life. Unfortunately, it was cloudy at the top, though they were fast-moving clouds so we saw bits and pieces of the view and still took some photos to memorialize our triumph of Gros Piton.
According to our guide, the average time to the top is about 2 hours. Just one way. It took us 1 hour and 28 minutes to the top, and about the same amount of time down. Down was hard, too, y’all! Anyway, the guide called our driver partway down to let him know about how much longer it would be. When we met our driver at the bottom, he laughed and told us that when he got the call, another driver waiting for hikers who started before us said, “Ohhhh. That was too fast. They didn’t make it to the top.” Ha. We sure did and our driver let him know.
At this point, we were famished and wanted to experience some local food that you can’t get on the resort. So, we asked our driver for a recommendation. Sure enough, he knew a place. With no idea where we were going, we trusted his instincts and he took us to a local spot—Fedo’s Restaurant & Bar—that was exactly what we’d hoped for. All the local cuisine. Massive portions. And it was delicious! Let’s see. There were prawns, yellow rice and lentils, carrots, white yams, yellow yams, bread fruit (LOVED it)… and some cabbage slaw, avocado, and mac & cheese I didn’t eat because 1. I don’t like cabbage or avocado (don’t @ me) and 2. I can’t eat dairy. Also, by that point, I was comfortably full, so it all worked out.
Y’all. If you visit St. Lucia, TRY THE LOCAL FOOD. This is an all caps worthy statement.
Castries St. Lucia — the Capital City Tour
For our 2nd excursion off the resort, we wanted to experience more of the authentic side of St. Lucia. We were lucky enough to have the same driver who transported us to the Gros Piton hike, which was a 4 hour round trip drive, so we were like old friends by then. He truly gave us the grand tour of Castries, sharing tidbits of the culture and history as we passed buildings all over the city—bank, TV station, community college, ruins of forts and bunkers. We saw and learned about it all.
He also got us into Vigie Lighthouse that was closed for tourists at the time—but not if you know a guy! The lighthouse vantage point gave us a view of the entire city, the regional airport strip, and the harbor. And, no other tourists were there. It was perfect!
We also spent about 30 minutes browsing through Castries Market. It was St. Lucia’s election day so not much was open, but we bought a few souvenirs and gifts, all locally made.
Then, we were ready for lunch. Given the spot our driver picked after our hike, we knew to trust him again, and he took us to Eugeny’s Place, a restaurant right on the water. Again, the local food was excellent. We basically ordeted a styrofoam tray of everything. Steamed dorado (aka. mahi mahi with the bones and all). More yams (aka. ground provisions). Breadfruit salad (kinda like potato salad). Red beans and rice. Fried plantains. And more slaw and mac & cheese I didn’t eat.
I’m still not sure which of the local meals I liked best. Both were some of the best local cuisine I’ve ever had on any of my international travels!
And, that was our last full day in St. Lucia. The rest of the in-between stuff was lounging at the resort and that was glorious in its own right.
But what I love about St. Lucia—and what I’ll leave you with—is that you can have the best of both worlds. The all-inclusive vacation of your dreams. And, a taste of authentic Caribbean culture, if that also appeals to you. It did to us, and we’re glad we booked those two excursions to experience the real St. Lucia off the resort.
What type of traveler are you?
A. Gimme all the resorts.
B. I wanna immerse myself in the culture.
C. A bit of both.