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|Introduction to Saint Lucia
A spate of resort developments on St Lucia has made this high, green island one of the Caribbean's fashionable package-tour destinations, but it's still a long way from being sanitised and overdeveloped. Bananas are still bigger business than tourism in this archetypal island paradise.
Much of the island is rural: small coastal fishing villages give way to a hinterland of banana and coconut plantations folded within deep valleys topped by rich, mountainous jungle. The rugged terrain continues beneath the sea in a diving heaven of underwater mountains, caves and drop-offs.
Its most dramatic scenery is in the south, where the twin volcanic peaks of the Pitons rise sharply from the shoreline to form distinctive landmarks. The coastline is pocketed with secluded coves and beaches made for one (or, naturally, at sunset, for two).
Full country name: Saint Lucia
Area: 616 sq km
Capital City: Castries
People: African (90%), mixed descent (6%), European and East Indian (4%)
Religion: Roman Catholic (90%), Protestant (7%), Anglican (3%)
Government: independent republic within the British Commonwealth
Head of State: Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy (representing Queen Elizabeth II)
Head of Government: Prime Minister Kenny Anthony
GDP: US$656 million
GDP per capita: US$4,300
Annual Growth: 2.9%
Major Industries: Bananas, coconuts, cocoa, assembly of electronic components, clothing, tourism.
Major Trading Partners: USA, Caricom (Caribbean community) countries, UK, Japan, Canada
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Visas: Citizens of the USA and Canada can enter St Lucia with proof of citizenship and photo ID. French citizens can enter with a national identity card. Citizens of the UK, Australia and most other countries must be in possession of a valid passport. For all foreign visitors, stays of over 28 days generally require a visa and an onward or roundtrip ticket or proof of sufficient funds.
Health risks: schistosomiasis (bilharzia) (Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is endemic to St Lucia; the general precaution is to avoid wading or swimming in freshwater)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4 (Atlantic Time)
Dialling Code: 758
Electricity: 240V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Imperial
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From the costume parades of Carnival to the bright spinnakers of 150 yachts sailing into Rodney Bay at the end of the Atlantic Rally yacht race, festivals add a splash of colour to St Lucia's lush green background.
Carnival takes place on the two days before Ash Wednesday, usually some time in February or March. It's celebrated with calypso music, costumed parades and band competitions. The biggest musical event of the year is the four-day St Lucian Jazz Festival held in mid-May. It often features international stars such as Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan and Chuck Mangione. The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a giant transatlantic yacht race, ends at Rodney Bay Marina in December. About 150 boats manage to reach St Lucia from the starting line in the Canary Islands.
St Lucian public holidays are: New Year's Day and New Year's Holiday on the first two days in January; Independence Day on 22 February; Good Friday and Easter Monday in late March or early April; Whit Monday on the eighth Monday after Easter and Corpus Christi on the ninth Thursday after Easter; Emancipation Day on 3 August; Thanksgiving on 5 October; National Day on 13 December, and Christmas and Boxing Day on the 25th and 26th of December.
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|Best time to Visit
St Lucia's top temperatures vary little over the course of a year and even in the rainy season (Jun-Nov) showers rarely last long, unless you're unlucky enough to strike a hurricane.
December to mid-April are the busiest months on the island when both the numbers of tourists and the costs of food, airline tickets and accomodation are much higher than after mid-April when many of the prices drop as much as 50%.
Carnival in July has not yet been overrun by visitors and can be a good way to be thrown head-long into St Lucia culture.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar
St Lucia is a fairly expensive destination since most hotels and resorts are of the all-inclusive variety, giving travellers less choice when it comes to finding alternative food and entertainment. If you're travelling independently, moderate accommodations options are available, and you could easily stay in a guesthouse, eat fairly well, hire a car occasionally and explore the island on around XCD320 a day.
US dollar traveller's cheques are the most convenient to exchange into the local currency, but Canadian dollars and UK sterling traveller's cheques can also be changed without difficulty. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are the most widely accepted credit cards and can be used for car rentals and at most mid-range and top-end restaurants and hotels. There are ATMs in Castries and Rodney Bay.
An 8% tax and a 10% service charge are added onto the bill at all but the cheapest hotels and restaurants; there's no need for an additional tip.
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Castries, the island's commercial centre and capital, is a busy port city set on a large natural harbour. The liveliest part of the city is just southeast of the port, at Jeremie and Peynier Sts, where the Castries Market houses scores of produce and handicraft stalls.
Founded by the French in the 18th century, the city was ravaged by fire three times between 1785 and 1812, and again in 1948. Consequently most of the city's historic buildings have been lost. One area that survived the last fire was Derek Walcott Square, a quiet central square.
Marigot Bay is a lovely sheltered bay that's backed by green hillsides and sports a little palm-fringed beach. The inner harbour is so long and deep that an entire British fleet is said to have once escaped French warships by ducking inside and covering their masts with coconut fronds.
The bay was the setting for the 1967 musical Doctor Dolittle, starring Rex Harrison. These days, Marigot Bay is a popular anchorage spot for yachters and the site of a marina with facilities including a customs office, a small market, water, ice and fuel.
Pigeon Island National Park
Pigeon Island is more a historical monument than a nature reserve, with ruins dating from the mid-1700s, including a fortress, barracks and some rusting cannons. The grounds are well endowed with lofty trees, including a few big banyans, and there's fine views of the coast and nearby Martinique.
The island has a spicy history dating back to the 1550s when St Lucia's first French settler, Jambe de Bois ('Wooden Leg'), used it as a base for raiding passing Spanish ships. Two centuries later British admiral George Rodney fortified the island, using it to monitor the French fleet on Martinique. With the end of hostilities between the two European rivals, the fort slipped into disuse in the 19th century, although the USA established a small signal station there during WWII.
Rodney Bay is a large protected bay that encompasses the resort area of Reduit Beach and the small fishing village of Gros Islet. An artificial channel cuts between the two areas, opening to a large lagoon that's the site of Rodney Bay Marina, the island's largest yachting port.
The marina is a good place to make contact with sailors if you're looking to hitch a ride or find a crew job. Gros Islet consists of simple wooden houses with rusting tin roofs, loads of rum stores and a seashore full of painted wooden boats.
The bayside town of Soufrière was founded by the French in 1746 and named after nearby sulphur springs. The coastal Pitons provide a scenic backdrop to the south and the island's highest peaks rise above the rainforest just a few miles inland.
Like other fishing communities along the coast, Soufrière has lots of old weathered buildings: some still adorned with delicate trim, others more ramshackle. There's an interesting stone Catholic church in the town centre. On the northern side of the dock is the Soufrière Market.
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