The famous Pitons rise over Soufrière
From mountaintop to beachfront, discovering Saint Lucia's tropical mystique.
I wanted to write a story about Saint Lucia that didn't immediately highlight the Pitons. The towering volcanic spires are said to be the most photographed landmarks in the Caribbean. They lend their name to Saint Lucia's most popular lager. Heck, they're on the country's flag. My storytelling instincts practically screamed: Don't you dare visit this unique, vibrant island and come back with an article focusing on its most obvious attraction.
And yet there they are, tantalizingly close as our plane makes its approach to Hewanorra Airport in Vieux Fort, on Saint Lucia's southern tip. Seen through my small window, the peaks are striking, though less verdant than expected. (I'm told this is due to our arrival at the tail end of the dry season. After a few months of rain, they'll return to picturesque lushness.)
Still, much of the island remains green and fertile. We pass countless small banana plantations and groves of mango and breadfruit trees—plus grazing goats and cattle—on a van ride from Vieux Fort to the resorts in the north. The road skirts the Atlantic coast on one side, with Saint Lucia's rainforest on the other. Largely uninhabited, the dense jungle is popular with hikers, zipliners and birdwatchers with an eye out for the rare Saint Lucia parrot.
My own enthusiasm is slightly tempered at present. I'm intent on maintaining equilibrium as we navigate the winding, hilly highway, though I'm also conscious that this drive is a distinctly Saint Lucian experience. More than vegetation or wildlife, it's the terrain that makes Saint Lucia a natural wonder.
The volcanic island is bisected lengthwise by a precipitous ridge of mountains. While not extraordinarily tall (the highest point, Mount Gimie, is 959 metres above sea level), they dominate both landscape and living conditions: Colourful homes stand on concrete pillars built into foothills; resort villas are carved into coastal cliffs. It's no coincidence that more populous areas like Castries and Rodney Bay are in Saint Lucia's northern reaches, where the topography is more forgiving.