How to St Lucia Like a Local
When bae and I decided on St Lucia for our Caribbean getaway, a friend of ours said something along the lines of: “St Lucia? Isn’t that all resorts and tourist traps?”.
Well yes, part of that is true, it’s also why there’s so much untapped potential – and also, why there are hardly any resources to find the authentic stuff.
Bae and I had a hell of a time finding any information on anything that wasn’t hOnEyMoOn sUiTe and aNnIvErSaRY dEsTiNaTiOn – hello? What about the jungle? Ocean? Weird, backroad photo opps and local experiences?
Which is why I’m here, right now, giving you the anti.
Meet your new plug for St Lucia. Stash this away in your notes for your yet-to-be Caribbean vacation.
I mean, unless you like crowds and lines and kitschy tours and stuff. Then, nevermind.
First things first, RENT A CAR.
The roads are tiny and winding, you’ll also need to be prepared to drive on the left side (god save the queen) — but I’m dead serious, rent one. You’ll thank me. Everything is spread out and there’s no Uber/Lyft, especially on the South side of the island (which is where I recommend staying, btw).
Where to stay
Speaking of, there’s two sides to the island, North and South. North is cruise ship, tourism land – home to the Castries, Marigot Bay, and Rodney Bay. Then there’s the South side, much quieter, more picturesque (the Pitons are down there, hello), very spread out, and a lot more to explore in a nature capacity.
Now, usually, I’m a nightlife girl. Yes, give me a beach and a jungle during the day, but by night I wanna rub elbows with the locals and be open to the potential of a wild night’s ride, ya feel?
To underline this, bae’s ideal European vacation is a cabin out there, somewhere on a mountain in Sweden — while mine is earplugs and strobe lights at some underground club in Berlin. Even so, and this is saying a lot, I still recommend the South for the real Caribbean experience.
If your heart is set on city life and you still think there’s a chance you’ll get bored at a spot away from it all, book a couple of days in Rodney Bay and then spend the rest down south – you’ll thank me.
Why split your booking instead of just driving up? Well, the island may look small and the map say 18 miles away, but that equates to 2 hours driving-through-mountains time. If you want to see both sides of the island, be out at night on the other side, or have a few drinks, etc: make separate accommodations. You don’t even want to think about being buzzed on those skinny-ass mountain roads that can’t fit two cars concurrently, while also fake-finessing left-side driving for the first time. Trust. Me.
Second thing: the people are nice, very welcoming. There wasn’t one time I felt unsafe or sketched out in the city or on back roads. We even got loads of help when the back tire on our Jimney nearly spun off (thank you, rough roads and downhill mountain driving). So yeah, the people are helpful, but they have a mentality for tourists. They’re used to all the visitors (which we blatantly were) being here with a bank account and money to spend. There are definitely local prices, and three multiplications later, tourist prices.
Also, there were multiple times locals rushed up to give directions when we weren’t lost, didn’t look lost, and give us un-solicited instructions — then ask for some coin. We even had a guy run up to our car to the same effect. Like I said, I never once felt unsafe and am happy to help, but it’s never fun to be seen as a dollar sign.
Just be aware of that is all I’m sayin’. If you don’t need help, say it. If you do, accept it and throw them some Caribbean cash if that’s their vibe. It’s a very poor country, help where you can, but don’t be afraid to haggle on things like water taxi tours and roadside stands – they’ll still likely make more off your purchase than a local’s.
Common tourist spots will be steeply (over) priced as well, like zip lining or hiking Gros Piton, the tallest mountain on the island. It was $60 US each to have a guide, which is mandatory.
Luckily the Russian and I were on the same page in not wanting to stay at a large resort and be too “home away from home”. We wanted something smaller, a little more boutique, and a lot more authentic. Plus, Sugar Beach is what… $1300 US a night? And Jade Mountain is $1500? No wonder the locals think all tourists are wildly rich.
What we wanted initially was to find a cool Airbnb. Weirdly enough, there were hardly any options. We wound up finding a few smaller resorts/boutique hotels, and landed on one that had only 6 rooms. We somehow managed to get the best view in the house (randomly, honestly), and all for around $250 a night: Ta dahhhh.
So yes, this is Tet Route.
The owners are extremely helpful and welcoming. Really nice place to stay and they had good suggestions.
Before we decided, we were between two spots: Ti Kaye and Tet Rouge. Both seem like good options close to everything you’d want to see on the South side of the island, I’d check them out when planning a stay.
There’s also a resort called Boucan Du Chocolat that is beauuuutiful, just in a different way than ours. It’s inland and isn’t as close to the water, but the view is still spectacular (I don’t think I’ve ever used that word, so you know its good).
A couple of places I’d neverrrr stay are Ladera and Stonefield Villa Resort. They have great views, for sure, but the fun stops there. Both are secluded from anything authentically St Lucia, and in my humble opinion, kitschy af.
Speaking of everything you’d want to see, I’ll break down what’s worth it and what isn’t.
Yes, go. It’s definitely the nicest and most accessible beach on the island. It ended up being less than five minutes from where we stayed (a near farce in St Lucia travel time) so we went a couple of days.
First of all, every beach is public, which is awesome. No resort can fence off their slice of beach and say no peasants allowed.
But, they can charge, so go the back way. The owner of the resort we stayed at was nice enough to give us directions to the *free* entrance to Sugar Beach. If you go in through the resort entrance, they charge $50/person. You can use that credit down at the bar or restaurant etc but… who wants to pay for something before they see what they’re buying?
Also, bring your own chairs, towels, umbrella, something comfortable to sit on, etc. They have all of these lounge chairs and bungalows but they’re $50 each, so $100 for the two of us. I mean, its comfortable, and you can lay there all day and be served drinks (not included). But… you can also go snag drinks at the bar, instead. Just keeping it real.
Gros Piton Nature Trail
Even though it was, as I said, $60 per person, it was worth it. It takes all day, four hours or more, and it was a TRIP. Probably more for us than others considering we (and by we I mean boyfriend) had the brilliant idea to lug a 20 lbs, bulky af camera plus batteries and microphones up a mountainside.
Have you ever had such a physically demanding experience that by the end you say, damn, if I can make it through that nonsense why do I worry about petty, everyday shit? *Perspective*
Well, that was me on Gros Piton. I mean, do you see this? This is not a hike, it is ROCK STAIRS. Plus unnecessary camera, plus extra batteries and water. Best workout ever, though. Buns & thighs rocked, I must say.
Also, I ended up monkey-climbing the camera most of the way down, so our stern Caribbean guide called me a “strong woman”. Day made, needless to say.
Either way, no more cameras on mountains, bae.
St Lucia is the island-child of volcanic activity so, dun dun dunuhhh — sulfur baths. The mineral water, clay, and volcanic ash is supposed to be extra healing + relaxing so, yes, sounds like vacation material. Make sure you go before 11am or after 2pm to miss the groups of tourists sidled down from their cruise ships. It will be infinitely more relaxing and not at all crowded.
Take my word for it, skip the tour of the volcano. I hate hate hateeee guided tours, and this one included a short video (gasp) and the most interesting thing I learned was: mangoes are in season in July.
Actually pretty interesting. We went late afternoon, so there were more or less two other people in the gardens. I got my fill of lush, tropical plants, waded in a fountain (illegal), and chilled by a waterfall as the sun went down.
My only complaint is I couldn’t swim under said waterfall (added to my list of 2019 needs), and remember to bring cash – they almost didn’t let us in because we were a few bucks short.
Don’t do it. It completely takes the magic away. We’re a couple of those weird people who really like rum (why’s all the rum gone?), so were excited to see the distillery and process.
To my dismay, it included a video. Called the Rhythm of Rum.
We salvaged the jaunt with inside jokes and knowing looks but in my humble opinion, just buy the rum and drink it and be happy. Btw, our favorite rums from St Lucia are the Chairman’s Reserve spiced rum and Admiral Rodney.
Zip lining was interesting but I felt a litttttle ripped off. $80ish a person hmm… I mean, I don’t usually focus so much on prices, but to me, I want there to be value. I’ll pay for something happily if it’s life changing but… otherwise not so much. I wanted to get out in the jungle and do something adventure-y but zip lining may have been a little too contained. I would have rather driven four wheelers through the jungle or something. I’m going to figure out how to do that and get back to you.
Also, they made me where a hair net.
Worth it, but don’t be afraid to shop around for a guide that will add to the experience — and don’t be afraid to haggle. We aren’t all the Sugar Beach-going, money dropping type, and that’s ok.
We ended up with a shadier bunch if I do say so myself; one tried to sell me cocaine and marijuana in a special package deal as we stood on the dock, waiting for the boat (hahahah). They were also very, overly insistent about the money side of our interaction. All things resolved with a different guide.
Overall, though, it was a cool experience. We saw the Pitons and island from the water, a bat cave, the volcanic ash beach, Jade Mountain resort, and snorkeled on a coral reef.
Boucan Du Chocolat
They offer a tour of their organic cacao plantation where you can graft your own baby cacao tree then make chocolate from scratch.
I mean it’s cool. The resort is my kind of beautiful, and there’s now a cacao tree named Snargleflarff somewhere in the middle of St Lucia, so that’s a thing. Personally though, and as I’ve said, I hate guided tours. Hate hate. They’re never as cool as I imagine, and in this instance, I imagined walking through groves of cacao trees, barefoot, harvesting pods by the light of the early morning sun. A girl can dream. In reality we checked out different stages of drying the nibs and helped graft a new, baby tree, which we thus named the above.
The fun part was making the chocolate, but it’s hard! 30 minutes of grinding y’all. Regardless, it’s an experience, and as the chocolatier said, “the best chocolate is the chocolate you spent an hour making yourself”.
In the end, I’d skip the tour and make the chocolate, but also eat at the restaurant.
Which brings us to…
The internet’s a liar.
I was told that food in St Lucia would be cheap af, over 60% less than at home (San Francisco) by that damn thing, the internet. So wrong.
While this may be true if you go to local dives, you’ll have a hell of a time finding one. There seems to be a complete absence of “normal” restaurants – namely lunch places or quick eats. I guess people just cook? And thank god breakfast was served every morning as part of our stay. Also we found a supermarket (Massey’s) and had a kitchen in our studio room (life savers).
The only restaurants searchable, ranked, or rated seemed to be nice dinner spots and geared toward tourists. We spent quite a bit on food, more than we expected. Come prepared and eat a lot of bananas.
Boucan Du Chocolat, part of the resort above, and Orlando’s, which was run by a local chef in Soufriére, were the best places we ate. We also went to a neighborhood party near our resort and had some bangin’ chicken the locals cooked. Those are my ideal travel experiences, btw.
So Boucan Du Chocolat obviously uses a lot of chocolate in their dishes, and it’s fucking delicious. This will definitely be your “nice” (aka expensive) meal of the trip, but it’s WORTH it.
Get the Bois Bande chicken – chicken roasted with a local spice called Bois Bande, plus the spices you find in spiced rum. It’s also an aphrodisiac, so why not?
They had chocolate inspired rum drinks – which were good, not overly sweet + dumb. Chocolate straight from the tree, remember? We also had the chocolate flight for dessert, which I trés recommend.
Orlando’s is a restaurant opened by the ex chef from a resort on the island. His goal is to make Caribbean food a staple cuisine like French or Chinese. It was good, incorporating a lot of grilled meats, mahi mahi, root vegetables, and creole/tamarind inspired sauces. Definitely one of the better spots on the island to taste a lively version of local faire.
Overall, we had a GREAT trip. We loved St. Lucia, we’ll definitely be back, and I hope this contributes to your future, not-a-tourist, trip in the Caribbean.