The sky was streaked with wisps of blush-colored clouds as the sun slowly began to rise, turning from light hues of lavender into a bold shade of blue. Across the bay, the majestic Pitons crept from out of the gray shadows and stood against the bright sky.
But today was not the day to admire the Pitons from afar — even if it was while sitting in the infinity pool at Jade Mountain, arguably the most luxurious hotel in the Caribbean and known for its iconic, open-air rooms that have pristine views over the Pitons.
Today, I was headed to the top.
St. Lucia is a very special island. But one thing it is not is a sugary sandbar. If you’re looking for that powder-white beach shot backed by an aquamarine sea, you’ve come to the wrong island. However, if what you are looking for is outdoor adventure, an immersive local experience, friendly residents and wild and untamed black-sand beaches, grab yourself a Piton beer and stick around for a while.
On my very first trip to St. Lucia, I made sure to get myself out of my hotel to see all of the volcanic island that had intrigued me for so long. Here are four of my favorite outdoor experiences for active travelers.
Climb a Piton
Lovers of the outdoors are going to want to begin and end their trip to St. Lucia in Soufriere, which is home to the Pitons. These two looming Piton peaks that stick out into the Caribbean Sea are considered the symbols of St. Lucia; travelers from all over the world come to see these pointed peaks.
More than just the subjects of a great photo op, they also feature two challenging hikes that — while not for the faint of heart — reward those daring enough to climb with extraordinary views.
Gros Piton, the larger of the two and the easiest to access, stands about 2,600 feet above sea level. The hiking trail begins just outside the town of Soufriere, in the small village of Fond Gens Libre. This was the first village in Saint Lucia to abolish slavery in the 19th century, and many of the residents can trace their lineage back to that time. Back then, the trail up Gros Piton was used by fleeing slaves looking to hide among the hills. Today, the community maintains the trail, and many young people work as guides taking tourists up the peak.
Abigail, an energetic and smart 26-year-old hiking guide, took me along the trail on an early Sunday morning. As she bounded from boulder to boulder, I brought up the rear, huffing and puffing. The trail is billed as moderate to advanced, but unless clients are serious hikers, warn them that it will feel challenging the whole way through. Like other tour guides, Abigail often does the four-hour, round-trip hike nine times per week.
To the victors go the spoils, however, especially on a clear day — so it’s best to keep climbing. Be prepared for views of the island of Saint Vincent about a quarter of the way through the hike, while the halfway mark offers vistas of the island of Martinique. From Gros Piton’s top, a panoramic view over Saint Lucia and the Caribbean Sea is enough to make one forget the heat and exhaustion from the previous two-hour climb.
Visit a Sulphur Spa
Geologists believe that Saint Lucia was formed millions of years ago from volcanic activity. Remnants of this activity is still visible today through the land’s beautiful black-sand beaches, but also from the sulfur springs that are still active today.
Heading into Soufriere from the town of Vieux Fort, I was met with a familiar — and pungent — odor; sulfur bubbles from beneath the ground all around Soufriere thanks to a dormant volcano. While it last erupted in the 1700s, the mud baths around it continue to be heated from the volcano and today provide a natural spa-like environment for visitors.
Travelers can drive into the volcano area to learn about the geological history of St. Lucia. But the main event is taking a dip in the mud baths, whose healing effects have been said to alleviate sore joints, eczema and sunburns. The whole experience can be capped off with a refreshing rinse in a nearby waterfall.
Dive Beneath the Surface
Also within Soufriere is the Soufriere Marine Reserve, which is — according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors — an underwater world unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean, complete with reefs, shipwrecks and coral-covered pinnacles. Two shipwrecks have been converted into artificial reefs — named the Lesleen M and Daini Koyomaru reefs, respectively — and they are two of the most popular dive sites in the area.
For clients who aren’t certified, the calm waters of St. Lucia are a great place for learning. And if snorkeling is the only appeal, travelers can set out right from the beach to explore the shallow reefs that hug the shore and are home to marine life such as squid, lionfish and octopuses.
Explore Beaches Off the Beaten Path
All the beaches in St. Lucia are technically public; however, some are easier to get to than others. But with a little exploration, it’s possible to come across stretches of sand that you might have entirely to yourself.
Directly to the north of Anse Chastanet (the bay and beach on which Jade Mountain and sister hotel Anse Chastanet Resort sit) is Anse Mamin, a smaller, less-trafficked slice of shoreline. After a day breaking a sweat on the island’s back roads, this is the best beach for some solitude.
Sulfur Springs Saint Lucia