Outside magazine, October 1995
Sure, St. Lucia's twin peaks make for great postcards. "Pitons soar a half-mile into the sky. Mist dripping from the vines. Parrots mocking me from the palms. Mud up to my knees. Wish you were here...." But if you're planning to do more than sit around and write postcards, Petit and Gros Piton will play major roles in all your activities, which is why you should set up base on the southern half of this 238-square-mile island. And that way you'll bypass the beach-going throngs in the northern capital of Castries.
With the Pitons in view, you'll never get lost here--unless you are shrouded beneath the canopy of the 29,858-acre St. Lucia Tropical Rain Forest or actually scaling Gros Piton. While Petit Piton is closed to hikers, 2,619-foot Gros Piton, aka Fat Peak--the habitat of opossums, agoutis, and the rare St. Lucia parrot--takes about three hours to scale in winter (forget it during the rainy summer). You won't need ropes, but a guide is essential because of occasional landslides, mud-splattering downpours, and trail-obliterating mists. Register first through the Forestry Department (809-450-2231); recommended guides are Barefoot Holidays (half-day tour, $40; 809-450-0507) and St. Lucia Reps (tours, $30-$75; 809-452-8232).
For a less vertical trail, try the inland nine-mile Rain Forest Walk between the towns of Fond St. Jacques and Mahaut in the Edmund and Quilesse Forest Reserves, which winds through giant ferns, towering philodendrons, orchids, epiphytes, and anthuriums.
There's no camping on St. Lucia, so where you kick back is critical. For unsurpassed views, check into the hillside Ladera Resort (doubles, $195- $330; 800-841-4145), a West Indian-style hideaway tucked between the Pitons at 1,000 feet above sea level. Its rooms are three-walled, ocean-facing aeries with four-poster beds. There's also the Jalousie Plantation (doubles, $500-$700, all-inclusive; 800-392-2007) at the foot of the Pitons, a very private, very pricey reincarnation of an old sugar plantation offering horseback riding, kayaking, deep-sea fishing, and a cushy health spa.
Perhaps the ultimate way to experience the Pitons, though, is to steep in their beauty from offshore. The Moorings (800-535-7289), based in Marigot Bay on the central coast, charters yachts for up to six passengers, either bareboat or outfitted with a crew and provisions. A 38-foot Beneteau bareboat for five days runs about $2,250. Anse des Pitons's unsheltered setting precludes overnight anchoring, but you can tie up for swimming and scuba diving right off the boat: The Pitons stretch as far below sea level as they do above, and their underwater slopes make for terrific drift dives along terraces sprouting giant barrel sponges.
Scuba divers can probe the reefs around Anse Chastanet, a serene bay due north of the Pitons and the town of Soufrière. Anse Chastanet Hotel (doubles, $140-$360, breakfast and dinner included; 800-223-1108), with beachside rooms and a few hillside cottages, fronts St. Lucia's top shore-entry site and has its own dive shop. The dive starts in 20 feet of bathwater and leads past a battalion of garden eels--and a totaled Porsche 911--to a coral-covered wall that drops more than 150 feet. Visibility averages 100 feet.
Anse de Sables, a bay on the southern tip of the island, lures hard-core boardsailors with 25- to 35-mile-per-hour winds that course between Cape Moule-à-Chique and the offshore Maria Islands Nature Reserve. Island Windsurfing stocks boards (weekly rentals, $130- $175; 800-936-3333). Between gusts, arrange a visit to the reserve, home of noddies, lizards, and the world's rarest snake, through the National Trust (tours, $15; 809-452-5005).
Convenient digs include the bare-bones Kimatrai (doubles, $40; 809-454-6328), five minutes from the beach in Vieux Fort. The nearby Club Med (doubles, $115-$155; one-week package, $805-$965; 800-258-2633) also merits consideration; its guests enjoy beachfront or ocean-view rooms, shuttle service to Anse de Sables, and their choice of 41 Bic boards.