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The two sides of St. Lucia

St. Lucia has a split personality. In the north, the island hustles and bustles. Busy markets, snarled traffic jams, and late-night parties reflect the nonstop action of this side of the island. To the south, life slows way down. Remote resorts wrap guests in a tranquil atmosphere, and the rainforest invites visitors to slip into a more natural way of sightseeing.

Where you choose to base your St. Lucia stay should account for the opposing atmospheres of the two sides of the island. Cross-island travel isn’t quick, so you’ll want to book a hotel or resort near your planned activities. Can’t decide? Then divide your time with a stay in the north and a stay in the south and really experience all St. Lucia has to offer.

The happening North

The combination of capital city Castries and Rodney Bay, an enclave of beach resorts, bars, and restaurants, puts the pep in the step of St. Lucia’s north. Most cruise ships disembark their passengers in Castries’ downtown, adding to the frenetic pace of this area. Hail a taxi and the hair-raising ride will give you the perfect introduction to this part of the island.

Castries isn’t the prettiest of cities at sea level, but a ride up into the surrounding hills reveals the loveliness of the harbor. For tourists, the market is the place to be. Inside the warren of stalls, you’ll find fruit, spices, T-shirts, and souvenirs, as well as vendors eagerly seeking a sale. For a meal with a view, escape up the hill to the Green Parrot. You can try St. Lucian specialties, such as the divine callaloo soup.

Farther north in Rodney Bay, hotels line the popular Reduit Beach. Sunbathers can enjoy the Caribbean sun and surf, or add a little excitement by waterskiing or windsurfing. Food and drink are never far, and the hotel’s patio bars provide lovely sunset views in the evening. Across the street, restaurants and bars cater to resort-goers. Razmataz serves up Indian food in a Caribbean setting, and The Lime is a casual hangout. To party with the locals, you’ll want to join the Gros Islet Jump Up on Friday nights. It’s a street party complete with St. Lucian snacks and island music.

Pigeon Island National Park was formerly a pirate hideout and military base, but is now a national landmark connected to the mainland by a causeway. Visitors can wander through the ruins of a naval garrison, visit the interpretive center, and hike up the hill to a fort with views out to Martinique. If you’re making a day of it, there’s also a beach and a restaurant on the island.

Northern St. Lucia houses a range of accommodation types from all-inclusive resorts to stand-alone hotels. You’ll find more affordable lodging here, as well as kid-friendly options. One hotel that fits that bill is Coco Palm in Rodney Bay. Room rates range from $125 to $245 and include breakfast. The most romantic accommodations are the swim-up rooms; from the bedroom, French doors lead to a small patio and private steps into the pool. The hotel’s Kreole Kids summer program educates visiting children about local St. Lucian life with indoor and outdoor activities (there’s an additional cost for this program). The hotel is well situated within walking distance from the beach and the Rodney Bay nightlife.

NEXT >> The tranquil South

The tranquil South

Honeymooners, well-heeled travelers, and vacationers looking for the ultimate getaway flock to St. Lucia’s southwestern coast. Here, the twin peaks of the Piton mountains rise majestically above the Caribbean sea, making every view a spectacular one. Small coves and bays hide quiet beaches, and the rainforest’s lush canopy beckons the adventurous. In most of the south, it’s strictly adults only if you’re staying at a resort.

Leisurely days and nights are a main component of southern stays. Hotels Anse Chastenet and the Jalousie Plantation hog some of the best waterfront areas, but as all St. Lucian beaches are public, anyone can claim a spot on the sand. Resorts not on the water often run shuttles to one of these beaches. The beach at Anse Chastenet is particularly good for snorkeling or diving, as the reef starts quite close to shore. Another way to laze by the water is to take a sailboat ride along the island’s coast. Evenings tend to revolve around slow-paced dinners, downtime at the resort bar, or a moonlit walk on the beach.

The South is also the best place for adventure activities. The Diamond Botanical Gardens offer soft adventure in the form of walks by tropical flora and a waterfall. The Sulfur Springs and drive-in volcano, though much publicized, are not much to see. For a real workout, albeit in a very serene and scenic way, go for a hike in the rainforest or climb Gros Piton. Your resort can help you arrange for a guide. Rainforest trails aren’t always well marked, so even experienced outdoors folks should ask a guide to accompany them. You might want to wear your swimsuit and take a refreshing dip in the natural swimming pools along some of the paths. Anse Chastenet offers additional adventure activities, such as jungle biking and sea kayaking.

Your resort is probably the most important component of your stay on St. Lucia’s southern coast. Unfortunately for budget-conscious travelers, most of these properties fall into the “splurge” category. The Jalousie Plantation offers incredible luxury and Anse Chastenet promises Piton views and a wide range of activities. Up on the hillside, Ladera provides a unique tropical experience; its suites have no fourth wall and are open to the rainforest jungle outside. For all three properties, nightly rates average in the $400s and $500s.

A less expensive alternative to Ladera is the Mago Estate Hotel, which also offers rooms without a fourth wall. Its eco-value rooms start at $125 and regular rooms at $225, a fraction of Ladera’s cost. Or, just slightly farther north, Ti Kaye Village houses guests in private bungalows overlooking its secluded beach. Rates range from $160 to $380. Most of the southern properties do not encourage guests to bring their young children. The notable exception is the Jalousie Hilton, which offers kid-friendly activities and menus, as well as babysitting services.

North versus South

You can have an incredible vacation anywhere on St. Lucia, but many guests find that one side of the island suits them better than the other. Families and night owls may prefer the north, while travelers seeking solitude or active outdoor pursuits should head south. It’s quite easy to plan a day trip to the other side of the island, so you can stay in a cheaper hotel in Rodney Bay but still get to go hiking in the rainforest. Or, you can indulge in a southern resort, but plan a day shopping and dining out in the north. Just remember that a cross-island trip will likely encompass one whole day, between getting there and enjoying the attractions. And no matter where you stay, the white sands and turquoise waters of the Caribbean promise a quintessential island experience.

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