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  • Candace Ahlfinger

On Island Time in St. Lucia

You will notice a little difference in this blog and many of my other ones. It was too hard to do a day-by-day guide since we became officially on “Island Time” on the lovely island of St. Lucia.

We arrived at Hewanorra International Airport where we got to walk down the stairs onto the tarmac. (It always makes me feel like I should wave to everyone below!) The small airport was very efficient. Because this trip was still during Covid, we had to present paperwork at one table where we were given a bracelet to show we had cleared with vaccinations and boosters. After receiving our clearance, we picked up our bags and went through customs. Our big surprise was that Sandals has its own door out of customs. We missed the door—I would never have expected a resort to have its own waiting room within the airport—but a gentleman outside customs told us to go back in and helped us find the Sandals lounge. People everywhere on the island were extremely friendly and helpful.

Another Beautiful View from Sandals

This trip was our first to Saint Lucia and our first to stay in a Sandals Resort. We were taken by shuttle to the Sandals Grande St. Lucian. The shuttle didn’t have AC, but the natural air (aka open windows) was very comfortable. We enjoyed the scenic drive on the east side of the island with banana plant-lined roads and large mansions sitting high upon the mountains. We caught glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean on our shuttle ride. (Sandals missed a great opportunity for marketing and starting the trip on a positive note for guests. Every shuttle could have air conditioning and the driver, or even a guide, could point out the interesting places the shuttle passes. The guide could also talk about the excursions and answer questions.) The winding road is scenic but long. The drive takes 1½ to 2 hours—and that assumes there are no wrecks along the road—even though the island is only 27 miles long. We weren’t worried about the drive, but several on the bus were traumatized about the safety. The drivers are very polite, but they do take the white line on the road as a mere suggestion. Some visitors opt for a ferry or helicopter ride which can be booked before your trip. I enjoyed the beautiful drive with beautiful blooming Bougainvillea lining the road in some places while in other places we were surrounded by the rain forest that occupies 77% of the island.

The shuttle took us through Dennery, an Oceanside town on a lovely bay. Shortly thereafter we cut across to the eastern side of the island and entered mountainous areas decorated with tropical plants at every turn. The vegetation changed as we left the coast and climbed higher.

Beautiful Delicious Food

We finally arrived at Sandals where we experienced a very efficient check-in. We found our rooms and headed to Bayside Restaurant for French food. Escargot and Chicken Cordon Bleu were among our favorites. Service there, as in all the restaurants at the resort, was excellent. We walked around a little to orient ourselves, but we had waked up early to catch the plane to St. Lucia so we were ready for an early evening.

We decided that our first full day was reserved for relaxing, exploring and making dinner reservations at the restaurants that require them. (I wish you could make reservations online before arriving, so you don’t spend time in a line trying to get one of the three reservation-only restaurants at the resort.) There are also restaurants that do not require reservations, so no visitor should go hungry.

St. Lucia Beach at Sandals Grande St. Lucian

Sandals has a gorgeous beach to use as a base for relaxing. The beautiful water is a combination of turquoise and cobalt blue that pulls you in to play. Also special are giant trampoline-looking floats that are anchored in the water throughout the Sandals beach area. These were great for relaxing in with friends. Surrounding the beach are beautiful mountains including those in Pigeon Island National Park. The combination of sand, water, and mountains made the spot one of the most beautiful I have seen.

View from Sandals Resort

There are three pools, but the activity pool that houses the swim up bar was always the busiest. This pool is where exercise classes and trivia games take place throughout the day and several of the entertainment nights occur. (If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may notice that I really like trivia.)

Relaxing Pool
Sandals Grande St. Lucian

The entertainment at the Sandals Grande St. Lucian is top notch. The choreography, the voices, the timing--everything was great. One night’s entertainment featured singers, a contortionist, and fire-twirlers performing on the trampoline-like floats that had been placed in the pool. Another night songs from Broadway were performed while another evening was Burlesque and yet others were Reggae and Country Western. Even more amazing is the fact that these wonderful performances showcased the talent of people who worked in various capacities in the resort yet still found the energy to provide professional shows for guests at night.

Fabulous Entertainment--Don't Try this at Home

Relaxing is not the only option at Sandals. Included are snorkeling trips, scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boards, golfing, and more. Reservations for all of these activities can be made at the water sports desk by the beach. We took advantage of the included snorkeling tour to Sailing Point, but we were a little disappointed by the lack of fish in the area.

The Iconic Pitons

We booked an excellent excursion, Soufriere Experience with JJ’s Speedboat. Our crew made the trip fun and going by boat avoided the traffic and winding roads between our Sandals and Soufriere, the first capital of St. Lucia. The guide, who playfully told us his name was “No Problem” until he had a few drinks at which time his name became “Major Problem” shared the island’s history and provided a guided tour of the views from the boat. Along the way, “No Problem” pointed out the Pitons for scenic photo ops.

The boat landed in Soufriere where we transferred to a red shuttle taxi with Nanu as our driver who continued to tell us wonderful stories about the island. Soufriere is the only drive-in volcano in the world—according to everything that I read about St. Lucia. (The volcano has not erupted since 1766, so we felt fairly safe.) The name “Soufriere” means sulfur, which should give a hint as to the smell of our first stop...a chance to experience hot springs and mud baths. (We became accustomed to the odor rather quickly.)

As directed, we first entered the hot spring pools slowly to get ourselves wet. The next step was to cover ourselves artistically, if possible, with white and black mud. We were encouraged to cover our faces, also, and no one objected because, allegedly, the mud treatment would take 10 years from our looks. (We didn’t actually get into mud baths. Instead, we were given buckets of the two-colored muds to apply to our bodies.) After numerous pictures, we washed most of the mud off by submerging ourselves in the hot thermal pools again. (Note: Take an old bathing suit or at least a dark bathing suit for the adventure.)

Tortillero Waterfalls

Our final rinse was at our next stop, the 50-foot Tortillero Waterfalls. The waterfalls are marketed as invigorating, but after the heat of the thermal pools, the water felt frigid!

Wonderful Traditional Food

We boarded our shuttle for the short trip to J.J.’s Place in Marigot Bay, where we enjoyed a delightful buffet of traditional foods followed by a dip in a private pool for some relaxation. After lunch, we were taken back to the boat and on to our fantastic snorkeling adventure at Anse Chastanet Beach. (J.J. includes snorkel gear if you need it.) The fish were plentiful and beautiful at this location.

All too soon the excursion came to an end. “No Problem” and the rest of the crew kept us entertained with history, stories, dancing, and drinking for the return trip to Sandals Grande Lucian after a fun day of adventure.

Pigeon Island National Park (View from Sandals)

Another day, my husband and I made the short trek to the neighboring Pigeon Island National Landmark. (And for inquiring minds: Yes, Pigeon Island was an actual island until the 1970s when a causeway was built that connected it to the mainland.) Our first stop was Fort Rodney which was built by the British in the late 1700s to protect the land from the French. (St. Lucia changed hands between the French and British 14 times over its history.) The fort, which is now in picturesque ruins, gave us a wonderful view of Martinique, some 26 miles away, and of the area around us including both the tempestuous Atlantic and the turquoise Caribbean. From Fort Rodney we hiked up almost to the top of Signal Hill--the last few feet were increasingly rocky. Again, the views are spectacular and worth the climb.

Views from Pigeon Island National Park

Returning to the resort was an easy walk along the coast. We could have even stopped at multiple beach restaurants and bars, but the call of the “included” at the resort called our names.

We were in St. Lucia for a week, and I have trouble sitting still. Therefore, one day we took the included shuttle to the Sandals Halcyon where we had lunch. Sandals Halcyon is much smaller and quieter than Sandals Grande St. Lucian, but they appeal to different markets. (Guests at any Sandals resort may enjoy the food and entertainment at the other Sandals Resorts.) From Halcyon, we took a taxi into Castries to the nearby market. The huge market was not busy since it was a weekday, but we were still able to find vendors to sell us t-shirts, chocolate, and spices. (Chocolate is a major product of St. Lucia. Most of the chocolate grown goes to Hershey.) While the vendors we visited marketed primarily to tourists, there were other sections where the residents shopped for foods. (It would have been fun to shop in this area if we had a kitchen.)

Swings and Overwater Bungalows Are Common Sights

Wherever we explored during the day, we always made it back to our Sandals for dinner. The food was great and the atmosphere terrific. Over the course of the visit, we ate at almost every restaurant and enjoyed each one. We especially like eating in the restaurants where we could enjoy beautiful views of the beach and the cool breezes that ruffled our hair. We tried to be through with dinner early, at least 8:30 or 9:00, so we could see the great nightly entertainment.

Before visiting St. Lucia, I had difficulties finding anyone who had been there except as a quick stop for a cruise. After being on the island for a week, I know that this beautiful island is worth spending time on for anyone who loves history, shopping, eating, snorkeling, diving, hiking, and more. There are still many places that we did not have time to explore, but, as always, there is next time…

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