As part of my role as Tours Co-ordinator, it’s my job to travel to our destinations so that I can pass on all the insider knowledge to our groups, as well as doing a scout of the area to bring you some of the very best hotels, excursions, and sporting facilities.
As such, I have recently returned from an 8 day trip to the sunny island of St Lucia, where I climbed a mountain, zip lined through the rainforest, and visited some top sporting facilities.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
Catching my 10.10am flight from Gatwick direct to St Lucia, we arrived at just before 2pm local time; accounting for the eight hour flight time and five hour time difference! Collecting our luggage, we got onto the waiting minibus and set off northwest for our home for the week, Rodney bay.
As we drove through lush valleys and jungle, a picture of the real St Lucia began to form, what with the brightly coloured houses on stilts dotted along the winding roads. While our lovely air-conditioned minibus provided respite from the heat, I was still regretting not putting shorts in my rucksack!
An hour and a half later, we arrived into the safe little town of Rodney Bay, which was all sparkling sea and inviting beachfront. Our accommodation was at the Coco Palm, just a short walk from the beach, where we were welcomed with a delicious fruit punch and cold towel.
Following a speedy check in and freshen up, we set off to take care of the important things – like dinner!
Our restaurant of choice was Bay Gardens Hotel, where the friendly staff had us seated in the lovely terrace restaurant within minutes. In the interests of research, I sampled the shrimp salad, lamb shank and red velvet cake for dessert, being happy to report that this place offers some seriously amazing food.
I started my morning with a few lengths of the swimming pool, before heading to breakfast at the overlooking Koko Cabana. The buffet breakfast offered a great selection, with cereal, fresh local fruits, an omelette bar, hot options, and ‘bakes’ if you were feeling a little more St Lucian!
Today was all about acclimatising ourselves with the area, having a wander through the St Lucian jungle. This proved to be a fantastic way to spend some time, being surrounded by towering trees and birds swooping low overhead.
My highlights included:
- Eating sweet oranges, papaya and Julie mango fresh from the tree
- Trying fish fritters and bakes in Mama’s Kitchen at Lushan Country Life, then hearing about how St Lucian’s use all the natural produce around them to make utensils, such as bowls and spoons
- Trying bird calls (easier said than done!) and taking a glimpse back in time to how the early St Lucian’s lived
- Lunch at the Bay Gardens Hotel, where we ate avocado and salt fish, mahi mahi with fried plantain and coconut mousse. I also learnt that Bay Gardens are so well known for their locally sourced produce, they cater for big island events such as the West Indies cricket team when they are on the island, and even the finish line party for the Atlantic Rally sailing competition!
Today, we took the aerial tram for a morning of zip lining through the protected national park rainforest! At 35 feet up, the canopy was so peaceful, while our expert guide shared her knowledge and passion for the rainforest, explaining the various flora and fauna that we may encounter. I can honestly say that zip lining through the canopy is a fantastic excursion, and you really get to see the rainforest in all its natural beauty.
Another highlight of today, and in fact the whole week, was going to the Gros Islet street party. No, it’s not the cream teas and bunting type of party that we would throw back home, a St Lucian street party involves all the locals coming out to do ‘the wobble’ dance to Soca and calypso! This is the place to come for your souvenirs, to try food and drink from roadside vendors, and to join the locals and tourists in dancing the night away!
This morning we were in for a real treat, traveling to Castries market for some authentic St Lucian shopping!
Upon arrival, I wandered straight to the back of the market where all the food stalls were, buying a green coconut from a man stood amongst an absolute mountain of coconut shells! He chopped the fruit open in front of me and stuck a straw in the top, making for a refreshing way to cool off.
I then bought some souvenirs, being blessed by the lady who ran the stall, and wandered on some more. What with all the colours, food smells and friendly banter from the stall holders, I could have spent all day walking around the market, looking at all the goods on offer and watching the elderly gentlemen playing dominoes along the side-lines.
This morning was our catamaran cruise to Soufriere, where we were to try and catch a glimpse of some whales and dolphins. Marine life was elusive (though I did see a couple of flying fish!), though the views of the mighty piton mountains made it all worthwhile, stirring up anticipation for our climb later in the week!
As ever, lunch today was delicious, being a lovely green coconut mahi mahi curry and green banana cake at Blu St Lucia, but I wolfed it down in anticipation of the main attraction – my afternoon sports tour of the Island!
The St Lucians are true sporting enthusiasts, participating in every sport they have the opportunity to, welcoming touring teams with great enthusiasm. During the course of the afternoon, I went on a whistle-stop tour of some of the best sports venues that St Lucia has to offer, including:
- The 20,000 capacity national cricket ground, Beausejour Stadium, where they host many international tests. It was one of the venues for the Cricket World Cup in 2007 and is setting the standard for all other cricket stadiums in the Caribbean. There is also an indoor netball/basketball/volleyball court, which was packed when I visited due to a volleyball tournament taking place.
- Gros Islet cricket and football ground
- La Ressource cricket ground and the Dennerys sports area. Dennerys was magnificent to see and by far the most vibrant place that I went. There were kids everywhere all playing sport, from football and basketball to netball and cricket, with a group of girls even leading their own dance class on the car park – now that’s mass participation!
- Mindoo Philip Park cricket ground is right in the heart of Castries. Trials for Castries local team were in full swing when we arrived, with crowds of locals in the stands out for a relaxed Sunday afternoon. I also met a local celebrity in the form of a cricket commentator for the CBL (Caribbean Premier League)!
It was another early start, this time to get to the Milet Bird Sanctuary. Heading into the hills, we drove through villages made up of dozens of remote multi coloured houses, ending up asking for directions from a local wearing an Ipswich Town shirt!
Upon arrival, we were fortunate to see a host of different exotic birds, from hummingbirds to talking parrots (they really exist!), as well as being introduced to insect repelling tree sap, coco pods and cinnamon trees.
That evening’s dinner was at Spinnakers Beach Bar, which would be an amazing venue for an end of tour meal. It’s right on the beach, with pretty fairy lights everywhere, a traditional thatched roof and the sound of waves as the background music. The food was also great, with some of the biggest burgers I have ever seen!
This was it. Our climb up the Gros Islet mountain path had arrived! We were up and on the road early and an hour and 45 minutes later, we’d arrived in the mountain village of Fond Gens Libre in the south west of the Island.
Fond Gens Libre is a small rural community located at the base of the Gros Piton mountain, marking the start of our climb. At 600ft up, we set off with the temperatures already hitting 30 degrees. The path seemed fairly easy going, though this changed quickly! Rocky boulders and steep mountain climbs soon appeared, making the bench at the halfway point a welcome (and very popular) sight, as was the stunning view of Petit Piton.
It was then on to the giant mango tree, the three quarter mark, and then the final push up to the peak where the sense of achievement was outstanding. Thankfully the cloud cleared enough for a photo then back down we went, spurred on by the guide telling us of a beach that we could detour to near the bottom!
The promised beach was absolutely stunning and a fully clothed swim in the sea was in order! Sadly, not many of us had the energy to make the extra climb, but I’m glad I was one of them!
Tip: Conveniently located just a few minutes’ drive from Gros Piton are the Sulphur Springs in the collapsed centre of a volcano. A perfect place to rest those weary muscles after the climb.
The time had come to leave sunny St Lucia and head back to Gatwick. After a final swim in the hotel pool we sadly loaded up and headed for the airport.
The overnight flight home felt very quick, with time for a film, some food and a few hours’ sleep, then we were home before I knew it.
Looking back on my St Lucian adventure, from the minute I arrived, I got the impression this is an island which has retained its old fashioned charm. The food, the culture and the wonderful people will certainly have me returning to St Lucia, and I shall be encouraging tour groups looking for a unique Caribbean experience to follow in my footsteps!
– Laura Nash, Tours Co-ordinator
For more information on sports tours to St Lucia, see http://quote.rayburntours.com/sports/school-sports-tours/st-lucia/ Also, feel free to ask me a question in the comments box below!
For more of Laura’s tour photo’s, like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RayburnSportsTours
Laura travelled on an organised Familiarisation Trip courtesy of @British_Airways and @SaintLuciaNow in October 2014. Our thanks go out to all our partners and suppliers that provided this excellent experience and exciting itinerary showcasing the island’s highlights.