Palm trees, golden beaches, clear turquoise waters - Saint Lucia is your picture-perfect Caribbean island paradise. But although this part of the world is famous for its sun, sea and sand, Saint Lucia has plenty more to offer than just being a tropical beach escape. So on my first trip to the island I headed out to explore some of its cultural, foodie and scenic sights on a tour of Saint Lucia's highlights - beyond the beach.
Our first stop was the Saint Lucian capital Castries, home to the island's biggest food market, where local growers sell their freshest and tastiest produce. Among the bustling crowds were over 300 stalls piled high with fish and meat, fruit and vegetables, tropical flowers, handmade crafts and gifts. We feasted our eyes on colourful exotic fruits, our noses on fragrant spices which were warming in the sun, and couldn't resist tucking into a freshly cracked coconut, digging the last of its jelly-like flesh out with a spoon. After browsing through mysterious fruits I'd never heard of before, like fatpokes and banana cane, we left the market piled up with enough ripe pineapples and tiny, sweet mangoes to keep us going for days, and headed onwards.
Our destination was the south west part of the island, and our route there took us past banana plantations and along the coast through winding roads with switchback turns, where I caught glimpses of tiny sandy beaches and crashing waves down below. As we started to get near to the town of Soufriere, our driver pulled up at the side of the road for a moment. Here on an unassuming roadside terrace is one of the best views of Saint Lucia's most iconic landmarks - the twin peaks of the Pitons.
These two volcanic mountains rise steeply up to 700 metres high from sea level. If you're feeling energetic you can climb to the top. But if like me even the idea of climbing more than flight of stairs in 80% humidity makes you feel exhausted, the views of those vivid green peaks backed with blue waters from up on the hillside are more than enough.
From the viewpoint it was only a short hop to our next stop at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs volcano – known as the world's only drive-in volcano. The volcano is classified as semi active but that doesn't mean you're going to see eruptions of molten lava. The last time it erupted was back in 1766, and even that was more steam than anything else, so it's safe enough that you can drive right up to the edge of the crater. The thinness of the Earth's crust here means there's plenty going on beneath the surface, and we could see cauldrons of bubbling mud and plumes of steam bursting through the ground. Looking out from the edge of the crater, the barren landscape of yellow-tinged rocks and sizzling heat looked like something from another planet, with a smell of sulphur that had my eyes watering.
You can bathe in the volcanic mud at the hot springs, where a stream has been dammed to create a mineral-rich pool that's said to have anti-aging properties. But we headed a few miles down the road to another, more refreshing swimming spot where you can cool off deep inside the jungle. The Toraille Waterfall is set down a trail that runs through lush greenery. Stepping into the cool waters is a blissful retreat from the island's heat and humidity - and with a wooden hut to change in you don't have to worry about wrestling with a towel. The falls cascade down from around eight metres high, tall enough for the pounding waters to give you a good, strong back and neck massage if you stand underneath them.
Feeling revitalised, we took the short drive on to our final stop - Boucan Estate. This cocoa-growing plantation is owned by UK chocolatiers Hotel Chocolat. Chocolate has been produced in Saint Lucia since the 18th century and the estate still grows its own cocoa beans on-site, which are dried, fermented and roasted to make cocoa. Their Tree to Bean and Bean to Bar experiences took us through the whole process - from grafting our own baby cocoa tree (which is recorded so if I ever go back I can visit and see how it's doing), to working up a sweat pounding the cocoa nibs into a fine power to blend with cocoa butter. After all the hard work we finished off our island exploration day by toasting Saint Lucia with a chocolate-infused Martini from the terrace with a view of the Pitons - who needs beaches?
About the author
Lucy is a travel blogger On the Luce, exploring the UK, Europe and beyond from her home base in the Cotswolds. Her blog combines inspirational stories and beautiful photos with all the useful details you need to make the trip a reality – from weekend break ideas to rail adventures, reviews of quirky accommodation to unusual angles on your favourite destinations. Lucy's never far from her camera, loves a good glass of prosecco, devours a book a week and is always on the hunt for luxury on budget.