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Why now’s the time to explore the ‘quiet revolution’ of St Lucia’s wild side

Reaching the summit of Gros Piton, St Lucia (Hazel Plush)
Reaching the summit of Gros Piton, St Lucia (Hazel Plush)

I knew it would be an adventure when I saw the machete. “I think we might need it today,” mused Julian Toussaint, my hiking guide, peering at the thick tangle of trees and ivy ahead.

Bears? Wolves? “Absolutely not!” he laughed, the long blade gleaming beside his leggings and runner’s singlet. “But we might need to hack our way through: the path gets so overgrown, even after just a day or two...”

I’d argue that it wasn’t actually a path at all. Our route up Mount Gimie – Saint Lucia’s tallest mountain – was more of a vertical obstacle course, which saw us scrambling over boulders, clinging to tree branches, and teetering on dizzying drop-offs. It was strenuous, sweaty: everything a Caribbean holiday shouldn’t be. But it was also utterly exhilarating, an off-grid hike without another soul in sight – and as I followed the thwack, thwack, thwack of Toussaint’s blade, I almost felt sorry for the fly-and-flop crowds far below.

Julian Toussaint clearing a path through the island’s greenery (Hazel Plush)
Julian Toussaint clearing a path through the island’s greenery (Hazel Plush)

Up on the 950m-high summit, where Tarzan-style vines hang from the trees and tiny butterflies flit between blooms, we could gaze from one side of Saint Lucia to the other. In the distance, the sea sparkled in the sun: the sky-blue Caribbean to the west, the eastward Atlantic a shade darker. All around, the island’s peaks loomed large – including the two Unesco-listed Piton mountains, covered in a lush thatch of rainforest. I would, I knew, become more acquainted with these twin spires soon, as I’d signed up for the new Three Peaks Challenge, which involves climbing Gimie, Gros Piton and Petit Piton. But before that, I quite fancied a sit-down.

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There is a quiet revolution happening in Saint Lucia. The island, famous for its lavish and manicured resorts like Jade Mountain and BodyHoliday, is embracing its wilder side – and entrepreneurs like Toussaint are leading the way. “Saint Lucians aren’t naturally adventurous,” he said, as I huffed and puffed in his wake, “but during Covid we started exploring more – and we realised what we were missing.” With his friend Jason Sayers, Toussaint began leading hiking trips and founded The 758 Adventurers in 2020, while others launched start-ups or ecotourism projects. “We want to show a side of the Caribbean that’s never been seen before.”

These new enterprises are gathering pace, providing fresh alternatives to the island’s more established attractions. For example, while the masses head to the hot pools of Sulphur Springs (“the world’s only drive-in volcano”), more active souls can hike to Sapphire Falls – a steaming spring and waterfall hidden deep in the jungle.

Soufriere Bay,  with Petit Piton in the background (Getty)
Soufriere Bay, with Petit Piton in the background (Getty)

“I inherited this land from my father,” said Jahrod Alcindor, scooping handfuls of black volcanic mud into a calabash shell. A chorus of parrots squawked in the trees, deep in their bounty of mangoes, dates and bananas.

“You have it all to yourself,” said Alcindor. “Apply this to your skin, then soak in the mineral pool. Take your time, I’ll be feeding the goats – just shout if you need me.”

Entrepreneurship is everywhere, from the island’s ever-growing crop of Airbnbs, to new family-run hotels with a handful of rooms, such as Sol Sanctum, which has eight suites and a yoga studio, and offers breathwork and energy-healing workshops. A few months ago, St Lucia Bamboo Rafting commenced cruises on the Roseau River, using hand-tied bamboo rafts for minimal environmental impact. Dextrous captains steer them through the mangroves in the style of gondolas – albeit with papayas and coconuts on tap.

We want to show a side of the Caribbean that’s never been seen before

Julian Toussaint

Most holidaymakers head to Saint Lucia’s west coast, to enjoy the golden sands of Rodney Bay or Soufriere perhaps, but the Atlantic shore has wilder treasures in store. Here, Kayak on the Bay offers small-group trips to Praslin Island, an uninhabited nature reserve with a gorgeous reef-sheltered beach.

“Turtles nest here, alongside critically endangered whiptail lizards,” said Trevor, our guide. Occasionally, poachers come in search of the tiny turquoise-tailed reptiles. They sell them for 5,000 Caribbean dollars, which is around £1,450. “We want to show that they’re worth more alive. We’ve lived here all our lives, and it’s our mission to protect them.”

Trevor, from Kayak on the Bay, who takes visitors to lesser-known spots (Hazel Plush)
Trevor, from Kayak on the Bay, who takes visitors to lesser-known spots (Hazel Plush)

That’s another joy of Saint Lucia’s grassroots tourism: the chance to make a difference that lasts long after you head home. But first, a challenge to complete – a hike up Gros Piton (786m) and Petit Piton (739m), to join the ranks of Three Peaks adventurers. They’re tough day-hikes, but the coastal views are even better than Gimie’s. On the summit of Petit Piton, I clinked water bottles with Sayers and Toussaint: mission accomplished, and two new friends to boot.

“I think you’ve earnt some beach time now,” quipped Toussaint, pointing to a cotton-white cove far below. “I’ll bring my machete – we could use it to open some beers.”

Travel essentials

Getting there

British Airways flies direct between London Gatwick and Hewanorra International airport multiple times per week, from £522 return.

Staying there

The 33 rooms and cottages at Ti Kaye Resort & Spa overlook Anse Cochon cove, one of the island’s best snorkelling spots. Expect a barefoot luxury vibe with excellent a la carte dining, waiter service on the beach, a sea-view spa and a highly rated PADI dive centre.

Five nights from £1,120pp, including breakfast and return flights when booked through bestattravel.co.uk.

More information

Visit stlucia.org

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