Gros Piton
Gros Piton
May/June 2013

Island Secrets

From hidden beaches to secluded tropical hikes, Caribbean travelers
will find plentiful off-the-beaten-path excursions on St. Lucia,
St. Vincent, and Martinique

BYGina DeMillo Wagner

The Caribbean is no stranger to sun-loving visitors. A steady parade of cruise ships, tour groups, golfers, and honeymooners keep this part of the world buzzing year-round with visitor activity. But there remain corners of these islands that are less explored, and ripe for relaxation. Three islands in particular — St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Martinique — offer pristine mountain hikes, hidden beaches, rich local culture, and quiet restaurants that make for a truly unique vacation.
 
Mighty Mountains: St. Lucia
Although many know St. Lucia for its luxury spas, shopping, and lush beachside resorts,  this island has an earthy side, too. Part of the Lesser Antilles, this volcanic spot is more mountainous than most Caribbean islands. Its highest point, Mt. Gimie, towers an impressive 3,120 feet above sea level — making hiking a popular pastime.
 
If you’re feeling adventurous, try a three-to-four-hour trek up and back Gros Piton, where you’ll be rewarded with Atlantic-to-Caribbean views from 2,619 feet. Guides from the trailhead in Fond Gens Libre, on the south slope of the mountain, lead the way. The trail is often tricky, offering tree roots as steps. A guide charges about $30 (negotiate the rate before you start). For a less-strenuous scenic tour, nearby Tet Paul Nature Trail follows a gentle rise between Gros Piton and Petit Piton peaks.
 
Hot springs and undeveloped beaches round out St. Lucia’s outdoorsy offerings. Sulphur Springs Park is popular, but less crowded after 4 p.m.  It’s a five- to 10-minute drive south of Soufrière. Bathe in the mineral-rich mud and warm waters found in the collapsed caldera of a dormant volcano.
 
To avoid crowded beaches, hire a taxi (the most effective way to get around the island) and head to the island’s picturesque Sugar Beach on Anse des Pitons on the southwest shore between the two Pitons. Both mountains — Gros Piton and Petit Piton — along with nearly 7,200 acres of land and sea surrounding them, make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 
Next, head to Ti Kaye Village Resort and Spa, about 40 minutes north of Gros Piton along the east coast. It fronts Anse Cochon, one of the best bays for underwater sightings of elusive sea horses. The beach is public, and you can rent snorkeling gear or kayaks through the resort, even if you’re not a guest.
 
If you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll find plenty to please, as this island exudes a farm-to-table lifestyle. Local cacao plantations (such as the Rabot Estate in the highlands behind Petit Piton) offer orchard tours where you can learn how the beans are harvested, roasted, and mashed into chocolate. You can also buy bars to take home (if you have the willpower to save them that long).
 
At the Jardin Cacao restaurant, inside Fond Doux Holiday Plantation (near Gros Piton), almost everything on the menu is grown on the surrounding estate. Harvest fare may feature fresh-caught fish or christophene, an island squash. Tour the lush grounds to sample guava off the tree.
 
Finally, don’t miss the bar and restaurant at Ladera Resort, perched 1,100 feet above shore. The resort is known for its open-air T’Cholit Bar where you can sip a rum-and-lime Ti Punch while taking in views of Petit Piton. 
 

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Snorkeling in the Caribbean
Snorkeling in the Caribbean
Waterfall on St. Lucia
Waterfall on St. Lucia
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