A Tropical Stay in Soufriere, St. Lucia

It was mid-August and too hot to think about snow when my husband suggested we might want to book a tropical getaway for the following winter, but he was spot on. We began to look at maps and talk to friends and finally decided St. Lucia was the place – a less-visited island where there would be plenty to see and do.

One of the first things on my list was a day of scuba on the island’s colorful reefs. I had read about parrot fish, creole wrasse, peacock flounder and giant barrel sponges, and I wanted to get underwater with them. My husband decided he would learn to dive, too. So, instead of one day on the reefs, we spent three with the scuba shop at Anse Chastanet – he in lessons and me on boat dives. By the middle of the week, he was a certified scuba diver, and we had enjoyed our first dive together with barracuda, fire worms, lobsters, butterfly fish and golden eels. 

Unfortunately, we also saw several invasive and poisonous lionfish on the reef. This beautiful creature has few natural predators and easily takes over local environments. We were told that they had come to the Caribbean from places near Florida where negligent fish tank owners had emptied them into the sea. Also a problem in the Mediterranean where they slip through the Suez Canal from the Red Sea, laws are being created around the world real-time to figure out how best to manage these fish. Spearing, so far, has yielded good results but remains illegal in most places.

That’s too bad, because it turns out they are delicious when properly – and safely – prepared.  We have found a few restaurants in the islands that serve them, but most don’t because they are hard to keep in regular supply since poachers are their primary source. Hopefully laws will soon exist to help get this invasive species off the reefs and into the restaurants. 

We were lucky enough to be at a small boutique hotel where a lionfish cooking class was on the menu of excursions and events available. We signed up with Chef Wesley who showed us how to manage the lionfish’s dangerous barbs, filet and pan sear it. The light fish cooked quickly, and its small filets were delicious with a local herb and pepper salsa, a little banana ketchup or just nestled in a corn tortilla. It’s still not clear if we were more excited about cooking the fish or eating it. 

Once well versed in the sea life around St. Lucia, we wanted to learn more about the land. This volcanic island burbles with boiling hot springs and offers mud bath experiences to visitors who exfoliate in volcanic mud and then rinse in mineral springs said to make them look years younger. There, we walked along the sulfur springs that give Soufriere, St. Lucia, its name. The French word describes many volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles because early explorers identified the rotten egg smell around them and called it Soufriere, or sulfur air. At this, the world’s only drive-through volcano, we could certainly appreciate the namesake odor. The volcano has a history of activity every 200 years or so, and the last event was in 1766. We were standing in the spot where this sleeping volcano will again erupt one day. This is also the area of St. Lucia with the most activities for visitors. 

Just down the road, we wandered through the verdant Diamond Botanical Gardens where poinsettias, pathos, snake plants, and many others that can only survive in carefully tended pots where we live are thriving in a lush jungle. Tucked into the rainforest there is also a steamy waterfall colored by minerals from the nearby volcano’s waters. This stream feeds three of an original 12 baths that were built in 1784 for Louis XVI’s troops and are now open to garden guests who want to enjoy the waters’ legendary effects of youth and vigor.

Soufriere and its rich soil near the sleeping volcano were once home to a sugar plantation that, over time, evolved into a banana and cocoa plantation. We walked through the Morne Coubaril Estate’s traditional 18th century Caribe village with a knowledgeable young guide who pressed sugar cane into a sweet liquid, the foundation of local rum. He also showed us how cocoa beans are fermented on banana leaves, dried, roasted and prepared to make chocolate. Naturally, he let us taste several varieties of the resulting St. Lucian rums and chocolates. 

On the edge of the sleeping volcano’s caldera are two looming volcanic plugs, Gros Piton and Petit Piton. The Pitons are the logo of St. Lucia and visible from most parts of the island. One afternoon we drove to Vieux Fort at the southernmost tip of St. Lucia and visited the 730-foot-tall Moule-a-Chique lighthouse there, the second tallest in the world. Its original hilltop structure is weathered and dismantled, but harbor police remain present to monitor local waters for safety reasons – and to ward off would-be smugglers. 

It was nice to have the Pitons orient us to our home base from anywhere on St. Lucia. We talked to hikers who had enjoyed Tet Paul, a nature trail up Gros Piton, but we were happy to have explored both Pitons underwater on this trip. As we watched the sun set behind them over a creole dinner on our last evening, we raised a chocolate garnished dirty banana cocktail in honor of the bananas, rum, chocolate and people that gave this island its rich and delicious history. Their cuisine, we had been told, is a blend of heroes and colors – mild but delicious when combined, it is so good because it is made with love. 


Where to Stay: The Green Fig is a boutique hotel with marvelous service, food, and Piton views, but bring earplugs on weekends when loud parties might echo in town – a concern Soufriere hoteliers are addressing.  www.greenfigresort.com  

Where to Dive: Anse Chastanet Resort www.scubastlucia.com 758-459-7755   

Get Around: Erane Alexander with Elegant Concierge can provide transfer and private tours – islandelegantconcierge@gmail.com or WhatsApp 758-519-9233.

Taste Chocolate and Rum: Johnathan at Morne Coubaril Estate www.mornecoubaril.com

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.