Exchanging glances with glowing sea creature eyes that only come out at night distracted me from the air bubbles rippling past my ears from the scuba tank regulator. Weightless and in the dark except for an underwater flashlight beam, I eagerly observed the annual floating confetti clouds of spawning coral egg packets floating upward like falling snow, just days after the first August full moon.
The West Indian island of Saint Lucia (“Saint Looshia”) is a cultural mix of French, English, African, and Creole which serves, not only as an unexpected getaway to tropical seashores and rainforest mountain preserves, teeming with critters, but also as an educational experience. Saint Lucia was part of a colonial struggle between the British and French which was caused by a slavery-based boom in the tropical produce trade. This struggle resulted in the island’s sovereignty with English becoming the predominate language. English, colorfully blended with Patois (Patwah), a local Creole dialect mix, sets the scene for an unspoiled island experience.
This self-contained, sustainable, and nature-compatible destination is on many premium travel lists. Agriculture is perfected into a superior, eco-friendly industry of farm-to-table produce which is considered second to its tourism industry. During your stay, you will find pampering, treetop hotels, glamping, and fine dining; however, there are also many appealing local attractions: rare nature activities; sea creature appreciation; birding; scuba diving; kayaking; hiking and bicycling in the exotic Anse Mamin Nature Preserve; and the respect of sea turtle conservation.
In keeping with the island’s ecologically sensitive development, Anse Chastanet (“ons shastanay”), a remote and environmentally sensitive resort is brilliantly constructed around the natural environment, using only local materials, no tree removal, rainwater runoff, or earth moving. The resort includes full service beaches with snorkel gear, stand-up paddle boards, windsurfers, kayaks, and Sunfish sailing; take a yoga class, imbibe at the local beach bar, or get pampered right on the surf with their beach accessible spa.
Anse Chastanet’s 600-acre estate also includes the internationally famous Jade Mountain Resort. Frequented by celebrities, Jade Mountain features in-room infinity pools, private open-air accommodations and a personal butler. Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain are also on many premium wedding and honeymoon destination lists, where the Anse Mamin forest and jungle nature backdrop is a popular reception and photography locale.
If you need a break from relaxation, the resort’s sister operations of Scuba Saint Lucia, Kayak Saint Lucia, and Bike Saint Lucia will keep you busy below, on, and above the water. Next door, the Anse Mamin nature preserve includes remains and ruins of an 18th century colonial plantation which are now a beachside forest natural area. Anse Mamin offers unlimited hiking among exotic plants and medicinal herbs; jungle forest bike riding; history appreciation; and world famous bird watching, alone or with a local guide. At Anse Mamin’s beachfront bar and grill, you may appreciate the best hamburgers ever grilled over re-purposed, relic molasses boiling kettles from colonial occupation.
If above-ground critter action is your thing, landlubber naturalists need not despair. Anse Chastanet attracts serious birders from all over the world, where a lucky observer may discover birds found nowhere else on earth. The Saint Lucia Pewee, Saint Lucia Warbler, Mangrove Cuckoo, Saint Lucia Oriole (once only 60 pairs in existence), the national bird “Jacquot” or Saint Lucia Parrot are some of the recovering species waiting to behold.
July through October is sea turtle hatching season. Usually observed underwater, the female turtle may appear ashore to deposit egg nests along the beach. Some may even hatch right in front of the resort. No lights or flash cameras are allowed during the evening exodus so as not to confuse the newborns. A critically endangered animal, the Leatherback sea turtle – the largest of all living turtles – is a popular species to see; a gentle lumbering adult can weigh 2,000 pounds.
If you choose, bypass the mainstream beach resorts of the touristy northern capital city of Castries for more of Saint Lucia’s gems in the lesser traveled south. Take an afternoon guided trip to the nearby town of Soufriere (sulfur in French), and explore the volcano lands, botanical gardens, or historic town square. Soufriere was named after the sulfur-laden odor and springs associated with the Caribbean’s only drive-through, active volcanic area. Volcanoes are the basis of Saint Lucia’s formation, with breathtaking mountains and rocky seashores. Two main remnant volcanic peaks (or Pitons) are popular postcard images. Also, in the heart of the Soufriere Marine Management Area and Reserve, Scuba Saint Lucia, is ideal for many desired water adventures. Scuba Saint Lucia offers underwater voyages for the novice or experienced. This one-stop-shop dive facility, founded in 1981, provides dive masters who aid in your diving, providing equipment and accessories to enhance your underwater enjoyment.
If you visit in the August off-season, one of many events Saint Lucia embraces is an internationally, rare marine biology occurrence available for all to view. Anse Chastanet’s annual coral spawning may be witnessed in the evening waters of a night dive. Tiny white dots of sperm/egg packets float upward from the coral surface, in unison and precisely on cue, within a three-day window. Brittle Starfish spawning is usually triggered on the coral surface, right after, by a chain reaction. So vivid that Jacques Cousteau would be envious. What’s the big deal? Discovered in the 1980’s at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, this annual mass reproductive phenomenon overturned a long-held belief that most coral species reproduce by internal egg fertilization. This new external phase of reproduction is critical to the coral reefs, and our own ecosystem’s survival. Each year, coral releases millions of egg and sperm cells that drift to the sea surface for fertilization, until it is slick with coral larvae. Then, they settle to the bottom, destined to build the next generation of one of the ocean’s most vital organisms. It is this spawning phase of reproduction that is the weak link of reef survival, which can only happen when conditions are just right.
But wait – there’s more! Observing coral is one thing, but being a steward of conservation is critical to visitor appreciation. With coral mortality increasing worldwide, Scuba Saint Lucia recently launched Saint Lucia’s first pilot “coral farm” in collaboration with “Crew 3000” – a volunteer reef conservation organization of like-minded marine specialists and travelers. The “3000” represent the goals of achieving ocean health by year 3000. Anse Chastanet works with “Crew 3000”, annually, to establish strategically placed artificial underwater structures on the ocean bottom, with fragmented Staghorn coral fragments, to accelerate reproduction and growth. A visiting diver may observe this activity with a guide, or even volunteer with “Crew 3000” by making arrangements in advance.
For more diving intrigue, get ready for a short boat ride to combine nature with historical artifacts. Exploring the organism-encrusted wrecks of Lesleen M, Anse La Raye, and Anse Cochon is fascinating; wreck-diving is usually for the advanced, but not here in these shallow blue waters. For something different, try the walls or the drift dive of Superman’s Flight in the shadow of Petit Piton where the cliff face was the backdrop of a scene in the film, Superman II.
Visiting the wonderfully diverse island of Saint Lucia (especially seeking out Anse Chastanet), with all of its history, amazing culture, adventure-filled activities, eco-friendliness, relaxation, pampering, and culinary indulgence, will leave you wanting to discover more of the Caribbean’s West Indies.