St. Lucia

One of our Caribbean favorites with rugged, beautiful hills, and plentiful underwater life. New direct flights from Miami to St. Lucia make it easier to get there in a day. The prime snorkeling location is near Soufriere.

Anse Chastenet is a favorite hotel for both divers and snorkelers. It is located on a beautiful beach at the edge of a marine national park with a dive shop just steps from great snorkeling. Most of the rooms are scattered up the steep hillside. This is our favorite spot on the island with great snorkeling to either side of the beach. The hotel is costly but packages can lower the cost. Cars are quite expensive here and nothing is within easy walking distance. The road to Anse Chastenet is probably the worst we've ever seen leading to a major hotel and can be impassable in a bad storm. Guests arrive by boat if necessary.

Heading up the road from Anse Chastenet you'll come to the first of about a dozen private homes -- most offered for rent. Many of them have superb views of the famous Pitons rising 3,000' from the water. We love the space and views from the homes, but they do require a steep walk down to the beach or a rental car. Walking into the town of Soufriere for groceries is also quite a hike, but enjoyable. The little town is a wonderful place to buy fresh fish or vegetables, dine at a local restaurant, people watch, or even snorkel from the right side of the beach.

The entire area offers fascinating snorkeling (most protected marine areas), warm calm water, and spectacular surroundings. This is on the edge of a rain forest, so expect some heavy showers. They're usually over quickly and rarely prevent snorkeling.

SITES:

Just to the left of the Anse Chastenet beach snorkel all the way to the point for a wonderful underwater coral garden. Depths range from about 5-30' with sights such as eels, barracuda, spotted drum fish ducking under ledges, sponges, soft corals, scrawled file fish and much more. Be alert for the one danger -- motor boats round the corner with no warning, at high speed.

Heading to the far right from the same beach, you'll cross small coral heads and come to some great snorkeling where the coral and rocks rise above the water. This is a favorite snorkeling site. Good swimmers can continue to the next beach north and will see beautiful sea fans along the way as well as plenty of spots with coral and fish.

On a calm day snorkel around the point at the left as far as you wish. There's is snorkeling anywhere along this steep coast as far as the town of Soufriere. In fact, it makes a nice one-way snorkel if you can arrange a pick-up at one end.

The nearby Pitons drop straight down into the sea making for excellent diving and snorkeling all around both of them. Petite Piton can be reached by swimming from the south end of Soufriere beach. Gros Piton can be reached by boat or from the Jalousie Plantation hotel (located between the Pitons).

GETTING THERE:

Fly to either airport -- Castries in the north or Hewannora in the south. Hewannora at about 20 miles is a bit closer. The drive is beautiful, interesting, but winds its way through the jungled steep mountains taking about an hour to reach this area. The drive from Castries is longer, but offers a new freeway.

PLACES TO STAY:

Hotel and villa costs are all seasonal. High season is usually 15 Dec. through 15 Apr.

Anse Chastenet caters to especially to divers and snorkelers, but is a great snorkeler's hotel, too. It  has its own hotel and restaurant up on top with another casual restaurant down on the sand. The dive shop is big with excellent gear and a full crew. They are thoroughly professional (actually quite strict), so this is a delightful place to get certified if you've always wanted to try Scuba. Rooms at the hotel are expensive, casual (nearly all rooms in this area are wide open with no screens). Although this is a pretty hillside, most rooms have no view of the Pitons. (800) 223-1108 (US only)

Jalousie Plantation is the most expensive hotel on St. Lucia, located directly between the Pitons, exclusive, large, with air conditioning not found elsewhere. A shuttle system is needed since units are widely spread across the valley. Day visitors must pay a high price to enter, but that includes a meal. Arriving by water is legal and possible from the south end of Soufriere if you're a good swimmer.

VILLAS:

La Batterie is one of our personal favorites for home rental. It's located just a bit higher than the hotel, but looks out towards the Pitons. The 2-bedroom house and gardens with pool are charming with a feel for the old St. Lucia. This is a perfect honeymoon spot: quiet, elegant, yet comfortable. A great deal of care has gone into the large garden and authentic St. Lucian house to achieve this exceptional atmosphere. You can arrange to have Cynthia cook your meals for a very reasonable price and she's a great cook. Owners: Debby & Paul Keane (Chicago) (312) 935-4999

Le Gallerie is the first villa you'll come to hiking up from Anse Chastenet. You'll find a two-story house with magnificent views of the Pitons from nearly all rooms. It has 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a nearby cottage for the housekeeper. Both bedrooms are upstairs and open fully to the view. While not as elegant as some others, it does offer the best price and best views. Here too you can arrange for the housekeeper to cook. You can hike down a very long, steep trail on the property to the excellent snorkeling along this side. Owner: Gale Hedrick, 360 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago, IL 60601

Mango Point is higher on the hill, but has a sweeping view. This thoroughly elegant house includes a pool with a view. It has 3 bedrooms and a separate guest house. This is another honeymoon spot guaranteed to please if you're looking for beauty and serenity with snorkeling nearby. If you're in good shape, the hike down to the beach is OK. Hiking into the town of Soufriere is about the same. Once again, cooking can be arranged for a reasonable cost. Shutters open to the wide view. Owner: P. Bonnifay, 1010 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10028

Villa San Souci is even farther up the hill. The house offers great panoramic views, has 3 bedrooms on the main floor, but you can also rent the remodeled lower floor with 2 bedrooms. Owner: Mimi Agard (Biglerville, PA) (717) 334-5827

Caille Blanc Villa is located down toward Anse Chastenet with a Piton view. It's good for 2 couples since the design is modular with 2 bedrooms on opposite sides of the main house. The bedrooms each have showers with views. This is another delightful villa. Owner: Owen Coleman, 305 E. 46th St., New York, NY (212) 421-9030

All of these villas are open air with no screens, so mosquito netting is provided. A breeze up the mountain usually offers some protection, but you'll definitely need the netting at night.