On your next visit to the Caribbean, skip Aruba and the Bahamas and stay in Saint Lucia. The difference? Instead of flat sandy shores, the 27-mile-long island is a teardrop-shaped mass of rainforest-covered peaks so perfectly triangular and green they look painted on.
Land in the small northern capital of Castries and you'll notice something else different about this Caribbean paradise: No one tries to hustle you onto a tour bus or sell you cheap beaded necklaces. In fact, Saint Lucians, who speak both English and Creole, seem content with or without you visiting; it's like they know they've got a good thing and they're happy to let you take up residence for a week or two.
There's no better place to do so than Coco Palm, in the northern town of Rodney Bay. The small crayon-colored hotel has all the things you want (chill staff, a quaint spa, well-appointed rooms) and none of the stuff you don't (fat Americans drinking daiquiris, a lobby the size of a football field). On top of that, every lounge chair around the turquoise, bridge-covered pool has a view of one of the island's famous verdant peaks. From Coco Palm, it's a five-minute walk down a flower-lined path to a secluded corner of Reduit Beach. There you can stretch on the sand and enjoy the sun or rent snorkel gear to explore the warm shallows. For lunch, head north along the beach toward the hotels and restaurants, or saunter over to Miss Marie's Fish Shack, a local hangout where you can get a $7 lunch plate of grilled fish, macaroni pie, and slaw—and, if you're lucky, a swig from Miss Marie's bottle of homemade cashew nut wine.
When you're ready to wander, set up a guided trip around the island's north end with Jungle Tours, and you'll hike to a secluded waterfall, explore the tiny fishing village of Anse La Raye, and get a closer look at Mount Gimie, the island's highest peak. It might feel touristy to be driven around in a Jeep, but it's worse to be the jerk going 10 miles per hour on the twisting roads because he can't get the hang of driving on the left side. If you have more time, take a day trip to the Pitons (Saint Lucia's famous twin peaks), or visit the “drive-in” volcano and soak in the hot springs at Diamond Botanical Gardens, both near the southern town of Soufrière.
When you get back to Coco Palm, enjoy a drink under the thatched roof of the Caribbean restaurant Ti Bananne. You may not be able to drive on the left side of the road, but tell your waitress mèsi (thank you in Creole) and you'll at least feel a little more like a local.
758-715 34 38
Diamond Botanical Gardens
Coco Palm : http://www.coco-resorts.com/
Jungle Tours : http://www.jungletoursstlucia.com/
Diamond Botanical Gardens : http://www.diamondstlucia.com/