Natural Treasures

Discover the true riches of the Caribbean away from the beach in Saint Lucia


Known as a favourite of honeymooners thanks to its beautiful beaches, great climate, luxurious resorts and almost universally friendly welcome, look beyond the romance and you’ll discover there’s far more to Saint Lucia than meets the eye.

With lush rainforests, cocoa plantations, the soaring Piton mountains, waterfalls, clear blue seas and even the world’s only “drive-in volcano” — complete with naturally heated thermal pools — the Caribbean island has plenty both on land and sea for nature-lovers.

Staying at East Winds on the north-west coast of the island, one of Saint Lucia’s smallest and oldest resorts with just 30 rooms, we had our first introduction to the island’s surprising variety on a tour of the 12-acre grounds with head gardener Sylvanus Lewis.

He’s been at the resort since 2006 and has a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge not only of the 150 or so different species of plants and trees in the garden, but also their various medicinal properties, from cinnamon, peppermint and vervain for abdominal and digestive issues to hibiscus or pawpaw for high blood pressure.

All the plants are cultivated and maintained with the minimum of pesticides. There are plenty of animals to see as well; mangrove crabs dart in and out of their nests in the ground, hummingbirds hover and feed, the occasional lizard scampers past and I could also spy giant caterpillars, egrets, herons and more.

The 40 mango trees and 92 coconut trees, plus banana and breadfruit trees, produce fruit used in the resort kitchen, alongside plenty of herbs grown in the gardens too.

Another of the trees many visitors to the island will have encountered is the cacao tree. Just over an hour’s drive from the resort, up and down some hair-raisingly steep hills and around hairpin bends, you can also take a “Tree to Bar” experience at the six-acre Rabot Estate, Saint Lucia’s oldest working cacao farm, now run by Hotel Chocolat.

Here, as well as learning how cacao is grown and how chocolate is made during a tour of the cacao groves, you get to graft a cacao tree before making your own bar of chocolate.

The island is home to rainforest too, although before heading on from Rabot Estate, you shouldn’t miss Saint Lucia’s drive-in volcano nearby. The “drive-in” refers to the fact that you can all but drive into the crater — rather than driving underneath into some kind of cave to see magma flowing as I was (probably naively) imagining.

Nonetheless, it is a spectacular sight watching the murky pools bubbling and steam rising, heated by energy coming from the centre of the Earth, as we’re told the cautionary tale of “Gabriel’s Crater”, named after an unfortunate guide who received serious burns from falling through the crust into the boiling spring in the 1990s. Since then, viewing has been restricted to a platform at a safe distance.

A few hundred metres way, the water has cooled to the temperature of a slightly-hotter-than-usual Jacuzzi (around 45C), and tourists are invited to daub themselves in mud (helpfully provided in buckets in two colours so that you can add amusing markings) and rub into their skin, before washing it off in the hot pools.

The mud is believed to have medicinal properties and it did seem to make my skin feel softer, but mainly it’s a bit of fun.

Top tip: take a towel. While there are simple showers and changing rooms, the set-up is simple — this isn’t a spa. Though if you forget, like me, you can buy one from one of the tourist stands outside.

For a gentler chance to discover the island’s natural treasures, soar through the rainforest in Saint Lucia’s aerial tram, a kind of open-air ski lift. Each carriage is hosted by a guide as you travel very slowly (under 1mph) more than a mile into the rainforest, up to 120 metres above the ground and around 2,000 metres above sea level.

As we passed through the huge, lush plants, our knowledgeable guide, Samantha Duncan, who has worked with the Rainforest Adventures eco-park since it opened in 2006, pointed out highlights such as a 300-year-old tree, giant ferns, and colourful heliconias. Also known as lobster claw plants, owing to their flowers’ shape, they can be pollinated only by hummingbirds.

In all, the forest is home to 47 species of birds, more than 100 different species of tree, as well as both boa constrictors and mongoose.

After the ride, we took a short walk through the lower section of the forest with Samantha to enjoy it at ground level, while there is also a three-hour guided hike available here, plus a series of ziplines through the forest.

Unexpectedly, this makes for an excellent activity for a rainy day; even though the rain was quite heavy the day we visited, under the canopy of leaves, we barely felt it.

When the weather is good, there are few better places to be than in the turquoise waves of the Caribbean. Back at East Winds, you can snorkel the reef just off the beach with reef squirrelfish, sweetlips and the colourful sergeant major fish and white mullet among the shoals of fish to spot.

For more adventures at sea, the resort also offers snorkelling tours to the northern coves, an all-day boat trip to see the famous peaks of Gros and Petit Piton, as well as the nearby Toraille Falls, one of Saint Lucia’s many waterfalls.

Unlike some of the larger resorts on the island, it’s easy to find a peaceful corner at East Winds too. The rooms are all set in small villas dotted throughout the garden, each with its own terrace.

Angled so as not to be overlooked, it’s a tempting place to sit and enjoy a drink from your complimentary (and regularly restocked) fridge, enjoying the sounds of crickets and birds in the garden as night falls.

The comfortable beds are enormous, and bathrooms are equally spacious with large showers, some semi-open and sunken, locally made ceramic sinks and Molton Brown toiletries.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this small resort has a very loyal clientele, with up to 60 per cent of guests being repeat visitors. While East Winds is usually adults-only, it has recently decided to start accepting children in July and August too.

The beach, like all in Saint Lucia, is public although non-hotel residents only seemed to turn up at the weekend, and very few of them at that. Dotted with loungers, there was still plenty of space for everyone — we particularly liked the loveseat on a pavilion at one end.

You can also borrow kayaks, paddleboards or even a Hobie Cat sailing boat from the small watersports centre to explore more of the local coves. The atmosphere in resort is generally calm and quiet, and all the better for it, although you can find a steel band playing most lunch times and discreet live music every evening; a pianist one night, a saxophonist another, a great singer who got people dancing on a third.

The food is excellent, especially given that it is all-inclusive, full of fresh Caribbean flavours. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style, although lunch is different every day — the beachside barbecue was particularly good — and informal, so it’s fine to come straight from your lounger or with wet hair.

Dinner, meanwhile, is four courses and slightly more formal; all meals include fish and vegetarian options, and you can book to eat in a private romantic gazebo on the beach at no extra cost. Wines from all over the world are available by the glass, and there is an extensive cocktail menu.

The bar staff are happy to come up with something to tempt you, even when faced with the vague request of: “Not sure what I want, maybe something with rum and fruit?” You’ll be offered a choice of spirits too, no “local spirits only” here.

But beyond the faultless service and beautiful setting, what makes this place so special is the people, whose relaxed and friendly manner means nothing is ever too much trouble.

Alongside those natural riches, it’s another reason to treasure this island. Small wonder it’s a place people are drawn back to time and time again.

Getting There

Rooms at East Winds cost from around £550 plus taxes per night all-inclusive, based on two sharing.

British Airways flies daily to Saint Lucia from Gatwick, with return fares starting from £524.

For more information about the island, visit

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