Since most of the island hotels are built right on the beach, you won't have to go far to swim. All beaches are open to the public, even those along hotel properties. However, if you use any of the hotel's beach equipment, you must pay for it. We prefer the beaches along the western coast, as the rough surf on the windward (east) side makes swimming potentially dangerous. The best hotels are all on the western coast for good reason.
One of the best beaches is Pigeon Point Beach, off the north shore, part of the Pigeon Island National Historic Park. The small beach here has white sand and is an ideal place for a picnic. Pigeon Island is joined to the mainland of St. Lucia by a causeway, so it's easy to reach.
The most frequented beach is Reduit Beach, at Rodney Bay, 2km (1 1/4 miles) of soft beige sand fronting very clear waters. Many watersports kiosks can be found along the strip bordering Royal St. Lucian Hotel. With all its restaurants and bars, you'll find plenty of refueling stops.
Choc Bay is a long stretch of sand and palm trees on the northwestern coast, convenient to Castries and the big resorts. Its tranquil waters lure swimmers and especially families (including locals) with small children.
The 3km (2-mile) white-sand Malabar Beach runs parallel to the George F. L. Charles Airport runway, in Castries, to the Rendezvous resort. Vigie Beach, north of Castries Harbour, is also popular. It has fine beige sands, sloping gently into crystalline water. La Toc Beach, just south of Castries, opens onto a crescent-shaped bay containing golden sand.
Marigot Bay is the quintessential Caribbean cove, framed on three sides by steep emerald hills and skirted by palm trees. There are some small but secluded beaches here. Some of the Caribbean's most expensive yachts anchor in this bay.
One of the most charming and hidden beaches of St. Lucia is the idyllic cove of Anse Chastanet, north of Soufrière. This is a beach connoisseur's delight. Towering palms provide shade from the fierce noonday sun, and lush hills are a refreshing contrast to the dark sandy strip.
The dramatic crescent-shaped bay of Anse des Pitons is at the foot of and between the twin peaks of the Pitons, south of Soufrière. The Jalousie Plantation transformed the natural black-sand beach by covering it with white sand; you walk through the resort to get to it. It's popular with divers and snorkelers. While here, ask about a very special beach reached only by boat: the black volcanic sands and tranquil waters of Anse Couchon. With its shallow reefs, excellent snorkeling, and picture-postcard charm, this beach has become a hideaway for lovers. It's south of Anse-le-Raye.
You'll find miles of white sand at the beach at Vieux Fort, at the southern end of the island. Reefs protect the crystal-clear waters here, rendering them tranquil and ideal for swimming. At the southern end of the windward side of the island is Anse des Sables, which opens onto a shallow bay swept by trade winds that are great for windsurfing.
Camping is now possible on St. Lucia courtesy of the Environmental Educational Centre, a division of the St. Lucia National Trust (tel. 758/452-5005). This reserve features 12 campsites along a beautiful stretch of beach on historic Anse Liberté, in the fishing town of Canaries, 40km (25 miles) southwest of Castries and 13km (8 miles) north of Soufrière. At present you must bring your own tent, paying $25 to $75 per night to rent the site. There are nearby community bathrooms and community cooking areas. The reserve has 8km (5 miles) of hiking trails; staff members give tours of the area and explain the rich history of the Anse Liberté, which literally translated means "freedom harbor."
The waters around St. Lucia are known for their game fish, including blue marlin, sailfish, mako sharks, and barracuda, with tuna and kingfish among the edible catches. Most hotels can arrange fishing expeditions. Call Mako Watersports (tel. 758/452-0412), which offers half-day fishing trips for $99 per person or full-day trips from $400. Captain Mike's (tel. 758/452-7044; www.captmikes.com) also conducts fishing trips, renting boats by the half-day for $450 to $550, or a whole day in the $800-to-$1,000 price range.
St. Lucia has an 18-hole golf course (6,815 yd., par-71) at the St. Lucia Golf Resort and Country Club, Cap Estate, at the northern end of the island (tel. 758/450-8523; www.stluciagolf.com). In winter greens fees are $145 for 18 holes or $105 for 9 holes; these charges are lowered in summer to $120 for 18 holes or $95 for 9 holes. Carts are included, and clubs can be rented for $50. Hours are from 6:30am to 6pm daily, and reservations are needed.
A tropical rainforest covers a large area in the southern half of St. Lucia, and the St. Lucia Forest and Lands Department manages it wisely. This forest reserve divides the western and eastern halves of the island. There are several trails, the most popular of which is the Barre de l'Isle Trail, located almost in the center of St. Lucia, southeast of Marigot Bay; it's a fairly easy trail that even children can handle. There are four panoramic lookout points with dramatic views of the sea where the Atlantic and the Caribbean meet. It takes about an hour to walk this 2km-long (1.25-mile) trail, which lies about a 30-minute ride from Castries. Guided hikes can usually be arranged through the major hotels or through the Forest and Lands Department (tel. 758/450-2078).
North of Castries is the island's oldest riding establishment -- Trim's National Riding Stable, Cas-en-Bas, Gros Islet (tel. 758/450-8273; www.trimsridingstables.com). Its activities range from trail rides to beach tours, and the stable even offers horse-drawn carriage tours of Pigeon Island. Rides are $45 for an hour, $60 for 2 hours, or $80 for a 3-hour beach ride with a barbecue.
In Soufrière, Scuba St. Lucia, in the Anse Chastanet Resort (tel. 758/459-7755; www.scubastlucia.com), offers one of the world's top dive locations at a five-star PADI dive center. At the southern end of Anse Chastanet's .4km-long (1/4-mile) secluded beach, it features premier diving and comprehensive facilities for divers of all levels. Some of the most spectacular coral reefs of St. Lucia, many only 3 to 6m (9 3/4-20 ft.) below the surface, lie a short distance from the beach.
Many PADI instructors offer five dive programs a day. Photographic equipment is available for rent (film can be processed on the premises), and instruction is offered in picture taking. Experienced divers can rent any equipment they need. PADI certification courses are available for $650. A 2- to 3-hour introductory lesson costs $95 and includes a short theory session, equipment familiarization, development of skills in shallow water, a tour of the reef, and all equipment. Single dives cost $40. Hours are from 8am to 6pm daily.
Another full-service scuba center is available on St. Lucia's southwest coast at the Jalousie Plantation, at Soufrière (tel. 758/456-8000). The PADI center offers dives in St. Lucia's National Marine Park; there are numerous shallow reefs near the shore. The diver certification program is available to hotel guests and other visitors ages 12 and up. Prices range from a single dive for $40 to $85, to a certification course for $550 to $800. There's a daily resort course for noncertified divers that includes a supervised dive from the beach; it costs $95. A 10-dive package is $400; a six-dive package is $300. All prices include equipment, tax, and service charges.
The best place for tennis on the island is the St. Lucia Racquet Club, adjacent to Club St. Lucia (tel. 758/450-0551). It's one of the finest tennis facilities in the Lesser Antilles. Its seven illuminated courts are maintained in state-of-the-art condition, and there's also a good pro shop on-site. You must reserve 24 hours in advance. Guests of the hotel play for free; nonguests are charged $12 per hour. Tennis racquets rent for $8 per hour.
The Jalousie Plantation, at Soufrière (tel. 758/456-8000), has a good program. Vernon Lewis, the top-ranked player in St. Lucia, is the pro. You'll find four brand-new Laykold tennis courts (three lit for night play). Hotel guests play for free (though they pay for lessons). Nonguests can play for $25 per hour.
The best all-around watersports center is St. Lucian Watersports, at the Rex St. Lucian Hotel (tel. 758/452-8351). Water-skiing costs $20 for a 10- to 15-minute ride (three rounds). Windsurfers can be rented for $25 per half-hour. Snorkeling is free for guests of the hotel; nonguests pay $10 per hour for equipment.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.