Caribbean Escape to St. Lucia – 5 Day Self-Guided Itinerary
Growing up I most closely associated the Caribbean with cruising. At my high school in Maryland, some of the more fortunate students cruised during spring break, bringing back stories from places like The Bahamas and Cayman Islands. Actually, I’m not sure if they brought back stories so much as beaded hair and tan lines.
I quickly found out on my first and only cruise that this type of travel is not for me. I like to spend longer in a destination and really get under its skin. Pre-packaged excursions in large groups do not take me off the beaten path or into my own zone the way I prefer when I travel.
All this to say that if you are not a cruise person like me, the Caribbean still makes for a fantastic region to explore as an independent visitor. St. Lucia, a small country in the Lesser Antilles chain of islands, makes for a great destination for travelers looking to experience the Caribbean on a self-guided itinerary. I visited the country in 2021 and found the island to be welcoming, clean, safe and overflowing with nature and culture to explore.
You don’t have to go on a cruise to visit St. Lucia. In fact, you’re probably better off not doing so. Dive in and explore this special island on your own with this 5-day itinerary, perfect for adventurous travelers looking to see the highlights of the island while still making time for rest and relaxation.
A few tips, right off the bat:
- Rent a Car: While you could easily stay at all All-inclusive resort in St. Lucia and never leave luxury, to truly explore the beauty of this island you’re going to need to rent a car.
- Take Your Time: Lucia is only 27-miles long, but it takes longer than you’d think to get places. The roads on St. Lucia are narrow, winding and many sections have large trenches on the side. As is the case in many former British colonies, in St. Lucia they also drive on the left side of the road – the opposite of the United States. All these factors can make driving a harrowing experience, so you’re going to need to factor in additional time to go shorter distances.
- Pick Your Base: If you are visiting for 5-days, I’d recommend choosing one location to base yourself for the duration of the stay. This makes for a more relaxing experience and you can still see all of the island’s highlights on a day trip. The two most popular bases for independent travelers are:
- Rodney Bay – the highest concentration of resorts and amenities for tourists is located in Rodney Bay in the northwest of the island. The Bay itself is manmade and also boasts a marina. There’s a mall, multiple grocery stores and plenty of restaurants here. Just slightly further north is the ocean and small fishing village of Gros Islet. The itinerary below is based on my experience basing myself in this area.
- Soufrière – For a more mountainous and rugged experience in St. Lucia, base yourself with views of the twin volcanic peaks of the Pitons. There’s fewer amenities in this area, but if you’re looking to experience quiet time with iconic views, this area can’t be beat.
5-Day Self-Guided Itinerary of St. Lucia
Day 1 – Arrival to Hewanorra International Airport
If you’re flying to St. Lucia from the United States, you’ll more than likely arrive to Hewanorra International Airport in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the airport is inconveniently located on the southern tip of the island which is quite far from the major tourist hubs. The airport also only has one small restaurant that serves Caribbean specialties, so bring along snacks to avoid getting Hangry.
My parents and I stayed at an AirBnB in Gros Islet, located in the pure north of the island. The two most common areas to base oneself are Rodney Bay and Soufriere. Both locations are over an hour drive from the airport, and as I mentioned above, the road conditions can be a jarring introduction to the Caribbean, so plan for this and allow extra time to get to your accommodations.
As most flights arrive in the afternoon, day 1 of a self-guided visit to St. Lucia is mostly a wash. Your only goal today should be to take your time and get to your accommodation. Stock up on groceries at Massy, a local Supermarket chain, and aim to be settled in time for sunset to enjoy a glass of wine with a view.
Tip – if you are staying in the Rodney Bay area, a great spot for dinner your first night is Boardwalk. Located on the Bay with a view of the yachts and sunset, it’s easy to get to and there’s ample parking.
Day 2 – Highlights of Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island
On your first full day in St. Lucia, keep driving to a minimum and explore the highlights of Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island.
Looking to start your day with a boost of caffeine? Stop in at Rituals Coffee House in the Baywalk Shopping Mall for some of the best coffee on the island.
Earlier on in the day visit Reduit Beach – it’s the most visited beach on the entire island and it’s a stones-throw from many all-inclusive resorts, so it does get crowded. Still, it’s a nice beach for a swim and there’s plenty of water sport rentals if an active beach experience suites you.
Reduit Beach is adjacent to Pigeon Island National Monument, which makes for a great place to fill an entire afternoon combining history, hiking and more beach time. The island, now connected to the mainland via a manmade causeway, was first used by a French settler in the 1550s to raid Spanish ships. The British later turned it into a fort. Remnants from this history, including stone buildings and barracks, are scattered on the island, making it a fun place to explore. A step path leads up a massive hill to Fort Rodney, offering some of the best views in the area – and old British cannons.
There’s one eatery within the confines of Pigeon Island – Jambe De Bois Restaurant – and it is well worth a visit (or two) with its menu of local dishes and a wooden porch right on the water’s edge.
Day 3 – Exploring the Rugged North
Smugglers Cove, located on the Northern tip of the island offers a more rugged ocean experience than the wide and gentle Reduit Beach. The narrow and intimate beach is set next to a resort and restaurant, but the beach is open to the public so you don’t have to be staying in the area to enjoy it. Park up on the main street and walk down the concrete steps to experience this hidden gem.
The water is choppier here, so you’ll need to be a decent swimmer if you want to get in the water. For those who do, there’s good snorkeling. During lowtide there’s tidepools to explore as well as a wooden swing that will send you soaring over the waves.
Do yourself a favor and enjoy a meal during the day at Naked Fisherman, a small outdoor restaurant carved into the base of the cliff. The food is excellent and the quirky space provides even more options for lounging and soaking up the sun.
If you want to splurge on dinner, Cliff at Cap Restaurant, located inside the resort but open to non-guests, boasts charming Moorish architecture and serves up sea views alongside fresh seafood.
Day 4 – Road Trip to St. Lucia’s Pitons
After two days of mostly relaxing on beaches, it’s time for a long road trip through mountains to the Unesco World Heritage Site of St. Lucia’s Pitons, or volcanic mountains. It’s less than 40 miles from Rodney Bay to the Pitons, but the one-lane road to get there is narrow and windy, so it will take around two hours each way. There’s more than enough to do here to fill multiple days, so make it an early start to pack in the highlights.
Your destination of the day is Soufrière, a small town that truly isn’t much to look at but offers a gateway to the island’s most spectacular natural wonders. As you near the Pitons, the jungle engulfs the road, closing all but a verdant sea of leaves out from view. For more active travelers like me, the first stop of the day should be the Gros Piton Nature Trail, a nearly three-mile trail that leads up one of the volcanic mountains. In order to hike you have to hire a guide at $50 a person and you have to arrive before 1 p.m.
The hike is very strenuous, leading up over 2,000 feet of steep terrain. The average time it takes for hikers to climb is two hours. I was able to make it up in 90-minutes, but I am a mountain biker so I’m well versed in climbing and pushing myself up and over rocks.
For those who are not up for such a difficult hike, Tet Paul Nature trail offers an easier 45-minute hike through the rainforest or the nearby Hotel Chocolate has a restaurant with a great view of the mountains.
After the hike, more relaxation is in store at Sugar Beach, St. Lucia’s most famous beach. Perfectly tucked between the two Pitons, this luminous stretch of sand is postcard worthy in every sense.
The downside is that the Viceroy Resort sits right on the beach, so public access is somewhat restricted. You can park outside of the road and walk down a steep path (allow for 10-minutes down and 20-minutes on the way back up). Or, for a fee of $50 per person that is redeemable at the hotel’s restaurant, you can park onsite.
Before you leave this region, stop at Sulphur Springs to soak in the hot water baths. Billed as “the world’s only drive-in volcano,” the marketing is a bit misleading, but the water is soothing nonetheless. These pools are open until 11 p.m., so it makes for a perfect end to the day after sunset. If the crowds at this spot are too much, there’s a few smaller pools in the region as well.
Day 5 – Castries and Northern Beaches
On your final day in St. Lucia there’s two ways to go; revisit your favorite beach for more relaxation or continue exploring. If you’re like my family and want to keep exploring, read on.
A visit to Castries, the capitol of St. Lucia, will give you a taste of the island’s urban side. While it’s most popular with cruise passengers, the Castries Central Market is a great place to shop for souvenirs or try a local dish. For some fantastic Creole cuisine, Coat Pot is set right in the city’s harbor, or venture further to the Pink Plantation House, offering local dishes in a colonial mansion.
The stretch of ocean in between Rodney Bay and Castries houses quite a few beaches. Choc, Vigie and La Toc beaches are all worth exploring. If you happen to be flying to another Caribbean island from St. Lucia you’ll also get to experience Vigie beach while flying out of George FL Charles Airport where the runway parallels the ocean.
And there you have it, a 5-Day Self-Guided Itinerary of St. Lucia. Caribbean enthusiasts, what did I miss? Let me know in the comments below.