Planning a visit to St Lucia? Then, I highly recommend you spend some time in Soufrière, on the Southwestern Coast of Saint Lucia. While most people visit the Caribbean for its dreamy beaches, Soufrière is unlike anything you would expect in the region.
On first impression, it is lush and tropical to the extent that it feels very African. I should know; my family is from Cameroon. But you’ll soon find that the topography is full of surprises. The town sits within the caldera of the dormant Qualibou volcano, so the area is geothermally active with sulphur springs (the name Soufrière is derived from the French word for Sulfur). Beaches, rain forest nature trails, steaming mud baths and secluded waterfalls are part of the enchantments of Soufrière. Tropical sea life is another island miracle.
Some of Saint Lucia’s finest resorts also happen to be in Soufrière, offering unique cultural and historical tours. Experience, for example, a working cocoa plantation, former sugar estate and lush botanical gardens.
Gros Piton and Petit Piton, twin lava domes that formed 200,000-300,000 years ago, are hands down two of the more spectacular sights you’ll ever see. Their iconic peaks elicit sincere gasps of appreciation from visitors, which is why the Piton valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re feeling adventurous, you’ll want to climb the Pitons to get a bird’s eye view of the whole island nation. Gros Piton is 771 m (2,530 ft) high, and Petit Piton is 743 m (2,438 ft) high. Coral reefs cover almost 60% of the site’s marine area.
But wait, there’s more…
As if all that weren’t enough, the town center offers a picturesque slice of Lucian life, complete with street vendors, tiny local stores and the occasional block party at the pier. The vibe is 100% authentic, rather than touristic. Although the south is more rural, you’ll still have access to the same modern infrastructure that exists in the northern part of the island: strong internet, running water, reliable electricity, public safety etc.
Soufrière was founded by the French in the 1700s and was the original capital of the island before the British took over. Back in the day, Soufrière was dominated by large estates run by plantation owners of French origin. The descendants of those French settlers still live in the area, infused with African, Ameridian and even some East Indian heritage. Among them, you will experience the real local Caribbean vibe: warm, gracious and humorous, with tremendous generosity of spirit. Their language, Lucian creole, is spoken with a musical lilt and a bit of sass.
Many of the old estates are still there including Soufrière Estate, established in 1713 when King Louis XIV of France granted 2,000 acres of land to three Devaux brothers for services rendered to the crown. This estate boasts a botanical garden, sulphur baths, and majestic waterfalls on its grounds. The Diamond River running through the estate is actually black from volcanic mud, creating an unusual effect.
Then, there’s Fond Doux Estate, an eco-friendly resort with private luxury cottages scattered across lush grounds and a 250-year old working plantation. Here’s a separate article dedicated to Fond Doux.
Let me not forget the Rabot Estate. Established in 1745, it is now an ethical model for sustainable cocoa farming and a boutique hotel.
Hideaway for the rich and famous
For a long time, Soufrière has been a hideaway for the rich and famous, just like Lake Cuomo or Dubrovnik were before the secret got out.
Famous inhabitants have included Joséphine de Beauharnais, who spent much of her childhood in the area before she moved to France where she eventually married Napoleon Bonaparte and became Empress of France.
Matt Damon chose this place out of all others on the planet when he decided to renew his wedding vows to Luciana Barroso. Word has it that Mr. and Mrs. Damon rented out the entire Sugar Beach resort, so they could celebrate in privacy with their friends.
And, when Queen Elizabeth II visited St Lucia in 1966, she chose to land at Soufrière rather than Castries which had by then become the island’s capital. She’s not the only member of the British royal family to have hung out here. Her sister, Princess Margaret frequently escaped to Saint Lucia in the 60’ and ‘70s, when she needed a breather from her royal engagements. Prince Charles visited Soufrière with Camilla, Duchesse of Cornwall. And two years ago, Prince Harry, now Duke of Sussex, spent time in Soufrière connecting with local youth.
Exploring the coastline by boat is must if you have time. The color of the sea is constantly changing, teal in some parts and aqua in other parts. The views are breathtaking, and the overall experience is sublime — relaxing and invigorating at the same time.
Our water taxi (a fast pirogue with a single engine) was run by Johnny who demonstrated extreme pleasantness, flexibility and professionalism. The typical rate is $50-$200, depending on how extensively you want to explore the many nooks and crannies of the coastline, covers 1-4 passengers round-trip and is worth the money.
A diamond among gems
BOTTOM LINE: I have visited different parts of St. Lucia. While the entire island is a gem, Soufrière is a veritable diamond within. It has history, amazing beaches with great snorkeling, several rainforest trails, wildlife, waterfalls, and a truly unique vibe. The winding roads up and down the hills are a bit reminiscent of the hair-raising drive from the French Riviera to Monaco or along the Italian Amalfi Coast. But with that comes fantastic views.