It has been almost one week now, and I’ve already had the opportunity to see some incredible destinations. As far as alternatives to the traditional “sun and sand” tourist attractions, St. Lucia has good diversity. There are options for nature lovers, the adventure seekers, those who willing to spend a pretty penny, and plenty of underwater options. Many of the tours only operate around cruises or heavy seasons (late fall). Luckily for me, a Royal Caribbean cruise docked yesterday, which meant the city was in full gear with vendors and tour guides ready for curious travelers.
I was introduced to the operators of the St. Lucian Country Life Heritage Tours, and was able to jump in on a tour that went up to the rainforest, in the northern part of Castries. Our tour guide, Nelly, took me and 4 other cruise-goers on a 45-minute tour through the wilderness trails. We stopped along the way to observe medicinal herbs, native bird sanctuaries, taste local in-season fruits, and she even showed us how to husk and crack coconuts. Her knowledge was extensive which she showed through her expertise in fruits, herbs, birds species, and traditional recipes. The trail was beautifully preserved, and included signage, which I though was also helpful. Signage was placed on key tree and plant species that were either used for spices, fruits or medicine. Many of the historic traditions are still being passed down, as there are many local species that can be utilized for multiple purposes. This particular destination is a family estate and managed by family members. However, the St. Lucian National Trust (SLNT) is membership-based body that funds similar projects around the island.
The Pigeon Island National Landmark and Park is one of the many projects the SLNT in responsible for managing. This attraction is popular for weddings, native nature lovers, and any tourists that may be staying nearby at one of the 3 Sandals resorts. Before I get into describing the park itself, I’ll explain a little about the SLNT. There currently have 1562 members, which represent the national government, private sector, as well as the local public sector. The vision of this body is to ensure the natural and historic patrimony of St. Lucia is conserved for present and future generations. They strive to make each project relevant for the lives of the St. Lucian people, as well as any traveler. One of the goals to is to engage in a way that inspires both guests and possible investor. Their sites/projects include national landmarks, historic sites, environmental protection areas and nature reserves. They have a management body made up of 9 core members. They have 7 members of the council that are elected annually by all members, 2 members elected by St. Lucia Archeological and Historic Society annually, and 2 members that are elected by the Prime Minister to manage the entirety of the Trust.
It was evident during my tour today that Pigeon National Park is well managed by all employees and well marked for educational purposes. The park itself was once an army fort and now consists of scattered ruins throughout a pristine landscape. Everything is well preserved and posts are on site for educational guidance. The entrance fee for the entire day is roughly USD$3, and you have access to the private beachfront. The trails take you up a heavily wooded climb that opens to the viewing point at the top of the island. It is a short trek, only 20-30 minutes all together, but the views are breathtaking. My tour guide confessed to giving up dental school to work at Pigeon Park. She said she would rather work in nature, and be outside teaching about her history than practice dental hygiene! Her favorite part of her job is when she does her nightly rounds to ensure the park is completely vacated; everything is quiet, she can be at peace with her surroundings, and she has the best views of the sunsets.
The island acquires the majority of its wealth from tourism, whereas historically it would have been from banana exports. This reliance gives the island great vulnerability, and has created a very defined segregation. Most residents find themselves working multiple jobs, due to the intermittency of the business brought by tourists. The majority of travelers going to beach resorts are not as adventurous as those coming by cruise – so I was told. With an industry so reliant on cruise ships, competition can be pretty high. That being said, the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Heritage as well as the St. Lucia National Trust are working hard to identify alternatives to help diversify the industry.