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Soufriére

Caribbean's only drive-in volcano

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View St Lucia 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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And today for something completely different. Renting a car is one of the best things we did here in St Lucia – not only has it given us the freedom to do what we want when we want it; it has also saved us tons of money. Take the trip today to Soufriére for instance, if we were to take this as an excursion from the hotel, it would cost us $120 each! For the two of us, that is not far short of the cost of the hire car for the week.

Anse la Raye

Heading down the coast, we pass through small fishing villages where life goes on as it has done for decades - long before the all-inclusive tourists or cruise day-visitors arrived. Clapper-board houses line the narrow streets, fish and fruit markets spill out on the narrow pavements, and people sit on their porch watching life go by.

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We stop a few times along the way at view points overlooking particularly scenic stretches of coastline, or as here, one of the fishing villages which line the shore.

Canaries

Canaries is also known locally as 'Kanawe' and means Amerindian cooking. The small town was founded in the 18th century by the French and until the late 1960s, was only accessible by boat.

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At each of these view points, stalls selling souvenirs have sprung up, often with self appointed “guides” who will tell you a little bit about what you are seeing, in the hope that you will feel obliged to buy something. The highlight of this stop, however, is not so much the view or the tat for sale, but overhearing a St Lucian trying to explain cricket to a bunch of Germans. I'm afraid most of it fell on deaf ears.

Pitons

Although they appear to be standing side by side, the 750m high peaks are in fact on either side of the bay, with three miles separating them. In 1997, the Pitons National Park was declared a UNESCO Heritage site and they are the symbol of St Lucia, appearing on many local goods such as the very pleasant beer by the same name.

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Soufriére

The town of Soufriére got its name from the sulphur mining in the 19th century and is now a quaint village with a sleepy feel.

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The village is a favourite destination for themed boat trips carrying tourists on day trips from their hotels.

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Sulphur Springs Park

The springs were formerly an active volcano which last erupted in 1780, although the last major seismic activity was some 40,000 years ago. Are we due for another any time soon?

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The crater dome of the volcano has collapsed, forming a huge caldera and hotter than boiling sulphur (at 170 °C) still billows from cracks in the walls, and bubbling muds fills murky pools.

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Drive-in Volcano
It is billed as “the Caribbean's only drive-in volcano” - does that mean there are other drive-in volcanoes elsewhere in the world? Until I came here, I really wondered how that worked in reality – I had seen photos of the volcano from Google Earth, but that didn't make me any wiser.

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In reality, after paying your entrance fee, you drive up and park along the side of the road next to the active area. Like most tourist sites in St Lucia, there are no formal arrangements, and everything is very laid back. You do, however, get a guide. Up until a few years ago, you were able to walk in amongst the cracks in the rocks and bubbling pools, but after a fatal accident, the whole area has now been made much more secure and an elevated wooden walkway takes you safely along the sides of the bubbling mud pools, naturally hot waterfalls and fissures with steaming sulphur.

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When thinking of a “volcano”, the first thing that springs to my mind is a cone shaped mountain with a caldera at the top that you can look into after climbing its steep and slippery scree walls. Here the whole area is a caldera, and it is open on one side towards the ocean, so it doesn't look like my traditional image of a volcano.

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Anse Chastanet

Having read about this place on a birding forum, I ams keen to head out to the hotel of the same name for lunch. The narrow, winding, potholed, forest track leading here is an experience in itself, no wonder most tourists arrive here by water taxi!

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The restaurant is set right on the beach and the food is superb. We opt for the dish of the day which is pan seared mahi on a bed of pineapple couscous with a beurre blanc. Easily the best fish lunch on the whole trip!

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As I'd hoped, we have a few birds to entertain us, including the endemic Lesser Antillean Pewee, and two of the three hummingbirds found on the island:

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Green Throated Carib

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Bananaquit

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Zenaida Dove

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Lesser Antillean Pewee

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Antillean Crested Hummingbird

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Grassland Yellow Finch

Castries

St Lucia's capital city has around 70,000 inhabitants. Most of the city’s historic buildings were destroyed by major fires between 1785 and 1948, but there are still some ramshackle backstreet areas where life appears not to have changed in over a hundred years. On our way back to Rodney Bay, we stop on a hill overlooking the town to get a good view.

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We have noticed a huge difference in the atmosphere of the town when there is a cruise ship in port, as well as the number of people of course. The more I see the huge cruise ships, the more I am put off by that kind of holiday; but each to their own. Today the town is quiet.

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While enjoying a little pre-dinner drink on the balcony, I overlook the window of some French guests who also do not know that net curtains become see-through after dark when there are lights on inside. I am beginning to feel like a voyeur!

Posted by Grete Howard 04:11 Archived in Saint Lucia

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