Your first look at St. Lucia's lush coast from the deck of a cruise ship is likely to include the island's most dramatic geologic feature: the Pitons, two striking volcanic peaks that rise a half-mile off St. Lucia's southwestern coast. The island's beauty has earned it the nickname «Helen of the West Indies.«
Though St. Lucia has plenty of visitors (including those from cruise ships and a steady influx of honeymooners), parts of the island have largely remained unspoiled due to the locals' commitment to protecting the rainforests and other natural resources. A decent percentage of the island -- some 19,000 acres -- is protected as part of the St. Lucia National Rain Forest.
What development there is on St. Lucia is mostly in the area around Castries, the island's colorful, energetic capital city. It's not picturesque but it's still worth a look, especially if you're in search of duty-free goods or local handicrafts. But to appreciate St. Lucia's natural beauty, rent a car or take a cab out of town. The prettiest part of the island is in the south, and most visitors head there to see the former French colonial capital Soufriere, the lush Diamond Botanical Gardens and the world's only «drive-in» volcano. More options include hiking through the rainforest, snorkeling the sunken wreck off of Anse Cochon and horseback riding along the coast.
Settled first by the Arawaks and then the Caribs, St. Lucia became a hotly contested territory with the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century. The island passed back and forth 14 times between the British and the French until 1814, when the Brits finally took possession for good. Traces of both cultures still remain in the language; many St. Lucians speak both English and a French Creole patois, and it's visible in distinctive place names such as Soufriere, Gros Islet, Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island.