Castries - Abbey Travel, Ireland


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Welcome to Castries


The main reason for the existence of the town of Castries, capital of St Lucia, is as a port of call for hundreds of cruise ships that dock in the deep harbour every year, disgorging thousands of day-trippers who shop till they drop in the market and duty-free shopping malls. Visitors who linger find the town has a certain charm surrounded by hills, although little to offer in the way of sightseeing or architectural heritage. Most of the buildings are fairly new, Castries having been destroyed several times by fire during its history, most recently in 1948. There is a very vibrant and colourful market on the go every day except Sunday, some good waterfront restaurants and a few remains of the defences of the island's various occupiers, to claim the attention. Castries also serves as a good base for island exploration, whether it is by road or water.

Information & Facts


The climate in Castries is typically tropical, featuring hot and humid weather year-round that is sometimes cooled slightly by trade winds. June to November sees the highest rainfall in Castries, and the best months to travel there are most likely from December to May when temperature average around 27°C (80°F).

English is the official language, but St Lucian Creole is widely spoken.

The unit of currency in Saint Lucia is the East Caribbean Dollar (XCD), which is tied to the US Dollar. The EC$ is divided into 100 cents. US dollars are also accepted at most tourist establishments and ensure a better exchange rate. ATMs are available in Castries, Rodney Bay, Soufriere and Vieux Fort. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 2pm, some are open till 5pm. Major credit cards are accepted at all large hotels, shops and restaurants. Most hotels will exchange foreign currency, and there are change bureaux in Castries.

Local time is GMT -4.

The spacious Derek Walcott Square is the central point of Castries, named for the town's famed son who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992. The town's only architectural points of interest are to be found on the square, particularly the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, its interior ablaze with golden light, flowers and candles. Shading the Cathedral is a huge samaan tree, thought to be about 400 years old. South of the square are some French buildings dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries, made of wood and featuring old fretwork balconies. Near the square is the feverish Castries central market where vendors sell Indian spices, local crafts, fruit (particularly delicious varieties of bananas) and souvenirs. Colourful countrywomen are dressed in their traditional clothing and cotton headdresses.

In the hills east of Castries at the village of Morne Pleasant is St Lucia's Folk Research Centre, housed in an old manor house that was originally owned by the Deveaux family. The centre includes a small but comprehensive museum. Among the exhibits, dedicated to preserving the language and culture of St Lucian Creole, is a reproduction of a traditional ti-kay hut and indigenous musical instruments. The centre also contains a research library with a collection of books, papers and photographs detailing St Lucia' folklore and history.

North of Castries lies the small, rather unremarkable fishing village of Gros Islet, a collection of dilapidated wooden homes lining narrow streets and a rather grubby beach. But come Friday night this unprepossessing town is the place to be for everyone on St Lucia, local or visitor. The renowned Friday night 'jump-up' starts at around 10pm when the streets are blocked off, scores of vendors arrive with delicious snacks and cold beers, bars open their doors and speakers are set up on street corners. The party goes on most of the night.

A perfect spot for a picnic, Marigot Bay, about eight miles (13km) south of Castries is one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean. It was used in the movie Dr Doolittle, and has long been a favourite stopping point for recreational yachting and boating. The beach is lined with palm trees and remains largely unspoilt and natural.

On the outskirts to the south of Castries, accessed via Bridge Street, stands the hill of Morne Fortune, 'Hill of Good Luck', where some violent battles were waged between the French and British in the 18th and 19th centuries in their quest to control the island. The view from the lookout on the hilltop is magnificent. The hill is also the site of Government House, the palatial Victorian edifice that is the official residence of the governor general of the island, with its lovely private gardens. Visitors can explore the military cemetery, an old battery and powder museum, and a small museum exhibiting relics from the island's colonial days.

Pigeon Island, north of Castries, is St Lucia's first national park, reached from the mainland across a causeway. The islet has a romantic past, having been the hide-out of Jambe de Bois, the much-feared peg-leg pirate who preyed on Spanish galleons. It was also from here that Admiral Rodney set sail in 1782 to destroy the French fleet in one of the most decisive sea battles in European history. Pigeon island features two white sandy beaches and an interpretation centre, where a multimedia display explains the local history. The centre includes the Captain's Cellar Olde English Pub, a re-creation of an 18th century English pub. The island is ideal for nature walks and has numerous marked trails which bypass historical sites, like the remains of an 18th century British fort.

Soufriere in the south is the oldest settlement on the island, having served as the French capital in the 18th century. The deep-water port stands at the base of St Lucia's main landmarks, the two towering extinct volcanoes known as the Pitons, rising to 2,619 feet (798m) above sea level. The town itself is pretty, with a cluster of colourfully painted arcaded buildings against a background of dense jungle. Most visitors, however, are drawn by the nearby attraction of the 'drive-in' volcano, Mount Soufriere, where it is possible to enter by car into an ancient volcanic crater filled with sulphur springs and steam geysers. Also at Soufriere are the Diamond Mineral Baths, the Diamond Waterfall and the Diamond Botanical Gardens.

St Lucia's second largest town is on the south coast, adjacent to the island's busy Hewanorra International Airport on the southernmost tip of the island. At St Lucia's most southerly point just outside the town is the Cape Moule, a Chique Lighthouse, which offers one of the best panoramic views of the island. The town has a beach called Anse de Sables which is popular for windsurfers. Near the beach is the Maria Islands Interpretive Centre, which contains a small natural history museum and an office where visitors can book trips to the Maria Islands about half a mile offshore.

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