In the weightless darkness of the warm underwater ocean night, I eagerly observed the confetti clouds of spawning coral floating up on cue like upward falling snow just days after the first August full moon. Exchanging glances with unusual sea creatures with glowing eyes that only come out at night distracted me from the only sound of air bubbles gently rippling past my ears from the scuba tank regulator.
This natural wonder is not just another Caribbean attraction, but rather a surreal combination of a novice level scuba experience along with a recently-discovered internationally rare marine biology occurrence normally experienced in a text book. Even better, this world-renowned ecological event is easily accessed by a short flipper swim from the remote yet comfortable environmentally-sensitive resort of Anse Chastanet (Chastanet harbor), in the West Indian island of Saint Lucia.
Locally pronounced “Saint Looshia”, this island mix of French, English, African, and Creole history in the West Indies is not only an educational and cultural experience in its own right, but also lies in wait as an under appreciated summer getaway with rare nature experiences ranging from tropical ocean reef to rain forest mountain preserves in one place.
The Caribbean may not be at the top of many summer vacation plans but perception of overly hot experiences does the tropical island paradise a great disservice since summer temperatures are easily exceeded in North America. Somehow the island water is just a bit bluer and warmer then, but more important, that is when the most sea creature action is.
Named after Saint Lucy from French influences, most references to Saint Lucia focus on the touristy northern capital city of Castries with mainstream developed beach resorts. Although part of a colonial tug-of-war between the British and French from a slavery-based boom in tropical produce trade, English predominates as the official language with Patois (Patwa or Patwah), a local frequently-spoken Creole dialect mix, on numerous islands. Today, agriculture has been perfected as an eco-friendly sustainable and organic industry of superior farm-to-table produce secondary to tourism and nature-appreciation – and the islanders do appreciate and welcome visitors.
Bypass the capital if time is limited since more of Saint Lucia’s gems are to be found in the lesser traveled south near the second largest city of Soufriere (sulphur in French), named after the sulphur-laden odor and springs associated with the Caribbean’s only drive-through active volcanic area nearby. Volcanoes are in fact the basis of the Island’s formation with breathtaking rain-forested mountains right up to rocky seashores. The two main remnant volcanic peaks, or Pitons, a UNESCO World Heritage site, visually predominate and are popular post card images with the bigger one being climbable.
This region is also where Anse Chastanet’s Scuba Saint Lucia, the island’s main five-star Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) dive operation, provides the only beach access to this incredible reef spawning experience, and is one of the main unique natural resources and marine biological events in the world. A core attraction of any low maintenance eco-travel experience in Saint Lucia, this reef draws other island dive operations here by boat because it is so good. The coral dive is done in the evening with a guide, and a lucky observer will see clouds of tiny white dots of sperm/egg packets floating up in unison so vividly that Jacque Cousteau would be envious.
Founded in 1981 as one of the Caribbean’s premier one-stop-shop dive facilities located in the pristine Soufriere Marine Management Area and Reserve, Scuba St. Lucia is efficiently ideal for the beginner or novice diver whether you check out the coral spawning event or not – and they can hook up any budding marine biologists with all the instruction necessary. My favorite feature is accessing the reef right off the beach from your room – no boat ride necessary – and can be as shallow or deep as desired. Don’t scuba? No problem since most of the cove is easily enjoyed by snorkeling. No equipment or don’t want to bring it with you? No worries – everything is provided.
If trying scuba for the first time has lingered on your to-do list way too long, or maybe you are a bit apprehensive, this is the place to do it. Take an introductory resort certification which allows a dive the same day in shallow water with a guide. This is where anyone with any level of interest in marine biology can have all of the fun and none of the work. Be prepared to learn about the region’s sensitive ecosystem and to identify lots of sea creatures.
Anse Chastanet is the only resort servicing the reef right offshore, but that is a good thing since there is absolutely no reason to stay anywhere else. In keeping with the area’s ecologically sensitive development and conservation initiatives, the resort is brilliantly constructed around, and with, the natural environment with local materials, and no tree removal, rain water runoff or earth moving. This is all done without roughing it or giving up any amenities as some eco-travel requires, and includes its own farm-to-table food preparation of premium “East Indian Saint Lucian Fusion” providing business opportunities for the local community.
If the freshest most exotic fruit and vegetables ever eaten is not appealing, you do not belong here. Demonstrating the natural resource and ecological linkages of the freshest in-house premium meal production compatible with the environment, three premium restaurants and two bars (try the local fresh banana daiquiri) prepare only locally supplied ingredients with menu variations reflecting what is most available or fresh.
A best kept secret, that is not so secret, is Anse Chastanet’s 600 acre estate which includes two sand beaches mingled with volcanic cliffs, and the premium internationally famous Jade Mountain Resort next door which is not only frequented by celebrities, but also on the most prominent travel publication top best-of lists for luxury and couples getaways featuring in-room private pools and individual butler service.
Make no mistake, Anse Chastanet’s and Jade Mountain’s environmental stewardship is clearly a success with its ecologically sensitive sustainable designs and resource management. The rooms and common areas are an amazing blend of secluded nature-compatible architecture and “tree houses”. These resource-dense surroundings result in a plethora of other efficient one-stop-shop ecological choices without additional effort for those who desire to experience numerous natural habitats in one place. One room even constructed its bathroom around a tree rather than cut it down.
When not submerged in or around the water, ask about Scuba Saint Lucia’s sister operations, Kayak Saint Lucia to explore secluded coves and shorelines, and Bike Saint Lucia for jungle forest trail riding in the Anse Mamin nature preserve next door. These remains and ruins of an 18th century colonial plantation are now a beachside rain forest that offers unlimited hiking, exotic plant identification for the inner botanist, or bird watching either alone or with a local guide.
Most important, do not forget to simply do nothing on their full service beaches which include food and drink service, beach chairs, beach towels, complimentary use of snorkel gear, stand-up paddle boards, windsurfers, kayaks, and Sunfish sailing. Take a yoga class, imbibe at the local beach bar, or get pampered right on the surf with their beach accessible spa offering way more varieties of services, therapies, and beauty treatments than I ever heard of, but then I am a guy. I highly recommend the massage before sunset. You deserve it.