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St Lucia beyond the beach

The Caribbean island is a honeymoon favourite but packs plenty of adventure besides, perfect for active couples and families.

Think the Caribbean is all sun, sand and rum cocktails? Well yes, but some islands offer much more besides.

Muddy Wilts’ editor Joanna.. threw herself into adventure activities on St Lucia – perfect for those with twitchy older children to keep amused.

Far flung shores, white sands, mojitos on tap…<sigh> as the Mudlets are older now, the kids’ club just won’t hack it and there’s no snoozing on the sun lounger for me anymore. Luckily, I heard St Lucia had those wonderful Caribbean beaches AND plenty of hidden adventures and excitement. We tried it for a family holiday and we loved it!

Yes, we all know that St Lucia is the favourite of honeymooners, the perfect sun-setting backdrop in front of which to stare at each other lovingly, but there is also loads to do for kids big and small on this lush, dramatic island, including hiking up the UNESCO World Heritage status Piton Mountains, visiting volcanic mud baths, even zip wiring through the rain forest. If you can tear yourself away from the white sand beaches, banana boating and your kids trying to drown you in the pool, you’ll find a wild, free and utterly gorgeous interior of rainforest, banana plantations and some seriously extreme adventures.

This mango-shaped Caribbean island has a rich cultural heritage, Creole cuisine and great diving and snorkelling. But it is St Lucia’s natural wonders that blow the mind – fancy the excitement of a Pirate Family Adventure on a replica 18th-Century rigged schooner, sailing down the dramatic coastline and stopping off to visit a waterfall and a volcano? What about whale and dolphin watching expeditions, glass-bottomed boat trips, a bit of SNUBA diving (yes, that’s not a typo)?

Here’s a run down of some of the top activities.

Treetop fun
Complete with sunburn, mozzie bites and everything else newbies get on the first day of hols, the Mudlet and I hit the high life of Rainforest Adventure. A relief to get away from the scorching heat and into the cooler rainforest, this is a trip not to be missed – take an aerial tram through the trees, spot the critters hiding amongst the wildlife and then zip your way down the mountain on 8 super-speedy zip wires. It was the highlight of the trip for the Mudlet (lots of shrieking as she whizzed by), while I managed some pretty impressive snaps of the panoramic views whilst screeching past at a hundred miles an hour with a harness strapped between my legs (you can imagine the sight).
Sizzling hot springs
Well, it turns out that St Lucia has its very own (technically) active volcano – although I am assured that the last recorded eruption was in 1766 – and so obviously our next stop was to rush there and breathe in the delightful fumes, steaming pools and bubbling mud of Sulphur Springs. Even better, the next thing we got to do was coat ourselves in the stuff. While it’s a bit of a tourist trap (and certainly stinky), both the Mudlet and I loved dipping into the scorching water before smearing handfuls of goo all over our hot bods and letting it cake solid in the sun.

Climbing high

OK, so I’m going to have to ‘fess up and say that we didn’t actually do this one, but I hear that the ultimate physical challenge on Saint Lucia, scaling the Gros Piton, is a blast. Though the 2,618 feet mountain is more manageable than the near-sheer Petit Piton, you still need to be fit to tackle the four-hour return trip, and, sadly, Mudlet (*ahem) let me down. While it begins with gentle strolling through villages and coconut plantations, streams and waterfalls in the valley below, once the real climb starts you are talking steep and tough, with some seriously sweat-inducing scrambling, despite the deceptively peaceful mango trees, exotic birds and colourful blooms around you. The guides (who are essential) all carry a stick to steady themselves, though the canny ones will rent them out for $10 to beetroot-faced tourists.

For us mere mortals, there are less exerting nature trails through the rainforest that are suitable for families, where you can spot loads of flora and fauna. Take a trail through Des Cartier Rainforest, explore a cocoa plantation or hike to a lookout point at the top of the fort in Pigeon Island. The Tet Paul Nature Trail is another goodie – a fairly easy 45 minute hike with some fab views, including Sugar Beach and the Petit Piton.

Bon Nouvel Estate
On the search for true St Lucian beauty, we toured the wonderful Bon Nouvel Estate, a haven of tranquility and nature in the heart of the island. The Bon Nouvel eco and agri-tourism heritage site consists of four hiking trails on the historic Esperance estate – our impressive guide showed us through their herb garden, carib hut with cassava garden, flora and fauna galore and native birds including the St. Lucian Warbler, Oriole and St. Lucian Black Finch. If you’re lucky, you’ll get views of Gros Piton at different angles, towering over the surrounding hills and mountains. The owner’s wonderful hospitality extended to a lush lunch on the estate, with soursop punch, codfish fritters, roasted breadfruit and stewed saltfish, and great deal of prodding around and wondering at the turmeric, cocoa pods, nutmeg and cinnamon grown on site.
If you fancy staying locally, the estate has it’s own Winni’s Guesthouse in Soufriere with 5 bedrooms, plus a little birdy tells me that there will soon be cottages available on the estate proper. Watch this space!
Riding through the waves 
Bareback on a shiny stallion, galloping through the waves with the sun on our backs…well, it was more a case of me gripping on for dear life while the Mudlet (too chicken to join me) laughed at me from the beach…but it was still pretty blooming amazing! At Trim’s Stables on the North East coast of the island we were paired up with two (fairly sprightly) St Lucian ponies before trekking up hill and down dale to get to the black sand beach. I’m not a great horseback rider but boy, that was a pretty unforgettable experience. And I do mean in a good way!

Both the Mudlet and I had a go at this in the pool, and it’s a lot of fun. While I’m happy deep beneath the waves, the Mudlet is a little hesitant to learn how to dive, so it’s lucky that the new sport of SNUBA fills that gap. A combination of scuba diving and snorkelling, it allows you to breathe easily underwater without wearing heavy, restrictive dive gear and doesn’t need any certification or diving experience. A total blast!

Segway baby!
Sadly time ran away with us / I discovered the ability to water ski after several multi-coloured cocktails and there was no more time for more excursions, but next time I come here I’m gonna be gliding effortlessly up Mount Pimard on a Segway St Lucian-style, to experience the stunning views of the coastline, catching the bunkers used by the American military during World War 2, the local fisherman on Pebble Beach and sights of Pigeon Island and Rodney Bay en route.
I’ve been to the Caribbean a few times over the years and I’d say St Lucia comes top of the pops – yes, it’s the perfect spot for honeymooners but dig a little deeper and it’s full to bursting with adventures for kids of all ages, not to mention the luxury hotels and beaches to die for.
Kids may also enjoy this new adventure story set on the island: The Secret Treasures of Saint Lucia is written by  children’s author Sara Grant and published by the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority in conjunction with Scholastic and Virgin Holidays. The story for 7-11 year olds sees Jack meet Nyla, a volunteer with the Saint Lucia National Trust. When a mysterious treasure map appears, they must work together to discover the true secret of Saint Lucia. Oo er. Sounds like the perfect Christmas stocking filler.

We stayed at Windjammer Landing and travelled with Virgin Holidays (voted the best holiday company to the Caribbean in the British Travel Awards for eight consecutive years.) To start planning your own Saint Lucian adventure, check out the tourist board’s site Saint Lucia UK 

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