St. Lucia Review
St. Lucia, Anse Chastanet– November 2003.
We went to St. Lucia with the plan of doing some diving and some hiking. Because of the rain during the first half of our stay, some of the hikes were canceled due to mud/slippery conditions. This was not a problem because we discovered that the diving was MUCH better than we had expected. We had six dives included in our package but ended up doing nine dives, including two night dives. We only did two hikes, one next door at Anse Mamin and the climb to the top of Gros Piton (2,620 feet high – for experienced hikers only).
We took the Air Canada Saturday flight. They also have daily service through Barbados but this involves a long layover in Barbados. We had fairly roomy seats, good flight times (leaving at 8:30 a.m. going down and 3:50 p.m. coming back) and a baggage allowance per person of two suitcases at 32 kgs each and a carry-on of 10 kgs. The late departure meant that we could get in two dives on the day before we left. Because the road to the airport is under construction is took us two hours each way. On the way home we left the hotel at noon, spent two hours on the road, over an hour standing in the Air Canada check-in line, then through the departure line, the x-ray line and straight to the boarding line – NO LUNCH, no duty-free. There was a taxi bus leaving an hour earlier for the Air Jamaica flight, if we had taken that we would have missed the worst of the Air Canada lineup and had some time for lunch.
The other Canadian carrier serving St. Lucia is Air Transit. Their baggage allowance is a total of 20 kgs. per person checked plus 5 kgs. carry-on – this is not enough if you are planning on bringing your own SCUBA equipment. Excess baggage is $5 per kilo each direction. They will allow up to 30 kgs. of diving equipment free but this is subject to space availability and signing liability waivers. We have had problems with their check-in staff not being aware of this option. We also heard complaints of lack of leg room on the Air Transit flight.
Anse Chastanet is spread out over a hill and is not for the physically challenged. From the beach to the dinning area is 102 steps. The hillside rooms are further up the hill. Some people had over 300 steps to get from the beach to their rooms. To make up for the climb, there are fantastic views from the dinning area, bar and hillside rooms. All of the rooms are different in size and layout. We were booked in a standard room but were upgraded. Our beachside deluxe room was the size of a Toronto condo. We had an oversized bathroom, with two sinks and a large shower; a large main room with a king sized bed, large dresser, two chairs and a day bed; a covered porch with a comfy sofa, coffee table and two chairs; an uncovered porch area with two cushioned chaise lounges plus an open area with a sand floor with a hammock built for two. Our room was on the ground floor with a view of the trees, the upper beachside rooms are not as large but look like they have a better view and might get more breeze.
Because of the rain there was a very slight problem with bugs but we had netting around the bed that was put down each night when the maid did her turndown service – very romantic.
There were varying views on which were the best rooms, some loved the view of the pitons and the sea from the hillside rooms (plus less bugs and more breeze), others would have preferred the beachside rooms with less stair climbing.
There is no air conditioning at the hotel – there is a ceiling fan over each bed and an extra pole fan in the closet if needed. We used the pole fan for blowing air over our wet gear to speed up drying. There was also an umbrella in the closet for the rainy days. Our room had a small fridge, electric kettle and a coffee maker (milk supplied). NOTE: There are no TVs or radios anywhere on the property. The only phones are by the reception desk. The power is 220/50 European style outlets. There are also no clocks in the room, bring a small alarm clock for making sure you are up in time for the dive boat.
The fridge comes stocked with free goodies, fruit tray, some bottled water, beer, pop and juice and a really nice bottle of French wine. You have to pay if you want the fridge refilled – which would be silly, when drinks at the bar are free, if you are on the all inclusive plan.
The Food and Drink:
The food is expensive but good – do not go without the all-inclusive plan. All prices in US dollars. Breakfast was $8 to $15, lunch $8 to $23, afternoon tea $10, dinner $45 or more. Most mixed drinks were $5.50 or less. The local beer, Piton, is very good. Breakfast was Continental buffet, eggs bacon, omelet or the special of the day. Lunch was anything from burger with fries, buffet with grilled special of the day, or island specialties like rotis, curries or skewers. Afternoon tea was coffee or tea, scones with cream, cakes, cookies and sandwiches. There were also afternoon snacks of burgers, ice cream, banana splits, etc. that could be ordered. Dinner was a four course meal; appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert. The food was a French/Creole/Island fusion – different but interesting. The food was good but the spicing could be great or just strange. The presentation was beautiful but done in the French style with smaller servings and few vegetables. Salads were not lettuce salads like we get up here but things like tuna slices on radichio with mango dressing. The clam chowder was a spicy brown soup – delicious! The chocolate mousse was so-so but the fallen chocolate souffle was excellent. We are not big eaters and the only time we ordered all four courses was the day we climbed Gros Piton and then did a night dive. We recommend couples order different dishes and share so that you can try the maximum number of dishes.
Dress is casual chic – this means nice slacks/shorts and a shirt with collar (golf or short/long sleeved dress shirt) for the men; dresses or dress pants/skirt with nice blouse for the ladies. Shorts and T-shirts are required for breakfast and lunch, although you can be bare-foot. If you don't want to bother covering your bathing-suit for lunch there is bar and meal service to the chaises on the beach.
Breakfast was served in the dinning areas up the hill. Lunch was served in the dinning area by the beach. Tea and afternoon snacks were served in the dinning area by the beach. Dinner was served five nights up the hill and two nights by the beach. Service was a bit hit and miss. Breakfast in the main dinning room was faster than in the Tree House dinning room. Lunch was slow to come from the kitchen– if going for the afternoon dive get the hot buffet instead of ordering off the menu. If not in a hurry at lunch it is worth the wait for the interesting island dishes. Dinner service was very good – but is paced for an elegant French meal, not North American fast food. We liked the Tree House dinning area for its smaller more romantic setting but the main dinning area had tables looking toward the Pitons and the water.
Because the hotel is a mix of all-inclusive, MAP and full pay guests, you will sign a bill at each meal and a separate bill for drinks (even when ordered with the meal). At the end of the week, you pay for only what is not included in your plan. NOTE: House wine by the glass is included in the AI plan but bottles of wine or glasses of the non-house wines are not included.
At meals you will be asked if you want regular, bottled spring or bottled fizzy water. There is no reason to pay for bottled water, the water and ice cubes are perfectly safe. The water is from a treatment plant and the hotel tests it twice a week.
The beach is a dark sand beach with lots of palapas with cushioned chaises and a number of hammocks built for two. There is food and drink service right to your chaise, no need to put on shorts and a t-shirt to go for lunch. There was even a “beach boy” who went around spritzing you with mint scented water and handing out moist, mint wash clothes. There was good snorkeling in the south corner of the bay. There were free kayaks, windsurfers, sunfish and sailboats at the north end of the beach. Just be sure not to go past the south point of the resort because of currents.
Tours and Driving:
The roads are narrow, winding, unmarked, full of potholes and under construction. If you want to rent a car be sure you can handle passing on the narrow twisty roads while driving on the left side of the road.
Different tours are offered on different days of the week. Some only once a week. Look through the tours and sign up as soon as you know what you want to do. The sign up board for the tours is at the entry to the Tree House dinning area. There was also a tour rep. who was sometimes at the entrance to the hillside bar during the day. Some of the tours included lunch but not all. Remember to bring water to drink, especially if going for a long hike.
All of the tours went in the morning to take advantage of the cooler temperatures then. Some of the tours would get you back in time to make the afternoon boat or shore dive. Hiking in the government preserves requires that you go with an approved guide.
We went on the hike to the top of Gros Piton, this is for experienced hikers only, about 2 hours of climbing up and 1 ½ hours of climbing down. The taxi picked us up at 6:30 and waited for us while we were climbing with the park guide. We were back to the hotel about 12:30 cost $59 US each.
The tour of the neighboring Anse Mamin plantation is free. You meet by the beach bar after lunch, take the water taxi to Anse Mamin and hike(walk) with Meno a very knowledgeable guide. Meno also does a free hike on Saturday, into town to see the market and return via water taxi.
This report is written from the perspective of two divers with over 400 dives each and numerous dive trips to the Caribbean. We are good at spotting different kinds of fish and sea life and are more interested in varied sea life than in seeing large fish or sharks. The sea life here is colourful and varied but because of fishing there are not huge schools of fish, nor many large fish and you are not likely to see any sharks, groupers or barracudas. We found the night dives to be among the best we have ever done and the Piton Wall, Superman's Flight and The Pinnacles were much better than any dive we did at Cayman Brac or Little Cayman.
Diving is very organized is St. Lucia. This is a good and a bad thing. All dives left on time, lists of people signed up were accurate, on the boat you signed in before the dive and signed in again after the dive. Groups were limited to 8 people per guide, if more than 8 wanted to go a second group was formed. Boats were in good shape, fast and set up well for diving. The bad thing about St. Lucia was that you COULD NOT dive without a guide – not even shore dives. Shore dives were at 9:00, 11:00 and 2:00. Boat dives were at 10:30 and 1:45. Night dives were Monday Thursday at 5:30. Friday there was a two tank dive trip to the wreck of the Lesleen M and the Anse la Raye reef (there is a stop at a small beach on the way back – be sure to bring money for the buffet lunch $12 each, plus drink money). You first dive will be a shore dive,you get to do a mask clear and reg retrieval and then you are off for a great shore dive! We are eager-beaver divers and signed up for our check-out dive the day we arrived. We signed up for the 9:00 dive and found out we were the only ones going. This we so nice we did the 9:00 shore dive the following morning, again just us and the guide.
There are signup sheets at the dive shop for the different dives. Make sure to signup ASAP, especially for the two tank wreck dive and the night dives.
The water temperature was a steady 82 degrees, except for the occasional up welling that was warmer (volcanic heat?). The viz varied between 50 and 100 feet. The viz was worst at the beginning of the week when the rain was heavy and worse on the house reef where a stream released brown runoff after heavy rains. Note: At one point the bay in front of the resort was brown after an unusually heavy and lengthy rain. The bay cleared out in less than a day but a number of people did get ear infections from the runoff (bring your ear drops). There are currents on most of the dives and sometimes the currents can be flukey – changing strength or direction. This is one of the reasons the shore dives are guided. Except for the wreck dive all boat dives were drift dives. The guide carried a float that the boat followed.
Shore dive, day – the reef is in good shape for a “house” reef, further from shore out by the point the reef gets even better, schools of bogas, large feather dusters, numerous crinoids, school of horse-eyed jacks, black jacks, scorpion fish, huge peppermint shrimp, lobsters, golden moray, spotted moray, chestnut moray, spot-fin butterfly, four-eyed butterfly, long-snout butterfly, tangs, chromis, etc.
Shore dive, night – large octopus, scorpion fish, slipper lobster, spiny lobsters (lots - Caribbean spotted), HUGE channel clinging crabs, spotted morays (two were sharing a coral head and posing for pictures), reef squid, porcupine fish, millions of eyes gleaming on the red night shrimp, etc. We did get to see the “thing”, a segmented worm with head fringes, a small one out on a coral head. On the second night dive we did not follow the group down to 70 feet so we did not get to see the 400 pound turtle and his slightly small friend that sleep in small cave at the base of the reef every night. Both night dives were excellent!
The Pinnacles – Drift dive south of the rest. The pinnacles come up from 70 feet to 10 feet from the surface and are covered in life. very colourful, hard corals, sea fans, sponges, sharp-tailed eel, 2 chestnut eels, octopus, cero followed us for most of dive coming within 2 feet of mask, large spotted drum, ceros, bogas, creole wrasse, chromis, etc.
Piton Wall, Superman's Flight – These are all drift dives south of the resort, the wall is the underwater base of Petit Piton Mountain. Viz was 100 foot plus. lots of hard and soft corals, sea fans, barrel sponges, azure vase sponges, barrel sponges, rope sponges, some of the sponges had crinoids growing in them, feather dusters, christmas tree worms, basket stars, brittle stars, bristle worms, sharp-tailed eel, large jacks, small groupers, a few spots had rock falls with algae and beginning regrowth, at one point we were surrounded by a school of creole wrasse, blue chromis and bogas, trumpet fish, etc.
Lesleen M. - wreck dive north of resort, done as the 1st dive of the two tank Friday dive trip. A picture perfect wreck, a 165 foot steel freighter laying upright in 65 feet of water with 100 foot of viz. It is covered in growth and attracts fish to hang out, in and around it. A perfect wreck for the photographer. There was a pair of large scrawled file fish that hung out on the bow posing for pictures the whole dive. The wreck is covered inside and out with corals, sponges, fish and life. There were more bristle worms than we had ever seen before, you could get three or more in a single photo. Lots of huge arrow crabs, banded reef shrimp, baby sharp nosed puffers, goat fish out on the sand, etc. There were numerous sergeant majors guarding their nests and attacking anybody who got too close (blue fins were nipped a few times).
Anse La Raye – drift dive north of resort, done as the 2nd dive of the two tank Friday dive trip. A very vertical wall but not quite as nice as the ones further south. Gentle current allowed for a close check of life on the wall and easy picture taking. Towards the end, we drifted off the wall and over a flat area that had large barrel sponges and vase sponges. The sea horse that lives on the wall was in hiding this day.
The best question is would you go somewhere again? The answer is yes, but we would want to be on a food plan. The diving was much better than expected, the island was beautiful, the food was excellent, the service was good and the staff were very friendly. There are some dive sites that we did not get to to that sounded interesting and some dive sites we would love to do again. There were a number of hikes and tours that because of rain or time constraints we did not get to take. A week was not enough!!