St. Lucia is the second largest of the Windward Islands, with a land area of about 239 square miles and population of approximately 150,000 as of 2015. According to the local lore (but not, alas, to historians), it was named after St. Lucy, as the day Christopher Columbus first set eyes on the island, the 13th of December 1498, is the one traditionally dedicated to that saint by the Catholic Church. The islanders speak a combination of dialect and language, which reflects the island’s past history and cultural influences, and ranges from West African French-based patois, English, and Spanish.
The island was formed by volcanic activity and is very mountainous, with a predominant ridge running through the entire length of the island. Its highest point, Mt. Gimie, rises 3,145 feet above the sea and is a popular photo landmark. Several other distinctive topographic sites are the Pitons – Gros Piton standing at 2,619 feet and Petit Piton at 2,461 feet – that are coastal mountain peaks climbing straight out of the sea. As you can imagine, the island is extremely popular with hikers and nature lovers; talking of which, you have the option of two trails that are really worth exploring.
The two trails that are mentioned above and that, together, make up the Union Nature Trail are not located on what is generally considered to be the beaten track, so I am outlining the directions here: approximately 10 minutes north of the capital, on the Castries-Gros Islet highway, you will need to turn inland on the Aidan Bousquet Highway leading to Babonneau village. After about a mile and a half, there is a large fence where you should turn right until you reach the forestry headquarters. Keep your eyes peeled as the signage is a bit poor and the turnoff is easy to miss.
The Garden Trail is the smallest of these two official trails and will take you on a leisurely stroll of about half a mile through a garden devoted to bush medicine (herbal cures), several introduced tree species, local fruit trees, medicinal herbs plus a small mini-zoo with agoutis (those very cute guinea pig lookalikes), iguanas and other exotic wildlife. You will also have a chance to see the amazing variety of wild birds that inhabit the area, and that include hummingbirds, mockingbirds, and the indigenous and endemic St. Lucia parrot. The literature you will find at the Zoo’s centre will provide you with lots of information about the island’s endangered species, vegetation zones, and life in the forest, placing a strong emphasis on the conservation of biological diversity.
The Hillside Trail, which is the second option, requires a bit more physical effort, as it involves step-climbing over a stretch of rough terrain. This trail is made up of a one mile loop, which requires a walk of about two hours through a tropical forest environment, reaching its highest point at an altitude of 350 feet.
You can call in advance to arrange a guided tour on: (758) 468-5649/5645/5648