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St. Lucia

St. Lucia has evolved over the years into one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean -- particularly for honeymooners and other romantics, who are enticed by the island's natural beauty, its many splendid resorts and friendly inns, and its welcoming atmosphere. And the evolution continues. Renewed emphasis from both the public and private sectors is being placed on enhancing the island's tourism product and supporting new and renewed lodgings, activities, and attractions. That's great news for vacationers, who already appear delighted with St. Lucia.

Located between Martinique and St. Vincent, and 100 mi (160 km) due west of Barbados, the 27 mi by 14 mi (43½ km by 22½ km) island of St. Lucia occupies a prime position in the Caribbean. Its striking natural beauty easily earns it the moniker "Helen of the West Indies." The capital city of Castries and nearby villages in the northwest are home to 40% of the population and, along with Rodney Bay farther north and Marigot Bay just south of the capital, the general destination of many vacationers. The south, on the other hand, is dominated by dense rain forest, jungle-covered mountains, and vast banana plantations. A tortuously winding road follows most of the coastline, bisecting small villages, cutting through mountains and thick forests, and passing by fertile valleys. On the southwest coast, Petit Piton and Gros Piton, the island's unusual twin peaks that are familiar navigational landmarks for sailors and aviators alike, rise out of the sea to more than 2,600 feet. Divers are attracted to the reefs found just north of Soufriere the picturesque capital city during French colonial times. Most of the natural tourist attractions are, in fact, in this area. "If you haven't been to Soufriere, St. Lucians will tell you, "you haven't been to St. Lucia."

Like most of its neighbors, St. Lucia was first inhabited by the Arawaks and then the Carib Indians. British settlers attempted to colonize the island twice in the early 1600s, but it wasn't until 1651, after the French West India Company secured the island from the Caribs, that Europeans gained a foothold. For 150 years, battles for possession of the island were frequent between the French and the British, with a dizzying 14 changes in power before the British finally took possession in 1814. The Europeans established sugar plantations, using slaves from West Africa to work the fields. By 1838, when the slaves were emancipated, more than 90% of the population was of African descent -- also the approximate proportion of today's 170,000 St. Lucians. Indentured East Indian laborers were brought over in 1882 to help bail out the sugar industry, which collapsed when slavery was abolished and all but died in the 1960s, when bananas became the major crop.

On February 22, 1979, St. Lucia became an independent state within the British Commonwealth of Nations, with a resident governor-general appointed by the queen. Still, the island appears to have retained more relics of French influence -- notably the island patois (spoken in addition to English), the cuisine, village names, and surnames -- than of the British. Most likely, that's because the British contribution primarily involved their English language, the educational and legal systems, and the political structure, while the French culture historically had more impact on the arts -- music, dance, and all that jazz!


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