Alex on Signal Peak
Caribbean, St Lucia

Pigeon Island, St Lucia • Small adventures in the Caribbean

A desire for an achievable Caribbean adventure that involved more than just lazing around on a beach, led to a rickety bus journey and a ramble through resorts to the beautiful Pigeon Island St Lucia.

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No matter which Caribbean island you look at, these stunning sandy specks in the ocean are stereotypically beach destinations, where you should do nothing more than lie around in the sun, drinking cocktails and trying to perfect your golden tan without burning. Whilst these activities are perfectly possible- and don’t get me wrong, very much recommended from time to time- this stereotyped idea of the Caribbean couldn’t be further from the truth. You just need to know where to look. From climbing waterfalls in Jamaica, swimming through gorges in Dominica, or hiking through the rainforest in Grenada, there are so many adventures to be had.

To get from Castries to Pigeon Island St Lucia on your own

  • Take the 1A bus from Castries to Gros Ilet. The journey takes approximately 20 minutes, and costs around $1USD each way. (Pay in cash only, either USD or EC accepted.)
  • Walk along the beach from Gros Ilet to Pigeon Island, taking around 25 minutes.
  • Pay the $10USD entrance fee for Pigeon Island National Park at the office.

An introduction to Caribbean buses

To be a true 100% adventure in every single sense of the word, (even if the adventure in question is an exceedingly tame one), you should travel on an absolute shoestring. And so off we went in search of the elusive bus-station-which-is-not-a-bus-station, in St Lucia’s port and capital city of Castries.

Castries is a weathered little city, and often the weathering is taking place even as you arrive, with torrents of tropical rain thundering down in great waves from above. (Contrary to popular instagram-inspired opinion, it does rain an awful lot in the Caribbean. It just dries faster than at home in England.) On the day in question, the rain cleared up just as we stepped foot on to land, and we circled around the blocks of the city, jumping over gaps in the pavement and marvelling at tree vines and stray dogs as we passed them.

Seasoned Caribbean bus-riders, we realised we were at the bus station- which is less of a station, more of a street- when we saw a few dilapidated minivans by the kerb. The buses, in many parts of the Caribbean, are in actual fact all dilapidated minivans. There’s also generally no strict timetable to adhere to; buses leave when they’re full, and that’s that.

“Excuse me, where do we get the 1A?” My pal Steffi asked, shifting from side to side to stop the straps of her ginormous backpack from shifting down her shoulders.

A man with a sweeping swirl of dreads gestured an arm to welcome us on to a bus which was just about to leave. “Here ya go, this bus for Gros Ilet.”

What luck.

We clambered into what appeared to be the two remaining seats, right at the back.

But of course, appearances are often not what they seem. Especially when it comes to the buses of St Lucia, whose interiors unfold like an inside-out Transformer to reveal a seemingly infinite number of extra seats. Somehow the bus which at first glance should carry maybe 15 passengers, was carrying approximately 23. Magic.

We sped and tumbled and rolled along the main road out of Castries, towards the north of the island. Past the little airport runway, winding up and over the hills, past the stop for Rodney Bay and its malls and restaurants, and on to Gros Ilet.

The walk to Pigeon Island

The bus turned left and careered down a little road lined with colourful houses, which gave way to colourful bars and restaurants; this is the home of St Lucia’s Friday Night Street Party– an event not to be missed if you’re ever there on a Friday night, I’m told. In the daytime, it’s a fairly quiet little lane, and the bus driver pulled to a stop at a corner and told us “this is the closest we can get to Pigeon Island. Just walk to the beach and turn right. Keep going, ya can’t miss it!”

There was no official ‘bus stop’ sign anywhere, so I took a mental note of where we’d been dropped, for the way back. “Steffi, we need to remember that out of all the bars, we’re at the one with this poster.” I pointed, exhibit A, to the poster advertising some kind of alcoholic beverage on the wall behind me, which was actually just a picture of a very round butt in a thong bikini.

“Ok, got it. We look for the butt.”

“We look for the butt.”

Strolling through beach resorts

Following the bus driver’s instruction to turn right when we hit the beach, we found ourselves wandering along a quiet seafront pathway, towards a pointy green hill in the distance. That was Pigeon Island, and it seemed funny that such a little place was an actual National Park. Even in England, our National Parks tend to be quite expansive.

We passed a few locals who nodded a ‘hello’ to us, and we were overjoyed by how lovely it was to be somewhere where people say hello to strangers in the street. Past fishing nets drying on the beach, past a barbecue firing up to cook lunch, and through a patch of green grass where a house was in construction.

After walking along a little beach where mostly locals were enjoying the sea and the sand, we arrived at the first beach resort. The Landings is just one of St Lucia’s many five star resorts, and after assessing the situation- of brilliant blue parasols and sun loungers lined up like glamorous showgirls on the white sand- we deduced that it was probably allowed to walk along the beach, even though we didn’t look like we belonged to the five star lifestyle at that point in time. A girl in a gold bikini watched as I traipsed across the length of the beach, carrying my white Vans in my hand, hair slightly sticking to my forehead from the sweat of the midday sun.

At the far end, as the hotel’s strip of sand gave way to a little inlet of water, a man in a hotel uniform appeared like a mirage. “Boat to the other side, ladies?” We jumped into the little ferry boat and hopped out when it reached the other side after around 45 seconds. It may have been a short journey, but it definitely wasn’t swimmable with our bags. A strip of overwater bungalows with white roofs and white furniture faced us, and although the huts looked very cute I wondered if the brochure for these places mentioned that random people like us could just trek by at any moment. The bungalows weren’t quite as isolated as you might hope, is all I’m saying.

(On the way back, a different driver was waiting to ferry passengers across the waterway. He took a glance at us and said, “Mother and daughter outing, lovely! But you could be sisters!” I was quite frankly shocked. And I spent a good deal of the remaining walk wondering which one of us was supposed to be the mother and which one the daughter.)

Then it was on past the second five star resort: the Sandals Grande St Lucian. One day I’ll stay in a luxury place like this, but for now I was very happy to be simply hiking across it dragging my Vans behind me.

Out the other end, to Pigeon Island Beach, full of locals and holidaymakers relaxing on the sand and splashing in the shimmering sea. Parasols were plunged into the ground, cool boxes of rum and beer and Coca-Cola safe in the shade, and children ran into the sea wearing multicoloured flotation devices, foam and rubber and plastic. Behind it all is a car park, where music played from a car stereo, and behind that a little collection of beach bars selling jerk chicken and fries and rum punch.

A brief history of Pigeon Island St Lucia

Most national parks I’ve visited have been great big natural wonders, filled with flora and fauna that needs to be protected from greedy developers and government people. And although the windswept Pigeon Island is a very pretty little corner of the world, with incredible views of St Lucia and plenty of nature to spot, it’s actually been designated as a national park because of its historical significance.

Pigeon Island St Lucia (not to be confused with the Pigeon Island Sri Lanka), isn’t really an island any more at all. In fact, with one simple walk through the parked cars and palm trees, we were at the entrance, asking the lady in the booth for two tickets please. What was once a tiny island just off of the northern coast of St Lucia, has been connected to the mainland via a manmade causeway since the 1970s. But its story begins, way way earlier.

Like many (but not all) of the Caribbean islands, St Lucia was first inhabited by the Arawaks and the Caribs, and there’s evidence of these Amerindians having settled on Pigeon Island as well. By the mid-1500s, a French pirate with a wooden leg (real name Francois Le Clerc, pirate name Jambe de Bois) and his 330 men, had settled in St Lucia, using Pigeon Island as a base to target Spanish ships and their cargos of gold.

The French and the British seemed to be consistently engaged in battles over the Caribbean islands, and in the 1700s Admiral George Rodney (a Brit), set up shop on Pigeon Island so he and his men could spy on the French over on Martinique. The ruined barracks, old cannons and fortress walls can still be spotted across the island, reminders of the military life that once hustled and bustled around these parts.

Just off the coast is a big boulder pock-marked with bullet holes; the Admiral’s men once used this sea-battered boulder for target practice. Cannon balls can be spotted littering the floor here and there.

It’s an exceedingly military-heavy kind of a national park.

Hiking on Pigeon Island

There are two main hikes on Pigeon Island. The first is up to the top of Signal Peak, and the second is out to Fort Rodney Hill, where cannons point out from the walls to the ocean, ready to fire at ghost ships on the horizon.

We headed up Signal Peak first, scrambling around some super-steep corners with ground of varying levels of sturdiness. It was stiflingly hot in the sun, but still with sweat pouring from every crevasse we were determined to get to the top in good time. The highest point is 359ft, and after about twenty minutes we had reached it.

I’m telling you now: the view from here is worth the sweat.

The dark blue of the ocean stretched all the way across to Martinique. Admiral Rodney had a good thing going, with this lookout point. On the opposite side, we could see all the way along the Causeway with its sandy beaches and glossy hotels, right the way to the tree-covered hills in the distance.

We found a shady patch and sat on some boulders to eat our crew mess sandwiches, giving words of encouragement to other hikers on their way up the pathway, and frowning at the people trying to make the journey in flip flops. (None of the flip-flop wearers actually made it to the top, in case you were wondering.)

Sandwiches consumed, we headed across to Fort Rodney Hill, which is for the most part a far flatter walk. With time running out, we had to half-walk, half-run, although not without stopping to marvel at an American Kestrel watching us from a tree. We hopped up the steps to the fort, and gasped in absolute awe of the sea down below. Clear turquoise, smattered with darker patches where coral and seaweed grew beneath the surface.

Beaches at Pigeon Island

At the foot of the slopes of the island is a very pretty little beach which you can only access if you pay the entrance fee for the national park. We were desperate to plunge headfirst in to the water, to be quite frank pals. But we had to get back to work, alas!

And although we didn’t return to the national park, we did come back to the beach outside its entrance; which is absolutely glorious for a swim, although understandably a bit more crowded due to it being free to visit. The water is glorious, and this is also a great spot for snorkelling in St Lucia. We spotted plenty of tropical fish, and my boyfriend also had a close encounter with a sea snake.

There are plenty of other, far more challenging, hikes across St Lucia. But our day exploring this northern pocket of the island and its little lookout to Martinique was a joyous one. Sometimes, a small adventure is all you need.

2 thoughts on “Pigeon Island, St Lucia • Small adventures in the Caribbean”

  1. Many thanks Alex,
    a lovely warm and enjoyable read. All that sunshine and golden sands, certainly
    blew away the cobwebs of our very wet and cold winter.
    Maurice x

    1. Thanks so much Maurice!! I’ve only been back a couple of weeks and I’m already ready for the winter to be done, hahaha x

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