By Scott Bateman

St. Lucia is a beautiful gem of an island in the southeast part of the Caribbean Sea that almost guarantees relaxation on miles of great beaches.
It may not be surprising that one of the towns on the island is named Sapphire.

St. Lucia attracts nearly an equal number of people who visit via cruise or who simply go there to stay a week or more. Cruise visitors will arrive at the Castries harbor and immediately see why the island has one of the best landscapes in the Caribbean. The harbor is surrounded by tree-filled hillsides, and if visitors arrive at the right time of year, they will see plenty of flowers in bloom as well among both the trees and the orange-red rooftops of nearby homes and buildings.

The island’s beauty isn’t the only reason for going there. Castries offers good shopping and dining, the golden beaches extend for miles and attractions range from historical to cultural and natural including Pigeon Island National Landmark, Fond d'Or Nature Historic Park and Fond Doux Estate. St. Lucia has a strong military history -- and the forts to prove it -- because it changed hands 14 times between the British and French. Outdoor excursions such as ATV tours, horseback rides and even taking a volcanic mudbath are especially appealing because of the landscape. Whether to go isn’t a big decision, but when to go matters quite a bit.

The annual Caribbean hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 1 each year with the worst months in September and October. St. Lucia tourism is heavy from December through May before starting to drop off and hit a low point in September. Regardless of the time of year, St. Lucia weather maintains a steady average in the mid-80s Fahrenheit / 30 Celsius. Rainfall is lowest from February through April. Those months also attract a higher number of cruise visitors.

St. Lucia is a common port of call for southern Caribbean cruises that depart from San Juan, Puerto Rico, or occasionally an eight-day eastern cruise that departs from southern Florida. Cruise visitors can take a brief walk from the dock to the city of Castries, which has a well-developed shopping and dining district. They also can take a taxi, bus or car rental (major agencies are located in Castries) elsewhere on the island. Higher end restaurants in Castries include Antonio’s, Chic, Chinese Wok, Coal Pot, Jacques Waterfront Restaurant, Marjorie’s and Pink Plantation House all near the cruise terminal. Beaches located on the northwest coast of the island include Pigeon Island, Rodney Bay, Choc Bay, Vigie, Labrelotee Bay and especially Marigot Bay. Most of the major resorts are located on the northwest coast as well.

Currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, but U.S. and U.K. currency is widely accepted.

Tipping is typically 10-12 percent of a bill. There is an 8 percent government tax on hotel and restaurant bills.

Scott Bateman publishes a guide to St. Lucia vacations at Caribeez.com