If you can’t distinguish a seahorse from a sea rod, consider St. Lucia. Local laws aimed at preserving the Soufriere Marine Management Area require a guide to join any diver, whether from shore or boat, which means you’ll never overlook another frogfish, shrimp or sea slug again — at least while on island. St. Lucia’s gradually sloping walls are known for a big diversity of small stuff, and healthy populations of species rarely found elsewhere in the Caribbean, including the broadbanded moray. Make night diving a priority: Come dusk, the reefs rival a Star Trek convention for otherworldly pageantry. Several wrecks lie off the coast but are visited primarily when requested by large groups. Like constant gardeners, currents sweep clean the sponges and corals, preserving radiant colors. The coastal reefs hug the shoreline, so boat rides rarely exceed 10 minutes if you’re staying near Soufrière. Afternoons are wide open for island exploration, be it topside or underwater.
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Catering to everyone from honeymooners, cruise-shippers and families, volcanic St. Lucia has quiet, black-sand beaches, tour companies offering zip lining, jungle biking and other thrills, and one casino that opened in January 2011. As far as island flavor, you’ll find plenty of stands hawking rotis — a West Indian staple of curried meat and veggies wrapped in doughy tortillalike bread.
Join a guide from Real St. Lucia Tours for the four-hour hike to the top of Gros Piton, the taller of the island’s iconic peaks — and the only one you can explore. The trek is challenging, so be honest about your fitness level before booking. The UNESCO World Heritage Site scenery will impress, as will the 3,000- foot summit view of the island’s south side. realstluciatours.com
"Trek to Piton Falls outside Soufriere. You’ll be treated to a waterfall and three natural pools, ranging from refreshingly cool to hot-tub warm." -- Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph, St. Lucian blogger
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