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St. Lucia is the sort of island that travellers to the Caribbean dream about--a small, lush tropical gem that is still relatively unknown. One of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, it is located midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain, between Martinique and St. Vincent, and north of Barbados.

In natural beauty, St. Lucia seems like an island plucked from the South Pacific and set down in the Caribbean. Its dramatic twin coastal peaks, the Pitons, soar 2,000 feet up from the sea, sheltering magnificent rain forests where wild orchids, giant ferns, and birds of paradise flourish. Brilliantly-plumed tropical birds abound, including endangered species like the indigenous St. Lucia parrot. The rainforest is broken only by verdant fields and orchards of banana, coconut, mango, and papaya trees. Beaches abound across the island, varying from large (Grand Anse), to small and secluded (Cas en Bas).

St. Lucia has been inhabited since long before colonial times, and its cultural treasures are a fascinating melange of its rich past and its many different traditions. The island's people have earned a well-deserved reputation for their warmth and charm, and the island itself is dotted with aged fortresses, small villages, and open-air markets.

There is a broad array of exciting and exotic activities available on St. Lucia. The island's steep coastlines and lovely reefs offer excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. The rainforest preserves of St. Lucia's mountainous interior are one of the Caribbean's finest locales for hiking and birdwatching. Of course, the island also possesses excellent facilities for golf, tennis, sailing, and a host of other leisure pursuits. Not to be missed is St. Lucia's Soufriere volcano, the world's only drive-in volcanic crater.

General Information
    

Banking Hours--Banks are open Monday to Thursday from 8am to 1pm and on Friday from 8am to noon and 3 to 5pm.

Currency--The official monetary unit is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$).

Customs--At either airport, Customs may be a hassle if there's the slightest suspicion, regardless of how ill-founded, that you're carrying illegal drugs.

Documents--U.S., British, and Canadian citizens need a valid passport, plus an ongoing or return ticket.

Drugstores--See "Pharmacies," below.

Electricity--Visitors from the U.S. will need to bring an adapter and transformer, as St. Lucia runs on 220 to 230 volts AC (50 cycles).

Emergencies--Call the police at tel. 999.

Hospitals--There are 24-hour emergency rooms at St. Jude's Hospital, Vieux Fort (tel. 758/454-7671), and Victoria Hospital, Hospital Road, Castries (tel. 758/452-2421).

Language--Although English is the official tongue, St. Lucians probably don't speak it the way you do. Islanders also speak a French-Creole patois, similar to that heard on Martinique.

Pharmacies--The best is William Pharmacy, Williams Building, Bridge Street, in Castries (tel. 758/452-2797), open Monday through Thursday from 8am to 4:30am, Friday from 8am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 8am to 1pm.

Safety--St. Lucia has its share of crime, like every other place these days. Use common sense and protect yourself and your valuables. If you've got it, don't flaunt it! Don't pick up hitchhikers if you're driving around the island. Of course, the use of narcotic drugs is illegal, and their possession or sale could lead to stiff fines or jail.

Taxes & Service Charges--The government imposes an 8% occupancy tax on hotel rooms, and there's an $11 departure tax for both airports. Most hotels and restaurants add a 10% service charge.

Telephone--On the island, dial all seven digits of the local number. Faxes may be sent from your hotel or from Cable & Wireless, in the NAS Building on the waterfront in Castries (tel. 758/452-3301).

Time--St. Lucia is on Atlantic standard time year-round, placing it 1 hour ahead of New York. However, when the United States is on daylight saving time, St. Lucia matches the clocks of the U.S. East Coast.

Water-- Water here is generally considered safe to drink; if you're prudent, however, you'll stick to bottled water.

Weather--This little island, lying in the path of the trade winds, has year-round temperatures of 70 to 90F.

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