St. Lucia's two volcanic spires - Gros Piton and Petit Piton - provide the background to one of the Caribbean's most popular shore dives: the reef in front of the Anse Chastanet resort. The black-sand beach slopes gradually, then drops sharply to reveal a coral wall festooned with brightly colored sponges.
Clouds of brown chromis hover just above the reef top. Frogfish, glass minnows, squirrelfish, butterfly fish, eels, orange anemones and seahorses may suddenly appear anywhere along the way.
After dark, the reef takes on a totally different appearance. It is the time to search for the "Thing," a huge segmented purple worm that is up to 15 feet long. This very shy, harmless creature has been photographed only rarely and scientists are still puzzling over its identity.
It has been said that marine formations often imitate those on land, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the base of the Petit Piton. The mountain above the water climbs to 2,600 feet. The mirror-like wall below plunges from about 30 feet to 1,600 feet.
Corals and sponges are able to thrive here, close to shore, thanks to the moderately strong, nourishing current that usually begins without warning and without any predictable pattern. You should factor this current into your dive plan as soon as you notice it because it can pick up speed very fast. When it appears at Petit Piton, it's used to create the drift dive called Superman's Flight, a fast trip along the steep underwater wall of the piton.
Another popular St. Lucia dive is the Lesleen M, a 168-foot island freighter that sits upright in 60 feet of water. This artificial reef is becoming richer in marine life every year and hawksbill turtles often nap in the open compartments. The Japanese wreck at 105 feet is a newer reef project that's still developing coral and sponge growth, but a school of barracuda has taken up residence.
Although much of the best diving is in the southern part of St. Lucia near the town of Soufriere, most of the resorts are clustered in the north around the main city of Castries. However, teardrop-shaped St. Lucia is just 24 miles long. It takes Castries-based dive boats only 30 to 45 minutes to reach the Soufriere region.
When you are not diving, there is still plenty to do. St. Lucia has the world's only drive-through volcano. Visitors can walk past bubbling mud pits and steaming fumaroles. Nearby, Diamond Waterfall is a kaleidoscope of colors as it cascades into a silvery pool below.
Another one of St. Lucia's most popular topside activities is hiking in the rainforest. Guides can be arranged through your hotel.
Bird watching is best at the Castries Waterworks Forest Reserve, where the once-fragile St. Lucian parrot is now beginning to thrive.
Every Friday is fete or party night at Gros Islet, a fishing village just outside Castries. This Mardi Gras-like street party features blaring reggae, rum carts and coal pot barbecue cook stands.