The original capital of Saint Lucia, Soufrière is one of the island’s most memorable spots. It sits on the west coast overlooked by the dramatic Pitons, two towering, UNESCO-protected volcanic plugs, and is surrounded by sandy beaches. French colonialists first established the town and they were followed by the British, and reminders of both nations survive despite the town being rebuilt on several occasions after earthquake, fire and hurricane damage. Soufrière sits in the Qualibou Depression, the caldera of a dormant volcano and you’ll find hot springs and geothermal fields, as well as botanical gardens, waterfalls and challenging hiking in the area.
Brightly painted wooden cottages stand next to grand, colonial-era buildings with colonnaded balconies, small shops and tin shacks along the streets of characterful Soufrière. There’s a laid-back charm to the jumble of buildings and a bustling waterfront with plenty of boats bobbing in the bay. Some visitors come just for the day, or take a boat trip down the coast and see the town from afar, but to do so would be a mistake as Soufrière and its surroundings have so much to offer.
Dominating the landscape south of Soufrière are the Pitons, two giant, conical volcanic spires that rise abruptly from the sea. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draped in lush forest, the pinnacles are the island’s most renowned landmarks and offer great hiking and climbing opportunities with sweeping views from the summits that take in Dominica, Martinique, Barbados and Saint Vincent. Around the peaks, coral reefs play host to a vast array of marine life and the diving and snorkeling here are impressive.
There are several old plantation estates around the town. The Fond Doux Estate is still a working cacao plantation and offers walking tours of the estate and the cocoa processing plant as well as views of the Pitons and holidays cottages should you wish to stay.
The Soufrière Estate, which is also known as the Diamond Estate, is now home to the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens where you can walk on tranquil trails among tropical flowers and trees, or wallow in mineral baths that date back to 1784.
You’ll find more geothermic activity at Sulphur Springs, just south of the town, where hot springs, belching mud pots and fumaroles give the landscape an otherworldly quality. Geothermally heated water in the river has been harnessed to create a public pool for lounging in the warm, mineral-rich water, while the mud can be used to make face and body masks.
If you just want to laze on the beach however, there are plenty of tempting options. The most renowned is Sugar Beach, a stretch of (imported) white sand that sits between the Pitons and offers dramatic views of the peaks. The curving beach at Anse Chastanet is sheltered by high cliffs and is one of the best snorkel sites on the island. Nearby, secluded Anse Mamin is set against a backdrop of rainforest, while rugged Malgretoute Beach just north of Petit Piton, is also a good spot to snorkel.