Early Riser Dawn Walk
The East coast is best at dawn, so my advice is to get up before sunrise, fill a flask with piping hot coffee, grab your water bottle and camera and head out to Cas en Bas. Things get pretty hot in Saint Lucia once the sun’s overhead, but also, nothing beats the feel of the freshest early morning breezes off the rolling Atlantic.
As the sun climbs over the horizon, your efforts will be rewarded with sparkling sapphire seas and frigate birds rising majestically above you.
And did I mention the breezes? It’s a special kind of freshness that gets into the deepest corners of your body.
From the beautiful sheltered Cas en Bas beach on the North East Coast of the island, (falsely labeled as ‘Plantation Beach’ on Google maps – a name made up by the hotel developers) you can head north or south along the rolling coastal hills, for a walk that guaranteed to rejuvenate mind, body and soul. There are safe beaches for swimming here as well, so wear or pack a swimsuit.
Difficulty Level – Easy Enough
The paths are pretty easy to find and follow, so you can’t really go wrong, but to help you keep on track we’ve created a map complete with spots for photo ops and interesting things to see along the way.
See full screen map here
Most slopes are gentle enough but there are areas with loose rocks underfoot so tread mindfully. This area is generally quite dry, but in the rainy season, you can easily be caught in a downpour, so walk with protection for camera and phone, but also keep an eye out for mud patches.
If you’re a rock-hound, this area is older volcanic, and you may find small amounts of deep red jaspers and quartzes and there are some spots where you can find fossilized shells and corals. This is not a nature reserve, so technically you can take home souvenirs of your hike but taking only photos is still the best way to respect this natural environment.
Once you hit the beach, you’ll be greeted with a welcome from the motley crew of dogs that lives on the beach and likely some of them will accompany you on your walk. Don’t worry, they are very friendly.
Cas en Bas to Barrel Cactus Point and Back
Cas on Bas is a lovely long crescent beach in a protected bay. Very calm for swimming as the offshore reefs slow the Atlantic waves to a gentle roll.
In front of Marjorie’s, you’ll notice a piece of a rocket booster that fell on the beach in the 1994 – a fun photo op.
Once on the beach, head left past the trees, to the headland and consider taking your first cup of coffee right there as you take in the beauty. You may find a few people out fishing, and you can clamber over to the semi-submerged rocks if you have water shoes. Keep an eye out for sea-urchin spines and slippery moss, but otherwise, you can ‘walk’ out into the bay there if you don’t mind getting your feet wet.
From here, turn 180o and continue north along the coast. A couple hundred yards along, follow the dirt road which will soon offer you two options, a narrow path up the hill or a road that goes down to the coast.
If you choose to go down to the coast, there’s a wave-cut platform there with lots of shallow pools, crabs and little fish, as well as a beach. I’ve never swam there, but for sure you can paddle. This beach doesn’t seem to have a name, but it’s a lovely little cove often sprinkled with driftwood.
If you don’t pop to that beach, then just head up the narrow path that cuts into the hill. There are a couple spots along there for great views of the bay and the coast. You’ll see a headland with little coloured huts dotted over the hill – that’s Comerette. Another lovely coast walk.
Secret Beach – Anse Epouge
This track takes you through the scrub forest on a one-person path out onto a dirt road. At the bottom of this road, you can veer off right again to find ‘Secret Beach’, so-called because before the developers cut roads where the Raffles Golf Course was planned, it was a difficult beach to find – you had to know the ‘secret’ path…
This is another excellent coffee spot! Sometimes the beach can be a bit littered with flotsam and jetsam such as sea sponges, but also garbage that’s floated in, or been left there. Even so, it’s a beautiful spot. Safe enough to swim too but a little rougher than the main Cas en Bas beach.
Do not go to jail!
Please remember that possession of any type of coral is an offense in Saint Lucia and carries up to an EC$5,000 fine. This includes old coral washed up on shore and sea fans.
Following the track again, you’ll soon find yourself on a mostly bare hill. The path onward is towards the left but keep straight and you’ll find one of my favourite spots. The rocks plunge away (be careful) and below, there’s a wave-cut platform where you can be mesmerised watching huge waves crashing in. It is possible to scramble down but really not advised. The surface is very unstable, and you could easily slip or have rocks hit you, so my advice is, don’t be tempted
Once you’ve had your fill of that, keep heading up to the left and you’ll crest in an odd area where you’ll find fossilised seashells and coral about 150ft above the sea. At one point, this area must have been the seabed. Tempted as you may be to collect some, please leave them there to intrigue future travelers.
Just past this point, you may find some of these in fruit – Pithecellobium unguis-cati a relative of Pithecellobium Dulce, Manila Tamarind. Local name Bebel. You can eat the white flesh
And a few steps further, past the very prickly pear cacti, you’ll be above Donkey Beach and a sloping grassland spotted with more prickly pear and pillar cacti.
As you walk down, you’ll notice some concrete structures half-hidden in the grass: Our Special Services Unit used to do combat practice here in the 80s and 90s and these were their ‘trenches’.
On Donkey Beach itself, you’ll find a recently beached boat at the southern end, but the most striking thing about this beach is the huge crashing waves. As kids, we used to swim here – ‘suicide diving’ under the waves and body-surfing them back in. It’s not advisable to swim here though, unless you are a very, very strong swimmer. I have trouble now figuring out how we did it! On the northern end there’s rock shallows you can sit in…just check for black sea urchins before sitting down!
All around this area you’ll often see herds of horses – they’re not wild, in fact they’re quite friendly, but do approach with due caution. These belong to the horse-riding stables in the area.
If you go back up to the grassy area, in rainy season, you’ll find a pond a little further north and you can continue walking the coast to Pebble Beach and ‘Barrel Cactus Point’ which may equal my previously stated favourite place…This small promontory is between two sets of crashing waves with all sorts of seabirds floating by. Coffee-break anyone?
From here, we’ll head back and on your return, don’t go back up the hill (unless you want to of course!) instead, take the inland dirt road that’s pretty much straight ahead. It’s easier, flatter, shorter and will bring you back to the point where you turned off to Secret beach. Now you can just follow that path in reverse.
Along this route, about where the road goes to Secret Beach, you’ll see a couple of wild frangipani trees – if you’re lucky, they might be in bloom
Then you are nearly back to your start point and you’ll see the Cotton Bay buildings as soon as you hit the head-point.
Flora and Fauna in the area
This part of the island is much drier than central mountainous areas, and with the strong salty winds, only certain hardy species can survive. This means lots of unusual plants. Look out for these:
Shorline or Sea Purslane. Sometimes also called Samphire, but unrelated to Rock Samphire – Sesuvium portulacastrum Local Name: chouvalyé wonzé. Mostly edible
Recently variations of this salty succulent herb been gracing gourmet chef’s tables and you’ll see lots of the Caribbean version, which is actually part of the ‘Jump up n Kiss Me’ plant family..
It can be eaten raw, lightly cooked in the same way as the popular Rock Samphire, or pickled. Not all variants are certified edible, so be cautious.
Opuntia: Opuntia triacanthos/ Opuntia cochenillifera/ Opuntia dilleniid Local name Watjèt
This cactus species has become known as a blood-sugar regulator and is used in the Mexican dish nopalitos. The red fruits are juicy, sweet and salty, and can be eaten straight off the plant. Young pads can also be eaten raw but are more commonly sautéed lightly. But beware! Not only do some species have huge thorns, they all have tiny spines called ‘glochids’. These are very difficult to remove and can be severely irritating.
Also look out for the ‘Lazy Cactus’ – Acanthocereus tetragonus – which can be found along the scrub forest path. Like Opuntia, the young stems and fruits can be eaten once you can get past the spines!
Just north of Donkey Beach, Cactus Valley is so named because of the majestic stands of Pilosocereus royenii. Pipe Organ cactus Great photo spot.
If you go up to Barrel Cactus Point you may see some of the very few remaining Melocactus intortus. Though this species is not threatened globally, it is much rarer in Saint Lucia than it used to be and there are less than a dozen left growing here: please admire, photograph and leave untouched.
Stachytarpheta jamaicensis is a common sight in this area – its long flower stems, often dotted with vibrant purple flowers, catch the eye. It’s locally called Vèvenn latjé wat – Latje wat meaning rat’s tail and it’s easy to see why. This herb has various local medicinal uses
Ipomoea pes-caprae Morning Glory variants are common in this coastal landscape.They are considered ‘famine food’ so can be eaten in small amounts Local name Patat bod lame (Seaside potato)
Croton Flavens, locally called Ti Bonm (Little bucket) – you’ll see various members of this family of plants. Ti bonm is a favourite for bees and has many traditional uses as well as being researched for anti-cancer properties. In the dry season, you can recognize these plants by their orange leaves.
Tabebuia heterophylla or Tabebuia pallida – known locally as powye, these tend to be small shrubs on the coastal areas but can grow to large trees when more sheltered. Relatives of the huge trees you see around the island that are used for lumber – ‘white cedar’.
Wedelia calycina local name Bwa sousouwi or Bwa sòlèy a member of the aster family and also a favourite of the bees
Acacia nilotica, Acacia macracantha. local name zakasya. This is the gum arabic tree, some of which bear long sharp prickles – be careful!
The Red powder puff flower Calliandra haematocephala, a native of Bolivia is now found growing wild along the paths
Agave Furcraea tuberosa – the Century Plant, so called because the plant flowers so rarely. In fact about every 30-50 years. This plant’s leaves can be used to produce sisal fibre.
Birds you will probably see include:
The magnificent frigate birds Fregata magnificens, Local name Malfinis, the island’s largest birds. With a metre wing-span, they spend their entire days floating effortlessly on thermals over the coastal and near-shore areas. These marine birds are unusual in that they can’t get wet, so they don’t dive for food, instead waiting for opportunities to steal other birds’ catch or sometimes to grab a flying fish as they sail above water.
Brown Boobies – Sula leucogaster
Grey and Blue Herons – Egretta caerulea kwabye nwe or kayal
Yellow-crowned Heron ‘Crab-Catcher’ Nyctanassa violacea local name kwabyé
Caribbean Martin Progne dominicensis local name Hiwondèl
Other fauna you might come across of course are butterflies and bees, some grasshoppers and various beetles, but one of my favourites is the hermit crab, of which you are likely to mostly see babies at the coast as that’s where these crabs start their life before moving inland (to my garden! 🙂
How to get there
Click on this What3Words address to be taken straight to the exact spot on the map: http://w3w.co/crop.optical.reoccur
Drive into Cap Estate and take the 3rd exit off the first little roundabout. Stay on this road, it will dip down after a right angle right turn, then you’ll see a hill ahead and a turn to the left. Take the left turn and drive past the ‘Villas on the Green’ on the golf course to your left. Turn left at the bottom and you’ll see Cotton Bay Resort – a semi-operating condo community on your right and a tractor parked on the left. Unless it looks really muddy, drive down beside the wall to the beach to park near Kitesurfing Saint Lucia or Marjorie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant
With huge thanks to the website Plants of Saint Lucia where I go to find information on local wildplants.
All photos © Finola Jennings Clark