The hundred-plus steps up from the sandy beach were
quite a climb, but I immediately forgot how tired I was
when I reached the art-decorated balcony for our dive
orientation and the dive staff greeted us with a cheery
“good morning!” The basic rules, however, were much less
appealing: by law, all dives must be guided by St. Lucialicensed
dive guides; no gloves, no knives, no exceptions. Everyone was to show up at the shop with gear, c-cards,
and logs, fill out even more waivers, purchase dive permits
(colored streamers to attach to your BCD), and proceed with
the mandatory shallow-water checkout.
My boat dive had to wait till after lunch. I arrived at
the beach with a full stomach and all my gear, boarded the
twin Johnson-powered, 36-foot, covered v-hull, and was
greeted by Fox, the jokester captain, along with the serious
but affable divemaster, Ubaldis, and a helpful crewman, André.
It only took ten minutes to reach Coral Gardens, a dive site
in view of the fabulous “Pitons,” great volcanic cores climbing
from the shore to well over 2,000 feet. In all of the
Caribbean, there is no more dramatic setting for a dive.
I stepped off the dive platform and waited until the
dive guide told us to descend, then followed with the rest
of the group, keeping the guide in front and in sight as
we filed past long schools of Creole wrasse, numerous
typical Caribbean reef fishes, and beautiful, healthy hard
corals (although there was some light coral bleaching
attributed to the warm “La Nińa” temps of the winter of
’98/’99). I didn’t know it yet, but these drift dives, with
visibility up to 100' and late April water temperatures of
78-80°, would turn out to be the daily routine.
The 49 generously sized rooms of Anse Chastanet are
scattered over a scenic 500-acre hillside overlooking the bay and the hotel’s well-manicured gray
volcanic sand beach. The complex is
linked by paths and scores of steps
leading to scenic lookouts and the
highest cottages, all of which are
planted on the jungle-shrouded hillside
in one of the loveliest hotel settings
in all of the Caribbean. The higher up
the hill you go, the more expensive and
open the room. Although my bath was open
(backing up to a large berm) and I might
occasionally hear neighbors in their
bath, privacy was never a problem.
Nick Troubetzkoy and his German wife
Karolin, who have owned the hotel for
25 years, frequently mingled with their
largely American, sometimes European
guests. Nick, an architect, designed
spacious and unique rooms with excellent
views. Tile floors and local wood
furniture and beams reinforce the close-to-nature feel of the property; fans,
huge bathrooms, and balconies with chaises added to the airiness. There were
plenty of creature comforts, including a refrigerator, hot water pot, hot-air
drier, and safe. Comforts like radio, television, and air conditioning, however,
were sacrificed to the open-air ambiance. Breezes normally keep the rooms cool,
but it can be stifling on calm nights from May through October. The romantic
mosquito nets over each bed kept some of nature’s more welcoming creatures at
bay, particularly the occasional bloodthirsty mosquitoes and no-see-ums (seemingly
sparser on second floors). Plastic bowls with water outside the door served
as footbaths by day and harbored toads and frogs at night.
The beachfront SSI and PADI-affiliated dive operation, Scuba St. Lucia, is run
by Michael and Karyn Allard, knowledgeable divers who know the area well. It’s an
excellent shop and photo operation, and the largely local staff is friendly and
helpful, though they sometimes seemed bored with the large number of novice
divers. Their three covered boats, one 36-footer and two 42-footers, have dive
benches, two substantial dive ladders, plenty of power, and plenty of room for
10-16 divers. They provide one small plastic basin with fresh water for cameras.
My dive shop had booked our trip and arranged the schedule for our group of
nine: a two-tank dive in the morning and, on two evenings, a shore-based night
dive. Guests who weren’t with a group had fewer options--a choice of one morning
boat or beach dive and an afternoon boat or beach dive, and a beach night dive
was scheduled twice a week. Beach dive entries were typical of sheltered sand
beaches: gentle waves and a dropoff that’s neither too gradual nor too acute. One
might arrange additional private dives but only by hiring a divemaster through
It quickly became apparent that Anse Chastanet is a haven for novices and easy
divers. The first dive of the day was the “deep dive” to sixty feet for forty
minutes. With several novice divers in my group, we often had “Winnebago dives”
where the eager novices actually lead the divemaster. Nobody gets to slow down
and search for the interesting macro critters that live here.
Superman’s Flight, named after a “Superman II” scene in which the cloaked man
flies down the granite face, was a typical dive, although there was nothing typical
about the beautiful site at the base of one of the Pitons. I jumped in with the guide and descended with the group to scenes of trumpetfish in every color
variety, coneys, chromis, sergeant majors, angelfish, and hamlets in every color
phase or species (depending on your belief systems). Small eels, small lobsters,
crabs, and other crustaceans lodged in rocks or sponges; indeed: a pleasant, easy
Anse Cochon reef was similar to other local dives with small and medium-sized
reef fish, mild currents, and macro critters. A barracuda being picked over by
some cleaner wrasses paused for videography. As the rest of the group approached,
he took off, rapidly turning from black to silver as he ran for safety. This barracuda
was about the biggest fish I saw, save for a few jacks on one of my fourteen
Other sites were less attractive. At “The Pinnacles” I enjoyed the soft and
hard corals and large sponges, until I found myself navigating a scrap pile of
old tires, bottles, and tins. Many had resident denizens, but the rubbish was
discouraging, as were the fish-lines and tangles, which I couldn’t do much about
without a knife.
Some night dives were spectacular, though no deeper (58 fsw) than any others.
Anse Chastanet Reef is protected (although the fishing boats set their nets next to
the small reserve daily), and it’s fed by
currents so the basket stars are grand
and active. Even video lights didn’t
interfere with their swaying and feeding;
this display of basket stars was comparable
to the Indo-Pacific! Spiny, slipper, and
Spanish lobsters, large crabs, and other
nocturnal critters were out as well as
several species of cardinal fish and squirrelfish
uncommon in the day. Everywhere
Creole wrasse snuggled under protecting
coral and rock, and parrotfish were under
the corals, some in their mucus sleep
sacks. But like all dives here, we finished
in less than an hour. I usually returned
with 1000 psi or more.
Generally, at least one dive day
includes the Lesleen M, an upright, 165-
foot freighter so sanitized that even
our guides were content to tie up to the mooring and “set us loose” to do our own
thing. The wreck is fairly open and penetrations are easy, but this is a popular
dive spot and many novice divers kicked up silt and scared off critters. On the 65-
foot bottom, I found a nice colony of garden eels. A new wreck nearby sits at 100
fsw, “too deep to be dived.”
I usually spent my 1-1/2 hour surface intervals on shore, sometimes at the
Sheraton Jalousie just down the beach, sometimes in the town of Soufričre, which
was busy with people walking around, shopping, and scoping out spots for dinner
“on the town” or for the regular Friday night “jump-up,” a sort of town-wide
block party where residents barbecue, listen to music, and dance. Some guests
used one day’s surface interval to hike to nearby hot springs.
I might describe a visit to Anse Chastanet as “soft ecotourism” with shallow
dives, a beautiful setting, several daily uphill hikes, and all tourist amenities.
The hotel has tennis courts, windsurfers, kayaks, and sunfish. Snorkeling,
walks to nearby beaches and abandoned plantations, and numerous daily boat trips
to Soufričre are offered at no charge, while one can pay for guided climbing or a helicopter tour. There’s entertainment nightly, often excellent local groups that play
everything from pan, reggae, and soca to traditional Creole music and modern pop.
To add to all this there’s a well-tuned restaurant with interesting food
served promptly by a thoughtful staff. Most nights dinner was a semi-dressy affair
served in the upstairs restaurant and the romantic balcony, “Tree House” annex. I
sampled appetizer/starters like roast duck breast with honey glaze and prosciutto
with green melon on Belgian endive, followed by a choice between one cold and two
hot soups. After the sorbet, I chose from five main dish/vegetable options (one
“heart healthy”) including stuffed leg of lamb, bleu cheese-stuffed chicken,
grilled mahi-mahi with Creole sauce, and kingfish and clams Mornay in filo
pastry. Desserts might be mousses, cheeses, or crepes. Preparation and presentation
were normally excellent, although the complex mixtures of spices in the
Creole buffet one night were not to my liking.
Buffet breakfast included lots of fresh fruits, freshly-baked breads, eggs any
style, and good coffee, plus scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, a complex French
toast, and banana pancakes served a la carte. Lunch, served in the beachside
“Trou au Diable” restaurant, was everything from sandwiches to hamburgers,
grilled fish, or chicken or steak along with salads and fresh fruits. Service
could be slow, but a buffet with a large selection offered a quicker turnaround.
Anse Chastanet is no place for experienced divers seeking multiple-dive days, lots
of freedom, and big fish action. It’s perfect, however, for those who want a multifaceted
vacation with no crowds and diverse activities in a lush, romantic--and somewhat
pricey--getaway resort that includes some fairly decent, if very restricted, Caribbean
diving. The hotel is laid-back and beautiful, a place to relax and enjoy.
Not everyone will enjoy the natural setting as much as I did. One of our readers,
Kathleen O’Connor from Virginia Beach, said of her visit: “Wildlife everywhere.
In our room we had visits from lizards, tree frogs, birds, rats, and
millions of mosquitoes. In the dining room they had birds during the day and bats
(and mice) at night.” For me, however, that was half the fun.
— L. J.
Diver’s Compass: Anse Chastanet, phone 800-223-1108 (U.S.
only) or 758-459-7000; fax 758-459-7700; e-mail
email@example.com; website www.ansechastanet.com...or
888-465-8242...Seven-day off-season all-inclusive package
$1499 or $1399 w/o air. Four price ranges from $1342–2565
weekly/double. Lower range w/no meals, upper w/two...Imported
beer $4, local $3, soft drinks $1. All credit cards, tips optional,
10% service on everything...Flights from San Juan,
Miami, New York, Montreal, and Barbados land at Hewanorra Field, an 18 mile, 30+
min., rough $45 taxi ride away; Vigie Field in Castries (commuter flights) is 30
mi., 1 hr., and $75...Departure fee EC $20, local currency only...Scuba St.
Lucia’s website www.scubastlucia.com/, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org...U.S.
$30.00/dive, boat or shore; six-dive package $150, ten dives $225 if not part of
package, all plus 10% SC...Aluminum 80s and 63s...Annual dive permits run $12
U.S., daily permits $4...Most boat diving is live boat drift, even in low/no
current conditions...Occasional strong currents, Dive-Alert/safety sausage
recommended...E-6 processing available, charging 110V available...Photo gear for
rent...Good gear rental available, limited repairs...Viz 40-70', often backscatter,
water temp 80°F...Rains, possibly hurricanes, May-October...Chamber is on
Barbados via chartered air...Official language English, but considerable Creole
patois...U. S. dollars and credit cards welcomed...ATMs best exchange rate, often
broken or closed...Electricity 200 volts/50 Hz, often fluctuating, British plugs.