Mount Gimmie, Saint Lucia’s tallest peak
Saint Lucia is located in middle of the Windward Islands chain, a string of landmasses generally of volcanic origin which extend along a north-south line of convergence between two major tectonic plates that are part of the earth’s crust. Saint Lucia was formed by a series of periods of volcanic activity and is geologically a relatively young island which accounts for the ruggedness of its mountainous terrain which has yet to be worn down by the effects of erosion over time.
The island is 27 miles in length and 14 miles wide at its widest point and comprises 238 square miles (616 square kilometres). The highest point is Mount Gimie at 3,120 feet (950 meters).
The interior is dominated by high peaks covered by lush rain forests. As the moisture laden Trade Winds blow in from the northeast they are forced up the mountain sides causing the air to cool producing heavy precipitation that creates the rain forests. Because of this effect and the position of mountains, Saint Lucia features many noticeable micro-climate zones. Most of the east coastline is discernibly drier than the mountain slopes rising a short distance away. As the air descends on the leeward sides of the mountains, the west coastline also exhibits drier conditions as well. The lack of higher mountains on both the northern and southern tips of the island also results in dry scrub-like conditions in many areas.
The island’s volcanic soils are generally rich and fertile allowing a great variety of plant life to grow well. The wet season from June to December brings noticeably more precipitation. Saint Lucia has numerous river systems that feature a multitude of waterfalls as they carry the rainwater toward the sea flowing erratically over the rugged terrain.
Due to the ever-present Trade Winds the waters of the Atlantic on the east coast are considerably rougher than the calmer conditions on the Caribbean west coast. These conditions have resulted in the west coast being much more developed, particularly in terms of resorts and hotels which offer much more hospitable beach conditions. It must be noted that while several stunning beaches are found on the east coast, caution should be exercised when engaging in any water activity such as swimming, scuba diving or boating.
While nearly all of the island’s main roads are in good condition the ruggedness of the terrain dictates that they are generally steep and winding in many locations. Secondary and unpaved roads are also subject to erosion due to heavy rains in the mountains or from tropical storms.
The island’s volcanic origin and mountainous topography have also resulted in the creation unique geography with many scenic natural harbours and bays which serve well to shelter boats during tropical storms in the region.