FLYING OVER the mountainous greenery that makes up the majority of the eastern Caribbean island of St Lucia, I spotted the twin peaks of the Pitons.
I was intrigued by the sight of the island. I have been fortunate enough to travel to many Caribbean islands, but had never experienced one so seemingly jungle-like and volcanic.
Peaks and valleys abounded, thin ribbons of roads winding endlessly around them. Steep cliffs skirted the coastline, dotted with the odd black-sand beach. Reefs were clearly visible from the sky in the crystalline waters surrounding the island.
St Lucia is part of the Lesser Antilles, situated between St Vincent & the Grenadines in the south and Martinique in the north. Sitting on the eastern side of the Caribbean, where it meets the Atlantic, it is the tip of an underwater volcano, and hot-water vents provide ideal conditions for exotic creatures and spectacular scenery. I could hardly wait to get into the water.
I decided that my first foray should be a shore dive. I was staying at Ti Kaye Village on Anse Cochon Bay, and had been told that it was possible to see seahorses there.
My dive was scheduled for 2pm by Island Divers, part of Ti Kaye Village and situated on the beach. It had been raining all day, so I expected the visibility to be really bad.
The dive was along the right-hand side of the bay, keeping close to the rocks. We surface-swam a short distance before descending to the sandy bottom at 10m. I was surprised by how crystal-clear the water was, the visibility being at least 20m.
Slowly we swam away from the shore, following the rocks, looking carefully around the plentiful sponges and large gorgonian seafans in the hope of spotting a seahorse. Clouds of fish darted about amid the colourful corals and peacock flounders trying to hide themselves in the sand.
Finally, waving too and fro in the slight surge, we spotted our seahorse.
St Lucia hosts longsnout or slender seahorses, Hippocampus reidi. This first dive was very promising.
The diving in St Lucia is mainly done by boat, although there are several very good shore dives, mainly at Anse Cochon and Anse Chastanet.
Most of the boat dive-sites are very close to the steep volcanic cliffs that surround the island. They rarely take more than 25 minutes, and are usually only five or 10 minutes from any of the dive centres on the west side of the island.
Most of my forays over the week were boat dives, the furthest being a half-hour trip to the south. The eastern coast is inhospitable and not normally dived.
The underwater topography includes a great variety of marine, coral and sponge life. There are many vertical walls, sand gullies, rock formations, arches, trenches and pinnacles, all meat and drink for divers.
After my shore dive, I headed out on the boat to Superman’s Flight, which turned out to be an incredibly healthy, colourful reef dive, abundant with soft corals and fish. It was named not for a roaring drift dive but for the movie once filmed on the cliffs above.
In fact there was barely any current, as was to be the case at all but one location.
Keyhole Pinnacles, two submerged formations teeming with life, followed. The pinnacles bottom out at about 25m, rising to around 10m from the surface. They are fairly close together, so both can be explored thoroughly on one dive.
At Piton Wall, beneath the magnificent peaks of the Pitons, the reef was alive with chromis and wrasse, white-spotted filefish, moray eels, snappers and many more species, all vying for space among a vast array of sponges, soft corals and seafans.
Huge barrel sponges, lit from above by sunshine filtering through the crystal-
blue water, made the site seem like a moving painting.
The Fairyland site was as beautiful as its name suggested. Huge clouds of anthias danced around the colourful coral wall and outcrops of reef, like a scene from a Disney movie.
And at Jalousie, named for two brothers who tried to build houses ever larger and more ornate than the other’s on different sides of the bay, beautiful soft and hard corals fought for space among the coral bommies dotted around the sandy bottom.
Large schools of fish wafted around. A pair of filefish followed me around for a while, curious but shy. A large moray eel snaked its way through the reef hunting, unusually, in daylight.

THE LESLEEN M IS A FREIGHTER that was sunk in 1986 as an artificial reef. It sits upright on the sand at 20m at the entrance to Anse Cochon Bay, bow facing the shore.
Suitable for all levels, the accessibility, sheltered position and beauty of this wreck make this a must-dive.
You can get into the cargo hold through the deck, then follow a ladder into a gallery where air has been trapped in the ceiling, making a silvery mirror surface that doubles the quantity of coral and fish life on view.
The wreck is crammed with sponges, black corals, gorgonian seafans and schools of soldierfish, snapper and the odd scorpionfish.
Soufriere Marine Management has contributed greatly to keeping the underwater world attractive in St Lucia, through its project to conserve the coastal environment.
The island also has a non-profit-making scuba-diving organisation called Anbaglo, which works with Soufriere Marine Management, the Department of Fisheries, the Ministry of Tourism, and the tourist board. Made up of 11 licensed dive operators, it has recently embarked on a programme to improve and promote safe and sustainable diving.
Anbaglo supports the training and employment of local people in the diving industry, and played an active part in establishing a hyperbaric chamber at Tapion Hospital in Castries.
I was impressed by the professionalism not only of the dive company I used, but also the others I observed. Their clear respect for the environment and knowledge of dive sites ensured that every dive was safe and enjoyable.
I was certainly fortunate in my choice of week in St Lucia – gentle currents, great visibility, warm water and calm seas made the diving that much more pleasurable.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly to St Lucia direct from London Gatwick with Virgin or British Airways.
DIVING & ACCOMODATION: Lisa Collins stayed at Ti Kaye Village, a 4* property at Anse Cochon, halfway between Anse la Raye and Canaries, www.tikaye.com. Transfer time from the airport is around an hour. She dived with Island Divers, diving@tikaye.com
WHEN TO GO St Lucia is very rarely affected by hurricanes, unlike much of the Caribbean, and though the rainy season is between June and November, diving can be year-round.
MONEY: Eastern Caribbean or US dollars.
HEALTH: Mosquitos are a problem only during rainy season.
PRICES: Contact Divequest about a package from about £1658, including return flights from Gatwick, transfers, seven nights B&B in an ocean-view room at Ti Kaye Village (two sharing) and 10 dives, www.divequest-travel.com
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.stlucianow.co.uk