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St. Lucia’s celebrations sizzle in May

The setting: Lush green hills, tropical rainforests, white sand beaches.

The music: Jazz, soul, fusion, and R&B.

The deal: Visit St. Lucia in May to take advantage of a world-class music festival, free events and activities, and shoulder-season rates.

When St. Lucia hosts its 15th annual jazz festival, visitors can combine concerts with the island’s top attractions to experience the best the island has to offer. But, vacationers who travel outside of the festival dates of May 5 to 14 will also get a first-rate trip with reduced shoulder-season rates, warm and sunny weather, and fewer crowds. St. Lucia is a beautiful and fascinating destination any time of year, but a May visit will pack all the pluses into one memorable (and cost-effective) excursion.

Why St. Lucia in May?

St. Lucia is well known for its internationally acclaimed Jazz Festival, which takes place this year between May 5 and 14. Most of the big stars—such as Seal, Ciara, Rihanna, Al Green, Babyface, Nancy Wilson, Freddy Cole, and Kenny Garrett—will perform from May 11 to 14 on the main stage at Pigeon Island National Landmark. Free, smaller concerts take place around the island throughout the week. Tickets for the larger event (none of which cost over $60) can be purchased by calling 758-451-8566 or at the gate.

Another May draw this year is the cricket match between the West Indies team and Zimbabwe on May 10. As St. Lucia is co-hosting the Cricket World Cup in 2007, this match could be a good sneak peek as to what the island can offer sports fans.

If you’re not into jazz or cricket or want to avoid the crowds, the non-festival weeks of May can be optimal times to visit St. Lucia. May is the warmest month with average temperatures between 80 and 86 degrees and is still part of the dry season. Most resorts consider May to be shoulder season, so prices drop from their winter highs. And with most May travelers planning to be in town for the festival, you’ll find fewer crowds and more availability toward the end of the month.

May is also part of prime wedding season for Americans, and many couples find St. Lucia ideal for getting married or honeymooning. The island’s many all-inclusive and secluded resorts make for perfect romantic getaways, and most offer wedding or honeymoon packages. Couples can not only save money by packaging costs together but they can save time by letting the resort do all the planning.

St. Lucia travel and ways to save for May

St. Lucia offers many free attractions, though you’ll have to pay for a cab or a tour to get to many of them from your hotel. All beaches are free and open to the public, even if many hotels set up their own lounge chairs and water sports shops on the sand. Rainforest hikes are popular free attractions, but you may likely want the services of a guide. Most of the smaller Jazz Festival concerts are free, and the main stage shows are reasonably priced. You can also explore the ruined fort on Pigeon Island and the Diamond Botanical Gardens for a nominal charge.

Accommodations in St. Lucia run from the inexpensive to the ultra-pricey, but almost all resorts will be charging discounted shoulder-season rates in May. Even at pricy Ladera, you’ll save $100 to $150 per room off peak-season rates. For an affordable stay, try Coco Kreole or Coco Palm in Rodney Bay; rates start at $85 at Coco Kreole and $125 at Coco Palm, and you’ll be within walking distance of the island’s best beach, restaurants, and bars.

Most hotels will have sold out or be charging high rates during the St. Lucia Jazz Festival. The Almond Morgan Bay Beach Resort, however, is running a jazz festival special that’s actually available for stays between April 25 and October 31. If you book by May 7, you can find special rates from $136 per person per night. The price covers all meals, premium brand bar drinks, all water sports, golf, and tennis (with or without lessons).

Airfare to St. Lucia can be pricey, though less so outside of the peak winter months, but you can often save by combining air and hotel prices and booking a vacation package. Alken Tours is offering jazz festival packages from $757 per person for three nights at the Bay Royal Gardens plus airfare from Miami. [% 321389 | | Jet-A-Way Holidays %] is offering four-night air-and-hotel packages from $439 through May 17. You can look for other packages and deals at providers such as Delta Vacations, Air Jamaica Vacations, Apple Vacations, Liberty Travel, US Airways Vacations, and

St. Lucia is an exotic destination that for many people is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. If you go in May, not only can you experience the best the island has to offer, but you can save enough money to be able to afford a return trip next year.

For more information, visit our St. Lucia travel guide.

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