Every St Lucian knows when you can’t find a particular fresh food item in the supermarket; you’re bound to find it at the Castries Market! Not only is it the ideal place to find quite an assortment of fruits and veggies, you can find peculiar trinkets and other unusual goodies at the centralized location in Castries.
Vendors come from far and wide, with their fresh produce to sell every morning, and despite the rigors of the job most always have a moment to spare to engage you in pleasant conversation—if you have the time. More often than not, you’ll wind up leaving the Castries market with newfound information, and a smile of satisfaction as you very likely will be leaving with the goods you came for in the first place, at the best possible price on the island!
St Lucia’s Castries Market was recently recognized in a listing of the Top Ten Food Markets in the World. The National Geographic’s listing for “Food Journeys of a Lifetime” recognizes “scruffy and chaotic or orderly and refined, the world’s street markets that offer fresh, local—often cheap—seasonal produce, alongside a slice of local life.” St Lawrence, Toronto, Canada came first in that respect, Union Square Greenmarket, New York City second, followed by St Lucia’s very own Castries Market. Ver-o-Peso, Belém, Brazil and Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile are fourth and fifth, respectively.
Truth be told, tourist reviews on the Castries Market are mixed. There are those who really love it, and those who would for one reason or the other advise against visiting. On the upside visitors report the Castries market is a great place to “enjoy yourself, learn some new things, get recipes, discover beauty/health secrets, share a laugh, admire skills and craft work, eat something healthful and score a cocoa stick. Do it again!”
One visitor wrote in an online review: “I did manage to purchase a cocoa stick, which I use to make delicious cocoa tea! I had a delightful visit to this market. I would plan to spend more time in the future when I go again. I found the sellers very generous with their time and information (low season visit). I do caution, that if a seller comes up to you and asks you to hold something, politely refuse. Once you hold their product, they will try to get you to buy it and steal your time with unwanted commentary!”
Quite a number of visitors concurred some of the not so pleasant experiences were not uncommon in other islands they’d visited, like the typical offers to purchase marijuana and other goods “on the hustle.”
While locals may be able to see the similarities, tourists often describe the Castries Market as a world apart from popular vacation stops in St Lucia like Soufriere and Marigot Bay. On the downside, other visitors report their time there as “the scariest two hours of my life.”
“Two other couples we ran into at other attractions said they felt the same way,” another visitor wrote on trip advisor. “One of the couples said they got out of the cab, walked five feet in, and turned around to catch another cab back to their hotel. I wish we had done the same. On several occasions we were approached by seedy looking characters asking for us to buy a seashell, or hat made of grass, or a popcorn kernel (yes, a kernel that came with the “palm reading”). When we came up with the line of “I already bought one” for anyone who approached us, one guy had the audacity to ask if we could just give him money anyway. We said we didn’t have any change, and he insisted that a $5 would be okay with him. I was both scared and outraged.”
The Castries Market is quite a popular lunch and breakfast spot, and from the early hours food of all varieties is available from various food spots. The Market has become quite the after party breakfast spot, particularly as it’s the only place that’s usually open serving “hot off the grill grub” after attending an event that runs into the wee hours of the morning!
A visit to the Castries Market is one that you surely will never forget, and as one visitor put it: “Going to the Castries Market was the best decision of our cruise!”
Locals may not have the same affinity for the Castries Market and many were shocked by the recognition from National Geographic. After all the Market, surrounded by the CDC buildings has been largely known for all the wrong things.
Or is it that we are taking the culture (charm?) of the Castries Market for granted?