The tiny, teardrop-shaped island of Saint Lucia looks like a green jewel in the shimmering Caribbean Sea. It is the quintessential tropical paradise, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Twenty-seven miles long and 14 miles wide, Saint Lucia also lies on the border of the deep Atlantic Ocean. A jagged mountain range runs right through its centre, peaking twice at its twin landmarks, Gros Piton and Petit Piton, which rise 2,000 feet above sea level. The island is blanketed in dense forest, with wild orchids, scarlet chenille, birds of paradise and jasmine splashing its lush green canvas with more colour. Rainbow-plumed birds flit high in the jungle canopies above.

Saint Lucia also has vast expanses of land devoted to orchards growing sweet tropical fruits such as papaya, mango and banana. Palm trees are everywhere on the island. And as with any perfect paradise, Saint Lucia has a number of pristine beaches where sun-worshipers soak up the rays while enjoying the sweeping caress of the trade winds dancing their way to Saint Lucia’s southern shore.

The first inhabitants of Saint Lucia were the Arawak Indians in 200 A.D. They were succeeded by the Carib Indians, who called the island Hewanorra, or “there where the iguanas are found”. The first attempt at European settlement here was in 1605, when a group of English colonists were blown off-course and found their way to the island. They only lasted a few weeks before disease and conflict with the Caribs killed most of them and caused the rest to flee. A second English attempt in 1639 also failed.

In 1651, the French took the island, and held it until 1654. The British then claimed it and brought in troops to defend it from the French. The two European nations fought each other for the island, and ownership of Saint Lucia ping-ponged fiercely between France and Britain 14 times until 1814, when the British finally and decisively took Saint Lucia. It remained a British colony until 1979, when Saint Lucia became an independent state. It is still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Saint Lucia’s rich Amerindian, European and African heritage can be seen in the architecture of its towns and cities, and also in the Saint Lucians themselves—in their culture, their traditions, their music, their cuisine and their literature. Saint Lucia has a population of more than 160,000. The locals are well-known for their warmth and hospitality. English is the national language, but many here also speak Spanish, French and Santa Lucian Creole, or Kwéyòl.

Hiring a guide to take you through a heritage walk through the architectural history of Saint Lucia, or exploring its 11 districts on your own, are great ways to learn some interesting facts about this beautiful island.