Saint Lucia Pitons: Ultimate Guide (Gros & Piton)
While Saint Lucia offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world none can top the majestic Pitons, the island’s iconic mountains. Said to be the most photographed site in the Caribbean and the most famous mountain pair on earth, the Pitons are a must-see for anyone who visits the island.
Located just south of the town of Soufriere on the west coast, Gros Piton (771 m / 2,619 ft.) and Petit Piton (743 m / 2,461 ft.) rise regally from the blue Caribbean below.
Any picture of St. Lucia taken from a distance includes the unmistakable pair of peaks known as the Pitons. It is only natural for you to want to visit them. Fortunately, the Pitons are tourist-friendly and especially welcoming to hikers.
There are two pitons (volcano-plugging mountains) in St. Lucia. The Gros Piton and the Petit Piton are popular among intermediate hikers. Petit, self-evidently, is the smaller peak and is easier to climb for novices.
This article is your ultimate guide to the pitons in St. Lucia. In it, you will learn the height of the pitons, what they are, and whether they are safe. You will also discover the things you should take with you if you plan to summit one and what the experience will cost you.
So, let’s get started with a deeper dive into what the pitons are.
History of the Pitons
The Pitons were created less than a million years ago by volcanic activity, which still can be witnessed at the Sulphur Springs volcano located nearby.
Amerindians considered the mountains to have mystical powers and early European explorers noted their unique and splendid beauty.
In 2004 the Pitons were awarded World Heritage Site status.
What Are The Pitons In St. Lucia?
The pitons are a pair of iconic volcanic plugs in St. Lucia that adorn its skyline. Gros Piton and Petit Piton make up the pair collectively referred to as “the Pitons” by St. Lucia locals and visiting tourists.
The technical definition can confuse tourists who do not know what a volcanic cap is. Put simply, the Pitons in St. Lucia are the two mountains you see in most photos of the island. These mountains are volcanic but feature a plug made of an ancient volcano’s remains.
Geology enthusiasts might visit the Pitons to admire the matter that once plugged a volcanic eruption. The Gros and Petit pitons have a lot of historical significance as well. Even UNESCO has acknowledged this by categorizing the pitons as heritage sites.
The formations are over 200,000 years old and could date as far back as 300,000 years. The eruption that pushed them up didn’t stay hot enough to create the crater or the opening that is often associated with volcanoes. Instead, it formed a mountain that hikers and tourists love to frequent.
Tourists who go to the pitons might not know its history. In fact, many visitors assume that Gros and Petit are regular mountains. But only when they visit the site do they learn that the seemingly serene peaks were, at one point in history, the deadliest place to be. But back then, humans didn’t exist, especially in St. Lucia.
Are The Pitons Safe?
When the pitons were a moving mass with the potential for shooting magma, we were 200,000 years in the future. Is that time enough to make the volcanic plugs safe? That’s the question some cautious tourists might have.
The pitons in St. Lucia are safe, but not all pitons in the world are as safe. Volcanic plugs block the vents of volcanos and with sufficient gas built up, can explode. St. Lucia’s pitons aren’t at risk of that because of relatively low volcanic activity.
The low odds of magma bursting out of the peaks that cooled down hundreds of thousands of years ago can be calculated by the history of eruptions at a site. Historically, St. Lucia’s volcanoes have never erupted with magma overflow. So the island itself is pretty safe compared to some volcanic locations.
Still, it can be unsafe if you fail to follow hiking safety precautions. Here are a few dangers of visiting the pitons and how you can neutralize them.:
- Dehydration – Carrying a water bottle is highly recommended whenever you go hiking.
- Exhaustion – Make sure you grab a bite or drink nourishing fluids when hiking.
- Getting lost – Do not summit any piton without a guide.
- Stumbling / Falling – Carry appropriate hiking gear when you visit the pitons with the intention of hiking.
Preparing To Visit The Pitons
The Pitons base is accessible by car, but the peak is reserved for those who can hike. Unless you plan to hang out at the base of the volcanic plugs, you should be prepared to hike. Fortunately, you don’t need a climbing rope and advanced mountaineering equipment to summit the pitons. Here are the things you need to buy, though:
- 100 oz water bottle – You will need plenty of water in the 2 to 4 hours you will spend hiking up the smaller of the two pitons.
- Sunscreen – It is advisable to apply sunscreen if you’re out for an extended period in St. Lucia.
- Insect repellant – Depending on the season, there can be plenty of insects en route to the top of the Pitons.
- Hiking pole – A hiking pole can be rented for under $40 at the base camp of The Pitons.
- Sports shoes – You don’t need hiking boots to summit the Pitons. Any pair of tennis shoes with decent traction is okay.
What Can You Do In The Pitons?
Now that you know that you must be prepared to hike if you plan to have any fun in the pitons, you might be wondering what fun you can have there. Let’s look at a few things you can do when you visit the piton pair in St. Lucia.
Hike To The Top
The main reason to go to the Pitons is to climb one of the peaks. Otherwise, you can get a much more inclusive view of the peaks from the opposite end of the island.
Almost no one goes to the pitons to hang out at the base. The only exception is people who go with hiking enthusiasts but prefer not to hike.
Since hikers make up the majority of the visitors, it is evident that St. Lucia Pitons, the most popular reason to hike the trail is for the experience of the hike.
Capture The View From The Summit
As is the case with any peak, one of the rewards of attempting to summit is the view from the top. The pitons at St. Lucia have a breathtaking view of the ocean and a unique view of the island itself.
You have probably seen the island with the iconic peaks on the skyline. What the island looks like from the peak of a piton is a fresh perspective that you can get only after you summit one.
Collect A Natural Souvenir
Tourists sometimes report picking up pieces of rocks and pebbles on the way up the pitons. Any rock bit or pebble naturally present on the pitons is at least 200,000 years old.
But before you get excited, you should know that almost all rocks are over 200,000 years old. Still, having a piece of a volcanic plug can be pretty cool.
Relax And Cool Down At One Of The Four Stops
There are a handful of stops on the way to the top. Gros piton has four stops, but it is the taller one of the peaks. The Petit piton has fewer stops but is easier to summit.
Regardless of the peak you choose to “climb,” you should relax at the stops and take in the view. Different stops offer views from different angles and elevations.
Pose With The Alternate Peak
No matter the piton you choose to summit, there will be a point where you will be able to pose with the alternate one. Gros piton has a better view of the smaller piton. Around the second stop of the Gros Piton, you can pose with the Petit Piton.
In a classic Pisa-Tower-style illusion, you can hold up your arm and pretend to pinch the top of the smaller piton. To pose with the larger piton, you have to summit the Petit Piton and tilt the camera slightly upward.
Pitons Hiking Duration And Stamina Requirements
By now, you know that hiking is the primary activity in the pitons. You can tell that there is no point in going if you don’t enjoy hiking. A car cannot go to the top of the pitons. This leaves behind two types of people who visit the location.
First are the experienced hikers who want to check the St. Lucia Pitons off their bucket lists.
Second are people who want to experience everything the island has to offer, including the hiking opportunity.
New hiking enthusiasts and climbers can find one of the pitons too challenging.
Pitons hiking duration is between two and four hours depending on the stamina, speed, and hiking experience of the hikers. The time you spend going up the volcanic plug also depends on the specific peak you pick.
Gros Piton is 2,530 feet tall, and Petit Piton rises 2,438 feet. The difference of a hundred feet and a steeper climb add 30 minutes to the Gros Piton climb for new hikers. For experienced climbers, the difference comes down to 15 minutes.
Beginners should climb the petit piton and must rest for 10 minutes at every stop on the trail. The 10-minute stop can help them reevaluate if they can continue hiking or must return.
Intermediates should climb Gros Piton with caution or petit piton with ease. If you go by the locals’ advice, novice climbers should avoid Gros Piton. Remember to take a hiking stick with you if you choose to go.
If you can walk on level ground for 2 hours, you can hike up a steep trail for 1 hour and up a slope for 1.5 hours. Following the same stamina translation, one can infer the following:
- If you are a complete beginner – You should hike the Petit Piton with an open mind to return if you can’t keep going.
- If you can walk for one hour – You should hike the Petit Piton at half your walking speed and with plenty of rest.
- If you can walk for two hours – You should choose the Petit Piton.
- If you can climb for one hour – You should choose the Gros Piton trail, albeit with pauses.
- If you have experience climbing – You should hike the Gros Piton trail.
What Is The Best Way To Summit The Pitons?
The best way to summit the pitons is on separate days with an early start and a tour booking. This ensures that you do not get lost and have help if you stumble, run out of water, or need supplies.
Ideally, you should aim to summit the Petit Piton on the first day, no matter how easy you think the alternative might be. Based on the experience you have with the first peak, you can revisit the base and summit the taller one.
Entry to the pitons comes at a price, though.
While the standard pitons package covers the hiking essentials, you must design a broader experience to maximize your enjoyment.
The Complete Pitons Experience: What To Expect
If you get the $50 hiking package at the Pitons, you get the following:
- Access to the Pitons – The pitons don’t have free access. All visitors must pay an entry fee.
- A guide – Hiking without a guide isn’t ideal, but it is possible
- Necessary gear (absolute essentials) – It is still worth it to wear tennis shoes to the Pitons.
- Pick and drop – This can be restrictive if you want to enjoy activities before the hike.
If you plan to make a day out of your trip to the piton, get the hike out of the way early in the morning. This will allow you to conserve your energy, so you don’t end up exhausted mid-hike.
You should schedule activities like the volcano tour, a visit to the nearby waterfall, etc., for after the hike. The pitons tour operators also offer add-ons at a slightly lower price. If you want to relax, you can go to the beach. Whichever post-hike activity you schedule should not be effort intensive, though.
Hiking a Piton requires enough effort as it is.
Hiking the Pitons
Hiking to the top of Gros Piton is one of Saint Lucia’s most popular tours.
Anyone with reasonably good physical fitness can handle climbing Gros Piton.
The trail begins in the quaint countryside village of Fond Gen Libres. Proud and friendly young persons from the village serve as guides.
Piton Piton is a much more arduous ascent that should only be attempted by very fit and experienced climbers.
Different Views of the Pitons
An interesting aspect of the Pitons is how their appearance changes so dramatically when viewed from different directions:
- As seen from the south the mountains look completely different and much farther apart than they do from the north.
- As seen from the north, which is the classic and most photographed view in which they appear as near identical twins nestled close together.
Final Thoughts: Are the Pitons Worth Visiting in 2023?
St. Lucia Pitons hike is definitely worth it, as long as you pick the right peak. The Gros Piton is for advanced hikers, while the Petit Piton is for those who prefer a shorter, less steep path.
Once on top, you can admire the beauty of the ocean as well as the island itself. The taller piton is the second-highest peak on the island, so you get a truly unique view from its summit.