Key information: Gros Pitons
- Spectacular views of St. Lucia's verdant islands from the top of their iconic landmark -the knife-like twin volcanic cones of the Pitons mountains.
- Steep pathways lead through dense jungle vegetation to the summit of the towering UNESCO-listed rock spires.
- Though only 789m above sea-level, Gros Piton is a tough walk due to its steepness and the heat. It should not be attempted within six hours of rain.
- Guide accompaniment is required by the National Park.
- Walkopedia rating84
- Natural interest16
- Human interest6
- Negative points0
- Total rating84
- Length: Half day
- Maximum Altitude: 800m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
The Gros and Petit Pitons of St Lucia are iconic, two cones of volcanic rock thrust up knife-like from the sparkling surf. These, more than anything, are the symbols of this small island country; it?s impossible to find a tourist brochure that does not feature them, and yet few people actually attempt to climb them. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, one can see that the mountains? near-vertical jut would be daunting, but in fact the walk up Gros Piton (Petit Piton is closed to hikers - at least officially - and requires climbing skills) represents a tough half-day climb (two hours up) for the reasonably fit, and the views from the peak of the island, the azure Caribbean beyond and, in the far distance, the island of Martinique, are unforgettable.
The Gros Piton Nature Trail leads from the historic town of Fond Gens Libre, whose inhabitants, many of them descended from the brigands and rebel slaves who used the area as shelter in the 1700s, can be hired as guides today - enquire at the Interpretive Centre. The trail leads up through lush, tropical deciduous woodland past buttresses of remarkable proportions, on these astounding conical protrusions from a serene and beautiful ocean. The woodland is crammed with diverse wildlife, including the St. Lucian Oriole, the St. Lucia Black Finch and the Red-necked Pigeon, and locals farm fruit and burn charcoal on the slopes. Many people give up at the first viewpoint, halfway up the ascent - the trails gets significantly tougher from hereon in - but the incredible panoramic views as you emerge onto the summit justify the pain of reaching them: the marvelous coast sweeping away, the lush vegetation extending right down to the shore. The sky is radiant, huge, and the sea deep and pure.
St Lucia has a rich and chequered history of French and then British colonialisation, of pirates and brigands and a heroic slave rebellion. It is a heady concoction of cultures -which can occasionally lead to a level of lawlessness of which one needs to take a modicum of care. Sadly, this means that many of the island?s visitors stick to the resorts, mainly on the North coast, depriving themselves of a fascinating glimpse of extraordinary flora and fauna, geological marvels and a riveting, melting-pot culture ? and of course meaning that most of their much-needed tourist dollars get siphoned off to holding companies and never hit the local economy at all. For anyone of a reasonable level of fitness, the walk up the Gros Piton is a must, if you are visiting here.
The sulphur from the nearby active volcano, Mt. Gimie, can occasionally be noxious.
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Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
The best time to climb Gros Piton is possibly during the ‘cooler’ period in December and January. In truth, however, the temperature varies so little that special provision to avoid hot temperatures is fairly pointless.
Like all Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is hot and tropical all year round. The average daily temperature of 27°c does tend to be moderated by the dominant trade wind, but even so could make such a strenuous climb yet more arduous and uncomfortable. The driest period is from January to March, with showers possible throughout the year – it is strongly advised not to attempt this trail within six hours of rain. The hurricane season runs roughly June to November, and, though this obviously doesn’t mean that there are hurricanes all the time (and travel/ accommodation at this time is a great deal cheaper), getting caught in one is not recommended as a leisure pursuit.
Expeditions are most easily organised by hotels. If traveling independently, enquire at Fond Gens Libre – but make sure that your guide has actually done the trek before. Cost is roughly US $25 a head, much of which goes toward maintenance of the area and trails.
There are a several trails around the mountain; but all will lead you inevitably to its picturesque summit. See the Walk Summary, above
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights. The path itself is very steep and frequent rest stops might be needed.
- Harmful animals; mosquitoes, stinging/biting insects. Take all appropriate precautions.
- Crime: like many Caribbean countries, St. Lucia does have some problems with crime involving tourists – mainly of the petty street variety. Use common sense, don’t flash cash or jewelry, and take some care about wandering into less salubrious areas.
- Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications and insurance. This is not currently a malaria zone.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently in terms of hiring a personal guide, but bring lunch and generous supplies of water.
National Park requirements mean this is necessary; the best bet here is to make use of resorts’ facilities for booking. Traveling with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages in spotting and identifying the local flora and fauna.
If you’re looking to explore more of the island, then Headwater’s great-looking trip to St Lucia takes you on guided walks in both the north and the south (including, of course, a hike up Gros Piton).
PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
Staying in a resort is the only viable option, really.
Other information and tips
Other things to do in the area
Petit Piton: Though this is not officially a permitted hiking zone, it is quite possible to find a guide to help you do it. However, though lower than the Gros Piton, the mountain more strenuous, the trails are unmarked, and all routes to the peak require climbing ability.
Locally, as in the area, it is well worth visiting the Sulphur Springs Park at Soufriere, for a drive-in experience of a live volcano http://www.planetware.com/soufriere/sulphur-springs-park-drive-in-volcano-stl-stl-ssp.htm
St Lucia is good for all the customary leisure activities generally associated with the Caribbean: water sports, an annual jazz carnival, regular international cricket matches. And of course, lolling about on the beach.
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Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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