Official Publication of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association

mountainsTWIN PITONS

Besides having two Nobel laureates, St. Lucia now boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pitons.

The Pitons are awe-inspiring, even for those who live under their shadow. As for their effect on St. Lucia's visitors, tourists return from their daytrips to Soufrière with a different light in their eye. In short the Pitons are outstanding examples of cultural and natural heritage, the criteria that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee looks for when it comes to bestowing its prestigious stamp. 

It was in July 2004, during the 28th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in China that St. Lucia received this coveted title. Out of 48 applicants, just five new sites were inscribed onto the illustrious list: the Ilulissat Ice Fjord in Denmark, the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia), the Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve (Russian Federation), the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas of South Africa, and the Pitons Management Area of St. Lucia.

Within the Caribbean, St. Lucia has joined Cuba, Dominica, Belize, St. Kitts, the Dominican Republic and Haiti as nations that have sites listed with the World Heritage Committee.

The Piton Management Area stretches from Anse L'Ivrogne River in the south to the road linking Esperance to Etangs in the north and east, and the Soufrière Marine Management Area in the west.

The best-known features are of course the Gros Piton, Petit Piton and the Sulphur Springs (long advertised as the world's only drive-in volcano).  However, the site contains many other unique aspects that the Heritage Committee deemed important to preserve. There are beautiful coral reefs, hawksbill turtles, pilot whales, 168 species of finfish, 148 species of plants (including eight rare trees) and 27 species of birds, five of which are found nowhere else in the world.

But, first and foremost, the heritage site contains a rare volcanic complex with its continuously escaping sulphurous fumaroles and hot springs. Gros Piton and Petit Piton are hard 'plugs' of crystallized magma that were once the cores of two volcanoes. The remainder of the mountains has eroded away over time. The Pitons, Sulphur Springs and the surrounding geological features present a history of volcanic activity spanning more than 5 million years. The history of this site, the process of volcanic formation and erosion, can literally be 'read' in the landscape. It is for all of these reasons that St. Lucia's Pitons made it onto our planet's shortlist of outstanding examples of cultural and natural heritage.

Working up a sweat for glory

The Petit Piton (738 meters) is difficult to conquer, but the Gros Piton despite its greater height (786 meters) can be climbed on a daily basis with the capable help of qualified tour guides who work from the Gros Piton Nature Trail Centre at Fond Gens Libres, at the foot of the Gros Piton. To get there from Soufrière, continue driving towards Choiseul until you reach Etangs, where a sign will show you the route to Fond Gens Libres. Coming from Vieux Fort, take the road that leads through Choiseul village and then follow the signs to the Gros Piton Trail.

The centre is open daily from 7 am until 2 pm (or until the last climbers are back). The round trip to the summit of Gros Piton takes approximately four and a half hours. It is advisable to leave well before mid-day. Climbers need to be fit and equipped with sturdy walking shoes or trainers. Drinking water and a snack are necessary items. The first half of the climb is moderately steep and easy; the second half increasingly steep and strenuous. Moreover, some people find the climb back down even harder! There is no need for actual rock-climbing as steps and railings have been put in where the path is particularly difficult to negotiate. However, individuals with a fear of heights are strongly advised against this journey. In certain spots, you look straight down the side of the mountain to the earth below or the Caribbean Sea - a long, long way down.

And what is the best reward for all this effort?  The view. From the top of the Gros Piton, it is simply glorious.


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