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One of the most photographed and hiked sites on St Lucia are two mountains called the Pitons. Aptly named Gros Piton (Large Peak) and Petit Piton (Small Peak), these volcanic spires are well worth the trip. These mountains are UNESCO World Heritage sites and deserve this status (wow are they beautiful!).
Located on the southwestern coast on the island near the town Soufrière, both are around 750 meters in height. Volcanic spires (or “plugs”) are formed when magma blocks the entrance to a volcanic vent. The Pitons are long standing volcanic plugs with a diverse array of wildlife, including bats, reptiles, amphibians and more.
We had been at our hotel (the exclusive Jade Mountain resort) for a few days and decided the day before we went that we should do this hike. Friends of ours had told us a lot about it and they just looked so beautiful from our resort we decided we had to give it a go.
Word to the wise: start this hike early. We made the mistake of going mid-day as it was a bit of a last minute visit for us, and we paid for it dearly with a crispy sun burn the next day. If we had to do it again we would definitely do one of the early 7 AM excursions to keep the heat and direct sun to a minimum.
Do not kid yourself. The Pitons are a tough hike. It is around 2300 feet of elevation from the beach and most of that almost straight up. I am a fairly fit 30-ish year old male and am an avid hiker, but the Pitons are a steep climb.
Along with the aggressive incline there are also large boulders on the path that will require some climbing and maneuvering. Although the weather in St Lucia is fairly stable, it is warm and humid which also exerts a toll on the body if you are not prepared for it.
Make sure to drink a lot of water on the way up. Our guides were really good about going at our pace and reminding us to hydrate along the way. It doesn’t take too long, (count on about 3-5 hours depending on your physical fitness).
Tips for Hiking the Pitons:
- Leave early. I would recommend a 7 AM (or earlier) excursion to the top. All hikes up the Pitons are guided so make sure to book early to avoid heading up in the heat of the day. If you have a cooler day a hike towards sunset may be worth your while, St Lucia has some pretty spectacular sunsets! Be sure to check with your resort or hotel to see if they provide shuttle service to the Pitons (many of the higher end resorts in St Lucia will)
- Bring water and snacks. It is not a long hike so we did not bring a backpack but a decent fanny pack full of some granola bars and a water bottle or two is not a bad idea (yes fanny packs are ridiculous looking but they beat carrying a big backpack up the mountain). I would say at least 2 litres of water, maybe some Gatorade as you will sweat something fierce.
- Bring a camera. Kind of goes without saying, but not something you would want to forget. If you do an evening hike up the Pitons you may be rewarded with some incredible sunsets.
- Get some good hiking shoes. The way up was fine and I could probably have got away with just the runners I was wearing. The way down is what kills you. Although I had trained on the treadmill before this trip there is no real way to practice descending a steep mountain on a treadmill. I really noticed this on the way down, and some strong hiking boots that could be laced around my ankles would have been a big bonus. Our legs got tired quickly and some decent hikers can definitely help to prevent rolling your ankle.
- Research your tour company. There are lots of excursion companies that will gladly take your money to hike the Pitons. Make sure you dig around a bit and make sure find one with good reviews. Our guide was great but I’ve heard some horror stories of guides that basically “whipped” their group up and down the mountain so they could nab the next group and cash in on more excursions per day. It may be worth your while to pay a little extra and get a reputable tour company for your hike.
- Get yourself a sweat band. I never wore one of these, but St Lucia changed this for me. The humidity there is intense and you will sweat a lot. Yes, you will look like a thug biker. Yes you will probably be the only one in your group wearing one. But they are worth it. Again, going up the mountain it is not as big a deal. If you are coming down the mountain with sweat dripping in your eyes however and you misstep it can be the difference between getting down safely or rolling an ankle because you never saw the tree root on the path.
I will update this post as I think of more things. Please do this hike, it really is worth your time. At little extra prep before your trip (don’t be scared to hit the treadmill a few weeks in advance) and some good hiking gear will make this hike worth your while!