One of the most iconic things to do in St. Lucia is get up close and personal with the nation’s primary symbols, the Petit and Gros Pitons. St. Lucia is a volcanic island, entirely made of so many peaks and valleys, it is actually difficult to find some flat earth to land airplanes on. The Pitons are not the highest peaks on St. Lucia, but they are by far the most dramatic. So why would you not hike Gros Piton if you could? Because really, a trip to St. Lucia isn’t complete without conquering a Piton.
Hiking Gros Piton
Rising as if straight from the sea, the Petit and Gros Pitons mark the true west coast of St. Lucia and are probably photographed millions of times per year. That might not be true, I just made that up. But I doubt I’m far off. Anyone looking for epic vistas for their Travel Photography needs to touch down in St. Lucia!
The gateway to the Pitons is the small town of Soufrière, aptly named after the sulphur geothermal activity in the area. This is a volcanic island after all.
The Petit Piton, or ‘Small Python’ if you want to translate, is visible from most places in Soufrière. The Petit Piton lies just south of town, or just around the bend if you’re in a boat. There are some fantastic viewpoints from which to gaze upon the Petit Piton, and I actually chose my guesthouse based on the view that it offered (which was a great view, albeit the guesthouse itself had few other redeeming qualities).
Where is the Gros Piton in St. Lucia?
The Gros Piton lies further south from the Petit and is not visible from town. The two are a couple of miles apart, but in the pictures, they look right beside each other. That is the first of the Pitons’ optical illusions. Also an illusion is that one is small and one is big, based on the names. The Gros and the Petit are almost the same height, but from different perspectives they could both be named the opposite.
The last illusion is that the Petit Piton would be the one you would think you would climb if you were so inclined.
Hiking the Gros Piton
If you’re in St. Lucia and one day think, “you know, I’m tired of the beach and beautiful coral reefs, I think I would like to torture myself for 4 hours today”, the best way to submit yourself to that thought is to submit yourself to the Gros Piton summit trail. And of course, yes, I could not NOT climb the Gros Piton.
The Gros Piton is climbed not because it is easy, but because it is easier than the Petit. The Petit requires actual rock-climbing to get to the top, while the Gros is merely a very steep hiking trail that ‘only’ requires grit, healthy lungs, and quads that won’t quit. Luckily, I have those things in spades! Mainly the grit, the other traits come and go.
How to Get to the Gros Piton Trail
To get to the trail head, you need to get yourself about 9km south of Soufrière, either by taxi, rental car, or bus. From the main road, it’s a 7km winding dirt road to the trail head. The public buses won’t go down this road, and there is the reason to hire a taxi. As fun as 7km of road is…
Once you arrive at the park headquarters, you will be matched up with your guide. Guides are required, you must have a guide. Most of the guides are from the local village, and climb the Pitons like it’s their jobs. Wait…
Entry into the Gros Piton trail is kind of steep, about $35USD. But word is that a good portion of that goes to your guide, and then they have to keep up that trail, so what the hey, pay the cash!
Once you grab your guide and pay your dues, you start up the trail. I hiked the trail with a lovely French couple from my guesthouse, who I was hoping would be slower given the number of cigarettes they smoked. Unfortunately, they were only 25, so their debilitating habits hadn’t caught up with them yet, making me the Sweaty Sandra of the group. So sweaty.
The Gros Piton Trail Hike
Our 18-year old guide Quincey led us up the first half of the trail relatively easily. This first half is said to be ‘moderate’. In my experience this means I have less of a chance of falling down and I use my hands infrequently to help propel me forward. Stopping at the ¼ mark, the view looks west to the Caribbean. You can spot the triangular form of St. Vincent 25 miles in the distance, and the beach right below looks idyllic. You can hear the waves crashing on the beaches and up against the cliffs.
The next ¼ is also moderate, though the view from the half way mark is your first stunning glance you have of the Petit Piton. Looking North at the Petit sister puts you into perspective. It’s not very often on a hike that you have an almost duplicate mountain next to the one you’re climbing, putting it into visual perspective exactly how far up you had come…and how much further you have left to climb!
After the half way point the trail transforms from ‘moderate’ to ‘difficult’. Notice the use of the word ‘transforms’, as opposed to ‘transitions’. Mere steps from the half way mark, the trail is noticeably rougher, with more scrambling and more stair climbing motion.
The second half of hiking the Gros Piton is not easy. The footing can be tricky, and you’re definitely climbing in elevation. It was at about half way through the second half that I thought (as I often do at this point during rough hikes) “Why Emily, why?”.
But forget that nagging feeling to quit, that voice in your head is a lazy jerk who doesn’t appreciate beautiful vistas or feeling like a badass. The pain in the legs and the racing heartbeat all was worth it for those views from the top!
Views from the Gros Piton in St. Lucia
First we checked out the view towards the south of the island and to the town of Vieux Fort. I spotted the lighthouse that I had visited earlier that week, the second highest lighthouse in the western hemisphere! The south of St. Lucia turns out to be somewhat flatter than the rest of the island, so anybody sitting atop the Gros Piton can almost see every house in the south. Absolutely spectacular.
While we were enjoying this magnificent view, and I was feeling pretty good about myself for conquering the Piton, up came a guy who we had seen running out of Soufriers. He had run 16 kilometres to the base of the hike and then climbed the Gros Piton.
I loathed him.
No, I didn’t. He was a really nice Canadian guy named Justin (not Trudeau or Bieber). Just a shockingly fit Canadian.
We also had to check out the North facing view, which takes a 10-minute side trail that is noticeably less kept that the other trail. I fell twice, just in this section, slipping on rocks. But again, the bruises were worth it, as this view is the money shot.
The view from the north edge of the Gros Piton looks directly over to the Petit Piton and beyond to the rolling hills and dips and peaks of the rest of St. Lucia. I have seen many many small beautiful tropical islands, and while I hate to bemoan the others, St. Lucia might be the most beautiful.
I know! What a declaration! I can hardly believe it myself. Of course everywhere has its perks, but there is something so lush, so unique about St. Lucia, that for such a small island it packs a ton of beauty into a little bit of land and sea.
After making it back to the main trail, we began the puzzle of descent. I say puzzle because while my heart wasn’t working so hard to move my body against gravity, my legs were now working to save my life against it.
Focusing on every step to make sure I stayed as upright as possible, the descent was a bit of a blur. We only stopped for one break, which was good because these old lady hips were starting to ache. I know we stopped once because this is when it started to rain. And by rain, I mean, the sky began to torrentially pelt water on us like we were in the Quarter Quell of the Hunger Games. Thankfully, much of the trail is under tree cover (saving us from the sun almost completely and then marginally from the rain), so the trail didn’t become an instant mud pit.
By the time I arrived at the bottom, I was soaked. I had started off being soaked by sweat (So. Much. Sweat.) but then the rain washed it all away and I was merely drenched by nature. Justin was already chilling at the bottom drinking a beer. Ass.
Things to Know about Hiking Gros Piton in St. Lucia
Go early, clouds come in after 11am’ish, so for the most visibility and best views, get to the top before those clouds do.
Negotiate with a taxi driver in town to take you out there and wait for you. Our guesthouse owner took us and charged us FAR too much. Ask around for better prices.
The park folks will not let you up the trail unless every person has 1.5L of water. You can buy water and snacks at the trailhead. I had more than 1.5L, and drank most of it.
Our guide tried to tell us that the North facing view at the top was the same as the view from the halfway point. It was not. It was epically better. He also said it was 25 minutes to get there. Again, it was not, it was perhaps 10 minutes. Don’t let anybody dissuade you from getting to the better viewpoint!
Wear decent shoes and clothing. This is a climb, without actually suiting up for climbing. Leave the flip flops for the beach, you need shoes. When we returned to the bottom, there was a lady in a mini white t-shirt and see through lacey white shorts. She was soaked and dirty. Apparently she was confused about what hiking apparel meant, though I’m sure she looked super cute when she left her hotel.
It’s a tough hike, no doubt about it. But even if you can only make it to the half way mark, you get a great view of Petit Piton. I would always recommend giving it a shot, you never know how far you can get unless you give it a whirl. There, my pep talk for the day 🙂
Have you hiked Gros Piton? Are you travelling to Soufrière, St. Lucia soon? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below!
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