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Pitons Management Area UNESCO site: So much to see!

Two pointed peaks jut steeply up from the sea, covered with green tropical vegetation: a stunning sight. These volcanic spires called the Pitons are the most instantly-recognizable feature of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. They’re also the centerpiece of St Lucia’s only UNESCO World Heritage site: Pitons Management Area.

The spires are reminders of a volcano that collapsed many thousands of years ago. The town of Soufrière sits inside the caldera of the volcano, but just outside the limits of Pitons Management Area.

A view from a hill looks across a valley. In the valley a lot of houses, quite close together, in bright colors. They extend up the valley and also down right to the sea on the right. The sea is deep blue. A forest-covered hill rises on the other side of the valley and, beyond that, two taller pointed hills, one partly behind the other: the Pitons in Pitons Management Area.
A view over the Saint Lucian town of Soufrière and the Pitons

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Pitons Management Area holds other attractions as well, including a “drive-in volcano,” famous sulphur springs, several waterfalls, a botanical garden, hiking trails and protected reefs. Zoom in to the southwestern part of the island on the map below and you’ll see I’ve drawn a rudimentary outline of the area included in the UNESCO designation.

How to see the Pitons

The taller of the Pitons is the southern one, called Gros Piton (770 meters), and the other is called Petit Piton, at 743 meters. Here are five different ways to explore the Pitons:

1. From the water

Many of the hotels and resorts on St Lucia offer boat trips of various sorts to see the Pitons from the water. We, (my friend Shobha of Just Go Places and I) joined a sailboat tour arranged by the resort we stayed in called East Winds (Read my review of East Winds here). Taking a boat is a beautiful and relaxing way to take in the view, and the best time to do it is at sunset. Then you not only get to watch the sunset over the sea, but also you get the “golden hour,” perfect for photographing the Pitons. Unfortunately, on our trip, which left from Rodney Bay up north, we didn’t sail close enough to get any pictures, but if you take a boat from Soufrière or one of the nearby resorts, you should be able to get a great angle.

Pinnable image. Text: Pitons, St Lucia: Lots to see and do in this tropical paradise (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo). Images: above, a view down a long beach, with thatched shelters along it, and hills in the background, including Gros Piton, in the Piton Management Area; Below, a bus stop, with a brightly colored bench, with bright plastic seats attached to it. Behind it is a colorful mural.
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2. From a resort

If you’re staying in one of the resorts nestled between the two peaks or up on a hill overlooking the peaks, you’ll get a lovely view. Some of these resorts are very elegant, exclusive, and expensive, particularly top-of-the-line Ladera Resort, with its open-air suites and private plunge pools and a view of both peaks.

A side note about beaches

All beaches in St Lucia are open to the public. You can go, for example, to Sugar Beach, a gorgeous bay right between the two peaks. Sugar Beach Resort extends up a hill above the beautiful white-sand beach.

A view down a long beach, with thatched shelters along it sheltering lounge chairs, and hills in the background, including Gros Piton, in the Piton Management Area.
Sugar Beach with Gros Piton in the background.

However, you won’t be welcomed with open arms at some of these resorts if you’re not a resident. Some will expect you to pay for a lounge chair and umbrella – and they’re generally quite pricey. They might limit you to parking a long way uphill from the beach (This happened at Sugar Beach when we visited, and it was a long way from the beach. Yet a friend visited the next day and was allowed to drive down to park much closer to the beach. Your mileage may vary.) They might stop you from using their bathrooms to change your clothes (This happened to me at Jade Mountain Resort at Chastanet Beach.).

If you’re going to use a beach that’s within a resort in St Lucia, I’d suggest you go ahead and pay for the lounge chairs to get better treatment. Spend the whole day to make it worth the money. Better yet, go to the more egalitarian public beaches and rent a chair from a local person there. Ask at your hotel about local beaches. There are lots of them.

View from the sea onto a beach backed by a steep hill. The beach has a couple of buildings on it and a few boats moored by it. It also has lots of palm trees. Above it on the hill are a number of buildings among the greenery: one of them looks unfinished. The rest of the hill behind them is covered in forest.
Jade Mountain Resort at Chastanet Beach.

3. From a viewpoint on the Tet Paul Nature Trail

At the Tet Paul Nature Trail, a guide is included in the entrance fee (but don’t forget to tip your guide as well). The walk is a well-marked combination of dirt path and stairs winding up through the tropical forest for about a kilometer. Our guide was very patient with our slow tempo – I needed to stop often to catch my breath, and I wanted to stop often to take pictures. She was full of interesting information about the vegetation we passed and about Saint Lucia in general.

At the topmost point of the trail is a large viewpoint allowing a 360-degree view of the island. Of course, the main sights are the two Pitons, and they are indeed magnificent from that angle. Covered in green, against the deep blue of the sea and the bright blue of the sky – it was breathtaking!

Bring water, sunscreen and good walking shoes.

Petit Piton is in the shape of a steep cone coming straight out of the water (it's attached to land on one side, but that side is obscured by the nearby forest in this photo.) In parts it's covered with green growth. In other parts it's bare rock.
Petit Piton, as seen from the Tet Paul Trail.

As an aside, we discovered as we left Tet Paul that there are actually two Tet Paul trails. If you don’t turn at the sign opposite the green house, but rather go straight, you’ll reach a parking area for a “Tet Paul Nature Hike.” (We went that way by mistake after our walk – I have no sense of direction!) There, we stopped to ask a young man for directions. He claimed that this was the original Tet Paul trail and that the one we had taken was diverting the tourists away from him. I can’t make any statement about which was first or which is better, or whether they both lead to the same viewpoint. I can only say that we got a wonderful view from the “Tet Paul Nature Trail.”

4. Hiking the Pitons

There was absolutely no way for us to even consider hiking up either of the Pitons. What I was told was that the hike up Gros Piton, though it’s longer, is actually the easier of the two, but still very steep. On average it takes about two hours each way. Like on the Tet Paul Trail, it’s normal to go with a guide, who you’ll find at the entrance to the trail. Don’t forget a hefty tip!

A very big view, with a rather flat landscape of Saint Lucia, very green but with scattered houses, and the sea next to that. A row of clouds in the distance shows how high up this picture was taken.
A view from Gros Piton. Photo courtesy of Steve Watt.

A good level of fitness, good walking shoes, lots of water, and sunscreen are necessary here.

Apparently there is also a trail up Petit Piton. However, part of it is serious climbing, requiring specialist equipment. Only do this hike if you have some climbing experience and only do it with an organized tour or a qualified guide.

The problem with hiking up one of the Pitons, of course, is that from the top you’ll only see the other Piton. Nevertheless, the hike up will provide beautiful views over the island and the ocean, as well as a close-up look at the tropical rainforest flora and fauna on the way.

Make sure to read my Saint Lucia travel tips before you go!

5. Under the water

The Piton Management Area includes a long strip of ocean about 11 kilometers (7 miles) long along the coast, home to a coral reef. You can see it by snorkeling from nearby beaches: Anse Chastanet Beach to the north, where Jade Mountain resort is; Malgretoute Beach, below Stonefield Villa Resort; or at Sugar Beach Resort, between the peaks – and there are probably other beaches I’m not aware of.

It might be better, though, to sign up with a snorkeling tour like this one, or this one (which includes Piton Waterfall and the sulphur spring) or book one from your hotel. Certainly, if you prefer scuba diving, you’ll need to consult a scuba tour provider.

I only snorkeled within the Pitons Management Area once. It was at Anse Chastenet and I wasn’t particularly impressed with the quality of the reef. It seemed quite damaged, except that there were some healthy-looking tube sponges and brain corals. There were lots of different fish, though. Your mileage may vary, especially if you snorkel or dive deeper into the protected area, rather than on the edge of it like I did.

A view from above of the beach at Malgretoute, below Stonefield Villa Resort. A building backs the small beach: it looks like a villa with verandas all around, but it is presumably a restaurant, changing rooms, etc. Bright blue umbrellas shade lounge chairs lined up on the small length of beach and a scattering of people are in the water. The building and beach are backed by forest, with lots of palm trees especially.
Malgretoute Beach is right at the base of Petit Piton.

The drive-in volcano

Inside the Pitons Management Area you can also visit a remnant of the collapsed volcano that’s still slightly active. It seems odd, but you can even drive your car right up to it, as we did.

At the entrance to the drive-in volcano, you’ll be assigned a guide as you pay your entrance fee. Driving a bit further and parking, you’ll walk a short trail for a view over the crater.

But you’ll know you’re there before you even arrive because of the strong smell of sulphur. Looking down into the gray and smoking field that is the center of the crater, you can make out several places which are literally boiling. It looks like thick muddy water and the sound of it bubbling is continuous.

A whole in the rocky ground with steam rising from it. Some of the mud inside is visible, splashing upward.
One of several spots in the crater where you can see, hear and smell the mud boiling.

The guide will tell you the geological facts about the volcano, as well as the story of why there’s a fence around the crater that no one is allowed inside except scientists. It has to do with a foolhardy guide and his attempt to entertain his tour group.

Sulphur springs in St Lucia

After this educational stop, the next stop is a fun experience: the most famous of the sulphur springs in St Lucia is nearby. This is a place where warm sulfurous water, heated by the volcano, is channeled through a series of pools. At this point it’s the right temperature to soak in. Once you’re warm and wet, employees will coat you, if you want, with mud carried down here from the volcano’s crater. It’s gritty stuff, so rubbing it on also scrubs your skin.

Once every inch of skin – outside your bathing suit, of course – is covered with whitish mud, they’ll decorate you with lines, handprints and shapes drawn in darker mud. It makes a fun photo, and supposedly it’s good for your skin!

The sulphur bath in the picture is a pool of brown water edged by a simple concrete wall. A channel leads the water into it, visible behind the pool, and also edged with low concrete walls. Signs read "Pool entrance steps" and "5 steps down". Part of the next channel leading the water to the next pool is visible on the left, and plastic buckets stand next to or on the walls here and there.
The upper part of the sulphur bath. The water continues down a channel to a similar pool and then a couple more after that, getting slightly cooler at each step. The signs are necessary because the water is completely opaque. The buckets hold the mud, ready to daub on visitors.

Showers and changing rooms are available.

Other things to see in Pitons Management Area: waterfalls and a botanical garden

There are a number of waterfalls inside Pitons Management Area and within a relatively short drive of Soufrière town. If you stay near Soufrière, they’re fun to visit.

Superman Waterfall

Superman Waterfall (so-called because it made a brief appearance in Superman II) requires a bit of a hike and has to be arranged through a tour. It’s the closest falls to the sulphur springs in Saint Lucia. Here, too, you can cake yourself with mud, then rinse it off in the waterfall.

Toraille Waterfall

Toraille Waterfall, just outside the boundary of the management area, is a popular place because it’s pretty, and also because it’s easy to get to and swim in. Or rather, it’s not really about swimming, but about the experience of standing under the falls.

The waterfall is very tall and narrow, splashing down in a round pool after passing a greenery-covered cliff. At the bottom of the photo a man can be seen, showing how high Toraille waterfall is: perhaps 6 stories?
Toraille waterfall.

You’ll be charged a small admission fee at Toraille, and there are changing rooms.

Spiderman Falls

We didn’t get to this one, but it’s not far from Toraille Falls. There’s a path after Toraille that leads you on a hike into the forest to Spiderman Falls.

Diamond Falls and Diamond Botanical Gardens

Diamond Falls is inside Diamond Botanical Gardens, on the edge of the Pitons Management Area. It’s unusual because of the colors the mineral-filled water leaves on the rocks.

Diamond Falls is high and somewhat wider than Toraille Falls, and also falls down a greenery-covered cliff. The stone at the sides of the waterfall is stained in shades of reds and browns.
Diamond Falls.

Diamond Falls is very pretty, but you aren’t allowed to swim in it. On the other hand, they do have “therapeutic mineral baths” on the premises that are consistently 45°C (114°F).

Diamond Botanical Gardens are what remains of a very old land grant given by Louis XIV to the Devaux brothers all the way back in 1713. The mineral baths date to 1784, when they were built for the troops of Louis XVI. Supposedly Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, bathed in the baths here at one point. Later owners restored two of the baths in the 20th century, still using a tank from 1784.

A bird of paradise flower in Diamond Botanical Gardens. It's a very delicate-looking flower with orange petals.

It’s a beautiful place to visit today, with gardens designed and planted back in the 1980s. Set within the natural rainforest, it makes for a fascinating walk. It is home to a huge collection of tropical plants, both native and non-native to Saint Lucia. The range of colors and varieties of flowers was especially wonderful to see.

A red flower, round, with long thick petals all around, sort of like a pompom.

You’ll be charged an admission fee to enter the Botanical Gardens, and an extra fee to enjoy the mineral baths.

Piton Falls

Despite its name, the water in Piton Falls does not come off the Pitons but off the volcano. It’s still quite warm by the time it falls into the concrete pools at the bottom. The waterfall itself isn’t as impressive as the others we saw because it flows down a series of rocks before landing in the pool. On the other hand, there’s a convenient little cave under it that’s perfect for photos.

The Piton waterfall's bottom end is a large rock with a fragmented fall of water over it, splashing onto a rock at the bottom. Greenery on both sides.
Piton Falls.

It’s just a few flights of stairs down from the parking lot into the rainforest to get to the pools. Once you’re there, you can lie back in the shallow mineral-rich water and look up at the tropical foliage shading the pool. It’s a pleasant way to while away an hour. There is a small admission fee and some rudimentary changing rooms.

Planning a Caribbean trip? Read this Guadeloupe guide as well as this one about Martinique!

Petroglyphs

In my perpetual search for the history of every place I visit, I wanted to see the petroglyphs that have been discovered on the property of Stonefield Villa Resort. From a small parking area about halfway down the hill from their entrance, we walked a path downhill into the forest. Eventually we came upon the petroglyphs, but we wouldn’t have noticed them if they hadn’t been signposted.

It’s just a few faint carvings on the side of a couple of large rocks, probably left by the Caribs who once lived here. Moss has grown over them, so they’re hard to see. What I could discern were very simple human figures with round heads and oblong bodies, perhaps in robes. Other, fainter, figures seem to be simple faces or stick figures.

A flat face of rock with two figures: each as a round head at the top from two concentric circles. The bodies are more or less rectangular, with some simple designs carved in them. They're covered iwth a layer of moss. Some fainter carvings are around them, barely visible. It looks like there were smaller similar figures.
These were the clearest of the petroglyphs, and I’ve adjusted the photo’s color a bit to make them more visible.

Some comments on driving in Saint Lucia

If you rent a car, don’t believe your GPS’s time estimates. All routes will take longer than listed! They’re very twisty and you have to slow down for curves because the locals often don’t! There are also lots of potholes, forcing you to slow down to pick your way around or through them. Driving takes real focus.

We were using Google maps, and sometimes it sent us onto side roads that might have looked shorter on the map but ended up taking longer. They’d climb up and down very steeply, twisting through neighborhoods or forest, and often became quite narrow, making us slow down even more. Make sure to check your GPS’s directions against an actual map – often the GPS’s route leads back to the main route, but in a more convoluted way. Just stay on the main routes.

If you want to pull over, in many places you’ll have trouble finding a paved place to park. In the tiny car that we rented, there were a few times the shoulder was considerably below the road surface. We risked scraping the underside of the car when we pulled off or back onto the road. Either rent a big car, or get full coverage insurance so you’ll have one less thing to worry about!

A bus stop somewhere in Saint Lucia, with a brightly colored bench, with bright plastic seats attached to it. Behind it is a colorful mural. ON a telephone pole behind the bench is a hand-painted sign: "Do de right thing Take de jab". Another sign next to it is an add for A1 School of Motoring.
A bus stop in St Lucia.

It gets very dark very quickly after sunset and there are few street signs or street lights. Make sure you know where you’re going if you’re going to drive after dark!

We rented a car so we could easily explore the island. There are small vans that serve as buses all over the island, but a car is much more efficient for getting around. Your other option is to sign up for tours. Taking tours would have the advantage of freeing you from the stress of driving.

Some suggested tours

This all-day sailing tour includes the Sulphur Springs and drive-in volcano, Diamond Botanical Gardens and a beach stop, as well as a sail along the west coast.

This private tour includes a number of scenic stops, including the botanical gardens, the volcano, the sulphur springs, Toraille Falls, Piton Falls, and Tet Paul Nature Trail, as well as a historic plantation. Of course, since it’s a private tour, it can be shaped to suit your interests.

Where to stay near Pitons Management Area

We stayed quite a bit further north, in an apartment called Royal Escapes. While the apartment was great – with three bedrooms, a full-sized kitchen and a small pool, it would be perfect for a family with kids – it was a bit far for sightseeing in the south, taking us about an hour to drive to Soufrière.

There are plenty of places to stay around or inside the Pitons Management Area, from extremely exclusive and expensive all-in resorts to quite reasonable apartments and simple hotels. Click on the map below to see what’s available in Soufrière. Zoom out to see some of the fancier resorts outside of town:

Where to eat near Pitons Management Area UNESCO site

You can eat quite cheaply in Saint Lucia, particularly if you seek out places where the locals eat: local restaurants in Soufrière town or at food stands like Mad Dog Hot Dogs (“Bad to the Bun!”) on the public beach in Soufrière.

Orlando’s

However, I have to mention a particular place that, while much more expensive, is worth the splurge at least once. It’s called Orlando’s, and it’s right in Soufrière on the main road, opposite the graveyard. We went there on the recommendation of a St Lucian, and we were very glad we did.

Orlando Satchell, the chef, uses local ingredients, organic whenever possible, and bases his menu on whatever is available each day. Orlando’s goal, according to his Facebook page, is “to bring Caribbean cuisine to international recognition.”

Trained in the UK, Orlando enjoys mixing flavors in unusual ways. We had a tasting menu out on the balcony of the restaurant one evening. Every one of the courses – I’m not sure how many there were – was surprising in one way or another. The starter, for example, was half a baked guava with a savory salsa. One of the courses was fish fritters, a traditional Saint Lucia dish, but it was served with a fruit salsa of sorts, and the fritters were skewered together with an edible stick made from the heart of a sugar cane. The most traditional course, I’d say, was the lobster bisque with garlic bread, but it was outstanding, so no complaints here!

A small saucepan seen from above, with a brownish liquid in it - with streaks of sour cream - and a long piece of toasted and buttered bread balanced across it.
Lobster bisque served in a teeny-tiny pan.

The Mango Tree

Any of the resorts will have good restaurants, and most of them will accept guests who are not staying at the resort. We ended up eating at the Mango Tree Restaurant at Stonefield Villa Resort twice, once for lunch after we visited the petroglyphs on the property, and once a few days later for dinner because we knew it was good and needed a place to meet a friend.

The Mango Tree isn’t as creative or experimental as Orlando’s, but the food – classic Caribbean dishes like fish burgers or jerk chicken – is very tasty. The location is breathtaking: set right on the edge of a hill overlooking the sea and Petit Piton. Make sure to be there for sunset and you won’t be disappointed.  

A sunset, seen through the silhouette of a thick mango tree. The sky is bright yellow and orange.
Sunset with mango tree at Stonefield Villa Resort’s Mango Tree Restaurant.

You’d need at least two days at Pitons Management Area UNESCO site in St Lucia just to see the highlights: the Pitons, Tet Paul trail, a waterfall or two, the drive-in volcano and the sulphur springs mud bath. To do all the sights properly and without rushing around, you’d need a full week. Book one of the resorts or an apartment in Soufrière, rent a car, and take your time: you’ll love it!

Pinnable image. Text: Pitons Management Area in St Lucia: so much to see! (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo). Image: a red flower, round, with long thick petals all around, sort of like a pompom.
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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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