SOUFRIERE, ST. LUCIA, West Indies — The Pitons dominate the southwest coast of St. Lucia.
The twin volcanic spires are the iconic image of St. Lucia, the green hulking peaks rising from the sea side by side in dramatic fashion.
Le Gros Piton and Le Petit Piton rise 2,618 feet and 2,438 feet, respectively, above the dark green Caribbean waters of Piton Bay. Today, the lava and rocks of the Pitons are covered in vegetation.
Images of the Pitons are everywhere: from shirts to postcards to the labels of the local beer, Piton. They are the most-photographed rocks on the island and a visit to St. Lucia is not complete without a chance to view the Pitons, even from a distance.
Writers have struggled to find the right words to describe them. St. Lucia’s Nobel Prize poet Derek Walcott called the twin peaks the “horns.” (The name comes from the French word for spikes.) Oprah Winfrey once declared the Pitons to be among five must-see sites around the world.
Gros Piton is nearly 2 miles in diameter at its base. Petit Piton is more than a half-mile in diameter at its base. The two steep-sided peaks are connected via a ridge.
They are believed to be the remnants of two volcanic domes from the Qualibou caldera that formed 32,000 to 39,000 years ago.
The Pitons are part of a volcanic complex known to geologists as the Soufriere Volcanic Centre which is the remnant of one or more huge collapsed stratovolcanos.
If you are inclined, you can climb the Pitons. But it is a steep ascent that will take three to six hours each way. Local guides are required; find them at the visitor center in Ford Gens Libre on the south slope of Gros Piton. The fee is about $30.
At first, it appears that the peaks are side by side. But as one gets closer, you realize that they are 21/2 miles apart.
The port town of Soufriere sits in a bay just north of Le Petit Piton, the smaller-but-steeper rock. Le Gros Piton lies to the south.
The Pitons plus about 7,200 acres of land and water make up a United Nations World Heritage Site. For information, check out whc.unesco.org/en/list/1161.
The area is also home to some of the island’s priciest resorts: Jade Mountain, Jalousie Plantation, Ladera and Le Chastanet.
The appeal of St. Lucia continues underwater.
The island is home to one of the healthiest and most diverse reef systems in the world. Divers and snorkelers may find more than 300 species of fish and more than 50 corals. Hawksbill turtles are seen onshore, whale sharks and pilot whales offshore.
The visibility ranges from 20 to 200 feet underwater. The water temperature is a balmy 79 to 85 degrees.
One of the best diving and snorkeling spots is at the base of the Pitons, and the Soufriere Marine Management Area is one of the most successful marine parks in the Caribbean.
The preserve was established to protect the reefs and to promote sustainable management to allow local fishermen to continue to fish.
It includes two terrific snorkeling spots: Anse Cochon (Bay of Pigs) and closer to the Pitons, Anse Chastanet Reef, next to the resort with black volcanic sands, the best on St. Lucia for its marine life.
All beaches on St. Lucia are open to the public. Scuba St. Lucia offers trips around the Pitons.
English is the official language, although the French influence is strong.
The St. Lucia Forestry & Lands Department can arrange guided rain forest hikes. The Tet Paul Nature Trail is one of the best (www.tetpaulnaturetrail.com). For other hikes into the rain forest, go to www.stlucia.org/activity/rainforest.asp.
The St. Lucia Trust at 758-452-5005 or www.slunatrust.org also offers guided rain forest hikes. You can drive into a volcano with bubbling mud pots and sulfurous gases near Castries.
Anse la Raye on the west coast is known for its Friday night fish parties/dance parties. The village of Dennery on the east coast hosts similar get-togethers on Saturdays.
Pigeon Island National Park covers 40 acres with two beaches, the remains of an 18th-century naval garrison and a British fort.
For information, contact the island’s travel office at 212-867-2950, www.stlucianow.com, or the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association, 758-452-5979, www.slhta.org.
The Pitons dominate the skyline along the southwestern coast of St. Lucia in the West Indies. The volcanic peaks rise 2,618 and 2,438 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. They appear on T-shirts and postcards.×
The imported white sand beach at St. Lucia’s Jalousie Plantation resort. It is known as Sugar Beach and sits next to the twin Piton peaks.×
Boaters on the dock at the Jalousie Plantation with one of the Pitons towering in the distance on St. Lucia’s western coast.×