Unofficial national icons of St Lucia, the twin peaks of the Pitons emit an alluring siren call to hikers and adventure seekers on this lush Caribbean island. If you can hack the dizzying ascent, Gros Piton – the loftier of the two peaks and the climbable one – is the ultimate vantage point to see the island. If you can’t, there’s plenty of other ways to get back to nature and take in the fresh air on St Lucia.
The twin cones of St Lucia's Pitons are a national symbol. Image by Benjamin Howell / iStock / Getty
Climbing Gros Piton
Despite its fearsome reputation, let’s be clear here: Gros Piton (2600ft) is no Everest. Thousands have climbed St Lucia’s unique cone-like mountain and thousands more will manage it. The first people to do so were runaway slaves, who carved out the trails some 300 years ago to escape sugar plantation masters by setting up home in the caves that pockmark the peak.
These days descendants of those slaves are settled in the village at the base of Gros Piton in the heroically named Fond Gens Libre (Valley of the Free People), from where one can tackle any ascent of the mountain. Some of the residents act as tour guides for visitors intent on reaching the Piton’s summit: in peak travel season they can sometimes be seen scaling the mountain more than once a day, which explains why they don’t appear to break a sweat while doing it.
Steep inclines and make-shift paths are all part of the fun of a Piton climb (yes, fun) © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
All that said, the climb up typically takes no more than between two and three hours (plus the same back down the way you came). If you’ve got the stamina for the four-to-six-hour return trip, the rewards are huge. The trail skirts the edge of the mountain and flirts with gorgeous, far-reaching Caribbean Sea and sand views for much of the climb. At roughly each quarter marker there’s a prettily situated bench for hikers to catch their breaths. Unless you’re super-human, you’ll thank the rum lord for these rest-stops.
Toraille waterfall: great for a post-activity plunge © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
The hiking trail graduates through three eco-systems en route to the summit, each one more lush and fanciful than the last. From the start point to the half-way marker, spindly cacti sprout from the hillside amid a surprisingly temperate dry rainforest. Beyond this (and the bit that less walkers see) lies the wonderfully named elfin woodland, and as the wind picks up near the pointy end of the climb, you’ll hit cloud forest where oversized wild tobacco trees and giant palm fronds crowd the way. Beyond that? Well, why ruin the climax. Let’s just say it’s a view worth a hundred aching muscles.
Make it happen: It’s possible to create a customised tour, with transfers from anywhere on the island included, through Real St Lucia Tours. If there’s a group of you, a cheaper alternative is to call ahead to book a guide directly through the national park authority and organise your own transport.
Island buggies: the best fun you can have on four wheels © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
Hitting St Lucia’s hilly back roads in what can only be described as a giant go-cart is just as much fun as it sounds. Starting from Soufrière in the south of the island, this guided tour takes you into the lush heart of the island with the wind whipping through your hair. Stop for a creole lunch at the Morne Coubaril Estate colonial plantation, get grubby at the natural volcanic mud baths and then brace yourself for a therapeutic cleanse in the Toraille waterfall afterwards. If you’re under 5ft 4in, be prepared to struggle with the gears: you will most likely be pounding the clutch on tippy-toes, but that’s part of the thrill.
If you can make the segway do what you want, it's the perfect way to whizz around St Lucia. Image by Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
Segway toursOn first inspection, segways seem like mystical beings with a mind of their own. Actually, the source of their powers lies in the computer sensors in the base of the machine that work with your body balance. Once you’ve learnt how to control it (a mere matter of minutes), away you go! Whizz uphill and downhill along shady forest trails and acres of beach-front nature reserve, passing old US army bunkers and pretty view points, with pit stops for educational chat on local spices and fruits such as the beloved native noni. Stop by Reduit Beach for a snapshot of local life, where families splash in the shallows beneath cool palms.
Make it happen: The Mt Pimard Segway Experience tour can be booked through Lucian Style Experiences (lucianstyle.com) in Rodney Bay.
Brushing shoulders with the rainforest canopy: only on a zipline © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
Close to Rodney Bay, Babonneau rainforest is one big creole hot pot of native flora and fauna, simmering with calabash, bamboo and strangler figs, presided over by hummingbirds and the elusive St Lucian parrot. In the dark, sticky depths of this protected park lies a disorienting network of zipline wires and other physical challenges to get the heart pumping. It’s a fantastic place to play Tarzan for a few hours and brush shoulders with the burgeoning rainforest canopy.
Make it happen: Rainforest Adventures runs the ziplining tours at Babonneau; the informative guides are well-versed in the botany of the park and are hilarious to boot. Safety is taken reassuringly seriously.
Lorna Parkes travelled to St Lucia with support from Saint Lucia Tourist Board (saintluciauk.org), Capella Marigot Bay (capellahotels.com), Sandals Grande St. Lucian (sandals.co.uk) and British Airways (britishairways.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.
This article was first published in October 2015 and refreshed in January 2017.