Twin peaks define southwest coast of West Indies' St. Lucia
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. (Bob Downing, Akron Beacon Journal, MCT / February 2, 2012)
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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 3 kilometers in diameter at its base. Petit Piton is 1 kilometer 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. The Pitons are the eroded cores of two lava domes formed on the flanks of the volcano. They also display other volcanic features.
The dominant vegetation on the Pitons is tropical moist forest with small areas of dry forest near the coast and on steep slopes, and areas of wet elfin woodland on the summits.
On the Pitons, small undisturbed natural forests remain because of the steepness of the land. At least 148 plant species have been recorded on Gros Piton and 97 on Petit Piton.
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 2 1 / 2miles 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 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1161.
The area is also home to some of the island's priciest resorts, some of which only have three walls so as to not obscure the views: Jade Mountain, Jalousie Plantation, Ladera and Le Chastanet.
The appeal of St. Lucia and its incredible vertical-dominated topography 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. It was established in 1995 and brought together local fishermen, landowners and water-sport operators.