On our winter visit to Saint Lucia, John and I set aside a day to do the famous Gros Piton hike, the most popular hike in the country. If you’ve ever seen photos of Saint Lucia, you would instantly recognize the Gros Piton and nearby Petit Piton, two of Saint Lucia’s most iconic landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.
If you’re into hiking and you’re visiting Saint Lucia, especially between December and May, the dry season, set aside half a day to do the Gros Piton hike. It’s not easy, but it’s a very rewarding hike with exceptional panoramic views at the summit.
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Gros Piton hike summary
Distance: 6.5 km or 4 miles return.
Elevation gain: Approximately 2,619 feet or 771 m.
Time needed: 3 – 4 hours for the return hike.
Hiking hours: The trail is open from 7 AM – 2 PM every day. Go early for cooler temperatures.
Best time to do the hike: December to May when its usually sunnier and drier.
Level of difficulty: Moderate to difficult – depending on conditions (harder when the Gros Piton trail is wet) and your fitness level. The first half is much easier than the second half of the hike which I would call difficult.
Elevation of Gros Piton: 2,619 feet (798 metres) high.
Terrain: Steep trail with lots of roots and rocks; sometimes big steps (see photos below)
What to take on the hike: Sturdy hiking shoes but a full hiking boot is not required, lots of water, lightweight, breathable clothing, raincoat, and a sun hat
Petit Piton can be climbed too but it is far steeper, more difficult and dangerous.
Bring some cash so you can buy an ice cream from a local vendor at the end of the Gros Piton hike.
If you sweat a lot, bring a bandana.
The price to hike if you just show up will be in the order of $US50 per person. Plan to tip at the end of the hike.
Why do the Gros Piton hike?
If you’re like me, you don’t like sitting around on a holiday for very long. I love visiting beaches, but I get bored quickly. The challenge of doing the Gros Piton hike and getting some serious exercise is always appealing.
The Gros Piton hike is one of the top things to do on St. Lucia, and for good reason. Not only are the summit views amazing, but the hike up is interesting too as it takes you through tropical rainforest, filled with giant plants, many of which are unique to the island.
Do you need a guide to hike Gros Piton?
A guide is mandatory on the Gros Piton hike. All guides are locals who have been trained and certified by the St. Lucia National Trust. Some guides are chattier than others. Don’t hesitate to pick their brain on a subject you are interested in – whether it be the history of the area, the local plants, geology, or the birds.
If you can get to the village of Fond Gens Libre on your own, you can find guides waiting at the base of the mountain – so even without a reservation you should have no trouble, but you may have more peace of mind with a booking. Bring cash (US dollars are probably best) to pay your local guide.
Our guide was the son of one of the senior guides – so he was very green. He was certainly knowledgeable about the trail and the history, but not very informed about the birds. Still, we loved him as he took us to a viewpoint at the summit only a fraction of people see – and it was far more panoramic that the summit viewpoint.
At the end of our hike, we were driven back by one of the impressive female guides who has done the Gros Piton hike more than 3,000 times. I think she holds the record.
Gros Piton hike description
At the required orientation session for the Gros Piton hike, we were informed that the hike would be broken down into four sections – and at the end of each would be a good resting spot. The first quarter of the hike is the easiest and the last quarter the most difficult as it’s on a rougher, very steep trail. The trail winds part way around the mountain, climbing through dense forest with occasional views.
The hike up Gros Piton may be hard aerobically but it’s easier than the descent from the summit, especially when it’s wet and muddy.
The hike starts off gently for the first half hour or so. There is a rest stop at the quarter way point where you can drink water and enjoy a view. Keep an eye on the vegetation as you hike. At the lower levels, you’ll see lots of lush tropical foliage. There are some dandy big trees around the three quarters mark – just as the trail steepens and deteriorates. Expect more rocks and boulders the higher you go.
When you get to the fruit and cold drinks vendor, you’re just a few minutes away from the summit. Continue climbing to reach a wide-open area with breathtaking views.
Once you reach the summit of Gros Piton you can enjoy a panorama that include Soufriere, Vieux Fort and Saint Vincent, the island. The rainbow of colours that make up the rooftops of the local fishing village can also be seen along with the Maria Islands Nature Reserve.
The side trip to the lookout
When we reached the cold drinks vendor our guide asked us if we’d like to hike to the lookout. We didn’t appreciate what was in store for us.
The hike was on a trail that doesn’t see a lot of traffic. There’s not much elevation but you do have to move vines, lift leaves, and shimmy across some rocks. At the end of the approximately 15 minute hike, look out over Petit Piton and the Caribbean Sea. It’s one heck of a panorama.
The descent off Gros Piton
Take your time on the descent off Gros Piton. The footing can get tricky at times, and this is not a trail where you want to fall. There are numerous handrails. Use them. Find your own pace. Stop every so often to listen and look around.
Look for parrots
A lucky few might see the endemic but rare Saint Lucia parrot. It is mostly green with a cobalt blue forehead – and even though it’s large, it can be difficult to see in the dense foliage. After being threatened to the point of extinction, the bird was declared the island’s national bird in 1979 and protected. Today their numbers have risen to about 250 parrots.
Final thoughts on the Gros Piton hike
If you’re planning to visit St. Lucia and you love hiking, don’t miss the Gros Piton hike. It will be a challenging hike if you’re not used to steep climbs, but the reward of reaching the summit and experiencing the natural beauty and unique flora and fauna is more than worth it. John and I left on a high – feeling so good from the exercise – and the delicious ice cream we enjoyed in the village at the end of the hike.
Where to stay near the Gros Piton hike
John and I spent four nights at the Fond Doux Eco Resort. It wasn’t on a beach – rather in the forest – and our room was very private. We loved our cabin, and the staff were lovely. The food was no more than okay.
If you want a high end resort check out Sugar Beach – A Viceroy Resort. It’s on one of the islands beautiful white sand beaches – where there is good swimming and snorkeling.
Further reading on things to do in the Caribbean and Central America