As we drove from Castries towards the southwest coast of the island, curving our way uphill and downhill along the winding hilly roads, about an hour later one thing that grabbed our attention real fast apart from the majestic scenery all around was the faint smell of rotten eggs. As we drove closer to the destination the initial faint smell started to amplify. Pretty soon it reached a point where I started to explore my pockets for a non-existent hanky and that’s when we arrived at the world-famous drive in volcano in St. Lucia or locally known as the Sulphur Springs.
Sulphur Springs – world’s only drive in Volcano
A trip to St. Lucia is incomplete without a visit to the world’s only drive in volcano. Approximately 45 kilometers from the nearest town Castries, it takes about an hour to reach by car. The view along the route gets better and better as you gain altitude. The sweeping view of the Caribbean Sea from up above with swaying palm trees and colorful houses along the coast is breathtaking.
The road is narrow and curvy so we would recommend taking an organized tour unless you have experience of driving on hilly terrain. Also driving in St. Lucia is on the left-hand side of the road.
For accommodation in St. Lucia you can refer to our post here.
Let’s set the expectations right for the world’s only drive in volcano
Now when I say a volcano, please don’t expect to see a massive erupting volcano or molten lava lakes or any lava for the matter of fact. This is no Hawaii or Mount Fuji. Instead of molten lava, you will see bubbling, steaming pools of murky (grayish) water oozing out a lot of mud. The whole area has a yellowish tint because of the inherent excessive Sulphur in the spring water.
The drive in volcano or Sulphur Springs has been dormant for the last 200 years. The whole area is set up on a broken caldera. For all the non-geology folks, a caldera is formed when a volcano breaks on itself mainly due to a strong eruption.
In very simple words, imagine the picture of a classical volcano. Now blow off the upper cone. Whatever remains below is the Caldera. And yes it looks more like a valley. Over a period of millions of years, nature has slowly wiped away the viciousness of a violent volcanic eruption and painted a colorful canvas of serenity all around this place for us folks to enjoy.
If you want an example apart from St. Lucia then the whole island of Santorini and the nearby islands are the visible parts of a largely submerged caldera in the Aegean Sea. I decided to write the above lines because I saw many reviews online where people visited this drive in volcano with the expectation of seeing a classical volcano structure like the inverted funnel and returned dissatisfied. I hope this would set the right expectations 🙂 .
Things to see & do here
Apart from the volcano, another very famous thing to do here is the mud bath. The Sulphur Springs crater has about 20 steaming vents oozing out murky boiling water and mud loaded with minerals. There’s a stream passing through the crater and a concrete pool has been constructed downstream to store the flowing water.
You can indulge in a mud bath in the geothermally heated water in this pool. The water is said to have many healing properties because of its mineral rich composition. However, the pool is crowded and the water can be hot. There’s a separate fee for the mud bath apart from the entrance fee.
The drop off point to visit the volcano is beyond the mud bath area. The pool is closer to the entrance. There is a ticket counter at the entrance and you might have to queue here if you’re not with a tour group. Our car breezed past this point straight to the caldera and handed us over to a guide. I guess the tour cars don’t have to queue for the tickets as they are pre-purchased.
The entrance fee to the park and the tour guide was included in our package so we just tagged along with the group initially, only to stray away pretty soon like wild goats in a herd. If you are not with a tour you have an option to explore on your own too, provided you stick to the wooden platforms and paths and don’t overrun the fences.
Exploring the world’s only drive in volcano up close
The only way to view the crater is from the bordering wooden platform standing about 15-20 meters away from the hot spot. Once you see the bubbling hot water and steam probably you will feel comfortable watching it from that safe distance only, just like us 😉 .
Apparently, during the early days of this park, it was allowed to explore the volcano up close and walk on the crater itself, until an enthusiastic guide while walking on the thin crust fractured a weak spot and fell into the hot spring below. Fortunately, the guide survived. It’s a famous story and the tour guide will definitely narrate the whole story.
It took us about half an hour to explore the crater. Depending on the wind direction the intensity of the smell keeps on changing. We took a lot of photographs and I used my 70-300mm for some close-up shots of the boiling spring water. At one point while changing my lens I accidentally flipped my lens cover to the other side of the fence, which was well noticed by our guide with that “not again a mad tourist” look 🙂 . Anyway, she was very helpful in handing me a twig from a nearby branch and together we pulled the lens cover back from its final journey.
After walking around the volcano, our next stop was the mud bath. We skipped it because the pool was packed with tourists painted gray in mud. Back in the van, one of our co-passenger who went for the mud bath told us that the water was much hotter than he expected.
In total, we spent about an hour and a half here before returning back to a nice buffet lunch at one of the nearby resorts (also included in the tour).
If you are in St. Lucia, visiting the Sulphur Springs is a must-do activity here. Especially since it’s claimed to be the world’s only drive in volcano and there aren’t many things to do either. So hop on a tour bus and follow the pirates for a unique experience in the Caribbeans.
P.S. If you are here then spare few minutes to view our Caribbean travelogue video shot entirely on a GoPro.