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Whether you’re young or old, adventurous or happiest on the sofa, you’ll need to take the right shoes, a windproof, bathing suit... and a dash of bravery. The hike around and on this still active volcano on the south of Basse-Terre Island is a great adventure. Here’s four reasons why.
At 1467m high, La Soufrière is the highest point in the Lesser Antilles. In clear weather, it affords a unique panoramic view of the valley, Grande Terre, the south of Basse-Terre, the Caribbean, and the surrounding islands of Saintes, Marie-Galante, and Dominica. Watching the sunrise from the top is an unforgettable sight... but it does mean getting up early: the quickest route to the top takes at least two hours.
The ascent of La Soufrière starts in a car. Five kilometres from Saint-Claude, the Bains Jaunes is the first stop on your way, accessed by a beautiful forest road. At an altitude of 950m, there’s a little car park and, most importantly, the baths of warm water springing from the very heart of the volcano. A real natural spa! The sulphurous water is around 30°C, and seems to have a reinvigorating effect on tired muscles. After a long walk, it’s a real treat!
Green, green, and more green. It’s everywhere! Giant trees, tree-like ferns, strangling vines, tangled roots... Along the partly paved path that leads up to the Plateau de la Savane à Mulet, the tropical forest reveals all its glory, encouraged by the extremely high humidity. After another half an hour on foot, you’ve reached the volcano’s foothills, and the scenery and atmosphere change. The wind picks up and the vegetation withers before your very eyes. On the final stretch of the climb, lichen and moss cover the rocks, forming a wonderful patchwork of orangey-red dotted with wild orchids and yellow mountain flowers.
Don’t trust a dormant volcano. While it has been a while since La Soufrière last erupted (the last major eruption was in 1976, and the one before that in 1797), it is still bubbling away and belching heat from its innards from its many gaping mouths. As you near the summit, volcanic gases and sulphurous vapours make you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park. Sometimes, the silence is intimidating, interrupted only by the friendly croaking of the little frogs that have colonised the landscape. As for the smell... it’s definitely familiar: the rotten egg smell so characteristic of sulphur!