Sulphur Springs – the world’s only drive-in volcano

You’ve heard of a drive-in movie. Now how about a drive-in volcano? The beautiful Caribbean island of St Lucia boasts not only the Caribbean’s but the world’s only drive-in volcano. The good news is that you don’t even have to be brave (or foolhardy) to pay it a visit.

Sulphur Springs view retrieved from Wikipedia
View of Sulphur Springs by Mjr74 retrieved from Wikipedia

Sulphur Springs is located close to the town of Soufrière in the south west of the island. It’s a very active geothermal zone, complete with vents spewing clouds of the sulphurous steam that give the place its name. Yet, if you were expecting violent ejections of red hot lava, you’d be mistaken. This volcanic area occupies the caldera, or collapsed crater, of the Qualibou volcano, which caved in half a million years ago. In fact, the volcano itself hasn’t erupted since the late 18th century. Even then, it threw out a relatively insignificant amount of ash; it’s been more like 20,000 years since any magma’s been on the move. From time to time there are small earthquakes in the vicinity, but by and large this is a safe place to visit rather than a hotbed of tectonic activity.

Go on, take a mud bath – it’s good for you!

So as volcanoes go, we’ve established that it’s not the most spectacular on the planet. What it has instead are plopping mud pools and mineral-rich hot springs. The sulphur springs which give the place its name are far too hot to take a dip, with temperatures in the region of 170°C (340°F). Fortunately, the cooler peripheral pools are just perfect. Tourists and locals alike come in their thousands to wallow in the hope of seeing results from its health-enhancing properties. Whether you believe it will do you any good or not, it’s certainly a lot of fun to spread thick volcanic mud over your torso. Just take care in the baths, as the steps beneath the cloudy water are perilously slippery thanks to all that mud.

Sulphur Springs, Saint Lucia
Mud Bath by Prayitno via Flickr CC BY 2.0

There are showers and changing facilities, but the best way to freshen up is to drive to a nearby waterfall and let nature wash any last specks of mud away. Toraille Waterfall can be reached in around ten minutes. Its water drops around 15 metres over a rocky cliff into a plunge pool below. Diamond Waterfall, located in nearby Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens, is another of St Lucia’s most breathtaking waterfalls, dropping approximately 17 metres. Replenished not only by Sulphur Springs but also by the abundant rain, Diamond Waterfall doesn’t run dry. Its waters are mineral rich, laced with copper sulphate, magnesium, iron, manganese and calcium, as well as sulphur. As a result, the water’s colour changes constantly, as does the rock it flows over.

Watch where you’re walking…

But before you leave Sulphur Springs, be sure to take one of the excellent guided tours. You’ll quickly become used to the pervasive smell of rotten eggs. The name Soufrière means “place of sulphur” in French and in fact, sulphur was mined here for a short time in the mid 19th century. Your guide will also fill in a little of the more recent history and will almost certainly regale you with the story of Gabriel’s Hole. It’s a cautionary tale: a few decades ago, Gabriel was a guide here. One day, while demonstrating the thickness of the ground beneath him, he misjudged his jump and fell through a weak spot in the crust up to his waist. Severely burned, he went on to make a full recovery. Access has been restricted ever since but barriers have been erected to ensure those looking at what’s now called Gabriel’s Hole don’t share the same fate.

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