La Brea Pitch Lake

La Brea, Trinidad
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Located at La Brea in southwest Trinidad, the Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. Known to many as the 8th wonder of the world, the lake is the major supplier of asphalt to the international market.

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Destination 101: Its best to hire an official tour guide from the Visitor Centre.

Fondly called the “Eight Wonder of the World” by villagers is located on Trinidad’s south-western coast, the La Brea Pitch Lake, is still a source of amazement and mystery.

It is the largest commercial deposit of natural asphalt in the world – one of only three in known existence – and holds approximately 10 million tonnes of asphalt. A recent study connected to the European Space Agency, discovered there are living microbes beneath the asphalt’s surface, which may one day help answer the question whether or not life exists on other planets! Spanning some 109 acres, the lake appears like a huge oval-shaped car park, but on closer inspection, it looks like very dark clay, with rough undulating patches.   Its asphalt has been used to pave roads and airport runways around the world, including the roadway in front of Buckingham Palace in England, La Guardia Airport in New York, the Lincoln Tunnel which connects New York to New Jersey, as well as numerous roads in several countries.

Visitors can walk on the surface and you might feel it is alive – with its hissing and burping sounds. Small pools of water form on it during the rainy season and you can bathe in them. They contain high levels of sulfur and villagers claim they are the fountains of life, good for curing anything from skin conditions to joint pain. British adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh claimed he ‘discovered’ the pitch lake in 1595 on his search for El Dorado. However, it was the Spanish who started to refine the pitch in 1792 and called it ’Tierra de Brea’, meaning land of pitch – the name eventually became La Brea.

First called ’piche’, the Amerindians believed it was created by the Gods as punishment. Legend has it the lake swallowed an entire tribe after they ate humming birds which were believed were the souls of their departed ancestors. To date, numerous Amerindian artifacts have been unearthed onsite, including a bench carved in the shape of an animal (with the carver’s name still clearly visible). Some of these can be viewed at the onsite museum. Indications of prehistoric life in Trinidad and Tobago have also been found – the rib and thigh of a giant sloth, along with a tooth identified as belonging to a mastodon. You can also enjoy the flora and fauna around such as water rose, nymph lilies, and bird of paradise. Bird watchers can enjoy glimpses of Herron, hummingbirds, kingfishers and sandpipers fluttering by. It’s best not to take on the pitch lake on your own – go to the Visitor Centre and ask for a tour guide – the experience will be worth it!

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