Pitch Lake, Trinidad and Tobago

Lake Locations:

Trinidad and Tobago -

Also known as:  Lake Pitch, La Brea

Pitch Lake may seem an unusual vacation destination. There’s no swimming, boating or fishing at Pitch Lake in Trinidad’s southern region. That’s because the entire lake is a pool of petroleum pitch, the thickened remaining deposit left when lighter liquids have evaporated. Most know it as either tar or asphalt. But seldom does one see it in a naturally-occurring 100+-acre lake! Scientists speculate that the lake lies at the junction of two fault lines which allows oil to seep upward to the surface. Surprisingly, the pool of asphalt is teeming with microscopic life that lives without water and in limited oxygen. These conditions are similar to the hydrocarbon seas of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, leading researchers to speculate on the possibility of life beyond our planet. Trinidad is only seven miles off the coast of Venezuela, where another pitch lake exists, so scientists speculate that both lakes were part of one formation in the distant past.

Visiting Pitch Lake is usually part of a larger visit to Trinidad. Some have heard of La Brea Tar Pits in California; Pitch Lake is the same type of geological formation, only much bigger. At 114 acres, Pitch Lake is the largest of its kind in the world. Some areas of the oozing pond are quite firm- firm enough to walk on, as long as one keeps moving. Other areas are quite soft and unsafe. Several long-established areas hold rainwater pools large enough to support bird life and pond plants. Strange things sometimes emerge from the tar, the depth of which is unknown. At one time a 4,000-year-old tree trunk emerged about ten feet into the air before slowing sinking out of sight again. Ancient logs often appear and disappear, leaving tantalizing hints of the secrets this lake may hold. Visitors are advised to engage the services of a guide who knows the pool, as it isn’t always easy to tell where the surface is solid enough to bear weight.

Pitch Lake was officially discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 while he sailed around Trinidad. The practical Raleigh used the pitch to caulk his ship. Within the next three hundred years, tar from Lake Pitch found its way into road surfaces and waterproofing applications in nearly every developed country around the world. The asphalt was extracted by slave labor for much of that time until the British Empire announced they would abolish slavery in several years. The enterprising Trinidad and Tobago slaves managed a peaceful rebellion and gained their freedom early. The resulting labor shortage caused the local land owners to import indentured workers from China and India, resulting in a mix of cultures, religions and traditions on the two islands. The pitch is still being extracted commercially from Pitch Lake. Although the removed material has dropped the level of the lake to about 30 feet below sea level over 400+ years, it is obviously being replenished from below.

Located a few miles south of San Fernando on Trinidad’s southwest coast, Pitch Lake makes an interesting excursion to a Trinidad vacation. A popular cruise ship stop, Trinidad has scores of sandy beaches, coastal hotels and resorts. Featured activities such as steelpan bands, exotic nightlife and colorful festivals are beginning to give way to nature adventures in the Trinidad rain forests, kayaking the massive swamps and marshes, bird watching tours, cycling, hiking and back-country touring. Several preserves are dedicated to replenishing the ‘wildfowl’ (ducks, geese and swans) native to the area. Reclaiming lands for the preservation of bird life such as the distinctive Scarlet Ibis has paid off in both increased natural habitat and more tourism focused on bird watching and photography.

Trinidad has a wide variety of terrain for hiking and camping. Some may be accessed by the novice, but many require the safety of a guide to avoid injuries, particularly among the low mountains and cliffs. Cavers will enjoy the many opportunities for cave exploration common in the limestone hills. Some of the most famous include Gasparee Caves, which lie below ground on the island of Gaspar Grande, off Trinidad’s northwest coast. The caves were once used by pirates and smugglers to hide their stolen treasures. As Trinidad is only about 50 miles long and 30 miles wide, visiting both ends of the island is possible within a day.

Sea kayaking is popular as is fishing in the Gulf of Paria. Charters can be arranged in San Fernando and in Point Fortin, the oil and gas capital south of Pitch Lake. Other activities nearby include visiting the Hindu Temple-In-The-Sea at Waterloo. The restored temple lies on a man-made island base and is reached by a short causeway. Another nearby destination is the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, just outside San Fernando. This non-profit water bird sanctuary and rescue organization lies on the grounds of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust. The 6,000-acre reserve offers trails, two lakes and many species of endangered birds. Trinidad and Tobago produce an excellent down-loadable tourism guide, with information on everything from activities to phone service on the island.

There are many opportunities for vacation rentals in the area near Pitch Lake. San Fernando has a variety of lodging opportunities. Although Tobago is more popular for holiday rentals, surprising bargains can be found on Trinidad, including villas, vacation apartments, resorts and bed-and-breakfasts. Some hostels and campgrounds exist close to beaches and local nightlife. Real estate is sometimes available as existing owners move on or move up. One couldn’t find a better spot to do scientific research, perhaps on natural tar microbes or native Caribbean bird life than the area around Pitch Lake. Check out Trinidad and Lake Pitch; you may have found your life’s calling!

Things to do at Pitch Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Pitch Lake Photo Gallery

Pitch Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 114 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): -30 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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