Located in La Brea in South West Trinidad, is the world’s largest natural deposit of emulsified asphalt. The lake is approximately 100 acres at its surface and 250 feet deep and was formed when rising oil combined with clay and water to create pitch or tar.
The history of the Pitch Lake goes back to 1595 when Sir Walter Raleigh visited Tierra De La Brea and used the pitch to caulk his ships .The Amerindians named the black substance (piche) and they believed the lake was formed when the gods buried a tribe for eating the sacred humming bird that possessed the souls of their ancestors. The lake was a reminder for the retribution of their evil ways and local villagers believe this legend to be true since many Amerindian artifacts has been found along with the fossil of a pre-historic sloth.
In 1887, Amzi Barber, an American businessman known as "The Asphalt King", secured a 42-year monopoly concession from the British Government for the Pitch Lake for his company, Barber Asphalt Paving Co. It was from this source that many of the first asphalt roads of New York City, Washington D.C., and other Eastern U.S. cities were paved.
The mining of the pitch started in 1867 and Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Ltd mines and process the raw pitch into pellets, making it suitable for export to China, Germany, United States, Brazil and England to be fed into hot mix plants to be later refined and manufactured into high grade products for the paving of roads and roofs.
The Pitch Lake is one of three natural asphalt lakes in the world — the others are in California and Venezuela — and it is the only one that is commercially viable. The Pitch Lake, apart from providing employment for villagers, attracts thousands of visitors each year .
In the dry season the heat of the sun causes the lake to be an inferno while in the rainy season one can bathe in the various pools and cracks that have accumulated rain water some as high as ten feet. It is believed that the sulphur mineral waters is a good remedy for skin diseases and has miraculous healing powers for arthritis, pimples, infections and rashes. A variety of plants, water lilies and microbial life flourish in the mineral waters of the lake .
There is a newly establish Tourism Development Company (TDC) museum exhibiting artifacts, historical data, labour movement and strikes in the oil belt between1917-1937 featuring oil legends Uriah Butler and A A Cipriani.