The best way to experience the heart of these islands is on foot.
By Lisa Mullins Bishop, Caribbean Edge Staff Writer
The Caribbean islands are renowned for their beautiful, powdery beaches and sparkling blue waters, but the interiors of these tropical isles are fascinating worlds of their own--and the best way to experience the heart of these islands is on foot. In the higher and cooler elevations, intrepid hikers are afforded a glimpse of diverse flora and fauna: tiny jewel-like hummingbirds, bromeliads, fragile orchids, exotic plants and fruits. The popularity of ecotourism is growing, and many Caribbean islands are adding walking and hiking trails that add another dimension to an island visit.
Hiking trails are as diverse as the islands themselves. Trails often follow former plantation roads, run through tropical rainforests, ascend to awe-inspiring heights, or meander along quiet beaches and coves. Keep in mind that hiking in the Caribbean can be strenuous or easy, so inquire about the difficulty of a hike before setting out. The consistent rainfall on these islands can reduce many paths to mud, so dress appropriately for the terrain. Some islands require permission to explore a rainforest on your own; others allow only guided hikes. Find out what the regulations are before beginning any adventure on foot. To help identify the unfamiliar plants, trees, birds, and animals, don't forget to pick literature describing the island and its natural environment.
Here are some popular hiking spots to consider when planning a trip to the islands:
The island's highest peak is Pico Duarte at 10,700 feet, and it is a favorite of serious hikers. But be forewarned this is not a hike for a beginner. The strenuous 12-mile hike takes two days to complete. Guides are available to help lead hikers to the top, and the park service is a good place to arrange for one.
Hikers of all levels will find a trail to suit them in Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve. Guided tours are available that lead adventurers to the heart of the rainforest or hikers can go it alone. The trail around Grand Etang Lake is an easy one, while the hike to the top of Mt. Qua Qua can take four hours.
Part of the Caribbean National Forest, the popular El Yunque Trail can be a moderate to strenuous two-mile hike to an ascent of 3,500 feet to El Yunque Peak. Hikers will explore all the different forest types while enjoying glimpses of mountains and sea along the way. El Yunque has a variety of trails for both the expert hiker and those seeking a short and easy hike. The Big Tree Trail is a short hike that ends at La Mina Falls, a 35-foot-high waterfall.
This island in the U.S. Virgin Islands is known for its unspoiled beauty. Two-thirds of St. John has been preserved as a national park. More than twenty trails lace through the park, allowing visitors to explore the island's lush interior and its beautiful beaches. The popular Cinnamon Bay trail follows what was once a plantation road. Plantation ruins and buildings can be viewed along the route as well as a wide variety of plants, orchids, bird species, and iguanas. Hikers along the Reef Bay Trail will find much of interest including petroglyphs on rocks at the trails end. Guided tours with a knowledgeable park ranger can be arranged at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center in Cruz Bay.
Numerous trails thread through the island and its 19,000-acre rainforest ranging from beginner trails to more strenuous paths that can take a day to complete. The Forestry Department oversees the national rainforest and requires that hikers ask permission before hiking through. In some areas the Forestry Department requires that hikers be accompanied by an experienced guide who can explain much about the island's natural environment--wild orchids, giant ferns, birds of paradise, and other exotic plants and trees. Barre de L' isle Forest Reserve, a ridge running north to south that effectively divides eastern and western St. Lucia, is a good trail for those wanting to devote a couple of hours to hiking. The hike takes about an hour or more, and is suitable for children. A more strenuous and lengthy hike is the 3 1/2 hour trail through Edmund Forest on St. Lucia's western coast.
Pic du Paradise, or Paradise Peak, is the highest point on the island of St. Martin
at 1,400 feet. Near the foot of the mountain is Loterie Farm, St. Martin's only private nature reserve. This 150-acre former sugar plantation affords a rare look at the island's last remaining tropical forest. Hikers can arrange to take the Eco Challenge day hike along old plantation trails. Here hikers will see ancient mango trees, the island's famous guavaberry trees, and hundreds of species of tropical plants and trees.
Known as the Land of the Hummingbirds, Trinidad is also home to more than 430 species of birds. One spot to see them is the 500-acre Asa Wright Nature Center. Numerous nature trails wind through rainforests and fruit tree groves. Along the way hikers are treated to views of both the jewel-like hummingbirds and morpho butterflies as well as exotic plants, trees, and colorful tropical flowers. The center also offers organized hikes to the breeding grounds of the rare nocturnal oilbird.
Hiking by Island: