Caribbean climbs: the best islands for hiking
Caribbean climbs: the best islands for hiking
For many visitors to the Caribbean, the default position is horizontal. Flat out on the sunlounger, rum punch to the right, books, music and smartphone to the left, a dazzling blue sea straight ahead…
It is a definitive holiday experience – but not one for me. Every time I visit this alluring region my gaze is invariably drawn inland, to the wild, green and mysterious mountains that form a dramatic core for many of its volcanic islands. Draped in dense rainforest, with colossal trees and glittering waterfalls, these hot and hilly heartlands are rich with secrets and adventures: ethereal hot springs, strange creatures such as the agouti (a type of rodent) and mountain chicken (actually a frog), memories of escaped slaves and bygone plantations – and superb hiking.
For the past decade I have been mildly obsessed with climbing to the summit of every island I visit, escaping into the mountains to behold marvellously buttressed silk cotton trees, listen for the squeaky-door call of the sisserou parrot, admire the lordly views across a bewitching blue sea to neighbouring islands. What follows is a selection of my favourite treks, challenging but far from impossible ascents that will appeal to anyone who fancies some mangos with their Munros. Up among these peaks, where the clouds swirl through the elfin forest and nature gets tough, you are light years away from the party catamarans, all-inclusive resorts and mega-cruise ships back down on the coast. And the best thing is, once you’ve sweated to the top, then slid back down, you have every right to jump in that pool, book into the spa or hit that reggae-filled beach bar – because you will most certainly have earned it.
Flight prices below are for travel in August; room rates are for a double room in August, including tax/service, room only unless otherwise stated.
Gros Piton, St Lucia
The steep-sided twin peaks of the Pitons rocketing above St Lucia’s west coast are a World Heritage Site and striking icons of this intensely green island. Rising to 2,614ft, Gros Piton is its second-highest point, a mighty sugar loaf that cries out to be conquered. The four-hour round trek is one of the most appealing and easily arranged ascents in the Caribbean – but no doddle. “Around a fifth of climbers never make it to the top,” explains Kaurene John, part of a mini-army of uniformed rangers from the nearby village of Fond Gens Libre who serve as official guides. At busy times the precarious summit feels like an enactment of the famous theological question about how many angels can dance on a pinhead, but the views across the island and to Martinique are tremendous.
Mt Liamuiga, St Kitts
Until 1983, when St Kitts gained independence, the 3,972ft volcanic peak of Mt Liamuiga was called Mt Misery. In reality it is a most uplifting spot, crowning a blanket of glorious rainforest in the north of the island. The two-hour ascent starts near Newton Ground and climbs steeply, passing monumental mango and ficus trees to emerge on the rim of a half-mile-wide volcanic crater where you can gaze down at a lost green world 700ft below.
Mt Scenery, Saba
Ringed with near-impregnable cliffs and home to the shortest commercial airport runway in the world, the Dutch island of Saba offers excellent hiking and diving. Its summit, the aptly named Mt Scenery, rises to 2,877ft and is – pub quiz enthusiasts please note – the highest mountain in the Netherlands. This is one Caribbean trail where a guide is not necessary – the ascent consists of 1,064 rough steps starting close to the lofty village of Windwardside. Near the summit the trail splits in two directions leading out to separate viewpoints over the island and across to St Eustatius and St Kitts – allow three hours return.
Morne Diablotin, Dominica
Dominica is a wet and welcoming playground for walkers. The Waitukubuli National Trail, covering 115 miles and taking some two weeks to complete, runs its length, and the island has plenty more serious hikes, including the popular six-hour round trip to the steaming Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. If you share my passion for summits, you’ll want to tackle Morne Diablotin. A sign at its trailhead sets out the blunt task ahead: you will be climbing from 1,900ft to 4,747ft. The first half follows a winding staircase of rotting wooden steps, then it is a long, sweaty slog clambering through tangled trees, which ensures a free, full-body workout. Mists will probably mask the views from the top but this is nevertheless a satisfyingly arduous hike.