Active travellers can enjoy any number of adventurous activities in the Caribbean.
Larger islands, such as the Dominican Republic, tend to offer more variety over a wider area, but this can involve travelling long distances. Don’t discount the islands of the Eastern Caribbean – St Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadines, Grenada – where tall, volcanic islands, resplendent with rainforest and thick jungle, offer perhaps more accessible hiking, waterfalls, plunge pools and ziplines.
Birds and monkey business
The Caribbean is home to more than 550 species of bird of which nearly a third are found nowhere else in the world. St Lucia is one of the best and most accessible birding islands, having the distinction of being home to the highest number of endemic birds in the Eastern Caribbean region, including the rainforest-inhabiting St Lucia Parrot. Visit Millet Bird Sanctuary, Quilesse Reserve, Des Cartiers Trail and Vieux Fort Wetlands.
On St Kitts, green vervet free-roaming monkeys are as iconic as its historic fortresses and volcanic sand beaches. The monkeys are not native to St Kitts, or its sister isle Nevis where they also thrive, and were likely brought to the islands in the seventeenth century by early settlers as exotic pets.
For a more adrenaline-inducing view of rainforests and their canopies try the ropes, suspension bridges and ziplines of St Kitts, and St Lucia where there is an optional aerial tram tour, and Antigua whose Screamer zipwire is a 100 metres high and long leap of faith above the rainforest floor.
A volcano drive-thru
For thrills of a different kind, on St Lucia, visit the world’s only drive-thru volcano. Drive up to the edge of the filled-in crater of steam and boiling mud at dormant Soufriere Volcano. Known locally as Sulphur Springs, the highlight for many visitors to this popular natural attraction is a dip in the restorative mud baths.
Many islands offer hiking opportunities through the hinterland which are gentle enough to be suitable for almost everyone, with a local guide present to highlight and explain the extraordinary flora, birdlife and wildlife. Other trekking opportunities on mountains and volcanoes can be more challenging.
From St Lucia you can make the pilgrimage to Pigeon Island National Park which juts out from the north west coast and is connected to the mainland via a causeway. The 44-acre forested hilltop islet features military ruins and panoramic views of the surrounding area from Signal Peak and Fort Rodney.
To the south west of the island the Pitons, twin volcanic mountains, have become the iconic symbol of St Lucia. Gros Piton is taller, Petit Piton is broader and steeper. Whilst the latter requires serious climbing experience, the former is a more of a trek to the almost 800 metre peak. Either climb requires permission and a guide, both of which can be sought at the base of Gros Piton. For the finest views of the Pitons follow the Tet Paul Trail, through fields of local crops and tropical trees, to a viewing platform affording magnificent views.
On Grenada, the Grand Etang National Park, a rainforest and wildlife sanctuary deep in the island’s mountainous interior, features mile after mile of hiking trails and trekking adventures suitable for walkers of all abilities. There are bird and monkey lookouts, lush flora and fauna and streams and lakes for fishing.
Trails in the central mountains of St Kitts include Mount Liamuiga where the trekking duties are demanding and challenging, and a guide is essential; the tip of the crater is at 1156 metres. More leisurely hikes are at Monkey Hill and Verchild’s Peak. On Nevis you’ll need to set aside a day to scale Nevis Peak, whish soars to over 985 metres, and is flanked by Hurricane and Saddle hills. Take a guide and picnic lunch.
The Dominican Republic features many waterfalls. Salto El Limon, in Samana, is the closest to Punta Cana. Although not the highest waterfall at 30 metres, it is considered one of the most beautiful, not least because of its setting amongst untouched nature. Visit to the waterfall with horse riding along the river and swimming in the lagoon. On Grenada combine trekking with swimming at the Concord Falls, where three cascades, Concord, Au Coin and Fontainbleu vary in height and intensity from 10 to 20 metres. For more leisurely falls, visit Annandale where a 10 metre cascade is more suited to swimming, diving and picnicking. There are paved paths and an easy trail to the top. Close to the Grand Etang, the Seven Sisters Waterfalls has perhaps the most inviting natural pool of any of Grenada’s waterfalls.
For many years unique flowers, plants and gardens from Caribbean islands, notably from Barbados and Grenada, have been winning awards at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show. There is no better island than Barbados to look at Caribbean flora, and gardening enthusiasts visiting the island should not miss out on a visit to Andromeda Garden, described by an RHS judge as one of the most unique and outstanding gardens of the world. The Barbados Horticultural Society opens several private gardens on Sundays from mid-January to mid- March, and hotels such as Cobbler’s Cove and Coral Reef Club offer extensive tours of their hotel gardens once a week. The cool and tranquil Flower Forest features more than 100 delightful species of tropical flora through which to meander. More dense foliage is in evidence at Hunte’s Gardens, where an extraordinary sinkhole garden combines wonderful vantage points with classical music.
Horticultural attractions on Grenada include the popular Hyde Park Tropical Garden, which features glorious flower beds, orderly lawns and wonderful views over the island’s capital. Jessamine Eden Tropical Botanic Garden comprises tropical gardens, an organic farm, and rain forest trails.
Soufriere on St Lucia is home to the Diamond Botanical Gardens, named after the gardens’ stunning centrepiece waterfall. The island’s Mamiku Gardens are an oasis for bees, butterflies and endangered birds.