This is Part 2 of a 4 part series about 'day-hiking' mountains and volcanoes while vacationing in the sunny Caribbean. This series is reproduced with the permission of our partner themountainhiker.com
I suspect that most people think of the Caribbean as a place to relax on the beach with a tropical rum punch in hand... and while that's a great idea, when I think of the Caribbean, I paint a mental picture of hiking through a lush rainforest, heading up-hill of a green mountain or volcano, enjoying the eye-popping views of the Caribbean Sea along the way!
The Caribbean islands, also known as "the West Indies", are located in the Caribbean Sea / Atlantic ocean, forming a sort of right hand arc between Florida and South America. The largest Caribbean islands are in the north-west, and include Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico. These islands also have the largest mountain ranges and tallest peaks in the Caribbean. That said, I would suggest that some of the best Caribbean Islands for ‘up-hill’ hiking are further south east and include Dominica, Jamaica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Guadeloupe, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent and Grenada. Active volcanoes still exist on some of these southern Caribbean islands, which always make for a fascinating hiking experience. Based on vertical height 'above sea level', the highest 15 mountains in the West Indies are:
|Dominican Republic||1||10,164 feet (3,098m)||Pico Duarte|
|2||9,324 feet (2,842m)||Loma Alto de la Bandera|
|5||7,477 feet (2,279m)||Loma Gajo en Medio|
|Haiti||3||8,773 feet (2,674m)||Pic la Selle|
|4||7,700 feet (2,347m)||Pic Macaya|
|Jamaica||6||7,402 feet (2,256m)||Blue Mountain Peak|
|Cuba||7||6,476 feet (1,974m)||Pico Turquino|
|12||4,098 feet (1,249m)||Gran Piedra|
|15||3,740 feet (1,140m)||Pico San Juan|
|Guadeloupe||8||4,813 feet (1,467m)||La Grande Soufrière|
|Dominica||9||4,747 feet (1,447m)||Morne Diablotins|
|Martinique||10||4,577 feet (1,395m)||Montagne Pelée|
|Puerto Rico||11||4,389 feet (1,338m)||Cerro de Punta|
|St. Vincent||13||4,049 feet (1,234m)||La Soufrière|
|St. Kitts||14||3,793 feet (1,156m)||Mount Liamuiga|
Some great mountainous rainforest hiking is available on all of these islands... Some trails take just a couple of hours to hike, while others require a full day to complete. Weather permitting, most of these hikes allow you stunning views of the island and/or Caribbean sea, and all of the hikes will provide you with a gratifying sense of accomplishment - From a physical 'I did it' perspective'. There are also multi-day backpacking trails on the Dominican Republic, Dominica and Martinique. For the full 'backpacking in tropical nature' experience, campsites are available in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Grenada. Each island has designated camping areas, usually in their national parks.
Over the coming weeks, we'll provide a small taste of some of these islands, along with a sampling of hikes available to you. Be prepared to work up a sweat, and be rewarded with a number of fun rainforest experiences!
Last week we explored St. Lucia. This week, as part 2 of this 4 part series, lets experience "the nature isle of the Caribbean", Dominica.
A view of Dominica's south-west coast and gorgeous blue waters of the Caribbean Sea
Dominica, not to be confused with the much larger and more populated Dominican Republic, is a 290 square mile (750 sq km) island in the south east Caribbean, specifically the Lesser Antilles' Windward islands.
The rugged mountains of Dominica - Approaching the island's capital, Roseau
A view of Roseau from part way up Morne Anglais
While not too well known or overly popular, the Commonwealth of Dominica is an amazing island for hiking enthusiasts. The island is covered with lush green mountains, and streams and rivers, many of which have plunging waterfalls. Located in the south-eastern Caribbean, between Guadeloupe to the north, and Martinique to the south, Dominica can be enjoyed by divers as well as jungle rainforest seeking hikers. There are a number of scuba-dive sites just off shore, as well as an area for snorkeling in shallow waters. One area for snorkelers even has warm bubbling water, caused by volcanic vents on the ocean floor. For the history buff, there’s impressive Fort Shirley, part of the Cabrits National Park.
Perhaps the best time to hike, for relatively cooler and dryer weather, is January through to April. Dominica has close to a dozen mountains above 1,500 feet (500m), the tallest being Morne Diablotins, at 4,747 feet (1,447 m) above sea level. There are literally dozens of day-hiking trails on the island, as well as the Caribbean's longest continuous trail for multi-day backpackers. Nominal user fees are required for almost all of the trails in Dominica, and local Guides are also recommended, as the trail heads are hard to find, and the trails themselves can become overgrown - A machete wielding guide can be very useful.
In the heart of the Dominica rainforest - Morne Trois Pitons National Park
Hiking Dominica - Morne Anglais was muddy fun!
One of the more popular, yet still fairly un-crowded, hikes in Dominica has to be Boiling Lake. This is a long and fairly difficult 6-8 hour round trip hike over 8 miles (13km) of extremely varied and challenging terrain. The highest point on this hike is around 3,100 feet (950 meters), however the actual vertical hiked is probably over 5,000 feet (1500m) as the trail travels up and down a few mountain ridges, gorges and valleys along the way. And yes... This trail takes you to a lake, the second-largest thermally active hot spring in the world, which 'is' literally boiling... That's no good for swimming :) however it is a once in a lifetime sight to behold. This epic hike is filled with awe inspiring rugged and natural beauty. The trail has a number of stops with spectacular and varied views of the island as well as the Caribbean sea… While most of the trail is through lush rainforest, there are river crossings and bizarre sections of barren, rocky, mineral springs and mud pools.
and we're off... one of the many 'staircases' on Dominica Boiling Lake trail
About half way along the trail... The Caribbean Sea way in the background!
How many more mountains / ridges are we crossing before we get there?
Taking a break... smoldering steam venting from the earth in the background
Who needs a spa when warm grey mud bubbles from the ground!
Boiling Lake - It's hot when the steam can be seen in the hot Caribbean air
A much tamer, but still interesting and enjoyable hike is the Middleham Falls trail. You won't need a guide for this well maintained and marked trail. Contrary to the optimistic sign at the entrance, it will likely take you 2 - 3 hours for this 4 mile (6km) round trip hike that takes you over a ridge/mountain to, you guessed it, a beautiful 200+ foot (60+ meters) tall waterfall. You can enjoy the rainbow view of the falls from a distance, or you can venture down into the pool itself for a swim in the mist. You should enjoy this hike at a pleasant and relaxing pace as you absorb the vibe of the island. While one of the more popular waterfalls on the island, it is still fairly quiet as only those who don’t mind hiking for a couple of hours, will make the trip. There’s some nice views of the surrounding rainforest valleys and mountains, and of course the amazing waterfalls are an accurate representation of what this island is all about.
What a nice trail/walk through rainforest - On the way to Middleham Falls
Dominica's Middleham Falls - Another gorgeous day in paradise
For other challenging up-hill hikes, there is Morne Diablotin, the highest point on the island. You'll likely need a good 6-8 hours to return from this hike, as you cover an absolute vertical of 2800 feet (850m) through a remote and dense rainforest. Considered by many, the most challenging hike on the island, the Morne Trois Pitons Trail is long and hilly, making the 2,300 feet (700m) absolute vertical seem much higher. You'll need a full day (6-8 hours) to conquer this Rainforest/Cloudforest trail.
There are dozens of other hiking trails on Dominica, a couple others of note includes: Victoria Falls, where you'll hike for a couple of hours round trip, crossing back and forth as well as through a river... Ending in a large pool below a spectacular 165 feet tall waterfall; and there's also Morne aux Diables, which is an intermediate type hike, requiring 4-6 hours of hiking through a diverse mix of mountainous and volcanic terrain.
Dominica - Off we go to Victoria Falls
Dominica - Hiking up-river to the beautiful Victoria Falls!
Feeling the powerful spray in the pool at the bottom of Victoria Falls
If you're looking for a truly immersive tropical rainforest experience, you can backpack sections of, or the entire Waitukubuli National Trail - 115 miles (184 km) of snaking trails from one end of Dominica to the other!
Regardless if you travel to Dominica for the diving or the hiking, you'll be left in awe with the natural beauty of this island!
Please travel safe and "enjoy your day in the sun!" - Be sure to protect your head, face and eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays by wearing an Urban Canairie hat whenever you're outdoors in the Caribbean. It's ideal for hiking as well as everyday sight-seeing.
Next week, as part 3 of this 4 part series, we'll explore Puerto Rico.