Hiking the Caribbean - Part 1 (St. Lucia)

This is Part 1 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

Caribbean Vacation - Puerto Rico

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 to 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 today on some of these southern Caribbean islands, which always make for a fascinating hiking experience. Based on vertical height above sea level, here are the highest 15 mountains in the West Indies:

Island  Rank  Height  Mountain 
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, with some trails taking just a couple of hours, while others require a full day.  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.  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 next 4 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!

For today's Part 1 of Hiking in the Caribbean, let's explore St. Lucia.

St. Lucia is a 238-square-mile (616 sq km) island in the Lesser Antilles' Windward islands.

Hiking in the Caribbean on St. Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie Hat

A popular Caribbean island getaway with many tourist attractions, St. Lucia is an excellent island to do some day hiking while on vacation.  Located in the south-eastern Caribbean, the island is just south of Martinique and west of Barbados.  Perhaps the best known attractions include: Fort Rodney and Signal Peak in Pigeon Island National Park; Reduit Beach at Rodney Bay; Diamond Falls / Botanical Gardens; along with the Tet Paul Nature trail.  There are also a few waterfalls and hot springs to visit during your stay as well as a few places to indulge in locally made chocolate!

Perhaps the best time to hike, for relatively cooler and dryer weather, is February, March or April.  St. Lucia has about half a dozen mountains above 1,500 feet (500m), the tallest being Mount Gimie at just over 3,000 feet (950m) above sea level.  The Pitons, the icon of St. Lucia,  stand just over 2,500 feet (780m) tall.  There are a number of good trails on the island, including some interesting and challenging up-hill day hikes.  Officially, a St. Lucia Forestry Department day-pass, along with a local guide, is required to hike on the island.

Hiking Mount Gimie will take about 5-7 hours, as the trail is approximately 5-6 miles (8-10km) long, round trip.  For those looking for a remote and challenging rainforest hike on St. Lucia, this is the one to do.  While the trail meanders up and down across a mountain ridge and valley, the absolute vertical from start to finish is about 1,970 feet (600m).  You'll experience a range of trail conditions on this hike, including a couple of amazingly steep sections, where you will need to climb natural ladders of tree roots.  You'll see amazing plant life in this moist rainforest, and you'll even be able to go for a dip at the bottom of a waterfall.  Of course, the views of the island at various stops along the trail are spectacular, including a very unique perspective of the Pitons from the island's interior.

Hiking in the Caribbean on St. Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie Hat

Part way to St. Lucia’s Mount Gimie (Peak in the background on the far left)

Hiking in the Caribbean on St. Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie Hat  

Up we go...  A view from the misty top of St. Lucia’s Mount Gimie

Hiking in the Caribbean on St. Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie Hat

The popular Gros Piton hike can take anywhere from 3 – 6 hours, depending on where you start and on your physical conditioning.  While this trail is under 3 miles (4.4km) round trip, it is all uphill (on the way up that is ;), with some pretty steep sections. As expected, the views from the top, of the western and south part of the island, are sensational.  While this is a somewhat short hike, in order to really enjoy it, you'll require decent leg strength and excellent cardio.  An "adventurous" trip to St. Lucia is incomplete without hiking the iconic Piton.  FYI - The Petit Piton can also be hiked, however it is extremely steep and potentially dangerous in some areas.

Hiking in the Caribbean on St.Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie hat

Hiking St. Lucia’s Gros Piton from the beach…

Hiking in the Caribbean on St.Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie hat

Catching our breath on the hike up

Hiking in the Caribbean on St. Lucia - Protect yourself from the sun with an Urban Canairie hat

A view of St. Vincent, from St. Lucia’s Gros Piton 

Other decent hikes on St. Lucia include Enbas Saut Falls,  Barre Isle Ridge (Mount La Combe), the Des Cartiers Rainforest trail, and the Edmund Forest Reserve.  Shorter, easier hikes include the Jacquot Trail, the Millet Trail (Bird Sanctuary) as well as the Forestierre Trail.

So in summary, you can choose to relax at the beach or a luxurious chocolate hotel, go for a leisurely stroll on Pigeon Island National Park or the Tet Paul Nature trail...  Alternatively you can go for a heart pumping adventurous up-hill hike through the rainforest...  Whatever you choose to do,  you're sure to have a memorable holiday in St. Lucia! 

Next week, as part 2 of this 4 part series, we'll experience "the nature isle of the Caribbean", Dominica.

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.

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