Hike the Caribbean Islands

Mountain Hiking Vacation in the Caribbean Islands

Ahhh…  The Caribbean – also (historically) known as the West Indies…  Most people immediately think of hot sunny days on a sandy beach lined with palm trees bordering stunning blue-turquoise water, with a tropical drink in their hand.  It is all that, and so much more!  If you’re like me, you’re painting a mental picture of hiking through a lush rainforest, heading up a green mountain or volcano, enjoying the eye-popping views of the Caribbean Sea along the way!

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A close-up – A small part of Dominica

 

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Life’s a beach… in Puerto Rico

 

 

 

 

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There are in fact, a number of Caribbean Islands that are great for ‘up-hill’ hiking… 


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Hiking to St. Lucia’s highest point

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Caribbean islands are located in the Caribbean Sea / Atlantic ocean, south of Florida, east of Central America, and north of South America… The islands make a sort of south-easternly arc, from the Gulf of Mexico, around to Venezuela.  The Caribbean can be roughly separated into the islands of the Greater Antilles in the North/West, and islands of the Lesser Antilles in the South/East.  The Lesser Antilles can also be further subdivided into the more northernly Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands of the south.

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The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” – Saint Augustine

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The largest Caribbean islands are in the Greater Antilles, and include Cuba (111k sq miles / 287k sq km), Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic = 76k sq miles / 197k sq km), Jamaica (11k sq miles / 28k sq km) and Puerto Rico (3.5k sq miles / 9k sq km).  These islands also have the largest mountain ranges in the Caribbean.

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Puerto Rico’s Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan

 

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That said, I would suggest that the best Caribbean Islands for ‘up-hill’ hiking are volcanic in origin and include Dominica, Jamaica, Martinique‎, Saint Lucia‎, Guadeloupe‎, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent and Grenada.  Active volcanoes still exist today on the Lesser Antilles’ Windward islands of Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada.  Other islands of interest for ‘up-hill’ hiking include the lesser known or visited Montserrat, Saba and St. Eustatius of the Lesser Antilles’ Leeward islands.

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One of the many waterfalls in Dominica
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A rocky trail in Puerto Rico’s El-Yunque National Forest

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In terms of absolute elevation, the Caribbean’s highest peaks are:

  • Dominican Republic
    • (1) Pico Duarte at 10,164 feet (3,098m)
    • (2) Loma Alto de la Bandera at 9,324 feet (2,842m)
    • (5) Loma Gajo en Medio at 7,477 feet (2,279m)
  • Haiti
    • (3) Pic la Selle at 8,773 feet (2,674m)
    • (4) Pic Macaya at 7,700 feet (2,347m)
  • Jamaica
  • Cuba
    • (7) Pico Turquino at 6,476 feet (1,974m)
    • (12) Gran Piedra at 4,098 feet (1,249m)
    • (15) Pico San Juan at 3,740 feet (1,140m)
  • Guadeloupe
    • (8) La Grande Soufrière at 4,813 feet (1,467m)
  • Dominica
    • (9) Morne Diablotins at 4,747 feet (1,447m)
  • Martinique
    • (10) Montagne Pelée at 4,577 feet (1,395m)
  • Puerto Rico
    • (11) Cerro de Punta at 4,389 feet (1,338m)
  • St. Vincent
    • (13) La Soufrière at 4,049 feet (1,234m)
  • St. Kitts

 

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There are many factors that could influence your Caribbean hiking related travel decisions…  Perhaps you want to narrow your focus to only hike the tallest peaks (in terms of absolute or change in elevation), however I suggest that there are other important things to consider.  Everyone’s priorities are different, however some other factors to think about include:

  • The number of desirable hike-able trails per island. Hike-able trail sub-factors include:
    • Duration
    • Degree of difficulty
    • The varying terrain and/or views available
    • Guide requirements (cost)
  • The lushness (flora) of each island
  • The ease (cost) of getting to each island
  • The safety (danger rating) of each island in general
  • Other things (other than hiking) to do on each island

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From an accessibility perspective, assuming people are travelling from the USA, Canada, the UK, or Europe, direct flights can bring you all to the Dominican Republic, however reaching other islands appear to be as follows:

  • Saint Lucia (direct from the USA, Canada and the UK)
  • Jamaica (direct via the USA, Canada and the UK)
  • Puerto Rico (direct from the USA and Canada)
  • Martinique (direct from Canada and Europe – France)
  • St. Kitts & Nevis (direct from the USA, and with a one stop-hop from the UK)
  • Cuba (direct from Canada and Europe)
  • Grenada (direct from USA)
  • Guadeloupe (direct from Europe – France)

There are no direct flights to Dominica, St. Vincent, Montserrat, Saba or St. Eustatius, however “island hopper” flights from a number of the other islands (Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, Barbados etc…) can take you there.  There are also ferries that run between Sint Maarten – Saba, as well as between Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia.

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A tangled web of roots, woven in St. Kitts
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Brimstone Fortress – St. Kitts

 

 

 

 

 

 

As per various Government ‘travel advisories’ – Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico are considered more dangerous, than the other islands on our hiking related list.  This is due to high crime rates, as well as civil unrest (Haiti). That said, if you are hiking with a local guide, and use common sense – limiting your exposure to city streets at night, you can usually minimize the risk of becoming a victim.  Personally, I have had no bad experiences in Jamaica or Puerto Rico (and have not traveled to Haiti or the Dominic Republic).

For backpackers, there are multi-day hikes on the Dominican Republic, Dominica and Martinique – Maybe more – TBC…  There are campsites in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada and St. Eustatius.  That said, you can’t (officially) just pitch a tent wherever you want – Each island has designated camping areas, typically in their national parks.  There are also plenty of rustic (inexpensive) hotels,  cabins / cottages and B&Bs on all of the islands, and even camper-cars to rent in Guadeloupe.  Interesting to note that it is legal to camp on some beaches on St. Kitts & Nevis.

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One travels to run away from routine, that dreadful routine that kills all imagination and all our capacity for enthusiasm” – Ella Maillart

 

To help you plan your Caribbean hiking adventure, you can find additional information pertaining to each island below:

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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds” – Edward Abbey

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