Mountain Hike Vacation in St. Kitts
The Mountain Hiker Rating: 8 out of 10
- Contributor: MGF
- Time required: 4 – 6 hours round trip
- Degree of Difficulty: 7 out of 10
- Height: 3,792 feet (1,156 meters) / Actual vertical hiked was just over 2,380 feet (725m), as the trailhead began around 725 feet (220m) above sea level, and our hike ended on the ridge of the volcano, just below the highest point
- Distance: Approximately 5 miles (8km) round trip
- Guide Required: No – The trail itself, once you find it, is fairly well marked. That said, I personally believe that a guide is valuable as they can inform you of local flora / fauna that you would otherwise likely miss out on, and you don’t have to worry about accidently wandering off on some random side-trail.
Mount Liamuiga is a dormant stratovolcano and the highest point on the island of St Kitts, as well as all of the Lesser Antilles’ leeward islands. As part of a tour, we were driven north from Basseterre along the west coast of the island for about 40 minutes, until we reached a village called Newton Ground, where we headed inland. The roads got narrower and rougher as we approached the base of the volcano.
The Mount Liamuiga hike started with a mild but gradual incline, and the trail seemed to twist and turn like we were on a large switchback. At one point, the trail followed a large rut, or trench, probably caused by volcanic activity and/or torrential rains years ago. Along the trail, we saw some amazing trees, with vines everywhere, but what really stood out on this hike were the exposed tree roots – I’ve never seen so many, large tree root systems before. While these roots actually helped in some areas to climb the steeper parts of the trail, they also made it a bit dangerous, and we had to watch that we didn’t trip over them.
Our guide clearly knew the local flora well, and pointed out a number of plants and trees, and talked about their uses in traditional medicines – Cures for everything from nasal congestion and indigestion, to arthritis. He also explained how we were travelling from a woodland area, through the rainforest jungle, to a dwarfed cloud forest at the top. Although we did not see any monkeys, we could hear their chattering from time to time, so we know they were around us. I found the trail, well worn, and mostly dry and rocky, although I understand that it can be muddy and slick when it rains. Our guide took his time, and we had a leisurely 90 minute walk to this point.
After a short snack break, where we watched a mongoose eat our guide’s bread crumbs (it didn’t look like this was the first time this had happened), we resumed our hike. The next 45 minutes or so of this exhilarating ‘up-hill’ hike was much steeper, with a few near vertical sections that tested our cardio and leg strength. Eventually we reached the ridge of the volcano, and could see down inside it. Inside, the sides of the volcano were a lush green blanket of shrubs/plants. Apparently it’s about a thousand feet deep, and we could see a large patch of sulfur vents, at the bottom of the crater, along with a small pool of (rain) water. It was a spectacular view, and with a cool cloud filled breeze constantly blowing around us, it was a surreal experience. Fortunately we had enough break in the clouds to get a good view of the crater. Apparently some people, with mountain climbing experience and the appropriate equipment, descend into the crater, to the bottom below.
We didn’t actually go to the highest point of the mountain – Due to the cloud cover, our guide suggested that we wouldn’t be able to see anything, and unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to wait to see if the clouds would clear. I suspect it would have only taken another 20-30 minutes to get to/from the top, and I understand that on a clear day, the views of the island from there are sensational.
It’s the same trail down, and we traversed it much quicker than the hike up, however we had to be extra careful on the descent, with all those roots and rocks, especially in the steep sections. In the near-vertical sections we slid down on our behinds, to avoid tumbling uncontrollably down the hill. While this is a pretty popular activity on the island, we only came across one other group the day we were there. As part of a group, with varied fitness levels, it took us about 4.5 hours for a leisurely hike up and down the volcano.
In summary, the Mount Liamuiga Trail was an excellent up-hill hike, and one of my all-time favourites. This is what you think of when you imagine hiking a volcano on a Caribbean island – Going through a rainforest… up a large, round (upside-down) cone with an open crater on top that you can look down into. This thrilling hike was quite comfortable in sections, strenuous in others, and had a constantly varying environment, with a very unique view waiting for us at the top.
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