This is the final blog of this 4 part series about ‘day-hiking’ mountains and volcanoes while vacationing in the sunny Caribbean.
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.
Last week we explored Puerto Rico. This week, as the final installment of this 4 part series, lets enjoy St. Kitts.
The Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis Islands is a two island nation in the Lesser Antilles covering 101 square miles (262 sq km) in total.
Commonly referred to as “St. Kitts” or “SKN”, the islands are located in the north-eastern Caribbean and are a really good place to hike while on vacation there. The islands are actually the exposed tops of a submerged volcanic mountain range, now covered with rolling green folds of volcanic peaks and lush valleys. Regular ferry service connects the two islands, which are approximately 2 miles (3 km) apart. St. Kitts is only 6 miles (10 km) from its closest neighbour Sint Eustatius to the north-west, and is also not too far from Barbuda and Antigua to the East, as well as Montserrat to the south.
St. Kitts has a number of tourist attractions, the most popular being a very unique Scenic Railway Tour, Brimstone Hill Fortress (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Romney Manor botanical gardens. There’s also excellent Snorkling and Scuba diving at over a dozen official dive sites. There’s also The “Black Rocks” (ancient lava formations) and more than a dozen top notch beaches on the islands to relax on. Hopefully you’ll also see the African Green (Vervet) monkeys on your travels.
The best time to hike in SKN, in terms of weather, is March and April. Combined, Saint Christopher and Nevis have half a dozen mountains / volcanoes above 1,500 feet (500m), the tallest being Mount Liamuiga (formerly Mount Misery), at 3,792 feet (1,156 m) above sea level. There are two main hiking trails, one on each island, along with a number of lesser known trails.
The most common up-hill hike on St. Kitts is the Mount Liamuiga Trail. You’ll need 4 – 6 hours for this 5 mile (8km) round trip hike up and down this volcano. The absolute vertical hiked on this trail is just over 2,380 feet (725m), which is a decent challenge for most as it is mostly on a steady incline, with a few really steep sections. This hike is what you think of when you imagine hiking a volcano on a Caribbean island – Trekking through a rainforest, with the trail getting progressively steeper along the way, with access to an open crater on top that you can look down into. You will really enjoy this hike as you experience comfortable walking sections mixed with strenuous portions of the trail, all with a constantly varying environment, including seeing more exposed tree roots than you’ve ever seen, and of course the unique view of the inside of a volcano waiting for you at the top.
Other potential trails for up-hill hiking on St. Kitts include: Dos D’ane Pond / Verchilds Mountain, which is the second highest peak on St. Kitts and provides a fairly challenging hike with > 2000 feet (600m) vertical elevation gain, that will take you about 4-6 hours round trip; The “Valley of Giants” Rainforest trail, is an easy 2 hour hike which loops along a River Valley with an optional ridge climb; The Challengers Village Bat Cave and Waterfall Hike, whose attractions are self explanatory 🙂 takes about 4 hours in total to complete.
On the island of Nevis, the feature hike is to the centre of the island, Nevis Peak, which is the highest point on the island at 3200 feet (950m) above sea level. This is a fairly difficult / steep trail taking about 4-5 hours round trip, with approximately 2000 feet (600m) vertical gain over a relatively short distance.
When you’re not hiking and/or snorkling… There’s plenty to do on St. Kitts, including a Scenic Railway Tour, and be sure to visit Brimstone Hill Fortress as well as just relaxing on the beach.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the Caribbean, with a focus on hiking through the rainforest up a few mountains and volcanoes.