Many Caribbean visitors could be perfectly content spending their entire trip guzzling pineapple rum cocktails and gazing at that unbroken turquoise ocean line for hours on end -- and that's fine. But the slightly more adventurous among us look for much more from a Caribbean getaway than just lying horizontally on a beach chair. Good news. You know those sky-piercing green hills, undulating jungles, and thundering waterfalls that you see on your flight in? Turns out that, with a little effort, you can see them up close. And don't fret about loading yourself with camping gear and cutting in on your relaxation time. With these 11 day hikes, you can be on top of a mountain and back down in as little as 45 minutes, ready to catch up on your romance novel or head out for a snapper dinner. Best of all, you'll get an authentic view of the Caribbean.
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Located on the southwestern coast of St. Lucia, the Pitons are two iconic mountains situated near the towns of Soufriere and Choiseul. First, head to Fond Gens Libre for a glimpse of history (the area played a big part in the island’s slave rebellion in 1748). Then it’s time to hit the trail. Of the two peaks, Gros Piton is the highest, at 2,619 feet, but it’s also surprisingly the easiest to climb, thanks to a gentler slope. Guide are required — and you’ll be glad you have one to help you over the volcanic rocks, interpret the flora and fauna, and share the dizzying views of nearby Petit Piton once you reach the summit.
Grenada might lack spectacular stretches of beach, but it makes up for it by being a playground for those who love invigorating nature hikes. Check out Concord Falls, a series of three waterfalls located just eight miles north of St. George’s. The first of the trio, a 35-foot cascade, is accessible via a paved path. A 45-minute trek that meanders through a nearby nutmeg plantation will get you to the second of the three falls, Au Coin. By the time you reach the farthest waterfall, Fontainebleau, you’ll be ready to dive in and cool off in the crystal-clear cascade that tumbles 65 feet down.
3. El Choco National Park, Dominican Republic
You may not have enough time to scale the highest peak in the Caribbean — the 10,178-foot Pico Duarte — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthwhile day hikes in the Dominican Republic. If you’re staying on the north coast, check out the system of trails at El Choco National Park. The 48-square-mile expanse of flourishing tropical plant life is nestled between the foothills of the Cordillera Septentrional and the Cabarete Lagoon. While gallivanting between jagged hills and pastureland, you’ll have the opportunity to splash through freshwater springs flowing out of subterranean caves and explore the gently-rolling landscape of Hispaniola, which was formed by underwater volcanoes 50 million years ago.
At 3,232 feet, the dormant volcano (it erupted roughly 100,000 years ago) is hard to miss from anywhere on the island. Rumor has it the locals are skeptical of anyone who attempts to scale Nevis Peak on their own, so it might be worth looking into getting a guide from your hotel. With steep slopes and dense vegetation, Nevis Peak is no walk in the park, but it will only take you about half a day to get there and back.
5. La Soufriere, St. Vincent
La Soufriere, the site of a devastating 1902 volcanic eruption, is now a challenging hike for travelers. Those gutsy enough to tackle it will be rewarded with an unforgettable view of the gigantic crater and its active lava dome. The most popular point of entry is Rabacca on the windward coast of the island. This route takes trekkers through a banana plantation, rainforest, dense thickets, and cloud forests before reaching the crater, which is strewn with molten ash. Folks who would like to extend their hike can also climb down into the crater using a rope.
Just an hour from downtown San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is the only true tropical rainforest in the U.S. national forest system — and trekking through it is an entirely different experience from traipsing around Puerto Rico’s tourist haunts. Begin the journey at the Palo Colorado Visitor Center, where you’ll find dozens of trails branching off into the forest (hikes range from easy to intense). From there, it’s just 45 minutes up a well-maintained trail to the Mt. Britton lookout tower.
7. Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica
For a taste of Jamaica‘s unspoiled landscape (and the spiciest jerk in the country), head up north to Portland and take a three-hour hike along the Blue Mountain Peak trail, which eventually ends at the staggering 7,402-foot summit. You’ll wander through fields growing aromatic coffee beans before ascending up into the old-growth rainforest, where doctor birds and Jamaican todys flit through the ancient ferns and lichens. Bonus: Look closely on a clear day and you might just see neighboring Cuba.
8. La Grande Soufriere, Guadeloupe
With over 180 miles of hiking trails, one could spend all day at the 74,100-acre Guadeloupe National Park. In addition to the breathtaking Carbet Falls, a series of three waterfalls, the park is also home to La Grande Soufriere, a 4,813-foot active stratovolcano that was the subject of a documentary by Werner Herzog. The German filmmaker traveled to Basse-Terre to interview a local man who insisted he stayed put during the 1976 eruption. And you don’t have to scale the mountain to experience it — a leisurely one-and-a-half-mile hike will you guide you around the base through the homes of twittering hummingbirds, native Guadeloupe raccoons, and endangered agoutis as well as rubble that remains from the 1976 eruption.
9. Morne Diablotin, Dominica
Dominica is a small island nation, but Morne Diablotin (literally “devil’s mountain”), a volcanic peak located an hour north of the capital of Roseau, is anything but tiny. It last erupted 30,000 years ago, and today, towers over the island at 4,000 feet high. The whole thing will likely take about five to six hours to tackle, and if you visit during the rainy season, prepare to get muddy. The upside? You’ll get to explore virtually untouched rainforest that’s crawling with gommier trees as well as spot squawking jacko and sisserou parrots.
Roatan, one of the Bay Islands in Honduras, is a mecca for scuba divers and doesn’t lack in dramatic scenery on land either. Cerro Carambola, a mountain named after a juicy fruit that grows in the area, isn’t too high — about 570 feet above sea level — but it’s steep, jutting straight out of the ocean. Various bird and reptile species will shadow your steps as you climb up the rustic trai. Trekkers can get high enough to see the neighboring island of Utila and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the coral reef below.
Grand Cayman is as flat as one of its famous stingrays, but it would still be a mistake to miss this easy and tranquil two-mile hike that takes folks up 60 feet through the last contiguous area of old-growth forest on the island (more than two million years worth of growth). Tucked away from the chaos of the resorts on Seven Mile Beach, you’ll feel a sense of calm while spotting iguanas, native woodpeckers, and the endangered Cayman parrot. You’ll even be back in time for lunch in nearby Breakers.
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