Sure, the Caribbean conjures peaceful images of gentle breezes that rustle palm fronds and golden beaches where umbrella drinks are ubiquitous. But a Caribbean getaway that involves hiking may not be quite so laid-back. After all, given that the topography of so many of these idyllic islands is shaped by volcanic activity, it’s no wonder that the trails lacing the rugged landscape might require grabbing onto vines, or snagging exposed roots just to remain upright.
These sorts of adventures might satisfy thrill seekers, but here are seven picturesque paths for those who prefer an experience that’s as chill as the calm Caribbean vibe.
Golden Rock Nature Trail—Nevis
Beginning on the property of a former sugar cane plantation, now the upscale Golden Rock Inn, this short track enwraps hikers in an abundance of foliage. You might want to book a guide (Sunrise Tours), who can point out and discuss the common usage of numerous fruit trees, herbs and other plants, such as bitter orange (used to make marmalade) and soursop (it’s a treatment for fever).
Overhead, vervet monkeys dart among the tree branches, and, along the way, two wee villages (Malli Ban and Stonyhill) are populated with simple chattel dwellings. Through openings in the foliage, you might spot the island’s signature sight, Nevis Peak, that towers over 3,000 feet, though it is often shrouded in clouds. Once you enter the rainforest, the flora grows denser, with aerial roots dangling like a fine curtain.
Katouche Valley Hiking Trail—Anguilla
Set on a private estate—and requiring visitors to sign up for a trek with Katouche Tours—this 1.5-mile flat trail is believed to have been created either by the indigenous peoples or the slaves who worked at the old plantation. The dense forest is rich in a variety of plant species, from white cedar, Anguilla’s national tree, to delicate tree orchids.
One captivating sight is Cavannagh Cave, a spacious, 30-foot-high cavern with an immense fig tree puncturing the roof, and where fruit- and insect-eating bats can be observed (and heard). Hikers will delight in the colorful butterflies fluttering about as well as the green throated Caribbean hummingbirds and other birds found along this path that terminates on the pristine sands of Katouche Bay Beach.
Signal Hill Hike—Antigua
This two-hour, round-trip hike from Wallings Dam isn’t flat, but the mostly gentle climb to the island’s second highest point (1,200 feet) is worth the effort for the panoramic views. The route takes its name from the time (during the British occupation) when flags in different locations would signal to Fort James and Fort George, two major defensive outposts, if an enemy ship entered the harbor.
The route alternates between rainforest where tall mahogany, cedar and other trees shade your way, and sunny stretches with lemongrass blanketing the undulating landscape. A low stone wall beckons you to sit awhile and relish in the refreshing breezes and the views of protected Cades Reef. On a clear day, from the summit, you’ll be able to gaze at the neighboring islands, including St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, and Montserrat.
Natural Pools of Grand Fond Hike—St. Barth
A narrow, sun-drenched, sandy path weaves along the cliff edge for barely a mile from Grand Fond Beach. But you’ll want to stop often, snapping dramatic photos of the wild sea from your elevated perch. Mountain goats traipse along the hillside, nibbling on the dry shrubbery. The shore below is a magnet for local surfers and body boarders who come to ride the tremendous waves at a spot aptly named the Washing Machine.
Farther along, you’ll spot a pair of clear teal green tidal pools below the trail. The salt waters are calm, protected from the roiling seas by a ring of volcanic rocks. Though they make for an attractive destination for a dip, you’ll have to scramble down (and back up) a rugged slope to get there.
Populated with teak, Caribbean pine, palms and other trees, this stretch of woodland is networked with easy trails that come off a main path, crisscrossing this coastal expanse. (The scenery is so bucolic that getting pleasantly lost is something to look forward to.) This destination is especially popular with families who come to picnic. Those who stroll parallel to the water will enjoy lovely views of a small uninhabited island, Les Gros Ilet, and the placid Bay of Fort-de-France.
A few benches scattered about offer the opportunity to be mindful of the sights and sounds of the forest. You can also saunter along a boardwalk for close-ups of the mangrove forest, an ecosystem that’s vital to the health of the coast, as well as the life cycle of fish.
Central Forest Reserve National Park—St. Kitts
In the rear of the Wingfield Estate, a former sugar plantation dating to the mid-17th century, a series of loop trails course through a thick rainforest that’s part of the Central Forest Reserve National Park. Hiking guide O’Neil Mulraine cleared these paths himself, creating a trail system that’s a bit more than three miles in length, with lots of options (many are fairly chill).
Because these trails are unsigned, it’s best to sign up for a trek with Mulraine ([email protected]), who will point out the myriad botanical curiosities, from the sandbox tree with its spine laden trunk to the quill fern that resembles a feather. Paralleling the Wingfield River, you’ll hear the gurgling of water tumbling over boulders. Under the dense shade canopy, a small, serene pool makes for a picture-perfect spot to cool off.
Salt Rocks Nature Trail—Little Cayman
Just over a mile in length one way, this flat but at times limestone rock strewn trail originated in the 1840s as a path that locals would walk from Blossom Village to the Salt Rocks Dock on the north coast of Little Cayman, the smallest of the three Cayman Islands. Visitors who are keen on spotting flora and fauna will not be disappointed with this trek, starting at the airport in Blossom Village.
You’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for reptiles, such as Sister Islands Rock iguanas and green anoles, as well as vitelline warblers, bananaquits and other bird species. The plant life varies greatly along your route and includes an array of cacti, from branched varieties to pillar shaped ones, as well as the pink blossomed whitewood tree, and banana orchids, the Caymans national flower.