Top 10 Tropical Islands for Hiking
Love to go trekking in tropical nature? Then think outside of the sandbox to unearth terrestrial treasures and exciting active adventures on these 10 islands.
While the “Big Island” is famous for active volcano hikes, its eco-pristine sister Kauai claims more hiking trails than any other Hawaiian island. Diane Bair, co-author of Frommer’s Best Hiking Trips in Hawaii says, “Kauai’s Kalalau Trail is absolutely one of the best short hikes in the world. Soaring sea cliffs, ancient caves, hanging valleys and abundant waterfalls… it should top every hiker’s bucket list.” Also a must visit is Kauai’s Pihea Trail to Alakai – the world’s highest elevated swamp to see trees dwarfed by the constant moisture and views of Mount Waialeale dubbed “The Wettest Place on Earth.”
Dominica – not to be confused with the Dominican Republic – is known as “The Nature Island”, and its boast as a “hiker’s paradise” is difficult to dispute. With almost 500 kilometres of trails including the Caribbean’s first long distance hiking path, The Waitukubuli National Trail, snaking through the island’s 365 rivers, 12 waterfalls, lush rainforests, hot springs and the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has a little something for everyone. Novice hikers can enjoy an easy outing to the picturesque Emerald Pool waterfall, but hardcore hikers will relish a challenging trek to witness the world’s second largest boiling lake.
St. Lucia is most famous for its twin pitons, Gros Piton and Petit Piton, ancient volcanic plugs rising grandly from the sea. Hikers will be challenged to the max when attempting to reach the summits of this UNESCO World Heritage site, but the rewards are well worth the journey. Gentler hikes can be had through the Jacquot Trail named after the island’s indigenous parrot which travels through verdant rainforests dotted with ravines and creeks. Bird-watching trekkers can also enjoy guided hikes through La Sorciere Forest Reserve and are sure to spot many species of colourful winged-wonders.
Lush and lovely St. Kitts’ highest point is Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcano surrounded by healthy rainforests. Hikers will be rewarded after a tough five-hour trek that’s almost entirely vertical (its native name was “Mount Misery”) by spectacular views from its peak. Looking for something a little less extreme? The lovely “Elfin Woodland” and “The Giant’s Salad Bowl” both offer easier routes that are just as scenic. In fact, St. Kitts’ environmentalists are proud to proclaim that their rainforest is actually growing instead of shrinking – a testament to their active preservation. On most hikes, you’re bound to run into the island’s mischievous and entertaining vervet monkeys.
St. John BVI
Accessible only by seaplane or boat from St. Thomas (there are regular ferries) St. John is one of the first Caribbean islands to establish a protected nature park. Founded in 1916, the Virgin Islands National Park covers almost 60% of the island with over 20 marked trails for every level of hiking enjoyment. Marked paths abound, many peppered with ruins of old sugar mills and often culminating in a spectacular beach such as Trunk Bay, which also offers an underwater snorkel trail. Maps and information can be obtained at the Visitor Centre in Cruz Bay where the boats arrive.
Basically bereft of beaches, but boasting some of the best wall diving in the region, Dutch protectorate Saba dubbed the “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean” circles its way around the volcano called Mount Scenery which at 887 metres is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Hikers can explore the marked interior trails or simply follow the island’s main road that starts at sea level and travels through the four little villages on the way up to the top that is capped by a pristine cloud forest. The entire island is a protected nature reserve- both topside and underwater.
Most famous for its well-preserved forts and historic Old San Juan, Puerto Rico also offers a diverse range of hiking opportunities through many different types of ecosystems. The El Toro trail that passes through El Yunque National Forest reveals four different forest systems and is awash with waterfalls and lush greenery. Hiking thorough Guánica State Forest however reveals a very different experience- arid and cacti-strewn- this “dry forest” also has a unique appeal. There are also combo tours available that include hikes through the rainforests that end with kayaking through the famous luminescent Bio-Bay.
Locally known simply as “Statia”, this Dutch Caribbean outpost is also called the “Golden Rock”. The most noteworthy hike on the island is to the Quill, a volcanic crater carpeted in blooms and foliage. There are eight different trails circling the rim including a tough hike from the edge to the bottom. Quill National Park is managed by the St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation, you can find out about the trails and take advantage of guided hikes with their park rangers at their new visitor centre. Other popular hikes for ardent trekkers include journeys to Mazinga Peak and Panorama Point.
French Martinique invites hikers of all levels to explore her charming interior with 130 kilometres of marked trails offering 30-some paths. The most challenging trek is in the National Biological Reserve to the summit of their highest peak – Mount Pelée – still considered an active volcano with its last eruption taking place back in 1930. On a clear day, one can see both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean from the top, or you can travel from one sea to the other by following the ancient mule trail. Easier hikes also abound winding through lush coastal forests, waterfalls, rivers and ancient mangroves.
Best known for its glorious beaches, Aruba’s arid, desert-like interior is a real surprise to those expecting a tropical jungle. Scrubby, cacti-studded and full of iguanas, meandering goats, wild donkeys and tortuously twisted divi-divi trees, hiking there can be surreal yet enchanting. And Aruba’s indigenous wildlife are masters of camouflage, so best to stop by the Visitor’s Centre at Arikok National Park to discover what to seek out, or to join their park rangers in a guided hike. You can also climb the 500-some stairs of the “Haystack” (Mt. Hooiberg) Aruba’s second highest peak for a spectacular panoramic view.