Most travelers associate the Caribbean with chilling on a white sand beach or exploring the underwater world beneath a turquoise sea, but for those that desire a bit of exercise before their tropical cocktail, the region is also home to some legendary hiking trails.
From hiking the region’s first long-distance route, the 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail, in Grenada to partaking in guided trekking in Cuba that has you summiting the country’s highest peak, the best hikes in the Caribbean are nothing short of spectacular. Here are five of our favorites.
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1. Waitukubuli National Trail, Dominica
Best long-distance hike
185km (115 miles) one-way, 4 hours to 14 days, easy to challenging
Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail is the Caribbean’s first long-distance hiking trail. It runs for 185km (115 miles) between Scott’s Head in the south and Cabrits National Park in the north. To do the entire trek takes about two weeks, but the trail is split into 14 different segments, each with a distinct starting and ending point.
Hiking one or two segments is a great way for travelers short on time to still experience this eco-adventure island’s fantastic natural scenery as well as its history – part of the trail follows an old route along which enslaved people were trafficked.
The trail, which requires a trail pass ticket to hike, covers a diverse landscape. If you do the entire trek, you’ll pass by everything from natural hot springs to thundering waterfalls, rainforest to tropical mountains and rural farmland. Along the way are small towns where you can stop for a meal, pick up supplies, and even find basic lodging.
Each segment has a different difficulty level. If you want to hike past hot springs with views of the volcanic peaks of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, then you’ll want to check out Segment 3. Starting at Bellevue Chopin and ending at Wotten Waven, it is a moderate hike that takes about six hours. Stop for a soak at Giraudel Botanic Gardens. Note from this segment, you’ll also find the start of the loop trailhead to Boiling Lake, which is another one of Dominica’s most famous hikes.
Travelers in search of an easy hike should check out Segment 10, the Colihaut Heights to Syndicate Trail. The 6.5km (4-mile) hike takes you past parrot habitats and farmland scenery and can be completed in four hours or less.
Trekking up Pico Turquino is challenging – bring water and take breaks whenever you need one © Getty Images / iStockphoto
2. Pico Turquino, Cuba
Best trekking in Cuba
22.5-25km (14-16 miles) round trip (distance dependent on route), 1-2 days, challenging
Trekking in Cuba can be an epic experience, especially if you choose to climb Pico Turquino. The country’s highest peak at 1974m (6476ft) requires a guide to the summit, but these can be booked with companies like Ecotur in Santiago de Cuba or Granma Province.
This is one of Cuba’s most challenging hikes and it can be done as a one- or two-day trip. Located in Pico Turquino National Park in southeastern Cuba, the mountains here are densely forested and feel far removed from coastal Cuba. There are more than 100 species of plants in this park and along the lower portions of the trail, you’ll pass montane forests before ascending into cloud forests.
This hike also has a historical element as it sits in an area that served as a stronghold for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s rebel army that ousted Fulgencio Batista in 1959. At Turquino’s summit, you’ll also find a bronze statue of Cuban national hero José Martí, which was moved here in 1953.
If you chose the two-day hiking option, you’ll hike 13km (8 miles) to the summit on the first day and then descend to the community of Aguada del Joaquin. Here you’ll spend the night in a rustic mountain shelter and complete the final miles in the morning.
If you want to do this Cuban trek in just one day, however, you should take the Las Cuevas route on the southern coast of Santiago de Cuba province. Note this is an intense trek that is a hefty 22.5km (14-mile) roundtrip. It takes about six hours to reach the summit and another four to descend, so you’ll need to depart by 6:30am at the latest.
A hike to the top of Mt Christoffel will give you unrivalled views of Curaçao – pack your camera © Getty Images/iStockphoto
3. Mt Christoffel, Curaçao
Best top of the world
2.7km (1.7 miles) roundtrip, 1.5-2 hours, moderate
The hike up Curaçao’s highest peak, Mt Christoffel, is certainly challenging but the views from the top are well worth the effort. From the summit, you’ll have 360-degree views of the lush, green landscape and blue ocean hues.
The 375m (1230ft) mountain is in Christoffel National Park, which is about a 40-minute drive northwest of Willemstad. You’ll need to pay an entrance fee ($15 for adults, $5 for children) to enter the park.
This hike gains 872ft elevation in less than a mile, so going up is quite steep and requires some serious rock scrambling. But hiking to the summit is quick and thankfully, the burn doesn’t last long. Just remember to bring lots of water and wear proper hiking shoes.
The trail climbs past some of Curaçao’s unique geographical formations like the Rooi Beru (a dry riverbed) and past varied fauna from cacti to beard moss and even orchids. This hike is best done very early in the morning (the park opens at 6am) to avoid heat exhaustion. In fact, park officials stop you from departing after 10am due to the heat.
4. Gros Piton Trail, St Lucia
Best volcanic summit
Around 4.7km (3 miles) roundtrip, 3-4 hours, challenging
St Lucia boasts some of the Caribbean’s best hikes thanks to a landscape that’s 77% covered in lush, tropical rainforests, home to multiple waterfalls, lush vegetation and rare species like the Jacquot parrot. Its coastline is also home to great hikes, including the most popular trek in the country: Gros Piton’s summit.
Protected as a Unesco World Heritage site, Gros Piton is one of the twin volcanic mountains on St. Lucia’s west coast that have become a symbol of the island in most marketing material and hotel photographs.
You will need a guide to do this challenging hike to the summit. Guides and required permits can be picked up in the village of Fond Gens Libre at the base of the mountain.
Climbing 670 vertical meters (2200ft) in just over 2 miles, this is a challenging trail with multiple boulders and roots along its way, but the views from the top are stunning. Bring lots of water – you will need it. Hiking poles can also be rented in the town and many hikers highly recommend them.
The easy hike to see Dark View Falls is perfect for junior trekkers © Getty Images / iStockphoto
5. Dark View Falls, St Vincent
Best waterfall hike
Around 2.4km (1.5 miles) roundtrip, 15 minutes each way, easy
If you are hiking with kids, then the hike to Dark View Falls in St Vincent is a great choice. Located about a 90-minute drive from Kingston, the easy walk only takes about 15 minutes (maybe a little more with small legs).
Along the way, it takes you through magical green rainforest scenery. First, you’ll cross a jungle bridge made from bamboo poles over the Richmond River before passing through a bamboo groove and continuing to the base of Dark View Falls.
A set of two waterfalls stacked one on top of the other tumble over a set of forested 300-foot high lava cliffs into two natural pools in which you can swim. The waterfalls flow all year thanks to the location on the river. At the base of the first waterfall, you’ll find a changing room, a viewing platform, and a picnic spot. You can continue onto a second, more difficult, but short, trail to the second fall.