Towering over the Caribbean’s often-photographed beaches and bays are gruelling hikes to challenge even the hardiest outdoor adventurers. Kristine de Abreu takes you up the island peaks that summon the most intrepid among us
Gros & Petit Piton, St Lucia
2,618ft & 2,438ft
A hiking pilgrimage through the Caribbean is nothing without a trek up the Pitons, which rise from the waters near Jalousie Beach on the southwest coast. These steep, volcanic plugs — draped in jungle, boulders, stairs and old bridges — were once worshipped by the island’s Taino population. The larger mountain was considered the god of fire and rain, while the smaller Piton was the god of fertility. Scaling them is no easy feat, however. The Petit Piton ascent can be difficult and dangerous, and Gros Piton gruelling. But from the top, you have a magnificent 360 degree view of St Lucia and neighbouring islands like Dominica, Martinique, Barbados, and St Vincent.
Duration: up to 8 hours for Gros Piton, 4 hours for Petit Piton (both round trip)
El Tucuche, Trinidad
Test your grit and physical prowess with the infamous trek to Trinidad’s second highest peak, El Tucuche. This pyramid-like mountain in the Northern Range is draped in a dense jungle otherworld of giant bamboo, fanning palms, enveloping ferns with a forest floor carpeted in foliage and moss. The trek to the top is one of the steepest in Trinidad, and does not welcome the unfit or ill-prepared. There are sheer drops, slippery sections, unpredictable winds, and thick cloud cover — with a particularly tricky section, affectionately called the Devil’s Staircase, which is very steep and mainly accessible by rope. Still, the trek offers many opportunities to see rare and elusive local wildlife and critically endangered endemic species like the golden tree frog, and to fill your lungs with the freshest air on the island and take in the stunning 360˚ views of the capital, Las Cuevas, and even the Caroni Swamp.
Duration: up to 10 hours (round trip)
Pico Turquino, Cuba
The rugged, jungle-clad mountains of the Sierra Maestra mountain range rise majestically from the southern coast in the Santiago de Cuba and Granma provinces. The iconic mountain range — Fidel Castro’s hideout during the revolution — is also home to one of the Caribbean’s highest peaks. The Pico Turquino towers above the plunging valleys and stands as a testament to the island’s reputation for being one of the Caribbean’s best hiking destinations. The name is a play on the word turquoise, a nod to the fact that the mountain seems to glow blue as you’re climbing to the top. Comb through the jungles … Feel that satisfying burn in your muscles … And as you reach the summit, a bust of liberator José Martí congratulates you for all your hard work.
Duration: up to 2 days (round trip)
Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic
The godfather of all the Caribbean’s peaks towers above the Cordillera Central. Also called the Dominican Alps, unlike those in neighbouring islands, it is notably not volcanic. It was formed thousands of years ago from tectonic plate movement, pushing metamorphic rock upward. So you’ll find diverse terrain and varying routes — some around 15 miles, others around 40 miles — and it can take up to three days to get to the summit by hike, bike, or mule. A guide is essential. And what might just await you at the top? Snow! Temperatures drop as low as -5˚C (23˚F), sometimes turning the mountainside into a gorgeous wintry wonderland where frost and ice blanket the pines and forest floor in white. Veteran Dominican mountaineer Ivan Gomez Carrasco — who’s climbed Pico Duarte more than 100 times — says it’s the perfect place where “you can be in touch with nature, without technology or communication. You can enjoy the climate, rivers, views, wood fire at night, and the company of your climbing partners”.
Duration: Up to 6 days (round trip)
Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica
Think of the Blue Mountains, and you naturally think unrivalled coffee and stunning views. Hikers enjoy the soft mists that glide across the hills, and the dramatic transition to crisp, pure air as the ascent begins. Without overstatement, the iconic mountain range is nothing short of spectacular — it can be seen from as far away as Cuba. Hiking these trails is a worthy addition to your bucket list. Steep, intense and guaranteed to take your breath away, the 14-mile climb to the summit takes you through the lush forest of bamboo, ferns, juniper cedar, soapwood, and even eucalyptus trees. And in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, you’ll find over 800 plant species and over 200 species of birds.
Duration: roughly 7 hours (round trip)
Morne Diablotins, Dominica
An intense fog shrouds the pinnacle of Morne Diablotins, near the northern shores of the Nature Island. Translated from French, Morne Diablotins means “little devils”. Appropriate, you might say, as the giant mountain — clad in dense forest and with unpredictable terrain — at once menaces and entices. This ancient beauty is the second highest peak in the Lesser Antilles; it last erupted 30,000 years ago. The island’s volcanic origins have spawned other wonders like the Boiling Lake (the second largest in the world), Valley of Desolation (another cheery name!), sulphur springs, and much more the further south you go. If you really want to test yourself, add the Morne aux Diables (Devils’ Peak) or Morne Trois Pitons to your itinerary to get panoramic views of the black sand beaches along the coast.
Duration: up to 6 hours (round trip)
Mount Liamuiga, St Kitts
St Kitts’ highest peak was previously called Mount Misery, dating back to the days that enslaved Africans worked the land around it. Today, arduous, heart-pumping, and dangerous are some of the words that get bandied about when hikers describe their Mount Misery expeditions. Prepare yourself — this stratovolcano, which last erupted more than 1,600 years ago, will test your mettle and your agility. You’ll have to navigate colossal boulders, massive tree roots, and dense jungle terrain on your way up to the Devil’s Tooth — a conical crater at the highest point of Liamuiga.
Duration: Up to 6 hours (round trip)
Soufrière Hills, Montserrat
Due to the raw power and devastation from the 1995 eruption, the awesome Soufrière Hills have acquired a reputation for being the Mount Vesuvius (Pompeii) of the Caribbean. Its last eruption was in 2010 — hence its classification as an active volcano by geological standards. An Exclusion Zone was put in place as a precautionary measure to ensure the population and visitors remain safe, which means it’s not open to hikers. You can take in views of the volcano — and the areas that have been buried under volcanic ash and rocks — from the hills nearby. You can also obtain a special permit to visit Plymouth (which is in the Exclusion Zone) with accredited local tour guides. Make sure to savour the views of the black sand beaches and lush emerald jungles that stand in stark contrast to the shimmering blue waters of the Atlantic!
Duration: a tour of the Exclusion Zone takes 6 hours
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