At these destinations, beach chairs can take a back seat to active pursuits
The flood of tourists who descend on the Caribbean each year has worn its native fabric almost bare in places, homogenizing and Americanizing some destinations. That’s not all bad; being stuck in a backwater five days from the nearest decent cheeseburger isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But if you know where to look, there are still places where you can see the land and water in a more primal state, with plenty of adrenaline-worthy adventure to be had. And rugged doesn’t have to involve roughing it. You can swing through the trees by day and spend your nights in a five-star hotel. Here are three of our favorite islands for authentic adventure.
In a strictly geographic sense, Puerto Rico is a mid-size Caribbean island. But a drive along the twisting interior roads make the island seem a lot bigger, and the list of available adventures moves it to the head of the active traveler’s list. With terrains that range from open grassland and coastal swamp to highland rainforests, hikers, bikers, horseback riders and off road enthusiasts have plenty of diverse and scenic trails to discover. You can soar more than 900 feet above the jungle on the hemisphere’s highest zip line, rappel down waterfalls into a hidden river canyon or go underground to explore miles of cave passage. Along the coast there are snorkeling reefs, surf breaks and mangrove lagoons. To take it all in, you can sign up for a tandem flight in a hang glider or motorized paraglider and soar above mountains slopes. For a tamer take on flight, birders can trek the outback in search of the 320 species of birds that are found in Puerto Rico.
This green oasis in a blue sea bills itself as “The Nature Island,” and it’s not false advertising. Ruggedly vertical, Dominica has the highest percentage of forested land of any island in the region. It is also the youngest island in the Caribbean, and its volcanic origins are on display at sites such as the Boiling Lake and the Valley of Desolation, where sulfurous volcanic vents and hot springs create other worldly landscapes. Climbing and hiking opportunities abound and range from easy rambles along coastal trails to strenuous ascents into the highland peaks. Ample rainfall creates numerous waterfalls and fast flowing rivers for the sport of canyoneering, or for drifting small rapids in a kayak or astride an inner tube. Activities that include the word “watching” don’t usually move the adventure needle, but on Dominica, flora and fauna tours into the backcountry are a bit wilder than elsewhere, and one of the island’s signature experiences is a voyage by small boat to observe sperm whales mating and nurturing their young.
So much for roughing it. In St. Lucia you can revel in the great outdoors all day and then enjoy supreme comfort at night. The lush green island, known for its romantic resorts, also has a rough and ready side. A 12-mile biking trail through the island’s oldest sugar plantation has stunning views from overlooks along the way. Hiking the Pitons is tempting but strenuous; it’s not quite a climb, although there’s some hand-over-hand involved before you reach the 2,900-foot summit of Gros Piton. On the east side of the island is a zip-line complex containing 12 lines with nearly a mile of runs that carry riders 150 feet above the forest floor. A trio of stables offers horseback rides along the beach or into the hills, and those who prefer to pedal can explore the interior by mountain bike or all-terrain vehicle. For a loftier and less strenuous view, book a helicopter tour that takes in the coast and Soufriere volcano.