OverviewThe Caribbean Islands, or the West Indies, are situated south of the Gulf of Mexico, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east. In North of the chain Greater Antilles lie the larger islands of Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. To the north, the Bahamas are close to the border of Florida in the USA. The Eastern Caribbean, The Lesser Antilles, encompass the islands between Anguilla on the north and ends with Grenada on the south. Trinidad & Tobago are the southernmost of the islands, and are just north of Venezuela in South America.
The islands vary greatly in geography, from sandy and dry islands with fantastic beaches to volcanic, lush rainforest islands. They run in a double arc in a north/south direction. The inner islands, are volcanic and the outer of marine origin, they are built by coral limestone on rock. Trinidad & Tobago are different, as it's mountains are an extension of the Andes and the islands have broken off from the South American continent.
The chain Lesser Antilles are divided into the Leeward Islands: Anguilla to Dominica; and the Windward Islands: Martinique to Grenada, (which also include Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago.)
Mountain TypesCaribbean Islands and their mountains in general, tend to fall under three categories:
1. The mountain ranges on the larger islands such as Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad are folded mountains, made of sedimentary or metamorphic rocks.
2. Most of the other mountainous islands have mountains of volcanic origin. Some are new and are cone shaped volcanoes. Quite a few are still active. The other mountains are old and eroded volcanoes.
3. The other islands are low and flat lying, and for the most part contain no mountains. Curacao is an exception as it has one mountain, but the rest of the island is flat.
Introduction to Hiking and ClimbingFor the most part, most of the hiking here will be on trails in the mountains. Since this area is in the tropics, most of the mountains are heavily forested, making off-trail travel and navigation difficult. Most hikes will be day climbs, but the mountains of the Dominican Republic are a big exception, as most of the peaks require multiple days to climb. Guadeloupe, Cuba, and Jamaica have some longer hikes as well.
Technical rock climbing seems to be seldom done in the Caribbean. If you know of any technical rock climbs, please post some information.
When to Hike and ClimbOn most islands, the “dry” (or slightly less wet season on some islands!) season is between the months of December and March (January through April or May on some others), and this is the best time for hiking and climbing. This time of year is slightly cooler as well.
Some of the islands, such as Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba, actually have their wet season (which on those islands, really isn't that wet) during December through March, so the above is not uniform throughout the region.
On some islands, you can expect heavy rains (even in the dry season) or cold weather at higher elevations at any time. It may be a surprise to some, but the moderately high elevations can be very cool. Even at 1500 meters, it can be very cool when it’s raining. We even had frost and ice during the nights on Pico Duarte.
Getting aroundGetting from the outside world to the Caribbean is possible in several ways, most common is by air.
From the US, American Airlines flies to at least Barbados, Trinidad, Dominican republic, St Thomas, Curacao, Puerto Rico, also flies via San Juan into Antigua.
From Europe one can go by either British Airways flies into Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados,
or Air France which connects via Martinique and Guadeloupe.
From South America, I couldn't find any flights. It seems as one must go through Miami?
When in the Caribbean, one might want to see more than one island. If one doesn't have a sailboat, one must find other ways to get around.
There are regional carriers, and a boat line. There is a company that issues air passes: Carib Jet
If you want to go by air, the regional carriers have nice small planes:
LIAT fly to 20 destinations: San Juan, Tortola, St Thomas, St Croix, Anguilla, St Maarten, St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada, Tobago, and Trinidad.
Caribbean Star flies to Tortola, Anguilla, St. Kitts, St Maarten, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad, Tobago, Georgetown.
Air Jamaica flies to Grenada, Barbados, Kingston, Montego Bay, Havana, Nassau, Cayman, Curacao and Bonaire.
Going by boat is a nice way to move around, and if you are lucky, you might see a whale. L'Express Des Iles goes to Guadeloupe, Saintes Marie Galante, Dominica, Martinique, and St Lucia.
|The highest mountain on each island is:|
|Bermuda||Town Hill 76 m||A rugged shore with rocks. Small hills and rock formations all over the island. Atlantic moderate, fresh climate with lush vegetation.|
|Bahamas||Mount Alvernia, on Cat Island 63 m||Low-lying and mostly flat with sandy beaches.|
|Cuba||Pico Turquino 6,469 ft/1,972 m||Some sections are mountainous, and other sections have large flat areas.|
|Cayman Islands||The Bluff 43 m||Mostly low lying coral islands with a few seacliffs.|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Blue Hills 49 m||Low lying coral islands.|
|Haiti||Chaine de la Selle 2,680 m||Very Mountainous, with only a few flatter areas. Mostly deforested.|
|Dominican Republic||Pico Duarte 10,128 ft/3,087 m||Mountainous, with some larger low lying areas. Folded (rather than volcanic) mountains.|
|Jamaica||Blue Mountain Peak 2,256 m||Mountainous, but with some larger flat areas.|
|Puerto Rico||Cerro de Punta 1,338 m||Mountainous, but with larger flat areas.|
|British Virgin Islands||Mount Sage 521 m||With the exception of Anegada, all of the islands are hilly or mountainous and are volcanic in origin.|
|Anguilla:||Crocus Hill 65 m||Flat, dry, and sandy. (Anguilla has the best beaches in the entire West Indies!).|
|Virgin Islands, US||Crown Mountain 474 m||Thickly forested and mountainous.|
|St Martin/Sint Maarten||Pic Paradis 424 m||(Sint Maarten part of Netherlands Antilles). Hilly, shore with bays, coves, and salt marshes.|
|St Barthelemy||Mountain||Mountainous with deeply indented bays.|
|Saba||Mount Scenery 2,864 ft/873 m||(part of Netherlands Antilles)Small and very mountainous.|
|St Eustatius (Statia)||The Quill 600m||(part of Netherlands Antilles)Dry, with an extinct crater.|
|St Kitts & Nevis||Mount Liamuiga 1,156 m||High, with volcanic peaks on both islands.|
|Antigua & Barbuda||Boggy Peak 402 m||Antigua is hilly. Quote William Marler: Especially around English Bay. Old Fort George is on top of the highest spot. It is all grown over except for the very top. You can access it with a good 4x4 or a very long hot walk. Some of the wall are intact as well as the old powder room. Give you a comanding view of the bay which include Nelson's docks.|
|Montserrat||Chances Peak (in the Soufriere Hills) 914 m||(The main volcano blew up 1995 after 400 years and destroyed big parts of the island) Mountainous and volcanic.|
|Guadeloupe||Soufriere 1,467 m||(Some serious rainforest hiking can be made here, in the Parc Nationale de la Guadeloupe) Mountainous, several islands|
|Dominica||Morne Diablotin 1,447 m||Mountainous, volcanic, rainforests, caverns, hot springs, and Boiling Lake.|
|Martinique||Montagne Pelee 4,524 ft/1,397 m||Mountainous and volcanic.|
|St Lucia||Mount Gimie 3,118 ft/950 m||Mountainous, volcanic, rainforests, and bubbling sulfur springs.|
|St Vincent and the Grenadines||La Soufriere 1,234 m||St Vincent is mountainous; the Grenadines are hilly and sandy cays.|
|Barbados||Mount Hillaby 336 m||Low hills and sandy coast with beaches.|
|Grenada||Mount Saint Catherine 840 m||Mountainous with a deeply indented coast.|
|Trinidad & Tobago||El Cerro del Aripo 940 m||Mountain ranges, rainforest, and lowlands.|
|Curacao||Sint Christoffelberg||(part of Netherlands Antilles) Mostly flat and dry, but with one rugged hill or mountain.|
|Bonaire||Brandaris Hill 780 ft/238 m||(part of Netherlands Antilles) Flat and dry with beaches.|
|Aruba||Mount Jamanota 188 m||Flat and dry with beaches.|
AnnoyancesThere isn't too much to worry about on the islands, but it is a tropical climate and some precautions that should be taken.
Boggy Peak, highest peak on Antigua & Barbuda is behind fence and a permit is needed, if you're not lucky and encounter som service people.
Sunburn is a concern at any time of year. Heat symptons, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion or prickly heat. Of those heat stroke is the one that can be fatal.
Dengue fever is a mosquito borne disease. Headache, fever, real joint and muscle pains, then rashes all over the body. Starts at the torso and spreads out. It is not a fun disease, but complications are rare. There are no prophylactics.
Malaria is sometimes present in Dominican Republic and Haiti and normal malarial precautions are advised.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease found in freshwater streams and ponds. It is transmitted from the urine from animals like the rats and mongoose. Avoid swimming and wading in freshwater if you have open cuts, on islands where the disease is found. It resembles the flu.
On some islands tap water are drinkable, mostly on the mountainous ones. The lowland islands can have drinkable water, it doesn't always taste good. On the poorer islands, be careful, it may be rainwater collected, no control of bacteria.
Poisonous Plants or Animals
Do not touch coral! It is slow to heal and unpleasant.
On most islands there are no poisonous animals at all, but the poisonous fec-de-lance snake is found on Martinique, St Lucia and Trinidad. It is very deadly, but bites are not common.
Jellyfish are a danger along the beaches.
Visas and Red TapeThe islands are either sovereign nations, or colonies. Most islands are liberal with visas, tourism is a big industry. Contact the embassy of the country.
Sovereign countries are all, but Anguilla and Montserrat, which are British. Saba, St. Eustatius and Dutch Sint Maarten, Curacao and Bonaire are linked to Netherlands. The French islands are; the French part of St Martin, Guadeloupe, St Barthelemy (formerly Swedish) and Martinique.
US Citizens should be aware of the following:
Effective January 1, 2006: the United States has instituted a new passport regulation that will require US citizens visiting the Caribbean to be in possession of a valid US passport to re-enter the US. This is applicable to the entire Caribbean except for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.