St Lucia offers up some wonderful hiking opportunities for those want more from their Caribbean vacation than simply sun and sand. The island’s diverse topography and tropical vegetation beg for exploration, and there is no better way to understand the lay of the land than to take advantage of the many sightseeing options by foot. There is something for everyone, from to those seeking a gentle amble through beautiful landscapes, to the seasoned hiker in search of a challenge.
A mountainous spine, uninhabited but accessible, wends through the centre of the island from north to south. The Ministry of Forestry oversees several maintained trails along the way. Hikers can drive to the appointed access points and follow well-marked trails which offer up options for moderate to challenging hikes. Within minutes of leaving the main road, civilisation recedes and there are only the calls of the dynamic bird life, and the rustle of the wind through the trees. Alternatively, the island’s rugged east coast lends itself to relatively easy exploring, particularly along the northern most part. Dry and scrubby, and lashed by animated Atlantic waves. Coastal walks offer an inspiring, breezy option to the rain forest hike.
Mt Gimie is a challenging but rewarding climb. At just over 3100 feet the multi-peaked landmark is the island’s highest point and often blanketed by clouds. Its mystical appearance also means it is enshrouded by lore and history. The climb is not for the faint of heart; it requires good fitness and a healthy respect for the hazards. At the summit, the climber is afforded spectacular island wide views.
The spectre of the twin volcanic peaks that emerges dramatically from the ocean provokes excitement in the serious climber. Though Gros Piton is the higher of the two peaks, it is the easier climb. The approach before the final summit is a gradual incline with a well-marked path and lots to hold on to for support. The climber is presented with incrementally impressive views to motivate. The last half hour of the climb is the most challenging; there is a lot of scrambling and grabbing on of vegetation. With Petit Piton the persistent and hardy are rewarded, but this is no climb for the novice. Much of it is rock face and there are occasions where some experience climbing with ropes is needed.
Some of the island’s larger resort properties offer opportunities for relatively low impact hiking in beautiful environs, and yet others offer organised excursions out and about from the properties into the vicinity. Fond Doux Holiday Plantation in Soufriere for example, offers a short hiking trail along the Rabot Ridge, the site of a tremendous defeat for the British at the hands of the French and the Brigands. Balenbouche Estate has a relaxing plantation walk along the canal which once fed the plantation’s water wheel.
For all but the more challenging mountain climbs, a pair of good athletic shoes will suffice. Most local guides manage amazingly either barefoot or with the scant support of the all-terrain ‘jelly’ shoe. The forest hikes are accompanied by the nuisance of mosquitoes who love the damp of the rain forest, so light-weight but long sleeved shirts and full length pants are recommended and a liberal dose of your preferred repellent. Carry water because dehydration happens quickly and some energy boosting snacks for the trip. Of course the more demanding Mt Gimie hike will call for a bit more careful planning and more supplies.
Always secure the expertise of a local guide before starting out on any excursion. Contact the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture at (758) 450 2231 or The St Lucia National Trust at (758) 452 5005 to arrange for guides.