With its lush, green jungles and ocean views, the Caribbean is an incredible place to hike. Most Caribbean countries have mountains that are tall enough to present a challenge, yet small enough to be accessible to the average climber. However, Caribbean volcanoes afford hiking opportunities like no other. From long-dormant slopes to potentially active craters, Caribbean volcanoes are a thrill-seekers dream.
Volcanoes play an important role in the region’s topographical history. In fact, they are responsible for the creation of some archipelagos and islands. The Eastern Caribbean islands, which lie on a plate boundary, were formed by a process called subduction. The North American Plate sank beneath the Caribbean Plate, allowing magma to form and rise to the earth’s surface.
Of all the volcanoes that have formed in the Caribbean, 19 are considered live. This means that they could erupt again. In the recent past, there have been two major eruptions. Mt. Pelee in Martinique erupted in 1902, devastating the city of St. Pierre and killing 30,000 people. It was considered the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.
In 1995, the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted several times, covering the capital city of Plymouth in smoke and ash, and leaving a large portion of the island uninhabitable. About a third of the island’s population relocated to nearby islands like Antigua and Barbuda.
Hikeable Caribbean Volcanoes
Mount Pelee, Martinique
Dormant since its last eruption in 1932, Mount Pelee (pictured at the top of this article) is now safe to hike. It is popular among locals and tourists, but some have described the hike as challenging. Known as the “Pompeii” of the Caribbean, the mountain towers 4,583 feet over the town of Saint Pierre.
A hike up the volcano offers incredible ocean views and crystalline freshwater streams. The caldera is now covered in a fern forest, a reminder of nature’s promise of life after destruction.
There are four hiking trails, some shorter and steeper than others. The routes are well-marked, with signs to guide you to the cones and caldera. Start early in order to avoid inevitable cloud cover, and bring a trekking pole to make the climb easier.
The Quill, St Eustatius
St. Eustatius, or Statia, as it’s often called, is only 6 miles long and 3 miles wide. Its biggest tourist attraction is a volcano called the Quill, which covers almost all of the island’s southern half. It sits at about 2,000 feet above sea level and is perfectly symmetrical.
The Quill has been dormant for 1600 years, which means there’s no need to worry about it waking up while you’re trekking its trails. There are several trails of varying difficulty to help you reach the top, or an alternate route leading to a summit for those who don’t wish to climb to the very top. Inside the crater, you’ll find a semi-tropical rainforest, with giant fruit trees and plenty of tropical critters.
Soufriere Volcano, St Lucia
Soufriere Volcano in St. Lucia is famous for being the world’s only “drive-in” volcano. You can actually drive into the crater, and park in a small parking area. From there, you can take a short hike to the caldera, and gaze inside to see the bubbling mud and smell the sulphur-laden steam. The experience is part of Sulphur Springs Park, “the hottest and most active geothermal area in the Lesser Antilles,” according to the park’s website.
While there, you can bathe in the park’s sulphuric pools and rejuvenate your skin with a volcanic mud mask. In addition, the park offers massages, professional photo sessions, and guided tours for a fee.
La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe
Rising nearly 5,000 feet high, La Grande Soufriere is the highest peak in the Lesser Antilles. The last time it erupted was in 1976. During this eruption, there were no fatalities, thanks to a complete evacuation.
La Grande Soufriere is an important part of this tiny island’s landscape, and remains a prime tourist attraction along with Guadeloupe’s beautiful, tranquil beaches. To prepare for your hike, make sure you bring adequate clothing for weather changes (you may feel cold in some areas and warm in others). Don’t begin your hike if it’s raining, as some parts of the trail involve climbing up large rocks, which can get slippery.
In the words of one Trip Advisor reviewer, “Choose nice and sunny weather, and take your best hiking shoes and enough water. (The) Climb from bottom to the end takes around 2 hours, and go early, since if you go around 10 or so you can’t find a parking spot, and you might have to walk several kilometers to start the track.Very enjoyable trip and very nice views.”
Looking for an easier volcano hike? Look no further than Hooiberg in Aruba. Although it’s just 165 miles high, its stately cone can be seen from almost everywhere on the island.
By “easy”, we mean climbing 600 steps that the government has installed on the volcano’s slope, which might not be so easy for city dwellers to handle.
As one Google reviewer put it, “This bad boy will destroy your legs if you don’t exercise regularly (like me). The 600 steep stairs are a challenge and you want to die every ten steps, but it is very, very satisfying to get to the top! A lovely view of the island, although partially obstructed by cacti, and you are also rewarded with a nice breeze which we enjoyed. We went around 4-5 pm when the sun was setting and we took our water bottles. I recommend you do this walk towards the end of the day when it’s cooler. I also recommend you hold the railing on the way down if your legs shake when they’re tired and weak. Even better, bring your spouse to carry you down.”
Love hiking? Check out these incredible hiking trails in the Caribbean!
Main image: Encyclopedia Britannica
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