Many people imagine walking or hiking in the Caribbean as a stroll through a hothouse or steam room, with every stitch of clothing sticking to them. How enjoyable can that be?
Actually, the Caribbean has a tremendous range of temperatures. At sea level in the lowland jungle, the middle of the day is just as blistering and miserable as you imagine it to be. Fortunately, the Caribbean's best hiking is in the mountains and cool rainforest. Much Caribbean hiking is above the 1,000-foot mark, more often at the 2,000- to 3,000-foot level, sometimes going as high as 7,000 feet. The temperatures are much lower at this altitude, regardless of what the thermometer says at the seashore. With the constant tradewinds, you may have more trouble staying warm than keeping cool, if you go underdressed.
All the different permutations of altitude, exposure, and natural history have created an extraordinary array of national parks in the Caribbean. Four parks in particular give a glimpse at the diversity of terrain and wildlife in the Caribbeans.
Dominica , located between the two French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, is a ruggedly beautiful island. If you make only one hike in the Caribbean, make it in Dominica (pronounced Dom-i-NEE-ca). When Columbus was asked to describe Dominica to his fellow Europeans, the explorer simply crumpled up a piece of paper and placed it on a table. The demanding, roller-coaster assault into the island's interior will take you to sites as wondrous as their names: the Valley of Desolation and the Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Piton National Park.
Grenada is one of the Caribbean's lushed landfalls, rich in rainforest, waterfalls, and agriculture. Grenada is only 12 miles wide and 21 miles long, yet its mountainous interior provides much scenicand accessiblehiking. Grenada began protecting its natural resources well before the concept of "ecotourism" was invented, so the landscape is wonderfully unspoiled. And Grenada's best hiking is in the Grand Etang National Park. Grand Etang ("large pond" in French) is named after a small lake there, actually an old volcanic crater.
You don't need a new vocabulary to learn the Dutch ABCs. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao spell perpetually warm, sunny weather and a myriad of activities. Aruba is well-known as a center for shopping and beach resorts. It's the other twoBonaire and Curaçaothat attract the interest of the roving hiker.
Bonaire's Washington-Slagbaai National Park is a 13,500-acre game preserve primarily for birds. The park occupies most of the northwestern portion of Bonaire. Because it occupies both the rough Atlantic coast and the calm lee side, it has the most spectacular beach and cliff views on the island. Some viewpoints are breathtaking in their grandeur.
Curaçao is not only the largest of the Dutch ABCs, it is the busiest of the islands. Of all Dutch ports, Curaçao's Willemstad Harbor was for decades second only to Rotterdam in importance, primarily because of the large oil complex developed here over the years. Curaçao's economic history is front and center at Christoffel Park. Opened to the public in 1978, the park consists of three former plantations: Savonet, Zorgvlied, and Zevenbergen. Savonet takes up the major portion of the park, and is the focus of our hike.
Dozens of other islands in the Caribbean offer similar opportunities to those who want to shuffle some adventure into their beachcoming and lazing around. It just goes to showyou can have the best of both worlds.
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