Discover the wilder side

Rainforests, mountain peaks, botanical gardens, rivers and cascading waterfalls, the Caribbean has bountiful nature for those wanting to discover its great outdoors

Nature abounds wherever you venture in the Caribbean. Take some time out from lazing by the hotel pool or on palm-shaded sands and reward yourself among natural riches that include national parks – several of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites – as well as tropical gardens, wildlife sanctuaries and marine parks.

Stretch your legs on trails through verdant forests, visit bird and animal-filled sanctuaries, get away from it all on uninhabited islands and explore protected coastlines above or below the water.

national parks

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The Caribbean has beautiful national parks that can be visited on excursions or day trips.
The Bahamas alone has 32 national parks, spread over 10 of its 700 islands. Andros has the world’s highest concentration of blue holes and the 40,000-acre Blue Holes National Park preserves more than 20 of the sinkholes.

Jamaica’s only national park, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, covers 100,000 acres of tropical rainforest. It’s home to 800 plant and bird species as well as the Western Hemisphere’s largest butterfly, the Jamaican swallowtail.

Morne Trois National Park is centred on Dominica’s highest mountain, the Morne Trois Pitons volcano. The park combines lush vegetation with volcanic activity that includes small geysers, bubbling mud pools and a steamy, boiling lake.

Rare orchids and vivid mockingbirds are among the wealth of nature in Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve in Grenada. Grand Etang Lake, an old volcano crater filled with water, is set below its forested peaks.

Arikok National Park comprises one-fifth of arid Aruba, protecting the island’s flora and fauna and its moon-like geology and historic remains. Accessible by foot, horse and 4×4 vehicle, the Natural Pool is an emerald-coloured pool cradled by huge rocks on the rocky coastline.

Get wild

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Of the region’s wildlife preserves, Barbuda’s Frigate Bird Sanctuary is home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest colony of frigate birds and is just a short boat ride from the capital, Codrington.

Take a boat trip through mangrove swamps in Trinidad’s Caroni Bird Sanctuary to watch huge, colourful flocks of scarlet ibis, its national bird, return to roost at dusk.

Protected since 1776, Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest is one of the Caribbean’s top bird-watching spots. See more than 100 species, including the rare white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird, blue-crowned motmot and Tobago’s own national bird, the ocrico.

Abaco National Park in The Bahamas protects breeding grounds for the endangered Bahama parrot, which nests underground in limestone holes.

The blue iguana, also endangered, is only found on Grand Cayman and Blue Iguana Conservation’s captive breeding facility here allows visitors to get close-up views of these impressive reptiles.

typically tropical

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Botanical gardens are a microcosm of the Caribbean’s colourful flora.

The 53-acre Flower Forest Botanical Gardens in Barbados showcase multi-hued flowers, tropical fruit trees and stately, royal palm trees.

The six-acre Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens in Saint Lucia’s historic Soufriere Estate has a waterfall and hot spring-fed

baths set in luxuriant flowers and trees.
The JR O’Neal Botanic Gardens, on the site of the century-old Agricultural Experiment Station in the centre of Tortola’s Road Town in the British Virgin Islands, are even smaller and the collections represent the BVI’s diverse habitats.

Grand Cayman’s Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park encompasses a floral garden, orchid boardwalk and a xerophytic (drought-resistant) garden besides the Blue Iguana Conservation area.

In the remote Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden on St Eustatius, see examples of the island’s flora and watch for whales offshore, while Martinique’s delightful Jardin de Balata is set around an old Creole house.

all at sea

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Scuba divers interested in marine conservation can take part in a three-day Environmental Package in Saint Lucia, which focuses on coral reef restoration.

Offered by Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort, activities include dive visits to existing coral mitigation sites, hands-on experience of maintaining a coral nursery and out-planting nursery reared corals.

Jamaica’s Montego Bay marine park can be explored by snorkelling and diving, or on a glass-bottomed boat or semi-submersible craft. Work is under way to create an underwater sculpture park there.

One of the oldest marine reserves in the world, The Bonaire National Marine Park is an underwater paradise with almost 60 species of hard and soft corals and more than 350 fish species, including hammerhead sharks.

Soufrière-Scotts Head Marine Reserve, on a bay in Dominica’s south-west that is an extinct volcanic crater, features a plunging underwater lava chute to explore.

Several marine parks contain shipwrecks that can be dived. RMS Rhone Marine Park, off the BVI’s Salt Island, is centred on a coral and sponge-encrusted wreck sunk in a hurricane in 1867 but also includes underwater pinnacles, caves and canyons.

The Tobago Cays Marine Park in the southern Grenadines spans five cays surrounded by pristine coral reefs and is the graveyard of a British World War I gunship.

Folkestone Marine Park, just off the west coast of Barbados, features a 120-foot-deep artificial reef now teeming with fish created by the sinking of Greek freighter Stavronikita.

walks in the woods

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The Caribbean offers hiking options aplenty, with many trails scaling rainforest-covered mountains, rewarding hikers with panoramic vistas from the summits.

A popular but demanding trail climbs Saint Lucia’s Gros Piton, the smaller of its twin Pitons peaks. Best done with a guide, it’s a four-hour round trip.

Another exhilarating mountain hike takes ramblers to the top of Mount Christoffel, Curacao’s highest point in Christoffel National Park. Allow two hours to tackle the short but steep trail and start early to avoid the heat.

Heaven sent for hiking, Martinique is laced with 350km of trails, many originally created by colonial settlers and known as traces.

They traverse upland forests past plunging waterfalls, ascend active Mont Pelee volcano, follow coastal paths and meander through mangroves. The adventurous can do multi-day hikes across and around the island.

Or trek through thick forest to the top of St. Kitts’ Mount Liamuiga volcano, capped by the Devil’s Tooth rock formation. Sister island Nevis appeals to all abilities, from a gruelling climb up Nevis Peak to easier strolls at its base.

Guests at Belmond Cap Juluca in Anguilla can join an Early Bird Nature Walk, maybe spotting a Green-throated Carib in Cove Pond, a bird spotter’s paradise. Other easy walks include Grand Cayman’s Mastic Trail through swampy mangroves and ancient woodland, St Vincent’s Vermont Nature Trail, or Carpenter Rock Trail to Antigua’s Shirley Heights lookout.