• June 2011

Volcano Hiking in a Caribbean Rainforest

By Robin Tierney
Travel Writer

When you feel like hurling that stress ball through a window, it’s time to go limin’.

That’s what Kittitians call chilling out, and naturally, they’ll tell you the best place to do it is St. Kitts. Originally named St. Christopher, the Caribbean isle’s fittingly casual moniker stuck.

Limin’ is a daily ritual at the beach-rimming resorts, where trade winds rustle palm fronds, cool sunbathers swirling fruity drinks, and propel kite-boarders across the blue Atlantic. You can also pair limin’ with snorkeling beside brilliant fish at Reggae Beach on the southeast peninsula. But for ultimate limin’, the top of 3,792-foot Mount Liamuiga can’t be beat.

Liamuiga, which means “fertile land,” is the dormant volcano hovering dreamlike beyond villages and sugar-cane fields planted after the British established a successful colony in 1624. And unlike most volcanoes, including that Icelandic hothead, Eyjafjallajokull, this one can be hiked in a day — although you’ll find it hard to leave its astounding 360-degree views

Hike transcendent in every sense.

Since 1987, trekking entrepreneur Greg Pereira has led “Volcano Safaris” up narrow vine-and-rock-strewn trails through the lush rainforest and cloud forest leading to Liamuiga’s rim. The fifth-generation Kittitian spent his youth in these mountains when not working at his family’s hotel.

During the hour-long coastline drive between the St. Kitts Marriott Resort and the volcano trailhead, Pereira stops at Black Rocks park, giving his group a few minutes to clamber among remnants of past explosions when the volcano’s superheated rim melted and flowed to the sea’s edge. Some believe that’s why Liamuiga was formerly dubbed “Mount Misery.”

The road passes by stone quarries, seaside shanties, families trucking juicy palm-size guava, bushmen hoisting bunches of herbs (“for medicinal teas,” says Pereira) and ramshackle bars where patrons shoot the morning breeze. At one junction, a fellow snoozing on the road rises unsteadily upon the Land Rover’s approach, then plops back down like a ragdoll after it passes.

Safari drive through painting-perfect landscapes.

Pereira threads through hillside villages where goats trot outside rickety fences. Signs broadcast messages curious and instructional (“Be True to Yourself” … “No Casual Sex” … “It’s Working!”). At the foot of a mountain is the church where slave-ship doctor-turned-pastor James Ramsay preached for abolition, inspiring the song “Amazing Grace.”

A brief detour affords views of the island’s interior, where sugar plantations held sway until two decades ago. Now land is being set aside for preservation and tourism. One inn’s views include a path leading to a windmill set against lush vegetation and painting-perfect clouded skies.

“Twenty-four percent of St. Kitts is protected reserve,” Pereira tells a group of seven hikers. “It’s among the few places in the world where rainforest is expanding.”

Trek through an eco-wonderland.

Mount Liamuiga Volcano Crater Trail ascends natural staircases of packed earth, rocks and entwined roots. Between the elevation and oceanic breezes, he explains, mosquitoes and flies aren’t a problem. Sit on a toppled tree and you might get an ant bite, but snake encounters are more likely in a Florida yard than on this narrow path. The tropical canopy shades hikers from intense sun.

Along the six-hour roundtrip trek, Pereira points to vines used as aphrodisiacs, plants harvested by voodoo men, and floating kapok seedpods. Believed to bestow good luck, they inspired the “Avatar” seeds of Eywa. Huge buttressed roots in which NBA stars could hide bolster trees, some up to 150 feet high and 300 years old. “This is an example of nature’s innate intelligence,” says the guide. “Trees grow these roots to stabilize on slopes, enduring winds and storms.”

Stay quiet and vigilant to spy St. Christopher bullfinches, thumbnail-sized frogs chirping outsized mating calls and vervet monkeys foraging walnut-size mangos.

“Hear the hammer hitting an anvil? That’s the mountain blacksmith cricket.” The guide’s well-timed stops for earth science revelations are embraced by hikers craving knowledge, photo opportunities and rest. As with any mountain hike, it’s essential to pack water – and to drink it along the way. A fatigued climber learns from experience that carbonated beverages drain stamina.

The volcano hike proves more restorative than thudding on the hotel treadmill. Orlando area residents Carly Brown, Randy Brown and Catahoula/Lab mix Brody pass Pereira’s group; Carly says the father-daughter team is training for a triathlon.

Cloud-level on the volcano’s rim.

Atop cloud forest level, the peak – the volcano’s rim – rewards hikers with spectacular views in every direction.

Pereira reveals secret overlooks. Climb 10 or so steps to the base of the aptly named Devil’s Tooth rock formation to gaze upon shimmering sea, pure skies, cottony clouds – and mist-ringed Mount Eustatia, so like a mystic’s vision that one hiker sighs, “If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me.”

The rocky perch chosen for lunch break faces the mile-wide crater dubbed “the Giant’s Salad Bowl” by Kittitians. “The last verified eruptions from the volcano were 1,600 years ago,” says Pereira. The rich soil resulting from those lava flows supports a patchwork quilt of greenery rolling 1,000 down to the crater floor.

Before boarding the Land Rover, the hikers trade walking sticks for a post-hike picnic of fresh guava juice, passionfruit with local rum and an addictive ginger-vanilla coconut sugar cake. As sunbeams dance on waves downhill, it’s hard to imagine the blue skies darkening for boat-tossing storms. But banish such thoughts. You’re limin’.

For more information:

  • Lodging: St. Kitts Marriott Resort — On site championship golf; spa and casino. On Frigate Bay 15 minutes from the airport. 869-466-1200; stkittsmarriott.com.
  • Dining: Kalabash Cafe — Volcano Safari leader Greg Pereira’s favorite. Soursop and other fresh-squeezed juices, cashew-cheese pizza, coconut tart. Open 8 am-5 pm; closed Saturday. Cayon Street, Basseterre; 869-466-2398.
  • Sightseeing: Volcano Safari hiking tours — $65 half day/$95 full day; children 12 and under half-price. Full-day includes lunch and post-hike picnic. Greg’s Safaris: gregsafaris.com; 869-465-4121.


About Robin Tierney

Robin is a full-time freelance writer, covers art and artists, health, cuisine, and the outdoors. When traveling, this avid (some say intrepid) cyclist looks for offbeat, intriguing places, inventive eco-friendly ventures, and hiking, biking, and water trails that provide communion with natural wonders.

Side-projects have ranged from writing canine care guides, veganized recipes, and mindful living tipsheets for nonprofit groups to building a near-net-zero earth-friendly homestead by the ocean in Florida. Robin’s articles have appeared in regional and national newspapers, travel, business and arts magazines, and other media (including very short works etched on sand, ice, and random signposts).