Island Secrets

From hidden beaches to secluded tropical hikes, Caribbean travelers
will find plentiful off-the-beaten-path excursions on St. Lucia,
St. Vincent, and Martinique


The Caribbean is no stranger to sun-loving visitors. A steady parade of cruise ships, tour groups, golfers, and honeymooners keep this part of the world buzzing year-round with visitor activity. But there remain corners of these islands that are less explored, and ripe for relaxation. Three islands in particular — St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Martinique — offer pristine mountain hikes, hidden beaches, rich local culture, and quiet restaurants that make for a truly unique vacation.
 
Mighty Mountains: St. Lucia
Although many know St. Lucia for its luxury spas, shopping, and lush beachside resorts,  this island has an earthy side, too. Part of the Lesser Antilles, this volcanic spot is more mountainous than most Caribbean islands. Its highest point, Mt. Gimie, towers an impressive 3,120 feet above sea level — making hiking a popular pastime.
 
If you’re feeling adventurous, try a three-to-four-hour trek up and back Gros Piton, where you’ll be rewarded with Atlantic-to-Caribbean views from 2,619 feet. Guides from the trailhead in Fond Gens Libre, on the south slope of the mountain, lead the way. The trail is often tricky, offering tree roots as steps. A guide charges about $30 (negotiate the rate before you start). For a less-strenuous scenic tour, nearby Tet Paul Nature Trail follows a gentle rise between Gros Piton and Petit Piton peaks.
 
Hot springs and undeveloped beaches round out St. Lucia’s outdoorsy offerings. Sulphur Springs Park is popular, but less crowded after 4 p.m.  It’s a five- to 10-minute drive south of Soufrière. Bathe in the mineral-rich mud and warm waters found in the collapsed caldera of a dormant volcano.
 
To avoid crowded beaches, hire a taxi (the most effective way to get around the island) and head to the island’s picturesque Sugar Beach on Anse des Pitons on the southwest shore between the two Pitons. Both mountains — Gros Piton and Petit Piton — along with nearly 7,200 acres of land and sea surrounding them, make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 
Next, head to Ti Kaye Village Resort and Spa, about 40 minutes north of Gros Piton along the east coast. It fronts Anse Cochon, one of the best bays for underwater sightings of elusive sea horses. The beach is public, and you can rent snorkeling gear or kayaks through the resort, even if you’re not a guest.
 
If you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll find plenty to please, as this island exudes a farm-to-table lifestyle. Local cacao plantations (such as the Rabot Estate in the highlands behind Petit Piton) offer orchard tours where you can learn how the beans are harvested, roasted, and mashed into chocolate. You can also buy bars to take home (if you have the willpower to save them that long).
 
At the Jardin Cacao restaurant, inside Fond Doux Holiday Plantation (near Gros Piton), almost everything on the menu is grown on the surrounding estate. Harvest fare may feature fresh-caught fish or christophene, an island squash. Tour the lush grounds to sample guava off the tree.
 
Finally, don’t miss the bar and restaurant at Ladera Resort, perched 1,100 feet above shore. The resort is known for its open-air T’Cholit Bar where you can sip a rum-and-lime Ti Punch while taking in views of Petit Piton. 
 

Fantasy Island: St. Vincent 
St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a string of breathtaking cays and a larger forested island in the southeastern Caribbean. Because direct flights from the U.S. to the paradise of St. Vincent are limited, it’s best accessed via island hopping [see “If You Go”]. Once you arrive, enjoy sailing and your pick of classic Caribbean beaches. You’ll soon understand why scenes from Disney’s newest slew of Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here. 
 
About 18 miles long and 11 miles wide, St. Vincent is a fairly big island — residents of the Grenadines refer to it as “The Mainland.” La Soufrière, an active volcano that last erupted in 1979, dominates the land. As a result, St. Vincent mainland boasts both black-sand and white-sand beaches, most in lush, jungle-like coves. The highway along the windward coast winds above these beaches, past stands of palms, sugar cane, and bananas, which all thrive in the rich soil. Along your hike, listen for the beast itself, La Soufrière, which still occasionally rumbles.
 
Rainforest hiking trails carve through the island’s lush interior. Try a short, scenic hike to see cascading Dark View Falls along the west coast, as well as forest hikes to the island’s interior, such as the Vermont Nature Trail and the Cumberland Nature Trail (both about two miles long and located on the island’s south side). Maps are available from the island’s tourist board. 
 
Kingstown, a bustling throwback to colonial times with cobblestone streets and stone architecture, is also worth exploring. Enjoy a breezy breakfast at Cobblestone Rooftop Bar & Restaurant. Views from this waterfront restaurant are almost as delicious as the food, and the building, an original Georgian once used as a sugar warehouse, reflects the island’s agricultural ties. The Sapodilla Room overlooks the capital city and serves up fine locally sourced fare. The menu always includes a catch of the day, plenty of local produce, and meat and poultry prepared Creole-style. It’s a great place to end the day.
 
A Taste of France: Martinique
This island in the Lesser Antilles is an overseas region of France. French is spoken here; the currency is the euro. Culturally, though, the island is a wonderful mix of French, French Creole, and laid-back Caribbean style. Expect French infrastructure, zouk (fast and rhythmic music originating here), Creole food, and deep cultural ties to the continent — it is, for one, the birthplace of Napoleon’s first wife, Empress Josephine. The city of Saint-Pierre, destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée, was often referred to as the “Paris of the Lesser Antilles.” Following French custom, many businesses close at midday to allow a leisurely lunch, then reopen later in the afternoon.

For a taste of the Creole influence, try any of the family-style restaurants all over the island, such as Chez Malou. A fixed-price menu often includes green salad with cod beignets, fricassee chicken with red beans and rice, and a banana rum flambé.
 
Whether you decide to visit the white coral sands in the south or the dark volcanic sands in the north, all beaches on Martinique are public. Of course, the best-manicured, cleanest beaches are found at high-end resorts. But if you’re looking for something more rustic, head to Les Salines Beach, a mile-long golden crescent of sand on the island’s southeast tip. Here you’ll encounter some locals and sunbathers à la française (topless), but the beach rarely feels crowded. On the north coast, drive to Anse Couleuvre off the northwest slope of Mount Pelée, where you’ll find a quiet cove surrounded by dense jungle vegetation and towering rocky cliffs.
 
Craving adventure? Try canyoning, a sport that takes you down the middle of a river gorge by means of hiking, wading, climbing, jumping, and rappelling. Experienced guides at Le Bureau de la Randonnée provide the expertise and equipment.
 
Although there’s hiking and water sports aplenty, Martinique distinguishes itself with historical monuments such as the Schoelcher Library, designed by a contemporary of Gustave Eiffel, and Le Sacre Coeur de Balata, a 1924 reproduction of Paris’s Montmartre Basilica.
 
For an authentic dinner, try La Villa Créole, an intimate colonial-style eatery with outdoor seating, local art, and live music. Indulge in a late-night snack back in Pointe du Bout at Havana Café, a tiny sidewalk cafe that serves savory crepes until midnight.
 
No matter how you choose to explore these islands, keep one thing in mind: The people who know the land best are the locals. Strike up a conversation and you might just discover more hidden Caribbean secrets.