Beyond the Beach: Exploring the Caribbean’s Backroads and Countryside

Yes, the beaches in the Caribbean are beautiful, but there’s so much more to experience.

Beyond the Beach: Exploring the Caribbean’s Backroads and Countryside

There’s more to do in the Caribbean than soak up the sun. Climb a volcano on Nevis, explore ancient ruins in Belize, dive to underwater sculptures off Grenada, and so much more.

Photo by Nevis Tourism Authority

Though I’m not athletic, I am fearless every now and again. A bolt of courage led me to venture with a guide through the jungle, marveling at the sounds of monkeys and birds above as we hiked through flowering plants and fruit trees. The adrenaline rush continued as we climbed uphill, hugging tightly to ropes along the trail. Was I in a jungle in the wild? Hardly. I was on the Caribbean island of Nevis, and this was my quest to see the 3,232-foot Nevis Peak. When I originally had this island paradise in mind, it was for its beaches, but I found out there was a lot more to experience here—and the same can be said for many other Caribbean islands too. Here’s a look at Caribbean island adventures that don’t require swimwear.

Hike Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park

Those commercials of Negril’s Seven Mile beach got you to book a flight. But give your trunks or bikini a break. Get your backpack and drive an hour from Kingston to Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, where Jamaica’s highest point—the 7,401-foot Blue Mountain Peak—towers over more than 100,000 thousand acres. Hikers can trek nine miles of trail here, keeping their eyes open for waterfalls, tropical plants, and giant swallowtails, the largest butterflies in the Western Hemisphere. Trekkers might also start to feel the history of this UNESCO World Heritage site, honored for providing refuge to the Indigenous community when they were fleeing slavery at the hands of European colonizers. Families should head to Holywell Recreational Park (also within the national park) for a relaxing picnic, a beginner’s walking trail, and rental cabins. Portland Gap, a midway rest stop on the Blue Mountain Peak trail, also offers cabins for rent, but bring grub to barbecue or cook in the kitchen. There’s no rustic restaurant nearby.

The Maya civilization left behind stunning ancient temples in Belize.

The Maya civilization left behind stunning ancient temples in Belize.

Photo by milosk50/Shutterstock

Explore Belize’s ancient Mayan ruins

The Belizean Reef is the second largest in the world (after Australia’s Great Barrier) and offers fantastic opportunities for diving, fishing, sailing, and exploring. Equally impressive are the country’s massive Mayan ruins—it boggles the brain to think how these boulders were moved around and stacked so high without modern technology. The supernatural seems possible.

At Xunantunich, the epicenter of ancient Mayan civilization, visitors can climb El Castillo, a 130-foot-tall temple, for incredible views of Belize and the hills of Guatemala—the border is but one kilometer away. Go with a guide (you can always ask your hotel for a recommendation) to learn the history and hear about the ceremonies and traditions that took place here. The symbols and drawings throughout the ruins tell the story of life as early as 600 C.E. and showcase how important the sun god Kinich Ahau, the moon, and the planet Venus were. Continue exploring with a short drive to Cahal Pech, a 1000 B.C.E. royal palace, where you can get a glimpse into the ancient life of a Mayan ruling family.

Delve into Aruba’s caves

Arikok National Park covers 20 percent of Aruba’s landmass, providing a playground of rugged terrain that can be explored via ATV, Jeep safari, horseback, or foot. You’ll see cacti, blue whiptail lizards, and maybe even a rattlesnake. Don’t miss the park’s caves either: Venture into Guadirikiri and you’ll find otherworldly stalagmites and stalactites and a nest of hundreds of bats; Fontein Cave is decorated with pictographs left on the ceiling by the Arawak people. Park rangers at the entrance to both caves can lead tours inside.

Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park in Grenada is the world’s first submarine sculpture garden.

Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park in Grenada is the world’s first submarine sculpture garden.

Photo by R Gombarik/Shutterstock

Visit coffee farms on Grenada

Grenada is home to 40 beaches, 15 waterfalls, and the world’s first submarine sculpture garden, Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park—but beyond all that blue is considerable green. Sign up for a tour of Belmont Estate in St. Patrick’s parish on the northern part of the island to learn about Grenada’s tree-to-bar cocoa farming and chocolate making and to visit the estate’s goat dairy. (Then stay for lunch at Belmont’s cliffside farm-to-table restaurant.) A tour of Tower Estate in the St. George parish reveals more of the island’s horticultural flavors: Here, a historic house is surrounded by lush gardens and an organic farm that grows fruits, vegetables, flowers, medicinal plants, and tea—which you can sample at an afternoon tea sitting or Sunday brunch.

Get to know Alexander Hamilton on Nevis

Thanks to the Broadway show Hamilton, you may know that Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis. The Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown is located in the house where it happened. You can learn about Hamilton’s past there, as well as the island’s present—the second floor is the meeting room for today’s Nevis House of Assembly. The history lesson continues at Cottle Church, which was the first on Nevis to welcome both Black and white worshippers. When you’re ready to chill and reflect on the history you’ve taken in, stroll through the Botanical Gardens of Nevis in Montpelier Estates, five acres of tropical plants from around the world, including more than 100 types of palms, plus dolphin fountains and Asian stone sculptures of lions and Buddhas. Then too, Nevis Peak awaits you. Ask your hotel concierge for tour recommendations to lead you up the mountain. Come back home with bragging rights.

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a writer based in New York.
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