Think about an island in the sea and the first things that come to mind are beaches, water, and images of complete relaxation. But not all islands are about slowing down. Some are an adventure traveler’s paradise where the beach takes back seat to such pastimes as caving, mountain climbing, snorkeling, kiteboarding, fishing, and windsurfing. Here are 9 islands where the beach isn’t the first thing you think about.
Haleakala National Park, Maui
Haleakala Crater is the centerpiece of this 27,284-acre national park (photo, right). The crater is actually an erosional valley, flushed out by water pouring from the summit through two enormous gaps. The highest point on Maui is the park’s Pu’u ‘Ula’ula Overlook, at the 10,023-foot summit. Here you’ll find a glass-enclosed lookout with a 360-degree view. The building is open 24 hours a day, and this is where visitors gather for the best sunrise view.
Anegada, British Virgin Islands
This tiny island lies low on the horizon about 14 miles north of Virgin Gorda. Unlike the hilly volcanic islands in the chain, this is a flat coral-and-limestone atoll. Nine miles long and two miles wide, the island rises no more than 28 feet above sea level. The island’s population of about 150 lives primarily in a small south-side village. Local fisherfolk are happy to take visitors out bonefishing.
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Virgin Islands National Park, St. John
The Virgin Islands National Park maintains more than 20 trails on the north and south shores and offers guided hikes along popular routes. A full-day trip to Reef Bay is a must; it’s an easy hike through lush and dry forest, past the ruins of an old plantation, and to a sugar factory adjacent to the beach.
Cabarete Beach, Dominican Republic
Between June and October, Cabarete Beach has what many consider to be optimal windsurfing conditions: wind speeds at 20 to 25 knots and 3-to-10-foot Atlantic waves. It’s the playground of veteran windsurfers, but there are plenty of instructional companies to make newbies feel welcome. Here too you can try your hand at one of the Caribbean’s newest popular sports — kiteboarding.
Tobago Cays, Grenadines
A trip to this small group of uninhabited islands, just east of Mayreau in the southern Grenadines, will allow you to experience some of the best snorkeling in the world. Horseshoe Reef surrounds five uninhabited islets, each with tiny palm-lined, white-sand beaches. The brilliantly colored water (alternating shades of azure and turquoise) is studded with sponges and coral formations and populated by countless colorful fish. All the major dive operators go here, whether they are based in St. Vincent or anywhere in the Grenadines.
Waimea Canyon, Kauai
Carved over countless centuries by Kauai’s mighty Waimea River and the forces of wind and rain, this dramatic gorge (photo, right) is aptly nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The cliff sides have been sharply eroded, exposing swatches of colorful soil. The deep red, brown, and green hues are constantly changing in the sun, and frequent rainbows and waterfalls enhance the natural beauty. This is one of Kaua’i’s prettiest spots, and it’s worth stopping at both the Pu’u ka Pele and Pu’u hinahina lookouts to savor the views.
Grand Étang National Park, Grenada
Mountain trails wind through this forest reserve; if you’re lucky, you may spot a Mona monkey or some exotic birds on your hike. There are trails for all levels — from a self-guided nature trail around Grand Eétang Lake to a demanding one through the bush to the peak of Mt. Qua Qua (2,373 feet) or a real trek up Mt. St. Catherine (2,757 feet). Long pants and hiking shoes are recommended.
Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy, Puerto Rico
This 268-acre park contains one of the world’s largest cave networks. A tram takes you down a trail shaded by bamboo and banana trees to Cueva Clara, where the stalactites and stalagmites turn the entrance into a toothy grin. Hour-long guided tours in English and Spanish lead you on foot through the 180-foot-high cave, which is teeming with wildlife. You’re likely to see blue-eyed river crabs and long-legged tarantulas. The visit ends with a tram ride to Tres Pueblos sinkhole, where you can see the third-longest underground river in the world passing from one cave to another.
Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica
Jamaica’s Dunn’s River Falls (photo below) is an eye-catching sight: 600 feet of cold, clear mountain water splashing over a series of stone steps to the warm Caribbean. The best way to enjoy the falls is to climb the slippery steps: don a swimsuit, take the hand of the person ahead of you, and trust that the chain of hands and bodies leads to an experienced guide. The leaders of the climbs are personable fellows who reel off bits of Jamaican lore while telling you where to step; you can hire a guide’s service for a tip of a few dollars.
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Wanted: Beaches and Waterfalls
“Head to Belize. Fly to Cancun and take the bus to the border. The scenery isn’t as good as Costa Rica, but there are waterfalls, monkeys and ruins. The beaches aren’t as nice as in Mexico, but the sand is white and the snorkeling is wonderful.”
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