Given the volume of travel in the Caribbean, it can occasionally feel like Disneyland. To get away from the most popular sites, I spent time traveling with a friend who grew up in the region. I relinquished control of the itinerary in exchange for being shown several of the lesser-known islands. What I discovered was a level of tranquillity I was unaware existed in the Caribbean, as well as ecotourism that required a strong will and a lot of physical exertion (with the exception of Anguilla).
Anguilla will always be a favorite of mine. This is not your usual offshore getaway. It is not suffocating in terms of activities, clubs, resorts, and tourists. Rather than that, it is populated by laid-back and always-friendly inhabitants who take pleasure in their island and the serenity it provides. West Shoal Bay’s beach is one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen, with vivid azure waters and sugar-white sand. Meads Bay is a close second, with the main drawback being the presence of a few minor waves in otherwise wonderfully calm seas. When I expressed surprise to my tour guide acquaintance that Anguilla was not crowded, he reminded me that it never is. I didn’t want to leave Anguilla due to the lack of visitors, the restaurants serving the best food I’ve ever eaten in the Caribbean (particularly Veya), and the calm pace.
Anguilla, a snorkeling paradise
Our second destination was on the island of Saba, which is located near St. Maarten and St. Barts and is dubbed the “Unspoiled Queen” of the Caribbean by my acquaintance. Saba, like Anguilla, offers respite from the rush and bustle of other adjacent islands. (Perhaps this is because Saba receives just 25,000 visitors per year.) The food was great, as were the beaches — after all, this is still the Caribbean.
However, the ultimate highlight of our visit here was Mount Scenery, the island’s towering 3,000-foot-tall peak. The walk led us through lush green rainforest and foggy cloud cover; departing the clouds and reaching the summit felt as though we had entered another world. The panoramic vistas of Saba and the oceans beyond were unreal in their grandeur. Although I desired to remain longer at the summit, I was motivated to return to the water for snorkeling. Although Saba lacks beaches, I had no trouble snorkeling in Wells Bay, which was every bit as spectacular as the walk up Mount Scenery. The abundance of various marine life was astounding, and I had the distinct impression that I was watching a bygone era, reliving a time before over-diving resulted in the extinction of so many species.
Our next stop was Dominica, dubbed “The Nature Isle of the Caribbean” by my friend-turned-travel guide. The origin of this moniker became clear as soon as we got on the island. Tropical flowers bloomed at every turn, and the horizon was dominated by mountainous jungles. Until I visited the Papillote Tropical Gardens, I had no clue there were so many shades of green. The park is teeming with an infinite variety of tropical flowers that scream in technicolor hues ranging from electric blue to blazing crimson and stunning fuchsia. The surrounding frog and bird cries, as well as the waterfalls, butterflies, and jade vines, were equally amazing. Other natural beauties that blew me away were Middleham Falls and Titou Valley; swimming from the waterfall to the caves was a fantastic experience following a hard journey through the gorge.
Perhaps the most hard excursion on Dominica, though, was to the island’s most magnificent natural wonder, Boiling Lake. Although the journey is only eight miles, the steep elevation gains required several grueling hours to reach our objective. It was filthy, muddy, and strenuous, but arriving at the vaporous bubbling waters of the world’s second largest hot spring was almost dreamlike. If my travels to the lesser-visited greatest Caribbean islands taught me anything, it’s that superb resorts and tourist hotspots are not necessarily worth the trip. Sometimes the true splendors of paradise are discovered when one seeks adventure away from the masses.