Caribbean cruises are known for sunny weather, sandy beaches and, of course, daiquiris and pina coladas. But there’s a lot more to behold when visiting many of the destinations on your typical eastern or western Caribbean itinerary. Some amazing and unique natural wonders await your exploration. Instead of browsing the port gift shops during your next Caribbean cruise, be sure to check out these six natural wonders:
1. The Pitons
This UNSECO World Heritage site comprises two volcanic peaks that rise above the skyline of southwestern St. Lucia. Although larger, the Gros Piton is easier to climb than the slightly smaller Petit Piton. The Gros Piton hike offers cruisers with no climbing experience the opportunity to make it to the top of the spire; however, you must be accompanied by a park-certified guide. Or you could simply take a tour of St. Lucia that includes stops at several vantage points to snap some postcard-worthy pictures of these marvels.
2. The El Yunque Rainforest
Located about an hour southeast of San Juan, this is the only rain forest that is part of the U.S. Forest Service. About a half mile above sea level, it’s home to numerous plant and animal species, many of which can only be found in Puerto Rico. Organized tours are available, or you can opt for a self-guided exploration with provided maps. While there, try to get a picture of the elusive, small amphibians called coqui frogs. Even if you don’t find one, you will definitely hear them singing throughout the rain forest.
3. The Great Blue Hole
If you’re looking for some great scuba diving while cruising the Caribbean, you can’t go wrong with the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest such reef in the Northern Hemisphere. Even though it spans more than 620 miles, you may want to focus on one specific spot: the Great Blue hole. Located about 45 miles off the coast of Belize City, this large submarine sinkhole reaches a depth of more than 400 feet and was declared by Jacques Cousteau to be one of the top 10 scuba diving sites in the world. Don’t just take his word for it. Go ahead and dive into the deep blue hole to see what you can discover.
4. The Baths National Park
This natural wonder grew over time as molten rock slowly cooled to form giant granite boulders. The development of these boulders led to the creation of small rock pools that are protected from the beach area. For those willing to explore, there are plenty of caves and arches. You can also follow the path through the boulders to the secluded Devil’s Bay for some crystal clear swimming.
5. Everglades National Park
Photo by Saddako / Thinkstock
OK, though not technically in the Caribbean, South Florida is the home port for many cruise ships headed to the Caribbean. Whether you’re leaving from Fort Lauderdale or Miami, you can always find time pre- or post-cruise to tour the Everglades. These “rivers of grass” are best explored by airboats — those loud, adrenaline-pumping machines that seem to float on water. While at the park, you’ll learn about the different types of grasses and wildlife … and get up close and personal with some alligators.
6. Dunn’s River Falls
We are still surprised by the number of cruisers who have not taken the opportunity to visit this truly magnificent sight. Sure, it can be crowded, but where else in the world can you climb a waterfall? The approximately 600- foot-long cascade takes about 90 minutes to ascend. Whether you decide to book a tour led by a trained guide or risk the hike yourself, the entire climb is a heart-pumping, clothes-drenching experience. Remember to wear a good pair of water shoes.
There’s a lot more to the Caribbean than beach tides and frozen cocktails. Next time you’re planning an excursion at a port of call, consider leaving the shoreline and heading a bit inland. You might just find some fascinating and awe-inspiring landscapes to explore. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of time to visit the beach and sip your drinks when you’re done touring these natural wonders.
DB and the Princess are a husband and wife duo with 10+ years of cruising history. Their blog, EatSleepCruise.com, provides valuable cruise planning tips and strategies. With reviews on cruise ships and shore excursions, along with a complete photo gallery, they help you “sea the world one port at a time”.