Hike the Saint Lucia Rainforest
In the Saint Lucian rainforest in August, the paths beneath our feet are damp with leaf mould and the smell of mushrooms. Often the sparkle of tiny quartz crystals catches my eye, artifacts of the igneous origin of the soil in the interior highlands of this volcanic tropical island. It is rainy season, and the leaves also sparkle with a recent shower. We are walking single file on the 5 km path to Enbas Saut Waterfalls in the 19,000 acres of the Central Rainforest Reserve about 8 km east of Soufriere.
In the quiet around us, huge trunks of gommier, banyen and blue mahaut trees form a green canopy, while lichens, anthurim lilies, wild nutmeg and tropical vines soften edges and pour pools of brightness in the shadows. Through gaps in the forest we glimpse the peak of Mount Gimie, St Lucia's highest point at elevation 3,117 ft. Its upper slopes, now veiled with wreathes of cloud, are home to mangrove cuckoos, black finches, blue-hooded euphonias and mountain whistlers. and the national bird, the St Lucian parrot.
Our guide warns us that boa constrictors live here too, and we keep a sharp eye out, but happily don't meet one today.
Take your turn
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Tropical Highland Ecosystems: Rain Forest, Cloud Forest, and Elfin Woodlands
In places the path through the rainforest, cloud forest and elfin woodlands has been built by fallen logs sawed into lengths to form steps down slippery slopes, not only for safe access but also to protect the plants and prevent erosion from foot traffic. The terrain is uneven, roughly following the course of the Tourmassee River to the waterfalls. Constructing the trail in the remote area was no easy task, involving cutting and carrying logs for stairs, bridges and corduroy sections through swampy places, and back-filling steps with river gravel carried in buckets up from the stream.
Habitat of the St Lucian Parrot, Amazona Versicolor
Our guide keeps searching the canopy for signs of the St Lucian parrot, and calls us together to listen to its call at one point, but I can not see it. I notice only branches and leaves above, and the skeletons of old leaves beside my feet. In this climate of constant growing season, new growth and decay are continuous and interwoven, the decay nourishing the growth.
The bridge across the ravine is slippery with moss and algae from the constant damp. I lose my balance for a moment, but grab the rail before I fall. In the ravine below, huge fern trees tower, remnants from the days of dinosaurs, before plants had evolved the capacity to reproduce with seeds.
Enbas Saut Waterfalls and the Headwaters of the Tourmassee River in Saint Lucia
After about half an hour walk downhill, we hear the sound of quick water, and know we are approaching the Enbas Saut Falls. We are hot, and look forward to swimming in the natural rocky pool.
Headwaters of the Tourmassee River in St Lucia
Rainforest plants and animals in the Edmund Forest Preserve in St Lucia
The falls are beautiful, white spray over black rocks that form the face of the cliff above the natural pool. The water is clear, and very cold. We had brought our bathing suits, and changed to get wet, but the water is too cold for me to really enjoy it. One of the local boys, a friend or relative of the guide leaps in with laughter, but I can barely breathe, let alone laugh. He is celebrating the beginning of his school holidays. I creep on wooden feet, barely feeling the slippery stones beneath me, duck quickly, gasping, and dash out.
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Edmund Forest Preserve Half-day Hike of Moderate Difficulty
After exploring the waterfall, we begin the walk back uphill. Our guide does it easily, flight after flight of stairs. She plays soccer for the St Lucian national team on the weekends, and during the week leads groups on rain forest hikes on various trails in the Central Rainforest Reserve. She is in great shape, but I am not. I stop to catch my breath, and take a breather when we come to a bench or two along the way.
Eventually the trail levels off, and we walk the last part to the road through plantations of torch lilies and bananas. In the fields, local families had planted yams and tethered their cows to graze.
In all, the hike took us two or three hours, including time to play at the falls, Wear running shoes if you go, and bring a snack, water, your bathing suit and a towel.