Ride ‘N’ SwimChukka Caribbean AdventuresBy Melanie Reffes

When it comes to the quintessential beach vacation, the Caribbean does it right. Although the sun, sand and surf are vacation-perfect, there is more to a holiday in the tropics than taking up space on a sun lounger. Tours galore are the newest cool with a plethora to choose from ranging from riding the rails and bird watching to zip-lining and dallying with the dolphins.

“The ranks of visitors to the Caribbean who describe themselves as adventure seekers are increasing,” says Hugh Riley, secretary general, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). “That’s not to say there aren’t those who still prefer a fly & flop vacation but we’ve also been paying attention to what the research is saying about travellers who mix a healthy dose of adventure with Caribbean relaxation.”

A powerhouse of adrenalin-charged thrills and chills, the Caribbean is inviting Canadians to explore the islands away from the resort, at least for an afternoon. “More of our destinations are adding full-moon hikes, zip-lining and a variety of water-based activities that require a little more exertion than maneuvering an air mattress in a pool although frankly, that sounds great right now. We’re not kidding when we say ‘Life Needs the Caribbean’,”  he adds.

Da Party BusDa Party BusBoats, Buses, Birds & Bikes
At the Westin St. John Resort, “Island Hopper” is water-infused fun for the entire family. Under the watchful eye of an on-site Boating Butler, the vacation package tempts with travel aboard a comfy catamaran or a powerboat for smooth sailing between the three islands in the USVI. “Our guests create their own adventure hopping from St. John, the greenest island to the bustling mega resorts of St. Thomas and the off-the-beaten-path feel of St. Croix,” says Mike Ryan, general manager. For travel through December 17, the package offers a gratis night and US $150 food and beverage credit when five nights are booked. www.westinresortstjohn.com

In St. Maarten, “Da Party Bus” is a spirited affair for the party party people who like to stay up late. Tours include a “2 for 1 Tuesdays” that pours two for the price of one at bars along the way and a “Day in Philipsburg” that adds shopping to the mix. “We offer something for everyone  in a fun, relaxed and safe environment that offers vacationers the chance to  experience all that St. Maarten has to offer,” says Anastacio Baker, owner. Compliments of Da Party Bus, revellers on each tour can win a return trip to the island. www.thestmaartenpartybus.com

Every day, the scarlet ibis flies to nearby Venezuela to feed and then heads back to Trinidad in the afternoon. Watching the national bird return to roost in the mangroves with their red plumage blazing is a sight to behold. Where the Caroni River meets the Gulf of Paria, bird watchers flock to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary where aboard a jetty, couples can say ‘I Do’ at a wedding ceremony in the heart of the swamp. www.nananecotours.com

Traversing Aruba on a motorcycle is not for the faint of heart but a big hit with guests at the Westin Resort. General Manager Richard Roy joins his biker guests once a month on his XL 1200 Sportster Harley or Harley fans can book the aptly named “Hog Island” package offering bikers (or biker wannabees) five nights in an ocean view room, beverage and food credits and discounts on a black riding jacket, should that be in the cards. www.westinaruba.com

A Natural High
At speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour, flying high on a Zipline Canopy is as Jamaican as a plate of lip-searing jerk or a reggae band getting down on a street corner. For travellers staying in Montego Bay, one of Island Routes’ most popular tours is an intricate system of harnesses and pulleys on horizontal traverses high above breathtaking vistas of the island. www.islandroutes.com
For those who prefer their thrills and chills with two feet planted on the ground, there’s nowhere else in the Caribbean where you can sip a frosty Heineken while snapping photos of a jumbo jet soaring overhead. At the end of the airport runaway in St. Maarten, Sunset Bar is the place to be for aviation fans that come to watch the planes take-off and land next to Maho Beach. “With our unique location, friendly staff and great food, we capture the true meaning of sea, sand, sun and now airplanes,” says Melissa Peterson, manager. www.sunsetsxm.com

Cavorting With The Critters
At the super-sized Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, The Dolphin Habitat is a gigantic waterscape filled with 20 million gallons of fresh and saltwater. Home to the largest open-air marine habitat in the world, 50,000 animals frolic in the lagoons which includes The Dig, a maze of underwater corridors and Aquaventure, a water park with wild slides and a river ride with high-speed rapids. www.atlantis.com

From Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay, Horseback Ride ‘N’ Swim takes riders through the countryside of Jamaica atop a gentle mare or a serene stallion. Passing the dramatic cliffs, the tour finishes at a private beach for an exhilarating trot into the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. “This is Chukka’s original tour dating back to 1983,” says Daniel Melville, director marketing, Chukka. “The combination of the scenic ride along a spectacular coast and a thrilling swim on horseback remains a large draw for our guests.” www.chukkacaribbean.com

Sugar TrainSt. Kitts Tourism AuthorityAll Aboard
Dubbed the “Sugar Train”, St. Kitts Scenic Railway uses the same tracks that were built in 1912 to carry cane from the plantations to the factory in Basseterre. Today, the train passes Brimstone Hill and along the slopes of Mt. Liamuiga while a choir sings folk tunes and sugar cakes are served. “My personal favourite part is when the schoolchildren get so excited to see the passing train that they wave at the passengers,” says Senator Ricky Skerritt, minister tourism. “This is the most authentic example of genuine Kittitian hospitality you can get.” www.stkittstourism.kn

Inspired by an old-fashioned steam locomotive, Grenada Discovery Train is a red trolley that makes its way through the narrow streets of St. George’s. Wrapping up at the cruise terminal, passengers are given admission tickets to several attractions they can explore on their own. www.grenadadiscoverytrain.com

ZiplineIsland RoutesZipping Tips
• Closed-toe shoes with secure backs will keep your feet protected during the tour.

• Bring hiking shoes since most tours include a walk through the jungle.

• Skirts and high-cut shorts do not work well with the harnesses, nor do shirts that expose the belly.

• Leave long jewelry at the hotel because it can get tangled in the harness.

Courtesy: www.usatoday.com/travel/