Cool Grunion Runnings
June 2, 2011 7:02 PM   Subscribe

We're planning a Caribbean vacation and would like to know what islands have the coolest biological critters and eco-tours. Bioluminescent algae sound interesting, any other ideas?

Other criteria:

1) We're both in good shape (30s) and can do 5-10 mile hikes. We would prefer to avoid overnight hikes and really isolated hikes due to medical conditions.
2) We'd prefer someplace safe with reliable food but don't want to hang out in a walled "all-included" fortress all day.
3) Snorkeling is ok but scuba diving is out. Neither of us are great swimmers.
4) We are not broke and can spend some money on guided tours if they are worth it.
5) We're both biologists so interesting evolutionary backgrounds are also a plus.

Mammals, invertebrates, and slime molds of interest all welcome. We are not avid birders (although fond of blue footed boobies).
posted by benzenedream to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Just be warned that due to the the conditions, bioluminescent tours can be relationship stressing. My wife and I did one in Puerto Rico last year and while we did pretty well on the way to the bay because our group was one of the first ones out, getting back to the "dock" fighting against other groups' kayaks going the opposite way through a poorly defined mangrove-lined meandering path in bare moonlight was.. Troubling. It got especially fun when the other guides would turn on their spotlights to see where they were going, make sure they didn't lose members of their groups, etc. All that precious night vision blown away by a xenon bulb. If you paddle well together that will be less of a problem, though.

That said, the time we spent in the biobay was awesome.
posted by Kyol at 7:28 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: Also in Puerto Rico is El Yunque, which has rainforest and cloudforest.

When I was last there, we did the cave tour from which was unbelievable.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:42 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: Mail me and I'll give you some info on the jungle and bioluminescence in Panama. Pretty amazing stuff, but don't want to overload the area.
posted by mrfuga0 at 8:00 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from the Caribbean and lover of puns, that's an awesome headline. Off the top of my head:

* As mentioned, El Yunque. Only rainforest in the US Forest Service System, plus urban legend has it's the home of La Chupacabra (and a pretty creepy X Files episode)

* My favorite place in the Lesser Antilles is Dominica. These days they get more tourists thanks to aggressive marketing and direct flights on US Carriers. But there's Trafalgar Falls (warm mineral water falls!), snorkeling/kayaking options, and the Boiling Lake. I stayed at the Papillote Wilderness lodge on one visit and they have so many resources.

* The French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique have lots of nature and a good tourist infrastructure, although not targeted to English speakers. It's essentially where the two techtonic plates for the region meet - the East side is sandstone with white sand beaches and the West is volcanic with black sand beaches, mountains, and lush vegetation.

Great hikes - Cascades de {Crayfish} and the Soufriere Volcano (warm mineral water falls! With French people eating baguettes & stinky cheeses in the springs).
Marine Life - UNESCO has an underwater trail/diving park set up by Jacques Costeau.

I haven't been to Martinique, but it's also volcanic so that means mountains with lush vegetation and wildlife.

* Haven't been to Trinidad, but several friends have enjoyed staying at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge.

* Really wild, but Angel Falls in Venezuela. Or Guyana or Suriname.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 8:07 PM on June 2, 2011

A second vote for Dominica. It's an exquisite place with unspoiled forests, mountains, rivers, hot waterfalls, great beaches and lovely people.
posted by Jode at 8:17 AM on June 3, 2011

Cancun and its surrounding -- Isla Mujeres and its surrounding attractions like Xcaret and the like are family friendly if you're looking for that -- so, yes a bit commercial, but you'll see a range of stuff.
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:05 AM on June 3, 2011

I've only been to Belize, which you might like because it has both the island part and the deep jungle part, and is shockingly cheap to visit.

But mostly I wanted to say that scuba diving takes much less swimming ability than snorkeling, and gives you far greater exposure to interesting sea life.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:54 AM on June 3, 2011

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