Rock Climbing in the Caribbean

Climbing
Photo: Patrick Hendry/Unsplash

Most people think of the Caribbean as a place to chill out beside turquoise water, but its geology also makes it an excellent playground for climbers of all levels.

Here, you can grapple with everything from limestone walls to granite boulders. While the Caribbean’s rock-climbing scene is relatively young, it will definitely win you over, if you decide to explore beyond the beaches and tiki drinks.

Cuba

Many consider the Valle de Viñales in Cuba’s mountainous Pinar del Rio province as the best spot on the island for climbing. The area itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 132 sq km karstic depression, teeming with limestone crags and dome-shaped limestone hills called mogotes. Mainly, climbers venture to three areas: La Costanera, Mogote del Valle, and El Palenque. There are around 700 routes in the valley, ranging from F6a to F7c. 

The limestone karst of the Viñales region in Cuba. Photo: Mark Green/Shutterstock

In 1997, a group of Americans that included activist Armando Menocal became the first foreign climbers to visit Cuba. They explored Viñales for climbing opportunities and established some initial routes. They named their first official route Viva Cuba.

In 1999, Menocal, Craig Luebben, and Cameron Cross ascended La Costanera and discovered three rusted pitons that two Spanish women were rumoured to have left there two decades prior. This was never confirmed. The discovery further piqued their curiosity and they embarked on a quest to climb and plot new routes throughout the area. 

The most famous route in Cuba is Cuba Libre, a 7a+ climb that is described as “acrobatic”. It is a 50m limestone column on El Palenque and features a route that passes through stalactites and reaches a cresting cliff. Despite a hard fall, Craig Luebben made the first ascent.

Luebben spent several years pioneering more Viñales climbing routes. In 2000, Luebben, Cross, and David Ryan were credited with plotting the world’s best 6a route, called Mucho Pumpito. Luebben eventually earned himself the nickname Mr. Mogote for his dedication in furthering the sport in the area. Luebben died in a climbing accident in 2009. 

Climbing in Cueva Larga, Vinales. Photo: Marc Pagani Photography/Shutterstock

Yet Cuba’s climbing scene remains somewhat of a conundrum. While the sport is not exactly illegal, there have been inconvenient restrictions, bureaucratic challenges, and economic impediments that have prevented Cubans from realizing its full potential. The Cuban government does not recognize climbing as an official sport, preventing much-needed funding and equipment.

It has become a tradition for visiting climbers to leave behind equipment in order to support the Cuban rock-climbing community. Local climbers Yarobys Garcia and Jorge Luis Pimentel agree that this, along with networking via the internet, has helped keep rock climbing alive in Cuba. 

Cayman Islands

The small island of Cayman Brac has gained a reputation as the Caribbean’s safest and most beautiful climbing destination. It has an established community of climbers who take to the jagged, technical limestone cliffs. You will find these bluffs on the northeastern side of the island, with cliffs rising about 45m from the sea. Brace yourself for a challenging climb while the sea roars beneath.

In 1994, Skip Harper from Colorado fell in love with Cayman Brac and spent the next few years plotting over 70 routes. Now, there are over 124 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13b. Popular routes include Dixon’s Wall, Love Shack Wall, Stargazer Wall, and the Wave Wall.

From the top of the bluff in Cayman Brac, the cliff face drops down into the crystal clear blue water. Photo: Drew McArthur/Shutterstock

Some years after Harper, Cayman Brac gained another valuable supporter: John Byrnes. Byrnes, with a background in engineering, played a pivotal role by installing titanium bolts along prime routes. The corrosion of previous bolts in the salt air resulted in several accidents which had hurt the island’s reputation among climbers. Cayman Brac is the only place in the Caribbean to use titanium bolts, and accidents have reduced significantly. 

The British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands offer much more than calm beaches and luxury villas. It also happens to be the bouldering capital of the Caribbean. The island of Virgin Gorda, with its unique granite features, is especially popular.

Throughout Virgin Gorda, granite boulders sit on the shores and in the sea, with problems ranging from v0 to v9. These boulders are found in the colorfully named The Baths, Crooks Bay, Fallen Jerusalem, Spring Bay, Stony Point, and Devil’s Bay. The Baths has the highest concentration of these granite rocks. Some are even piled on top of each other. The rock usually has great friction but can be slippery when wet. Erosion gives the boulders handy pockets, cracks, and grooves. 

A woman snorkels next to the huge granite boulders at The Baths beach on Virgin Gorda. Photo: BlueOrangeStudio/Shutterstock

While there isn’t an official climbing community in the British Virgin Islands, Rich Crowder’s book Guide to Bouldering and Traveling in the Virgin Islands documents over 450 routes.

Some of the bouldering problems that attract climbers are Devil’s Arete (v6), Orangatana Low (v9), Patio Problem (v5), and Spring Bay Crack (v2). 

Dominican Republic

The eastern half of Hispañola is rich in limestone, coral, marble, and dolomite, which makes it ideal for sport and trad climbers. The local climbing community is close-knit and highly active. Together with visiting climbers, they have established over 200 routes. Some popular areas include Playa Frontón, Parque Mirador del Sur, Bahia San Lorenzo, Bayahibe, and Punta Cana.

Parque Mirador del Sur, which is located in the capital of Santo Domingo, has the “urban crag”. This 43m limestone crag has very sharp rocks and is where many local climbers come to practice. Here, visitors can get their first taste of Dominican rock.

The second most popular spot is Playa Fronton. It is a 90m cliff with metamorphic rock, colored limestone, and marble walls. Routes range from 5.4 to 5.13a. The 3.5km band of rock contains routes such as Contra Wall, Cueva de Agua, Genesis Walls, and Sector Jerry.

Puerto Rico

The rock in Puerto Rico is mainly limestone, basalt, and granite. The best-known climbing spots are Cerro Las Tetas, Cueva del Indio, Vacia Talega, and the Nuevo Bayamon area near to San Juan. Nuevo Bayamon has routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a and is full of limestone mogotes as in Cuba.

The Bahamas

For the best climbing, go to the pristine island of Eleuthera. The northern end of the island is home to such popular locations as Stalactite Wall, Rainbow Bay Cliffs, Annie Bight, and Glass Window Bridge. Glass Window Bridge is perhaps the most exciting. This narrow, spectacular isthmus not only separates the dark, roaring waters of the Atlantic from the calm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea but also features sharp, steep cliffs with serious overhangs. Proceed with caution! You can easily be swatted off the rocks if the weather turns sour.

Glass Window Bridge. Photo: Miguel Davis/Unsplash

Further south is Annie Bight, an anchorage with a sharp ledge area on the northern side where people often jump into the waters below. You can also climb it or go bouldering. Another 2.4km south of Annie Bight is Stalactite Wall. The wall features intricate cruxes and pillars, averaging a difficulty of 5.11. Take care as the rock can be unstable.

Curaçao

Many people are unfamiliar with the island of Curaçao, and the same goes for its growing climbing scene. However, in recent years, this has started to change. The sport has started to gain momentum locally. The Rock Climbing Curaçao Project has been working year-round to install routes on rock walls, work with national park rangers, and raise awareness, particularly with young people on the island. They have been teaching new climbers and welcoming veterans to try routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13. 

Christoffel National Park often introduces locals to climbing. Photo: Gail Johnson/Shutterstock

Curaçao is ideal for climbing. It is sunny and dry, with abundant limestone and steep boulders. The north face of Tafelberg, the fourth-highest point on the island, is a popular climbing spot. It features 26 sport routes and one trad route, and more routes are being developed this year. Roi Rincon, near Hato Airport, has 18 routes between 5.6 and 5.11. It has a rock column called the Totem, where many beginners get a taste of what Curaçao has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum is the difficult Piscadera, a rock wall with 25 routes up to 5.13.

Other hills perfect for climbing are Veerisberg, Jack Everts, and Zwarte Berg.

Trinidad

Climbing is not popular in Trinidad. It is overshadowed by cricket, football, netball, and athletics. However, a small group of climbers takes to the northwest part of the island. Here, in the area of Chaguaramas, they climb and rappel on a couple of limestone walls called Corbeaux Town and Rory’s Glory. Neither exceeds 4.5m.

St Lucia

St Lucia’s iconic Pitons (imposing volcanic spires) do not offer much in the way of rock climbing. Scrambling is the best way to climb the steeper of the two, Petit Piton.

Barbados

On Barbados’s rugged east coast, there are opportunities for bouldering. Check out Bathsheba and Cattlewash Beaches for boulders, particularly the former’s famous mushroom-shaped rocks. The best limestone features are located in Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park. Unfortunately, you cannot climb on the limestone formations as the site is ecologically sensitive.

Bathsheba. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Dominica

Two well-known routes, Rum and Coke (5+) and Rum Punch (6B+), can be found at Falling Rock Cave near the capital of Rousseau. Dominica is better known for its hiking and mountaineering opportunities in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

Grenada

The rock in Grenada has been described as fragile. However, those looking for a challenge can attempt a climb at Grand Anse Rock, Fontenoy Rock, or Perseverance Rock.

Haiti

Because of the volatile situation in Haiti — not just politics but limestone made increasingly unstable by earthquakes — climbing here is not recommended. There are no established routes.

Guyana

Mount Roraima. Photo: Caio Pederneiras/Shutterstock

The interior of Guyana is semi-uncharted territory. The land is undeveloped and traveling is mainly by plane. While there are no established groups or clubs, some brave the jungle to find hidden gems. The “floating island” or Mount Roraima is a 2,810m flat-topped mountain perpetually shrouded in mist, giving it the illusion of floating on clouds. This huge mountain straddles the borders of Guyana, Brazil, and Venezuela. In 2010, Brazilian climbers established a route from the Guyanese side called War of Light and Darkness, which is graded 5.11a. Roraima’s spectacular setting draws celebrity climbers and National Geographic photographers alike. In 2019, Leo Houlding climbed here, and in early 2021, Alex Honnold followed suit. The mountain features heavily vegetated walls, waterfalls, sharp quartzite, overhangs, and some unstable rock. It is recommended only for experienced climbers.

0

About the Author

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer (and occasional photographer) based in sunny Trinidad and Tobago.

Since graduating from the University of Leicester with a BA in English and History, she has pursued a full-time writing career, exploring multiple niches before settling on travel and exploration. While studying for an additional diploma in travel journalism with the British College of Journalism, she began writing for ExWeb.

Currently, she works at a travel magazine in Trinidad as an editorial assistant and is also ExWeb's Weird Wonder Woman, reporting on the world's natural oddities as well as general stories from the world of exploration.

Although she isn't a climber (yet!), she hikes in the bush, has been known to make friends with iguanas and quote the Lord of the Rings trilogy from start to finish.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Twinkletoes
Twinkletoes
2 months ago

But is it bolted in marine-grade steel?

0
Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
2 months ago

Hey, how could Menocal’s group have been the first foreign climbers in Cuba if two Spanish women had climbed there twenty years earlier?

0
×