“Take a dip in these cool waters and they will restore your youth,” urged our Rastafarian tour guide Ginette in the Dominica jungle.
“It is the belief that these crystal clear waters have such powers,” she said confidently while leading us along the Emerald Pool Nature Trail in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
We dutifully clamoured down the slippery slope to immerse ourselves in the extremely cold waters of this waterfall grotto, a contrast to the steamy tropical heat. We’re still waiting for the promised return of vigour and even renewed hair growth but the memory is just one of the experiences of shore excursions while cruising.
On Dominica, known as the “Nature Island of the Caribbean,” this is an easy 30-minute hike in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a slightly rocky downhill trek with overhanging lush vegetation leading to the 15-metre-high Emerald Falls plunging into a swirling, fern-filled basin.
On the return trek, you can view the Atlantic Coast and Morne Laurent that rises to an elevation of 685 metres.
A great thing about cruise vacations is the chance to explore multiple destinations on one trip. Here’s a look at a few other natural wonders we’ve “collected” on jaunts off the ship in Mexico, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Panama.
Life is a beach
Live the life of late movie director John Huston at his former hideaway, Las Caletas, Mexico.
Huston loved the seclusion of this enchanting tropical beach haven nestled in a secluded jungle down the coast from Puerto Vallarta. The unspoiled paradise is accessible only by sea, about an hour on a catamaran along the scenic Mexican Pacific coastline with the Sierra Madre Mountains as a backdrop.
We hung out on the beach of this “Gilligan’s Island” setting where visitors snorkel, kayak and paddleboard in the turquoise ocean filled with tropical fish and sea lions swimming along the shore. The property has a parrot sanctuary, monkeys, orchid gardens and a nature trail designed by renowned botanist Charles Sacamano.
Cold drinks are served along with a buffet-style lunch at a table for two alongside the ocean.
There’s also a children’s play area with zip lines, monkey encounters, donkey rides as well as a hilltop spa centre, yoga classes and cooking demonstrations including how to make paella.
Heads in the clouds
Take a walk in the clouds just 15 minutes above the village of Kailua-Kona in Hawaii.
That’s where you will find another world – the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. Tropical cloud forests occur in this dormant volcanic mountainous region, with mists and clouds providing much of the precipitation.
Retired professor Norman Bezona developed the site and has hosted botanical tours and educational programs there since 1984. Over the years, he has introduced numerous varieties of trees, plants and flowers including palms, tropical Asian bamboo, rainbow gum from the Philippines and an abundance of coffee trees.
Visitors can take part in guided tours along the six kilometres of forest trails filled with birds and wildlife while the gardens have statues and stone carvings from Bali.
El Yunque, si
A scenic wonderland is El Yunque in northeastern Puerto Rico, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S.
Located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, our self-guided hike was highlighted by majestic views of El Toro rising 1,065 metres. It’s a jungle-like setting, with the Yokahu observation tower looking over the lush foliage, waterfalls and rivers. There are also seven ancient Taino Indian petroglyphs carved into boulders in the forest.
A dip in the Panama Canal is a cooling respite from the tropical climate.
It’s possible to swim in the canal waters at Gatun Lake where our cruise ship dropped anchor for the day and tendered passengers to a yacht club on shore. Many people dipped their toes in the water, swam and fished for peacock bass as cargo ships, many of them loaded with bananas, moved through the nearby locks.
There were folkloric shows, dancing by lively Panamanians, a calypso band, crafts for sale made by the Cuna Indians of San Blas and plenty of cooling libations and food.