Rock climbing

Climbing in the Caribbean » Explorersweb

Most people think of the Caribbean as a place to relax by turquoise water, but its geology also makes it a great playground for climbers of all skill levels.

Here you can tackle everything from limestone walls to granite boulders. Although the rock climbing scene in the Caribbean is relatively young, it will certainly appeal to you if you decide to explore beyond the beaches and tiki drinks.

Cuba

Many consider the Viñales Valley in the mountainous province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, to be the best place on the island for rock climbing. The area itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 132 km2 karst depression, full of limestone rocks and domed limestone hills called mogotes. Mainly, climbers venture into 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 including activist Armando Menocal became the first foreign mountaineer to visit Cuba. They explored Viñales for rock climbing opportunities and established some initial routes. They named their first official route Viva Cuba.

In 1999, Menocal, Craig Luebben and Cameron Cross climbed La Costanera and discovered three rusty pitons left there by two Spanish women two decades earlier. This has never been confirmed. The discovery further piqued their curiosity and they embarked on a quest to climb and chart new routes throughout the region.

Cuba’s most famous route is Cuba Libre, a 7a+ climb described as “acrobatic”. It is a 50m limestone column on El Palenque and has a route that crosses stalactites and reaches a crested cliff. Despite a brutal fall, Craig Luebben achieves the first ascent.

Luebben has spent several years pioneering more Viñales climbing routes. In 2000, Luebben, Cross and David Ryan were credited with laying out the best 6a route in the world, called Mucho Pumpito. Luebben eventually earned the nickname Mr. Mogote for his dedication to advancing the sport in the region. Luebben died in a rock climbing accident in 2009.

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

Yet the Cuban climbing scene remains something of an enigma. While the sport isn’t exactly illegal, there have been inconvenient restrictions, bureaucratic challenges, and economic hurdles that have kept Cubans from realizing its full potential. The Cuban government does not recognize rock 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 climbing community. Local climbers Yarobys Garcia and Jorge Luis Pimentel agree that this, along with networking via the internet, has helped keep climbing in Cuba.

Cayman Islands

The small island of Cayman Brac has earned a reputation as the safest and most beautiful rock climbing destination in the Caribbean. It has an established community of mountaineers who venture up the technical and jagged limestone cliffs. You’ll find these cliffs on the northeast side of the island, with the cliffs rising about 45m from the sea. Prepare for a tough climb as the sea roars below.

In 1994 Skip Harper of Colorado fell in love with Cayman Brac and spent the next few years charting 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 Wave Wall.

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

A few years after Harper, Cayman Brac gained another valuable supporter: John Byrnes. Byrnes, with an engineering background, played a pivotal role installing titanium bolts along major roads. Corrosion of previous bolts in the salt air led to several accidents which damaged the island’s reputation with climbers. Cayman Brac is the only place in the Caribbean to use titanium bolts, and accidents have dropped dramatically.

The British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands offer much more than calm beaches and luxury villas. It is also the capital of the Caribbean bloc. Virgin Gorda Island, with its unique granite features, is particularly popular.

Throughout Virgin Gorda, granite boulders rest on the shores and in the sea, with issues ranging from v0 to v9. These rocks are found in the colorful names The Baths, Crooks Bay, Fallen Jerusalem, Spring Bay, Stony Point and Devil’s Bay. Les Bains has the highest concentration of these granitic rocks. Some are even stacked on top of each other. Rock generally has great friction but can be slippery when wet. Erosion gives the rocks practical pockets, fissures and grooves.

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

Although there is no official climbing community in the British Virgin Islands, Rich Crowder’s book Guide to bouldering and travel in the Virgin Islands documents more than 450 routes.

Some of the boulder 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, making it ideal for sport and traditional climbers. The local climbing community is tight-knit and very 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.

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

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

Porto Rico

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

The Bahamas

For the best rock climbing, head to the pristine island of Eleuthera. The northern end of the island is home to popular spots such as Stalactite Wall, Rainbow Bay Cliffs, Annie Bight, and Glass Window Bridge. Glass Window Bridge is perhaps the most exciting. This narrow and dramatic isthmus not only separates the dark, roaring waters of the Atlantic from the calm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, but also features steep, sheer cliffs with serious overhangs. Proceed with caution! You can easily be thrown 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 on the north side where people often jump into the waters below. You can also climb it or boulder. Another 1.5 miles south of Annie Bight is Stalactite Wall. The wall features intricate cruxes and pillars, with an average difficulty of 5.11. Be careful as the rock can be unstable.

curacao

Many people are unfamiliar with the island of Curacao, and the same goes for its growing rock climbing scene. However, in recent years this has started to change. The sport began to gain momentum locally. The Rock Climbing Curaçao Project works year-round to install routes on rock faces, work with national park rangers and raise awareness, especially among young people on the island. They trained new climbers and welcomed veterans to try routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13.

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

Curaçao is ideal for rock climbing. It is sunny and dry, with abundant limestone and steep rocks. The north face of Tafelberg, the island’s fourth highest point, is a popular rock climbing site. It includes 26 sports routes and a commercial route, and more routes are being developed this year. Roi Rincon, near Hato Airport, offers 18 routes between 5.6 and 5.11. It has a rock column called the Totem, where many beginners get a taste of what Curacao has to offer. At the other end of the spectrum is the difficult Piscadera, a rock face with 25 routes up to 5.13.

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

Trinity

Rock climbing is not popular in Trinidad. It is overshadowed by cricket, football, netball and athletics. However, a small group of climbers is heading towards the northwestern part of the island. Here in the Chaguaramas area, they climb and rappel down two limestone walls called Corbeaux Town and Rory’s Glory. None exceeds 4.5 m.

St. LUCIA

Saint Lucia’s iconic pitons (towering volcanic spiers) don’t offer much when it comes to climbing. Scrambling is the best way to climb the steeper of the two, Petit Piton.

Barbados

On the rugged east coast of Barbados there are opportunities for bouldering. Check out Bathsheba and Cattlewash beaches for the rocks, especially the famous mushroom-shaped rocks. The best limestone features are located in Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park. Unfortunately, you cannot climb the limestone formations as the site is environmentally 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 Rousseau’s capital. Dominica is best known for its hiking and mountaineering opportunities in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

Grenade

The rock of Grenada has been described as fragile. However, those looking for a challenge can attempt an ascent to Grand Anse Rock, Fontenoy Rock or Perseverance Rock.

Haiti

Due to the unstable situation in Haiti – not just politics but limestone made increasingly unstable by earthquakes – climbing here is not recommended. There are no set routes.

Guyana

Mount Roraima. Photo: Caio Pederneiras/Shutterstock

The interior of Guyana is semi-unexplored territory. The land is not developed and travel is mainly by plane. Although 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 on the Guyanese side called War of Light and Darkness, which is rated 5.11a. Roraima’s spectacular setting attracts famous climbers and National Geographic photographers. 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 unstable rocks. It is recommended only for experienced climbers.