“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” — The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
Waterfalls bring out a sense of wonder, and if a traveler is with the right companion, a touch of romance. For travelers, a waterfall hike may be the most memorable part of their vacation. While the islands of the Caribbean are studded with waterfalls, the compact West Indies island of Grenada is especially blessed. Grenada has a mix of options for waterfall hikes that could fall into three categories:
— Waterfalls that are extremely easy to reach — a person can practically roll out of their car and come face-to-face with a beautiful waterfall. No hiking necessary. Annandale Falls and the first of the Concord Falls are in this category.
— Waterfalls only a light hike away. Hikers won’t have to call on their inner Indiana Jones to reach these falls, although chances are there will be a few wet spots to hike through, and a steep spot or two. Seven Sisters Waterfalls is the perfect representative of this type.
— Falls that are harder to reach and present a challenge for travelers who’ve been avoiding the gym, and who are easily daunted by rough and steep trails. Of course, the reward is relative seclusion, since these waterfalls take an extra measure of effort. It’s best to contact a guide to learn about accessing these falls, which include those further upstream in the Seven Sisters group.
During a recent visit to Grenada, I hiked to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls in the island’s Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve. I was excited about the hike because I’d be reunited with my charismatic guide from an earlier trip, Telfor Bedeau, an island legend. Bedeau has been hiking Grenada for an astonishing 55 years.
Bedeau was waiting for me in the parking lot at the entrance to the trail to the Seven Sisters, and after a warm greeting informed me that he was on the eve of his 77th birthday. The hike begins at the parking lot that leads to a dirt path leading downward to the waterfall, which can’t be seen from the road.
Before setting off, Bedeau directed me to choose a walking stick from a pile leaning against the outside wall of a small store selling snacks and souvenirs. Picking up the stick, I wondered if it was a prop for tourists. I couldn’t have been further off the mark. That stick would prove invaluable later on in the hike, as a kind of third leg helping me balance as I made my way across slippery stones and slick mud.
The winding trail to the waterfalls brings hikers through an agricultural landscape of clove, avocado, breadfruit and nutmeg trees, and past islanders tending crops and lazy dogs sunning themselves in the dust of the trail.
As we walk, Bedeau kept up a steady line of informative patter: “We’re actually 1,500 feet above sea level, and walking down into a crater … Most people know very little about geography … a hurricane creates fast-forward conditions for the creations of waterfalls.”
Along the way, Bedeau took pleasure in pointing out bullet wood trees, and such flowers as heliconia and bird of paradise. He picked up a floral bud from a balsa tree and held it up, saying, “Doesn’t it look like the torch held by the Statue of Liberty?”
The proper footwear makes a waterfall hike a lot more pleasant. Avoid flip-flops, which won’t give solid support over uneven terrain. Hiking boots are a better choice, although they’ll get soaked when splashing through small streams, which we did during this hike. The best footwear is what Bedeau wore, plastic sandals that looked similar to Crocs. This gave him enough protection and seemed to dry almost instantly.
Hikers will hear the falls before they see them, then moments later the twin falls of the Seven Sisters come into view. One of the perks of this hike is the option to take a swim in the pools at the base of the two falls. If hikers plan on taking a dip, they may want to wear their bathing suits under their shorts and T-shirts, since there are no changing facilities at the falls.
On arrival, hikers are greeted by young Grenadian guys dressed in red swim trunks and T-shirts. They perform a variety of daring dives from the top of the falls in the hope of being tipped by their audience. Hikers with more than an ounce of bravado can make the dives themselves, from either the highest point or from a lower point over the first waterfall pool. We were assured the water was deep enough, which was proved by the Grenadian divers themselves. The day I was at the falls, hikers were content to either watch or take a dip in one of the pools.
For the best experience, schedule your hike on the day that a cruise ship isn’t in port. The falls can get crowded, which sullies the effect. There was one change I saw that didn’t thrill me: I’d made this hike 12 years before and this time around they’d added a zipline. I suppose this is progress of a sort, but I couldn’t help wishing they’d built it somewhere else.
On the hike back to the road it’s uphill much of the way, so it takes a bit more steam. The effort adds up to a good workout. Once we reached the parking lot, the cold beers I shared with Bedeau tasted all the better, as he told me about his library of 300 books, most dealing with maritime adventures.
Later in my island visit, I stopped in at Annandale Falls, which is only a short walk from the parking lot along a cement walkway. There’s a viewing platform overlooking the falls and a pool below, where people can swim or watch red-clad divers do their stunts.
The Concord Waterfalls comprises three waterfalls on the western side of the island.
The first of the falls can easily be reached via car, while accessing the second and more impressive falls requires a 45-minute hike. The third falls — which passes through a nutmeg plantation — is even further in. The upside of the extra effort is these falls will be much more secluded than those easily reached via the road.
To reach Mt. Carmel Falls, which is billed as the island’s highest waterfall, visitors will make a 30-minute hike through plantation fields.
It’s highly recommended to use a Grenada guide for hikes into the rainforest or mountains. There are tales of groups of travelers thinking they knew their way around, only having to be rescued by soldiers, often after spending a night in the rainforest. In addition to Bedeau, there are numerous tour operators offering waterfalls hikes. One established company to check out is Mandoo Tours (grenadatours.com).
Time is catching up with Bedeau, so he’s transferring from guiding taxing waterfall hikes to conducting more gentle coastal and plantation hikes. Bedeau is a fascinating character and isn’t shy about sharing his life story, which includes everything from transferring recalcitrant cattle island-to-island via sailboat, to building his own house and furniture in his mountaintop home, where wild birds are his only pets.
Mark Rogers, Special for USA TODAY