Adding excitement to posh Caribbean vacation Activities: Deluxe resorts are offering their guests rain-forest hikes, horseback tours and visits to Mayan ruins.

December 08, 1996|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The six hikers slogging through the Nevis rainforest may be roughing it, but don't worry about their aching muscles, callusing feet or the hunger that is beginning to gnaw as noon approaches. At the end of the day, they will return to rooms with deep soaking tubs and bottles of fragrant balms to soothe away their little hurts. And their guide has a backpack full of brie and fresh-baked French bread packed in picnic boxes by their hotel chef.

This, after all, is not some low-budget eco-tour. It is the daily rain-forest hike offered by the Four Seasons Nevis, a posh Caribbean resort better known for pampering guests than making them sweat.

These days, though, even the most genteel vacationers like to go a little wild during a Caribbean respite. An increasing number of lodgings of all kinds are accommodating that desire with activities ranging from easy nature walks to killer hikes up volcanic peaks, horseback riding, kayaking and guided snorkeling tours of underwater parks.

Choose an elegant, full-service resort, a spa with the latest health and beauty therapies, a deluxe eco-tent with solar power and computerized energy monitors, a rented villa with your own pool and private staff or a jungle lodge with its own Mayan ruins.

You won't sacrifice any comforts on these nature vacations, where you can have your cake and sweat it off, too.

The goats cavorting on the golf course at the Four Seasons Nevis should be a giveaway to this resort's love affair with its environment. With the cloud-shrouded peak of 3,200-foot Mount Nevis looming in the background, a 2,000-foot stretch of powder beach as its front yard and miles of rainforest trails a short drive away, the Four Seasons Nevis is a natural for the title of most elegant Caribbean resort with most access to outdoor adventures.

A short shuttleboat ride from Nevis' bigger sister island of St. Kitts, the 5-year-old resort always has drawn a haute clientele impressed by the Four-Seasons panache, the extensive tennis and water-sports program, and the absence of extensive development on the verdant 36-square-mile island.

The resort's 18-hole golf coursewinds through a rainforest populated by chattering monkeys (who sometimes run off with a ball or two), and rises from near sea level to 420 feet, with spectacular views of the sea and nearby islands.

In past years management decided to go eco and introduced more than a dozen guided hikes on Nevis and St. Kitts.

I joined a 2 1/2 -hour hike that took in both rain forest and plantation country (Nevis was once a major sugar producer). Issued firm wooden walking sticks, we followed our guide up a steep jungle path through fig and mango stands, wispy palms and dense fern groves, then picked our way across jagged boulders, before descending to wide-open fields dotted with coconut palms. We passed the ruins of old plantation buildings, herds of grazing cows and great Caribbean overlooks. We never saw another hiker on the trail, which heightened our proprietary sense of discovery.

Le Sport, St. Lucia

Health spa/beach resorts are becoming a popular Caribbean phenomenon. Le Sport -- nestled below rolling hills at the northern tip of one of the Caribbean's least developed islands -- has been at the forefront of that trend since its inception nearly eight years ago. Instead of baking all day on the skin-cancer track and drinking yourself silly on tropical concoctions all night, you can temper your sun, surf and sousing with aerobic exercise, therapeutic treatments, rain-forest hikes, and healthful food and drink -- all included in the package price.

At Le Sport, morning hikes take guests along gorgeous hillsides with sweeping ocean views, on sunrise power beach-walks or out to historic Fort Rodney in Pigeon Island National Park above tranquil Rodney Bay Marina, where you get sweeping ocean and island views as you watch the yachts glide into the bay below. Longer options include bike tours and diving, snorkeling, and sailing excursions to the south of the island, near the landmark twin peaks of the Piton mountains.

The spa section is the Oasis, a Moorish-looking arrangement of pools, arches, fountains and treatment rooms set on a hill up 79 steps. Here there are aerobics classes, yoga sessions, fencing, weight-training and a pool for water aerobics. Here also are rooms for facials, hydro treatments and massages.

Maho Bay, St. John

In the early 1970s, Stanley Selengut, a civil engineer by education, got to thinking about what a vacation dwelling in a fragile environment might be like, if one wanted comfort as well as ecological preservation.

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