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Published: February 2009Best Island Vacations 2009: Pick Your Paradise

Trek Past the Glitter for Canyoning Gold

West Indies: Martinique

Text by Meg Lukens Noonan
Sure, shoppers in Louboutin heels click down chic Rue Victor Hugo, and Jet Skis whine past topless sunbathers on the hotel beaches of Pointe du Bout, but away from the hectic, touristy south, Martinique is moody and wild—and largely unexplored by visitors. In the Regional Natural Preserve, rivers cut deep gorges through dense jungles, and trails vein mist-shrouded volcanoes: It’s the kind of territory that has made this one of the Caribbean’s best destinations for canyoning—trekking into the interior, rappelling down cascades, leaping into basins, and floating on currents. "It’s more athletic and more playful than simply hiking," says Sophie Sutter, a canyoning guide with Le Bureau de la Randonnée, which offers everything from beginner-friendly outings to arduous daylong expeditions requiring technical descents of waterfall-drenched 200-foot cliffs. If you prefer to stay dry, head out on one of dozens of marked trails, such as the 12.4-mile coastal route that connects, via banana and mango plantations, Le Prêcheur to Grand’Rivière, a road’s-end Atlantic fishing village where the local kids still ride waves on rough-hewn logs, and family-owned Creole restaurants like Tante Arlette win raves (try the crawfish fricassee). Unpack at the just renovated Le Domaine Saint Aubin, a delightful red-roofed plantation house from 1919 that has 30 sunny rooms along with cottages and terraces overlooking the island’s rugged east coast.

The Lure: Canyoning,hiking

Vitals: From $50 for a day of canyoning; bureau-rando-martinique.com. Le Domaine Saint Aubin, doubles from $126; ledomainesaintaubin.com

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