8 minutes reading time Dominica
The Caribbean is home to islands that have unrivaled natural beauty making them a favorite holiday destination and cruise ship ports of call. This popularity brings over tourism and comes with a hefty price though, literally and figuratively. If you think that all the Caribbean has to offer are its white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, rich marine life and almost year-round sunshine, let me let you in on a not-so little secret — there is more out there to discover.
In the eastern part of the Lesser Antilles, in between Martinique and Guadeloupe, is the island country of Dominica. Almost always confused with another Caribbean country, the Dominican Republic (which is actually further west of the island), Dominica is not on the radar of many tourists. Those who have experienced the beauty of this “Nature Island of the Caribbean” would agree that Dominica is indeed the Caribbean’s best-kept secret that deserves a portion of the spotlight its neighbors are getting.
Geographically speaking, Dominica is one of the youngest islands in the Caribbean because it is still evolving due to continuous geothermal activity. It has the highest concentration of dormant volcanoes in the world. This island of 74,000 people is a nature lover’s dream. It boasts dramatic cliffs, countless waterfalls and hot springs, 365 rivers, and rainforests that cover almost two-thirds of the island.
Its rugged and unspoiled terrains are perfect for the adventurous traveler. Getting here is an adventure in itself, which makes Dominica more special. There are no direct flights that go to Dominica from most countries like the US or the UK. So one has to connect through Antigua, Barbados, Martinique, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe or St. Lucia. Most tourists flying in arrive at the Douglas-Charles Airport, the larger of two airports, which is approximately an hour away from the capital Roseau. (The other one is Canefield Airport, 15 minutes away from the capital.)
If you want to explore the whole island, rent your own vehicle. Since the public transportation here is not very reliable, having your own rented vehicle may also help in running errands or shopping for food and other essentials. There are car rental agencies on the island that offer reasonable prices. To be able to drive in Dominica, you need to obtain a driver’s license, which costs about $12. The driver must be between 25 and 65 years old, with two years’ driving experience under his belt to be able to qualify for a permit.
About 200,000 tourists arrive here every year, which is not a lot compared to tourist arrivals from the other Caribbean islands. A fraction of those are long-staying visitors, while most of the total number are tourists who disembark from the cruise ships.
In Dominica, there is an eco-tourism site user fee program, which means all non-resident visitors to the national parks, forest reserves and marine reserves are required to have a pass. A Single Pass for one site visit costs $5 and a Week Pass for repeat visits to all sites is $12. (Dominica uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar but US dollars, British pounds, and euros are widely accepted in the islands. Just take note that once you pay in any of those currencies, you’ll get change in Eastern Caribbean dollar. Major credit cards are also accepted in many business establishments.)
The influences of the surrounding islands are seen in Domincan cuisine, which is always made with passion and so much soul. One of the must-try dishes is Callaloo soup, which is made from the green leaves of the dasheen plant cooked with coconut milk, vegetables and meat. Stew chicken is composed of onions, garlic, ginger, thyme and carrots. It is usually served with beans and rice. Seafood is always fresh as it can be here so they are mostly grilled, fried or steamed. Roasted breadfruit with salted codfish is also a common dish here. Throughout the island, you’ll see roadside stands typically sell Tasty Bakes, which are fried dough treat, fried chicken and fish and chips.
This island allows one to listen to the melodies of the surroundings that create a magical harmony with nature. Everywhere you look on the island there is a lush greenery, a raging waterfall, hot springs and gurgling rivers.
All of those can be seen in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. This breathtaking national park, which is the biggest on the island, cradles some of the most sought-after natural attractions including the Middleham Falls, Titou Gorge, Emerald Pool, Boiling Lake, Freshwater Lake, and the majestic twin falls of Trafalgar.
Because of its 99-percent volcanic nature, Dominica also has a bounty of hot springs. Less than 30 minutes away from the Roseau is Wotten Waven Hot Springs, popular for its natural hot sulfur springs and mud pools with reportedly medicinal qualities. Also in the area is Ti Kwen Glo Cho Hot Springs. Its sulfur-rich waters are great for relaxation and getting into one of their pools is a perfect way to cap a day of trekking or canyoning.
What is being in the Caribbean without exploring Dominica’s warm waters? The best scuba diving and snorkeling is in Dominica’s marine reserves off of the southwest coast of the island in Soufriere. Exploring the fishing villages like Soufriere is one of the best ways to get a local vibe. Grab a Kubuli beer or two in a dive bar in front of the bay while listening to Creole music. It is also nice to chat with the locals, too. English is the official language in the island, though most Dominicans speak Kwéyòl, which is based on French and Carib vocabularies.
When in Dominica, don’t pass up a chance to go whale watching. This activity is only available on Sundays. Dominica is the only country in the world where sperm whales live year round. Board a boat, which usually heads to Scotts Head, Roseau, Layou and Point Round, as guides track the whales’ location. There could also be sightings of dolphins and other kinds of whales. Sperm whales usually appear with their family, including a calf at times. There is a strict code of conduct that whale watching operators follow to minimize the disturbance, and to not lure the whales. Go face to face with the majestic creatures as swimming with them are allowed as long as you have obtained the necessary permit to do so.
There are beaches in Dominica, though they are mostly black and ashy, which is mostly not the preference of arriving tourists. That also means most of these beaches are perfect for some peace and quiet. Get a tan and enjoy the waters of Mero Beach in the middle of the west coast. It’s a nice place to chill minus the white sand. There’s also Batibou Bay, which is a natural beach near the Douglas-Charles Airport. Located near Portsmouth is the Picard Beach Cottages that has one of the best places to watch the sunset.
Definitely one of the highlights of Dominica is its Indian River Safari. The river flows to the Caribbean Sea between the town of Portsmouth and Glanvilia. Board the colorful boats and listen to the boatman’s running commentary on the flora and fauna of the tranquil river. Some of the scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Man’s Chest were filmed here. At the end of the safari is a bush bar, where you can enjoy the island’s favorite drink — rum.
Bush bars are popular in the island mainly because of the different kinds of rum that comes out of these rustic watering holes. Dominicans love their rum because they are part of their heritage. Bush rum is infused with different herbs and any local fruit. The options of mixes are endless.
Dominicans know how to enjoy their liquor and most of the time, friends and family are included in the equation.
Dominicans are warm and friendly people. They are relaxed and are always ready to give a hearty smile, which will make you feel welcome and at home.
Hear them speak about the country and you’ll hear a certain pride in their voice. They are kind-hearted and genuinely happy people, who are strong and are willing to go out of their way to help others.
Dominica’s beautiful landscape is even more wonderful by its amazing people. Let that be one of the countless reasons why this “Nature Island of the Caribbean” is a hidden paradise worth discovering.
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