When sailing through the Caribbean, be sure to set your sights on Dominica, the English-speaking island located between Guadeloupe and Martinique. Nature lovers and adventure seekers would be remiss if they did not drop anchor at Dominica!
For centuries, Dominica has impressed many sailors with its lush green mountains rising right out of the sea. When the Kalinago people (Carib Indians) first paddled up here from South America over a thousand years ago, they called her Waitukubuli, which means “tall is her body.” It was on a Sunday during Columbus’s second journey in 1493 that he named the island ‘Dominica’ for the day of his personal ‘discovery’. (Note: He did not set foot on the Nature Island, but it is said that he was in awe of her rugged terrain!) And some people feel that if the great explorer were return to the Caribbean today, Dominica would be the only island that would look familiar!
Within its terrain are four mountains rising above 4,000 feet. Over 30 waterfalls nd gorges, innumerable rivers (some say one for every day of the year!) and a rainforest considered the finest in the region beckon the seafarer to step ashore and spend some time on this island paradise. Of course, if diving is your delight, you won’t be disappointed either. The Nature Island’s amazing underwater terrain ranks among the best in the world.
Once ashore, go to Roseau, the capital city, and visit the Dominica Museum, as well as the Tourist Information Office They are located on the Bay Front, directly opposite the cruise ship pier. The museum will give you a very good overview of the country’s history, culture and anthropology through its wonderful exhibits and displays. As the Tourist Information Office is downstairs, you can get information about various attractions and adventure activities, as well as securing names of certified taxi operators and tour guides.
In order to fully experience the magnificence of Dominica’s rainforest, a visit or two to Morne Trois Pitons National Park near Laudat would be most worthwhile. In 1997, UNESCO proclaimed this 17,000 acre park as a World Heritage Site because of its biodiversity, natural features and uniqueness within the region. There are four hiking trails within the park, including the challenging day-long return journey to the world-famous Boiling Lake. This is the most arduous track, which requires assistance from a certified guide. At the trail-head to the Boiling Lake, the Titou Gorge offers a refreshing but challenging swim into its interior and a natural hot shower at its mouth. (You might want to save that for your reward when you finish this challenging hike). The other trails to Middleham Falls, Freshwater Lake and Boeri Lake also give the intrepid sailor plentiful opportunities for a good landlubber workout amidst pristine wilderness surroundings.
If it’s your intention to stay on land for more than a day or so, then you should also experience a segment or two of the recently opened Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT). One hundred and fifteen miles of track are broken up into 14 segments which traverse the island from Scott’s Head in the south to the Cabrits in the north. The sections vary in length, difficulty and type of terrain but it is reasonable to estimate a full day of hiking on each segment in most cases. If you take along a certified trail guide, your wilderness workout will be further enhanced.
There are many other ways to experience nature at its finest in Dominica. The Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar features a four-acre tropical garden which has a number of rare plants and some hot and cold mineral pools. Nearby are the stunning twin falls of Trafalgar, which can be observed from a sheltered viewing platform. Another easily accessible waterfall is the Emerald Pool, just off the road to Castle Bruce in the island’s interior. The bountiful shades of green make it a photographer’s delight. This and the Trafalgar Falls trail are relatively short and well maintained, but if you don’t care for crowds, it is best to experience them on a day when there are no cruise ships in port.
After spending some time at and perhaps even swimming in the Emerald Pool, you should head in an easterly direction to Castle Bruce and then turn in a northerly direction so that you can visit the Carib Territory. This area of Dominica is home to about 3,000 Kalinago people who live in eight villages scattered throughout this reserve. These indigenous people are renowned for their wonderful hand-woven baskets made from local grasses and they bake a very delicious bread from the root of the cassava plant. In order to further appreciate their history and culture, a stop at Kalinago Barana Aute (Carib Model Village) is a must. Here, you can take a guided tour, watch traditional dances, observe the making of ancient crafts and carving of traditional dug-out canoes and sample some of that mouth-watering cassava bread! While in the area, you might like to make another side-trip for an hour or so and take the L’Escalier Tete Chien trail down to the Atlantic. This natural stairway to the ocean is said to resemble a boa constrictor. Ask your guide about the intriguing legend of this area.
On another day, you can also drop anchor at Portsmouth, or take an hour’s drive up the coast from Roseau to enjoy the interpretive path at Syndicate, located inland from Dublanc in the Northern Forest Reserve. This one hour loop is popular for parrot watching. The endangered Sisserou and the vulnerable Jacquot (Jaco) are endemic to Dominica and thrive in this area. A knowledgeable guide and forestry officer, such as Bertrand (Dr. Birdy) Jno Baptiste (firstname.lastname@example.org) can tell you more about these and other birds, as well as the flora and fauna around the trail. More intrepid hikers might like to tackle Dominica’s highest peak, Morne Diablotin, as you are in near the trail-head. You could also pick up the Waitukubuli National Trail Segments 10 and/or 11, which traverse this part of the Nature Island.
If you’d rather sit for a while after all that ‘walking’, you could take a scenic boat-ride up the Indian River, just south of Portsmouth. Trained guides will row you up the bwa mang tree-lined river (which was featured in Pirates of the Caribbean – but I forget whether it was in # 2 or 3!)), while explaining the local history and pointing out areas and creatures of interest in this enchanting locale. The stop at the remote Bush Bar may (or may not!) be memorable!
For those who choose not to hike up mighty Morne Diablotin, you could spend a restful day having a picnic and admiring it from a distance at Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park. The fort is presently being restored and there are many interpretive signs, displays and well-marked meandering trails on the site. Segment 14 of the Waitukubuli National Trail, which follows the rocky coastline from Capuchin in the north, also passes through the park and terminates near its entrance. Then again, you could ride a horse from a stable just east of Portsmouth and move through the rain forest on a saddle instead of your feet.
If you’d like to spend some down time on a beach, you’ll have plenty of choices. While there are no five-mile long stretches filled with hundreds of tourists, you’ll find some quiet strips of sand or
pebbles all along the west and northeast coasts. While a secluded cove may seem appealing, I would discourage anyone from venturing too far without a tour guide or taxi driver, just to be on the safe side (as you would anywhere in the world!).
Water-sports enthusiasts can partake of their favourite pass-times in Dominica too. Various companies offer kayaking, tubing, rafting, river hiking, windsurfing, fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, and of course, spectacular scuba diving for which Dominica is famous. A number of licensed dive operators are located along the west coast of the island. There are many sites from which to take the plunge, including L’Abym along the southwest coast which descends to 1,500 feet. Snorkelers will delight in the variety of sea life found on the abundant, healthy coral reefs. Champagne Beach in the northern part of the Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve is exceptional for rising bubbles composed of volcanic gasses formed beneath the sea.
Dominica is renowned for its nature and adventure, but you would be missing out on a big part of it if you overlooked its unique culture. Festivities, such as the annual World Creole Music Festival can really attract a huge crowd. It takes place every October, just before the country’s Independence celebrations and draws thousands from around the world. Carnival season is a perennial favourite from January to March with its pageants, parades, calypso competitions and street jump-ups. On a weekly basis, a number of hotels, bars and clubs offer happy hours and special events. The tourist information office or a hotel can give you more details.
And don’t forget to sample some local fare! Put your taste buds to the test – try some stuffed bakes, black pudding, souse, goat-water, crab-backs (in season) or callaloo soup, to name a few.
** This piece was originally published in Caribbean Compass January 2004 and has since been substantially modified.