When imagining a Caribbean holiday, most of us think of pristine white-sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts and glitzy pool parties. But nestled between Guadeloupe and Martinique, the volcanic island of Dominica flouts expectations.
Nicknamed the “Nature island of the Caribbean”, it attracts a relatively small number of independent, adventurous eco-minded travellers. Here’s why you should go, plus the essentials to plan your trip:
Why should I go?
Rising starkly out of the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Atlantic to the east, Dominica is covered in steep hills and thick jungle peppered with waterfalls, freshwater lakes and sulphuric pools. Black-sand beaches and rocky coves line the shores – and there isn’t a mega-resort in sight.
Tangling tropical foliage is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna. And despite this huge variety of wildlife, there are no venomous snakes or spiders to worry about.
But without the typical Caribbean draws of white-sand beaches, and with an airport that only serves other nearby islands, development on Dominica has remained slow, low-key and independently run. Though cruise ships do stop here in season (October–March), passengers generally only stay for the day, and the island is otherwise quiet.
There are no malls or chain shops, either. Pretty much everything in Roseau, the capital, is locally owned. Come here and you’re in for a truly Dominican experience.
Why is now a good time to visit?
Storm Erika ripped through Dominica in August 2015, killing at least twenty people and causing colossal damage to roads, farmland, livestock and buildings. Two years on, after a huge recovery effort, the island is back on its feet, and tourism is more important than ever.
The island has only 75,000 overnight visitors per year – a tiny amount compared to nearby Barbados, which sees around 1.3 million tourists annually. But the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, has promised that a new international airport will become a reality.
Currently, the tiny Douglas–Charles Airport only operates flights to other Eastern Caribbean islands. If the new airport plans come to fruition, the number of visitors to Dominica will skyrocket. Get there before the rest of the world does (and try to avoid peak cruise ship season, too).
Where can I unleash my sense of adventure?
Dominica is not short of waterfalls. One of the most popular is on the east side of the island, not far from Rosalie Bay. Walk down one hundred steps past overhanging trees, draping vines and brightly coloured flowers to the icy cold, green waters of Emerald Pool, into which flows a magnificent waterfall.
Getting to Boiling Lake, the second-largest hot springs in the world, requires a six-hour hike through dense forest, bubbling mud pools and a volcanic area named the “Valley of Desolation”. After this you emerge over the lake to see an immense cloud of steam rising off the grey-blue water. The Boiling Lake trailhead is near Titou Gorge, where you can swim through the refreshingly cool water into the darkness between the gorge walls, against the strong current, to a gushing waterfall. The dappled light streaming down through the thick foliage up above is nothing short of ethereal.
Boiling Lake Hike, DominicaDominica Tourist Board
For a journey into the mysterious depths of the island, take a boat trip down the Indian River, which was the set location (among other places on the island) for Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest. Minutes after the sound of the busy main road drifts away, the river narrows, trees close in overhead, the sunlight dims, and the only sound is of birdcall. The swirling tree roots seem to overtake the shoreline, intertwined in fantastic patterns. It’s as if you’ve entered a fantasy world.
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A 15-square-kilometre area in northeast Dominica is Kalinago Territory – land belonging to the indigenous Kalinago (or Carib) people, who inhabited the island long before European colonization. A model village, Kalinago Barana Auté, showcases the traditional practices and values of this tiny ethnic group.
A village tour involves learning the history of the Kalinago people as you are shown round by an extremely knowledgeable local guide. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet ex-chief Faustulus Frederick on your way round, as he makes crafts in a small hut on site, overlooking the ocean.
Will I see some marine life up close?
Whale-watching is a big draw. Dominica is the only country where you can see sperm whales offshore year-round (though November–March is the most likely), and there’s also a high chance of spotting either killer whales or large pods of dolphins.
The whale-watching boats track the creatures with underwater audio devices (hydrophones). Highly trained staff can tell how many whales are communicating, and how far away they are, from the giant creatures’ clicking sounds, which are played aloud to passengers.
Go snorkelling at Champagne Reef with a guide, and you’re guaranteed to see an abundance of sea life, such as parrotfish, needlefish, sea cucumbers, puffer fish, green turtles, trumpet fish, huge yellow-tube sponges and more. Plus you’ll be swimming in water that’s literally bubbling (hence the reef’s name), as thousands of little pockets of sulphur emerge from the volcanic rock beneath.
Similarly, at Bubble Beach, by the town of Soufrière in the island’s southwest, the sea shallows are warmed by hot sulphuric gases trickling into the water in tiny bubbles – watch out in the shallows, it gets really hot.
How do I get there?
Flights to Dominica from the UK usually stop over in Antigua. From the rest of Europe and the US, flights connect at a number of Eastern Caribbean states, including Antigua, Barbados, St Maarten, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Where should I sleep?
For unparalleled tropical gardens: Eco-inn Papilotte Wilderness Retreat is practically hidden in vegetation and has natural hot pools, a private waterfall and great food.
For a remote getaway: Beau Rive is a plantation-styled boutique hotel with beautiful, homely shared spaces and refreshing sea breezes.
For turtle hatchings: Rosalie Bay is a luxurious eco-resort, run on 100 percent renewable energy