Dominica is a small but gorgeous island in the eastern Caribbean, just south of Guadeloupe and north of Martinique. Its main virtue, at least from my perspective, is that it does not have a large airport, or particularly impressive beaches, by Caribbean standards. But it does have superb diving and, in my assessment, the most dramatic and spectacular scenery in the entire Caribbean. The official moniker of the tourism bureau: “Nature Island” hardly does justice to this verdant and spectacular island. As a fellow traveler said to me in 1986 as I was to embark on my first visit to the island “On Dominica, the gorges are gorgier and the jungles are junglier than anywhere else”.
The island is comparatively inexpensive by the standards of the Eastern Caribbean. While there are some reasonable beaches, particularly around Calibishie in the north, they are nothing special compared to other nearby islands. It is the lush interior of the island that distinguishes this island from others in the Caribbean. Given the absence of flat land for a full sized airport. only small planes from nearby islands are able to land. Dominica is also accessible via ferry boats from Guadeloupe and Martinique. The slightly more difficult logistics for arrival, and the lack of glorious strands of sand synonymous with so many other Caribbean islands, means that comparatively few travelers make it here. It thus makes the experience even more special for those who do.
The capital, Roseau, is a funky, lively, friendly and fairly noisy Caribbean town. Yet shortly after sunset, the bustle quickly ends and virtually everything in the town, save for a few restaurants, shuts down. Things get a bit livelier if a cruise ship calls in port for a day, but otherwise there are few other visitors, and the ambience is reminiscent of what the Caribbean must have been like fifty years ago.
I was interested in doing the demanding seven hour trek to the Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake. It is within Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a trek not to be underestimated, although the vast majority of travelers succeed in making it all the way to the final point. The Valley of Desolation has a series of fumaroles and steam vents. The end point is at a viewpoint above Boiling Lake, the second largest in the world after one in New Zealand, where burbling gas splatters along the surface of the grey lake. We had a mixture of overcast and rainy weather during our trek.
I stayed at the oddly named Wotten Waven, a small community due east of Roseau in the interior of the island and at the edge of the entry into the park. I stayed a a gorgeous if simple lodge called “Le Petit Paradis” where Julie, the local owner, delights in providing guests with her special rum punch concoction know as “The Bullet”. Nearby are a series of hot springs and pools, run down and crumbling, but charming all the same. The village is surrounded by the lushest rainforest in the entire Caribbean. Trafalgar Falls is not too far away. This really is a magical experience and one of my favourite places in the entire Caribbean.
Another highlight is that Dominica has the last group of indigenous Carib Indians remaining in the Caribbean. Carib Country is a reserved area about two thirds of the way up the Atlantic Coast of the island. We stayed at a local guesthouse, run by a Carib. My experience was rather underwhelming, and slightly sad. There are a few Caribs selling mediocre trinkets along the side of the road. The owner of the guesthouse also talked about the difficulty in organizing the community to defend their interests and opined that the government did not really care about the future of the last remaining indigenous people. He also decried the short term mentality of many of his fellow Caribs in that they were prepared to concede long term rights and prosperity from shorter term immediate economic gain.
Calibishie along the north coast not far from Portsmouth is one of the better places to be based with several options for accommodation, and most of Dominica’s better beaches are nearby, if not always easy of access. It is primarily a fishing village and has a nice relaxed vibe.
Renting a compact 4×4, for about $50 to $60 per day, is a good way to see the island. Many of the roads are extremely steep and winding (not for the faint of heart!) and driving from one place to another takes considerably longer than one might expect in this comparatively compact island. It is one of my favourite lightly discovered jewels in the entire Caribbean.