Dominica at a glance
DOMINICA is an ideal destination for the independent, environmentally aware traveller seeking a more authentic, wholesome Caribbean experience.
It has always seemed slightly anomalous when going about Dominica that an island of such awesome physical presence has an otherwise relatively low key profile. Access is usually through Antigua and Puerto Rico, the Express des Iles boat via Martinique and Guadeloupe, and Winair’s recent air bridge from St.Lucia.
There are a handful of white sand beaches in the north east but predominantly volcanic grey sand elsewhere. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park is the region’s first World Heritage Site, with a huge variety of flora, glorious hiking, river bathing and waterfalls; outstanding marine life immediately offshore, world class scuba diving and whalewatching too. Increasing number of “nature” orientated small hotels and inns, especially inland in the growing “wellness” market. Visible military history at the 18th century Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park to the north west and a relic population of Kalinago Indians thrive in the north east’s 3,700 acre Carib Territory reserve.
Read about Dominica history, population and politics in Island Essentials.
The Definitive Dominica Island Guide gives you independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.
- Best for:
- Untamed, undiscovered lush terrain, excellent hiking, outstanding marine life, authentic island charm
- What for:
- Birdwatching, Eco/Nature, Family, Flowers & Gardens, Food & Cooking, Hiking & Walking
- Not for:
- Sailing & Regattas, Nightlife, Casinos, Golf, Naturist
- How to get there:
- Via Puerto Rico, Antigua, Barbados, St Lucia, Martinique or Guadeloupe
- Top tip:
- Break your travel on the way there or back, for a contrasting Caribbean experience
Dominica in depth
It was Alec Waugh who reckoned that to fully understand Dominica one had to walk the length and breadth of it, or words to that effect, and the sentiment still holds true today although you’d have to be some hiker to cope with much of the terrain here.
The majesty and grandeur of Dominica’s mountainscape and valleys is spellbinding, defining the island in a far stronger statement than the beach life and posh hotels for the rest of the Caribbean. The indigenous inhabitants, the Kalinago of South American Arawak descent, called it Waitukubuli “tall is her body”, and it’s easy to see why. A 115 mile long islandwide hiking trail of the same name has finally on stream linking ancient paths, new tracks and remote communities and attractions.
Many of the seventy thousand inhabitants in a declining population are still subsistence and cottage industry based, living off a green and fertile land, but “nature” tourism has gained a foothold as the country moves warily into the 21st century and things are definitely changing.
Tranquillity is still a given, but for how long. Some see the old order of peace and contemplation as under threat from an expanding cruise ship industry but Dominica remains a land to stir the mind, strong on “spiritus loci” and with an innately holistic outlook on life.
The people, moreover, retain a gracious olde worlde air and mannerly way, waving on remote country roads, always a ready smile, which can be quite disarming, pleasantly so mind, especially if you’ve come from a brash, more tourist orientated economy elsewhere in the region. Or North America, or the UK. Most visitors arrive at the tiny Melville Hall airport in the north east, which can be a hair raising experience in itself as the aircraft dips over a mountain onto one of the few bits of flat land in the country.
Many then travel south east to Roseau, wide eyed at the sensurround greenery and sniffing strange bouquets, heading for Fort Young or the string of shoreline hotels south of the capital, often as a preamble to sampling the more intimate delights of the low profile inland mountain and river lodges in the Roseau valley. Others are drawn to the quaint north coastal settlement of Calibishie with its white sand beaches and the dramatic coastline around Pointe Baptiste and further south at Pagua Bay.
The ethereal scenery is difficult to assimilate at first viewing, the primordial volcanic landscapes with peaks rising to nearly over 5000 feet hosting one of the best preserved sections of oceanic rainforest in the western hemisphere with staggering plant life and 167 species of birds alone, including the endangered endemic, Amazona Imperialis, or Sisserou parrot to the locals. Indeed, for the true aficionado, birdwatching is utterly mesmeric, typified at high levels in the haunting tone of the rufous throated solitaire, le siffleur montagne, the mountain whistler. If you can spot this unobtrusive fellow then your eyesight’s keener than a hawk’s. You’ll hear him though, up in them thar hills.
Dominica is unlike any of its West Indian neighbours and definitely the most undefiled island in the region, “a giant plant laboratory unchanged for 10,000 years” according to the Smithsonian Institution. Beaches though are sparse around its 290 square miles but for many this is still “the place of magic”. Some of the world’s heaviest rainfall feeds 300 rivers and six waterfalls over 100 feet high, with the finest dive sites in the Caribbean lying immediately offshore. Whale and dolphin encounters are normally guaranteed on dedicated boat and catamaran excursions from bases like the Anchorage Hotel.
Certainly, staying in the smaller cottages and inns, and specifically the more alternative “roots” hideaways can facilitate a deeper appreciation of the country’s varied habitats, wildlife, culture and rhythms and organic food is generally a staple. Food, significantly, always tastes different in Dominica; or perhaps that’s just the influence of a jaded European palate. Somehow I doubt it. The national motto also serves to underline the importance of land, as if anyone needed reminding: “After God, the Earth”.
Economic pressures have mounted with the demise of the banana industry and the global downturn and people fear the spectre of progress. Bay oil production has increased though, its tangy aroma all pervasive, and the serious concerns surrounding the installation of the region’s first Rainforest Aerial Tram adjacent the Unesco World Heritage site of Morne Trois Pitons National Park have proved unfounded. The real experience is on foot of course, as Waugh so rightly observed, but this contentious apparatus in the sky has at least afforded young and old alike the chance to sample life in the canopy, an expensive ride nonetheless at about £40 for less than a mile.
Overall Dominica is an exciting , children friendly destination whether on land or sea with unpolluted beaches, great river and waterfall bathing, and where man must defer to nature. Untainted by the modern paraphernalia of life, a good place to be.
This Definitive Dominica Travel Guide is put together and maintained by top travel writers together with our own in-house team of Caribbean specialists to help you to travel to Dominica and find your way round to tbe best places. Our independent reviews give in-depth coverage about Dominica, its accommodation, things to do, places to see, getting around, how to get there and links for travel to the island.
Contributors include Deana Bellamy and Sara Macefield. Picture editor, Holly Cocker. Senior picture editor, Alexander Gray.
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Looking for inspiration?
- Appreciate the urban history and fabric of Roseau on the Historic Walking Tour
- Trek Morne Bruce beside the Botanical Gardens for spectacular views
- Scuba dive or go whale watching for once in a lifetime memories
- Hike to the Boiling Lake along the Waitukubuli Trail
- Ride down Indian River, through Portsmouth, to the Cabrits National Park