Dominica, often confused with the Dominican Republic, is probably not what you envisage when you think of a Caribbean Island. Forget flashy resorts and white sand beaches, this is an island of stunningly unspoilt, rugged and rare nature – pristine rainforest, dramatic volcanoes, bubbling rivers and wild seas. With a barely chartered feel, that many of the neighbouring islands had thirty years ago, there’s not really any other Caribbean island quite like it. The people are warm and welcoming and seem genuinely intrigued by the small trickle of visitors venturing over to their little corner of paradise each year. With a landscape so dramatic it often feels like driving through a film set, it’s little wonder the island was selected as the backdrop to many of the scenes of Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest. Despite being ravaged by Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, the Dominican people have shown incredible resilience and the island’s infrastructure was more-or-less back in place when our resident travel expert, Roxane, visited just four months later. This is an off-the-beaten-track Caribbean experience and a nature-lovers paradise.
Top 10 things to do in Dominica
1. Rivers & waterfalls
There’s a river for every day of the year in Dominica – which, in a country that is only double the size of the Isle of Wight, means you don’t need to look too hard to find one. We loved waking up and just jumping into the crystal clear rock pools outside our room at Citrus Creek each morning.
There are many waterfalls to explore across the island – Sari Sari, Trafalgar, Middleham, Spanny, Emerald Pool to name but a few. After the storm, many of the paths to the falls have been washed away, so it can be necessary to pick up a local guide to make the trip (there tend to be friendly rastas waiting around the key sites to help you on your way) but the beauty of going this way, rather than as part of an organized day tour, is that more often than not you’ll then be the only people there. We spent a very happy afternoon hiking to Victoria Falls in the southeast of the island. Our guide was Israel, the lovely rasta who runs the little café just where you park, and in his charmingly laid-back style he led us across rivers and through forest to reach the falls, answering our questions on the flora and fauna as we went. ‘Hike’ is a bit of an overstatement – it was only an hour or so round trip but we were on holiday after all!
2. Titou Gorge
Titou Gorge has its very own place on this list and was one of our favourite experiences of the trip. As with many places in Dominica – it was a bit of a challenge to find, with no road signs and nothing more than a small opening at the end of an unmade road towards the middle of the island but, after a couple of stops and pointers from locals, we found it and were so glad that we did. Swimming through a gap in the rock on the edge of a rather underwhelming looking pool, you enter the gorge. Just a couple of metres wide and with the rock face stretching 10 or so metres above you, the shouts and laughter from people swimming outside fall away and you are drawn towards the sound of rushing water further into the gorge.
In the shade of the gorge, the cool water is a midnight blue and looking upwards you can see the bright green of the forest’s canopy above. It is only about 20 metres to the waterfall within and as you approach, the current forces you back but it is an amazing experience and well worth the effort. Worth noting that the water is deep throughout the gorge, so it might not be for you if you’re not a strong swimmer but you can easily come in a little way and then turn back and, for the claustrophobes amongst us (myself included), there’s plenty of space.
3. The Boiling Lake
The second largest boiling lake in the world after Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand, Dominica’s Boiling lake is a huge, natural boiling cauldron, bubbling away at the end of a 13km hike through the rainforest. It’s fairly challenging terrain to get there with three big climbs and a 6 hour round trip so we’d highly recommend you take a guide as the vegetation grows so fast that sometimes the pathways can be obscured.
4. Scotts Head
Scotts Head is a friendly village on the southern most tip of Dominica, with a headland that looks out over the Atlantic meeting the Caribbean Sea. There’s a small pebble beach here and a row of small recently renovated rum-shacks along the shorefront, the perfect place to while away an afternoon, chatting to the friendly barmen over a cold beer or two.
5. Diving and snorkeling
The clear waters and incredible reef formations surrounding Dominica, make for some fantastic diving and snorkeling. Scotts Head Marine Reserve has some of the best scuba diving and Champagne Beach offers a unique bubble effect thanks to the gases released from the volcanic rock below. But, if you prefer to stay above the water there are some great opportunities for Whale Watching – with the peak season for Sperm Whales running from January through to April. The main dive companies are Anchorage Dive Centre, Buddy Dive Dominica and Dive Dominica.
6. Batibou Beach
Despite Dominica’s lack of beaches versus its Caribbean neighbours, there are a number of beautiful bays up in the north of the island that are well-worth a visit – the best of which is Batibou Beach. Located down a steep, unmade road just south of Calibishie, it’s either a 15-minute walk or a shorter drive by 4×4 to get down to this beautiful golden sand beach, fringed with palm trees, waves rolling in from the Caribbean Sea. It’s a remote spot and uncharacteristically of the island, there were a few incidences of robberies a couple of years back but there has since been a guard installed on the beach and we felt perfectly safe.
The island’s capital, Roseau, is a bustling town boasting a mish-mash of French, British, African and Creole influences that reflect Dominica’s recent past. There isn’t a huge amount to do here other than wander around and stock up on provisions. If you’re in town on a Saturday, head down to the market – a hive of local farmers and craftsmen selling their wares.
8. Indian River
Take a rowing boat down the Indian river – a mangrove clad inlet teaming with hummingbirds, jumping fish and crabs. There is a delightful little rum-shack at the end of the river and a return boat costs about US$20 per person.
9. Hot springs & spas
Wotten Waven is the hub for Dominica’s natural wellness and relaxation therapies though there are plenty more dotted around. Kick back in the hot springs and then take a dip in the natural, mineral rich sulphur spas at Screw’s Spa or Ti Gwen Glo Cho to name just a couple.
The Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stretches across 17,000 acres of pristine rainforest, lakes, waterfalls, rivers and volcanoes. There are two other national parks in Dominica, with all three linked together by the 185km long Wai’tukubuli National Walking Trail. The trail is broken down into 14 segments and stretches from Scotts Head in the south up to Cabrits in the north-east, providing over 70 hours of treks. Happy hiking!
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar (though US dollars and Euros are widely accepted)
Language: English is the official language though much of the population also speak Creole, a french-based patois
Time difference: GMT -4 hours
International dial code: +1
Plug type: D (three pin) & G (same as UK)
How to get to Dominica
There are no direct flights from Europe or the USA to Dominica. Douglas Charles Airport (formerly Melville Hall Airport) up in the north of the Island has daily flights from Guadeloupe, Antigua, Barbabos, Puerto Rico, Granada and St. Maarten. LIAT, Air Antilles, Seaborne Airlines, Coastal Air Transport and Winair all fly to Dominica linking up relatively neatly with the longer-haul flights landing into the neighbouring islands. If you are booking each leg independently, we would recommend allowing a fair bit of buffer as the inter-island flights have a tendency to be delayed (particularly those later in the day). Worth noting that there is a US$23 departure tax when you leave Dominica that is payable at the airport.
If you would prefer not to fly, L’Express Des Iles runs daily ferry services from Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Lucia that arrive into and depart from Roseau.
There is a limited bus service that operates around Dominica, but we would highly recommend hiring a car to allow you to fully explore. There are a number of car hire outlets at the airport but we’d recommend booking ahead as availability is limited. The main roads on the island are ok, although when we visited in January 2016 a section of road down in the south-east was yet to be rebuilt following Storm Erika – so the circular route around the island was broken. Certain beaches and waterfalls require 4×4 access, but you can survive without so long as you are given a car with a relatively high chassis.
Where to stay in Dominica
The beauty of Dominica is the lack of large resorts found on so many of the other islands across the Caribbean. There is an eco-vibe amongst the hotels here –many of which have a self-catering element. Despite Dominica not being very big, we enjoyed staying in a couple of different places to experience the varying vibes of the different parts of the island and to avoid long days driving.
Tucked away and with only four bungalows and villas to speak of, this eco-friendly hotel stays true to its name. The hideaway is perched on a clifftop overlooking glittering ocean below, not to mention two glorious stretches of powdery beaches – the perfect spots for some serious r&r. Run by charming owner, Gregor, and his wife Sandra, you can expect excellent service alongside those views.
Where to eat in Dominica
We ate well in Dominica – delicious fresh papaya and grapefruits, fresh fish and plenty of sticky pork or jerk chicken for dinner. Vegetables are fresh and tasty – and Callaloo – a delicious local soup made from dasheen leaves and coconut milk, was a firm favourite for us at most of the restaurants we visited. Rum is the local tipple and it’s punchy at that – with its 55% ABV, you could easily end up with a slightly fuzzy head in the morning. The local Kubuli Beer is a deliciously refreshing (and far less alcoholic) alternative. In terms of restaurants, it’s worth noting that Dominicans seem to eat their main meal at lunch, so some restaurants either close early in the evening or aren’t open at all. Hotel’s are of course an exception to this rule.
Delightfully named “Snackettes” are located in most villages and serve a variety of bakes, salted fish and stuffed plantain to keep you going after a long hike. Below we have highlighted five of our favourite restaurants in Dominica.
Café Desiderata, Roseau – located in the centre of bustling Roseau, the café serves breakfast and lunch using fresh, local produce. We had homemade jerk chicken wings and salt & pepper shrimp – both of which were delicious.
The LOFT Art & Café, Roseau – an art gallery located on the seafront, showcasing local artists including owner Tiffany Burnett-Biscombe’s work. There is a bar and café with a great line-up of rum cocktails and daily specials including a rather tasty lobster wrap.
Riverside Café, La Plaine – the restaurant at Citrus Creek Plantation serves delicious food from a small restaurant overlooking the river. There’s a French twist in the menu as well as some local favourites including some of the best Callaloo soup we tasted.
POZ Restaurant at Calibishie Gardens, Calisbishie – standing for “Where Pozitive People Meet”, POZ is a lively little restaurant and bar on a hill above Calibishie run by a friendly, peaced-out American.
Coral Reef Restaurant & Bar, Calibishie – a beach shack located in Calibishie behind the Coral Reef Store, serving wholesome Dominican meals – garlic prawns, coconut rice, beans and salad with a perfect view out over Pelicans feeding across the bay.
When to go to Dominica
Dominica is warm throughout the year, with peak temperatures generally just below 30°C. The peak season is from December to April, when there is the least rain. September through to November is hurricane season. The Dominica Carnival is generally celebrated in February each year.
Chic Retreats spent a week exploring Dominica in January 2016.