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December 2013

Wild & Wonderful Dominica
“Nature Island” is a Rejuvenating Revelation
By Susan Campbell

Rosalie Bay Beach

It’s not an easy island to get to. Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-ee-ka and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is in the eastern Caribbean and only accessible by small plane or ferry.

Boiling Lake (Photo: DiscoverDominca)
No major airlines land there, and there are no high-rise resorts, modern shopping malls, casinos or fancy entertainment complexes. And it’s not an easy island to get around either. Steep roller-coaster roads wind sharply up throughout towering volcanic mountains in dizzying circles. Mother Nature has made it very difficult for man to tame this primal outpost. And that’s a good thing. If this island was more accessible and easier to traverse, the masses would have probably ruined it long ago. But for now, this seriously unspoiled Caribbean paradise is still off-radar for most casual travelers. However, if you’re seeking an exhilarating and actively healthy holiday, there are few better places in the tropics to explore than Dominica.

Take a hike…

They don’t call it “The Nature Island” for nothing. Dominica is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, and because it’s still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, it has some unique attractions. Like a boiling lake! Hard core hikers (and you REALLY need a guide) can accept the challenge of the arduous 8-hour journey to see it up close. But regardless of your hiking ability, you’re sure to find a route to suit your physical condition as the recently completed Waitukubuli National Trail -the Caribbean's first long distance hiking circuit- boasts 300 miles of trails.

Emerald Pool
But I’m not a hiker. However, I do enjoy short treks to very special places, especially when there’s a water attraction to cool off in at the end of it. And Dominica has water. 365 rivers, 12 waterfalls, scads of hot sulphur springs, and of course, the sea!

Two easy treks I recommend lead to resplendent water attractions. The first is Emerald Pool- a gentle walk up and down stairs embedded into the trail leads you to an enchant ing falls ending in shallow waters surrounded by lush rainforest where you can take a dip. This is just one of the many natural wonders in Morne Trios Pitons National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage site. The second is Trafalgar Falls- actually, twin falls side-by-side. The lookout affords incredible views, or you can go down to the base to stand under the rush of mountain water.

Trafalgar Falls
Papillote - an enchanting wilderness retreat and sulphur springs, also has spectacular falls. The bracing cold waterfall runs beside the hot natural pools creating a natural hydrotherapy circuit. They also have a dining terrace and offer guided garden walks through an impressive botanical collection. (Mick Jagger spent a week with his son in one of the charming little villas there.) This is one of many natural sulphur spring spots around the island where you can soak your soreness (usually from hiking) away. Another is picturesque Tia’s up in Wotten Waven.

There are also gorgeous vistas and a stunning waterfall that pours right into the sea at Kalinago Barana Autê - a recreated village paying homage to the island’s original Carib tribe. Take a guided tour, taste some local food and view how they still weave baskets by hand and make dugout canoes the old-fashioned way.

Kalinago Barana Autê

Past Kalinago chiefs

Explore pristine seas…

Secret Beach
Dominica’s waters and reefs are full of colourful fish. And where else can one snorkel around an “elephant’s ass” and come back with a banana on your face! The “ass” is actually a sea cave carved into a cliff that closely resembles an elephant’s butt- and inside is a screeching colony of bats! Surreal. And the banana? That’s how the owner of Sunset Bay Club Hotel describes the faces of her guests after a dive or snorkel there. She says, “They’re always wearing a BIG banana when they return!” And we were.

Seaside Dive Operators were our guides; they are located in front of the Sunset Bay Club - the island’s only all-inclusive resort option.

Another epic snorkel experience is at Champagne Reef . Volcanic gases erupt from the sea floor causing the waters to explode in random spurts of warm, fizzy bubbles. The guided snorkel also reveals a sunken Spanish cannon.

Beyond being the “Nature Island”, Dominica also lays claim to being the “Whale Watching Capital of the Caribbean”. It’s a valid claim. With three species of whales regularly passing through during migration, and sperm whales staying there all year-round, your chances of spotting one are about 85%. We were aboard Anchorage Tours - the pioneers in whale watching there- and we saw lots of sperm whales.

Dominica from the water

A mystical Indian River tour …

Indian River
Taking a row boat tour of the Indian River is like traveling through the Amazon without those pesky crocodiles, piranhas and poisonous snakes. (Though our guide “Hurricane David” did say there could be the odd boa, but they are friendly and just want go give you a big hug!) The canopy of mangroves with their gnarled roots reaching out of the milky emerald waters is like gliding through the land that time forgot. Its eerie other-worldly aura was not lost on the director of Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest and also the next sequel, At World's End, shot many scenes there.

At the end of the route is funky river bar where you must try “dynamite” made with local rums and indigenous herbs and spices. It’s a potent punch that will surely blow your mind.

Where to stay:

We stayed at two distinctly different locations. The first being Fort Young Hotel right in the heart of Roseau, steps from the local markets and main town which is seriously authentic Caribbean. Rooms were pleasant and spacious with huge decks looking out into the cruise ship jetty. It’s constructed within some of the original fort walls and has seaside dining, waterfalls and a pool, but no beach. It’s a perfect stay to get a feel for local color.

View from Fort Young Hotel

Fort Young Hotel Entrance

Rosalie Bay Resort
Our second stay was on the southeast coast, eco-resort Rosalie Bay Resort , dedicated to healthy living and wellness. The many unique facets of this retreat include the black sand that sparkles in the sun, the spot where Rosalie River meets a perfect aqua sea, the luxurious accommodations in spacious cabins, healthy eating, yoga, power walks and a Zen spa in an idyllic setting.

View from Rosalie Bay Resort

But for me, the opportunity to be able to participate in their baby sea turtle hatchling release was incredible. Resort owner Beverly Deikel and her partner Oscar established the first sea turtle protection efforts on Dominica there, and today three species of sea turtles – leatherback, hawksbill and green enjoy a safe place to nest and hatch on their beach.

Rosalie Bay Cottage

See my video of baby sea turtle release here:

Dominica is indeed a glorious nature island well worth exploring, visit:

Hatchling at Rosalie Bay Resort

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