“If you are interested in a river for every day of the year, with waterfalls to match, bubbling pools of hot & cold water (including an actual boiling lake), hot sulphur springs & wild untamed rainforest, then you’re in the right place!”
Dominica, Windward Islands, The Caribbean
I have spent significant time over the last 2 years exploring the Caribbean & making a home away from home on stunning Antigua. For my final trip before I head back to the UK, Dominica stood out as a neighbouring island, with a very different appeal to the rest of the archipelago.
After visiting, I have to say that Dominica blew my mind! It’s called “The Nature Island” & is a contrast to anywhere else in the region I’ve explored so far. Tourism here is relatively undeveloped in comparison to its neighbours. There are no all-inclusive resort hotels & no international airport. They have limited traffic from cruise ships as the port can only accommodate 1 of these giants at a time (compared to Antigua’s 4!). That said, there are 3 big hotels currently under construction on the island…which makes you feel that an international flight schedule is on its way.
When To Go?
For me, all this means that now is THE time to visit. I went in May, just before the start of the hurricane season (June – November), but after the cruise ships had left for the year. This meant for most of the places I mention here, I pretty much had this paradise to myself!
What Does Domnica Have To Offer?
“There are not endless stretches of white palm-fringed sandy beaches that many tourists flock to this part of the world for. If you’re looking for all of that, then I suggest you choose another island.”
If, on the other hand, you are interested in a river for every day of the year (all with waterfalls to match), bubbling pools of hot & cold water (including an actual boiling lake), hot sulphur springs & wild untamed rainforest, then you’re in the right place!
People who visit Dominica come for different reasons. For example, there’s the incredible hiking & world leading, all-season whale watching. Dominica also has the highest concentration of active volcanoes of any Caribbean nation (9 to be precise). It is, therefore, a fascinating country for anyone who loves getting back to nature.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Dominica & devastated the nation. 260 mile per hour winds ravaged this beautiful island, changing the topography as a result. “Headless” trees have now replaced the thick canopies which previously covered the landscape. The mountains are green from the creeping plants which cover them but give a false sense of nature’s recovery.
“The rivers have changed their shape due to the rocks, mud & silt which was deposited as a result of Marias’ attack.”
There are giant boulders in places where they weren’t present before, abandoned in situ after the winds left. Landslides cover the slopes & houses were razed to the ground in the wake of the hurricane.
It was a tragic event, leaving a nation behind with PTSD, a huge sense of loss but ambitions to rebuild. I didn’t see the majesty of the island before but spent my time with plenty of people who told me how their home had changed. For me, it is still a beautiful paradise island, in recovery & showing guts & determination. It is up to us now to help support them in their efforts in any small way. Through visiting, spending & telling others why they should do the same, we will be helping this strong island rebuild.
However, before you go there are a number of things which you will need to consider in managing your expectations when travelling after the impact of a hurricane. To learn more about this then please see my blog post 6 Top Tips On Visiting An Area After A Hurricane.
What do you need to know?
I have compiled a list of my Top 20 Activities not to miss in Dominica. That said, I did not visit all of these but in conversations with locals & tourists, I got a very good idea of what the highlights are! Several remain on my list but with a strong desire to revisit & pick them off next time. I always believe it’s important to have a reason to return!
How much does it cost?
I have quoted prices here in a combination of US Dollars (many of the tourist sites quote this currency) & Eastern Caribbean Dollars (EC$) (actual local currency). EC$ are used in most of the English-speaking nations in the region. For current rates check out XE Currency Converter.
For the Dominican National Parks, you will need to purchase a ticket (US$5) which you can get at any of the entrances. If you are on the island for a week or more & plan to visit a number of these sites, then I would advise that you purchase a Weekly Pass (US$12).
“In theory, these should be available at all of the National Park Offices. Reality is that we went to 4 locations to try & get one & 3 had run out. Clearly, Dominica needs to work a little harder if it wants to appeal to the mass tourism market!”
However, if you speak to the people at the entrance, they may make an exception until you can get your pass (which we didn’t quite understand until we had bought the 1-day version!). I have highlighted the sites which the passes apply for with a *.
So, here are my Top Picks for an unforgettable stay in Dominica…
These impressive twin falls are a must-see on every list for Dominica. The falls drop from the 200ft cliff next to each other. They are termed the “Father” falls at 125ft & the “Mother” at 75ft & are spectacular. There is an easy wooden walkway to the viewing platform where you can take photos to your heart’s content. I would advise wearing good shoes though, so you can go a little further. A short climb across the rocks will bring you to a pool where you can cool off & survey this natural spectacle from a different vantage point. Beware though, the rocks can be slippery!
2. Emerald Pool*
If you love waterfalls, this truly is paradise! Take your swimming gear as a dip in the gorgeous clear water is a refreshing treat. The falls which flow into the pool are 40ft high & the area is surrounded by the lush green tropical forest which distinguishes Dominica so beautifully. It’s just a short walk along a well-maintained path to get to the falls.
3. Boiling Lake
This is a challenging hike & you cannot do it without a guide. It’s a 6-hour round trip but the prize is the second largest boiling lake in the world. The walk is supposed to be otherworldly, passing steaming vents, hot streams & geysers along the way. It is well worth the effort. For a guide ask at your accommodation & they should have no problems with giving recommendations.
4. Wotten Waven
The village is hot springs central in Dominica & you have a lot of options to choose from. I went to Ti Kwen Glo Cho which I would thoroughly recommend. The site is on a family property which they have transformed into a stunning, well-maintained garden paradise. Here you can wallow for as long as you like in hot pools, cold showers, mud pools or just enjoy the gorgeous setting. It’s a well-deserved US$10 to enter & they also have a bar with a dazzling array of home-made bush rums (see Number 20).
5. Titou Gorge
I had no idea what to expect but it had been highly recommended as worth taking some time here. The gorge sits at the top of a hydro-electric pipe which is an unimpressive entrance to a magical world! You can only go into the water with a life jacket which you can hire for EC$5. Be warned that the water is cold & the ground rocky, so the sooner you take the plunge, the better!
Your efforts will be rewarded with an otherworldly float through a crack between 2 rock faces which in places is only 1m wide. The glow of the green plants, cascading from the ceiling makes it feel like you have just swum into a secret paradise. It’s only a short swim to the cave at the end to see the power of the waterfall which fills the gorge.
“The scramble onto the ledge is worth the effort to make it through into the final pool for some unique photo opportunities!”
6. Champagne Reef
A small sign just off the road between Roseau & Soufriere indicates the presence of this interesting landmark. You can then hire snorkelling equipment & fins from the shack on the beach. At the end of the rocky beach, there is a jetty where you can launch into the water. A log indicates the site of the pool where bubbles exit from holes in the sea floor, making it feel like you’re swimming in a bath of champagne. Beyond that is a snorkelling area & reef.
7. Middleham Falls*
This is an impressive waterfall & one of Dominica’s highest at 200ft. It is around 45 minutes to hike each way on a well-maintained pathway. Be prepared for a bit of a rock scramble towards the end. The falls are spectacular!
You will find a viewing platform again but if you’re feeling bold, then head a little further across the rocks. There you can bath in the pool at the bottom. There are a couple of smaller pools which looked easier to access if you would prefer. If you love a waterfall (& in Dominica, you have plenty to choose from!), then you can also head to Victoria & Sari Sari Falls which are also apparently worth a visit.
8. Syndicate Parrot Reserve*
Part of the Morne Diablotin National Park, this is a nice & easy, 1-hour trail into the rainforest. Here, you have the chance of seeing the endangered Dominican parrots (Sisserou & Jaco). When I went, we heard but failed to spot these interesting birds. You can also see hummingbirds & huge trees, reminiscent of the Amazon rainforest to me! The canopy has taken a beating from the hurricane, but it is still an interesting stroll & impressive forest.
9. Indian River*
Again, not a place I visited but this sounds like a serene excursion along the slow-moving, mangrove edged river for some Dominican wildlife spotting. Apparently, if you head to the mouth of the river, you will be able to pick up a boat at EC$50/person for a 1 ½ hour tour.
10. Cabrits National Park*
If you enjoy the old ruined forts which abound across the Caribbean, then here is where you can get your fix in Dominica. On this island, it was all about the battle for ownership between the British & the French, centred on Fort Shirley in this pretty peninsula. There are cannons, ruins, the Commandant’s Quarters which still features a room full of lead shot, fantastic views of the bay, land crabs & more cannons! Well worth a visit…especially if you like cannons:).
11. “Secret” Hot Sulphur Springs
I was in Dominica for just over a week & in both places I stayed I was taken to a small, hot sulphur spring which made me believe that these are dotted all across the island! They can be in all sorts of places…
Secret River Spa
The first I went to was on the banks of a river. A walk to the beach, a swim across the river, a clamber into a small concrete walled pool & there we were! Hot water came out of vents in the sand as a contrast to the cold river outside. It blew my mind & without a local expert, you would never know it existed!
Secret Waterfall Spa
My second experience was in Soufriere. The maintenance man at my Airbnb said he could show us a hot spring which nobody else knew about. This time it was a short hike up the side of an overgrown mountain. We passed a natural cold spring where we filled our water bottles, several huge boulders which had been displaced there after the hurricane & a pig! He said that he had shown the pool to less than 50 people & when we spotted it, we felt very special!
“My favourite quote of the trip came when I asked him if it was “THE” Boiling Lake? To which he replied “No, not that one. This is Soufriere’s Boiling Lake!” Of course, I’m sure every town in Dominica has their own boiling lake …doesn’t everywhere?”
Anyway, so followed 2 hours of wonder in an all-natural hot pool. It felt like we were sitting on velvet due to the soft, cushioned texture of the weed covering the basin. We had a view of rainforest covered mountains & the small fishing village of Soufriere below. I was convinced that this was paradise!
In conclusion, wherever you stay on this mystical island, befriend a local & ask them if they know of any small hot sulphur pools. I bet you they do. I’m sure they would show you (make sure you give a tip as a thank you). Then, just relax and enjoy!
12. Carib Reserve (Kalinago Territory)
This is an area in the south-east of Dominica on the Atlantic side of the island which covers 3700 acres of land. It is home to 3000 indigenous Carib Indians. You can visit a model Carib village which has been created to encourage tourism & the understanding of the traditional culture. Here, you can also see performances of traditional dances as well as examples of crafts such as basket weaving & pottery.
13. Mero Beach
If you’re in search of the archetypal perfect beaches of the Caribbean, then if you haven’t gathered it already, you’ve come to the wrong place! However, Dominica does have the occasional small, empty beach with grey or black sand giving away its volcanic roots. Many are rocky but if you fancy a break from being at one with nature then you could do worse than head for Mero Beach. Here, you can find a beach chair to rent & bars along the sand where you can grab a drink & a snack. I recommend taking a seat to enjoy the sunset.
14. Cold Soufriere
The highest peak in Dominica is Morne Diablotin & here in the national park is this strange & unique attraction. The views on the way are impressive as you have to drive up & into the crater of this active volcano for access. Inside, & a short, well-maintained path through the undergrowth brings you to a bubbling sulphur pool. It messed with my head a little if I’m honest. The water is blue but cloudy, there are sulphur deposits on the surrounding rocks & the smell is very distinctive.
“What was a surprise (even more than the natural bubbling pools) was that the water was cold. Just when you think you have a handle on this island, it will throw up another surprise!”
15. Whale Watching
If you are interested in whales, then this is the only country in the world where you can see Sperm Whales year-round. If you would like to hone down your luck a little more then make sure you visit between November & March. However, I do have it on good authority that it is rare to go out & not see any species of whale, at any time of year. Dominica is THE best place to see these magnificent creatures in the Caribbean as 22 out of the 33 species have been seen here. To learn more & book a trip, check out Dive Dominica.
If you haven’t guessed it already, “Soufriere” is French for sulphur. It’s an interesting note on the history of the island that many place names originate from French, whereas many street names are very clearly, English. As a location, I found Soufriere a lovely place to stay. It’s a small fishing village, with pretty candy coloured cottages peppering the side of the green mountains which surround it. You can visit the official Soufriere Sulphur Springs* where the water fills a succession of hot pools.
If you go down to the beach (next to the local church) you will find another surprise.
“This is where they have the Bubble Spa. A section of the sea which is cordoned off with sand bags & tyres which again bubbles, this time with really hot water!”
I found the temperature hard to bear, as I just went in, to paddle & investigate. Next to it is a slightly cooler version which is way less popular! There are changing rooms & a bar where the food is good & the coconut & peanut punches come highly recommended. I just enjoyed a beer as I watched the sunset on my first night.
Just along the peninsula is Scotts Head, which is a pretty fishing area & a great place for a snorkel.
You don’t come to Dominica to spend time in the city but it’s hard to be needing anything on the island without having to pay a visit at least once. For groceries, banks (ATM’s are not prevalent throughout the island, so make sure you stock up on cash), reliable WIFI or a ferry out, then you will need to come through Roseau at some point. If you do, make sure you check out the fruit market to get your fill of local, seasonal produce. When in town, I would recommend stopping by Le Petit Paris for good food, great WIFI & excellent service. It’s also right next to the ferry port if you’re getting a boat in or out (see Number 21).
This is a new hiking trail which is 115 miles long & takes you from the south to the north of the island. It is split into 14 sections & each is planned to take a day. The trail covers many of these key sites along the way. So, if you have a love of hiking & 2 weeks to spare then why not? You can find all the information you need on the website but could also consider doing some of the sections as a one-off event.
19. Visit “Pirates of the Caribbean” locations
Dominica created the backdrop for many key scenes from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, especially the 2nd instalment.
“Unfortunately, in their wisdom, the local authorities decided to remove the sets (in the case of Vielle Case) or they were destroyed by Maria (Indian River).“
Therefore, don’t expect to see any distinct remains from the filming but if you’re a fan & fancy visiting a few of the sites for posterity, then you can also head to Titou Gorge & the point at the far north of the island, off the cliffs at Cannor Heritage Park.
20. Try some Bush Rum
In every bar you visit, you will see an intriguing display of bottles containing different coloured fluids, labelled to distinguish their flavour. This will always be the local “bush rum”, & usually handmade on the property. I chose the aniseed variety (called Nani or Ani).
“Tradition appears to be that if you order one, they give you the bottle to pour your own poison. Trust me & don’t be too heavy handed!”
I like a drink, but these are pretty powerful. Choose whether to take a shot in one go or enjoy a more leisurely sip by adding water, or ice, or both. If you choose the shot option, just make sure you have some water to ease the fire afterwards! If alcohol is not your thing, you can also get the same flavours in tea which are considered to have holistic properties.
21. Get the ferry to another island
As I stated in the introduction, Dominica has a ferry service which runs catamarans between the adjacent islands. If you are keen to discover more of this beautiful part of the world, then using this service is too good to miss. Choose to spend a few days or plan your onward trip to Guadaloupe, St Lucia, Marie Galante or Les Saintes. Alternatively, I spent a fantastic few days on the island they call “France of the Caribbean”, Martinique.
“Here you can get all things French (bread, pastries, cheese, wine, euros!) with a distinct Caribbean twist.”
The roads are the best I’ve driven anywhere in the region, so hiring a car to get around is recommended. I particularly enjoyed spending time in the north of the island exploring the Mount Pelée area & the Caravelle Peninsula.
There are 2 companies which operate out of the port in Roseau & although not cheap, it is more economical than flying. If you’re interested, check out the websites. Be aware that timings may vary so heading to the offices in Roseau is also a good option. Ferry companies are Express Des Iles which offer a more frequent service & discounts for travel on a Tuesday & Saturday, or Val Ferry which is a slightly cheaper option but less regular.
How to get around?
Hire A Car
If you’re planning on spending much time in Dominica then I would definitely recommend hiring a car, for flexibility & efficiency. However, do bear in mind that many of these attractions aren’t consistently signposted on the roads. I used Maps.me to navigate the island which for me, worked well, with the occasional addition of Google Maps. Be warned that the roads are not the easiest to drive due to potholes, unmarked speed bumps & zigzagging with hairpin turns up mountains. Maria has also left her mark where some roads have been narrowed, barriers swept away & lamp posts destroyed so I would advise that you avoid driving at night if you are in any way nervous.
Hire A Driver
The other alternative, if you don’t fancy driving yourself is to hire a driver. This is common practice & takes away the stress of navigating for all the reasons previously mentioned. I would especially advise this if you are travelling alone. Your driver can then be your personal guide for your visit to the island. You can organise this through your accommodation & I would recommend contacting them in advance to arrange.
Take The Bus
For those with lots of time, not of a nervous disposition, low on budget, there is also a bus service! The service is limited to the main towns & villages, with most buses heading to & from Roseau. The fare is around EC$5/person or less, depending on the route. I would advise to always take the bus from the main “terminal” as this way you know where it stops & that you are most likely to get a seat. Not all bus stops are obvious, so when you do get off, note the location for your return.
The buses do not have a timetable, so they leave when they are full. They are privately run so they try & get to their destination as quickly as possible. This means that they don’t always feel like the safest drivers on the road! As you approach the buses you will get hassled & directed. Don’t be afraid to ask as the signs at the “terminals” are not always clear. Just tell the driver or shout when you want to get off & pay on exit.
All of that said, I used the buses numerous times & always enjoy people watching on public transport!
These are not very readily available unless you are going to or from the airport. However, if you travel around the island by cab, it is not cheap. When we arrived at the airport, they offered a lift for US$70 to Roseau which is the opposite end of the island to the main airport (Douglas-Charles/Melville-Hall). This is expensive but it is a 1-hour drive.
Hitch A Ride
Obviously, this comes with all sorts of the usual safety precautions attached but it is also common practice around the island to stand at the side of the road in order to try & catch a lift. I thankfully didn’t need to use it as the buses worked in my favour when I needed them. Not advised to do this at night.
Where next time?
I will definitely be returning to this paradise island & I look forward to ticking off some of these more elusive items from my list then. As I said earlier, Dominica needs our tourist pounds & dollars back. The island has been battered so hard both physically & emotionally that they deserve our help to thrive again. I wish them all the luck for a kind, imminent Hurricane Season. This resilient, fascinating paradise island needs a break right now.
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