From hiking mountain peaks to scuba diving abyssal drop-offs, there are enough nature and culture-based activities here to keep you coming back for more. Here are just 10 of them…
There are plenty of trails to suit all abilities and interests. Dominica’s signature hike is the Boiling Lake Trail, a full day-hike through the active volcanic caldera of the Valley of Desolation to the Boiling Lake itself. Heritage trails take in rural communities and former colonial sites such as the Fort Shirley Garrison in the Cabrits National Park; river hikes lead to towering waterfalls; mountain trails lead to the summits of the island’s highest volcanoes; and specialist nature trails take in endemic parrot habitats.
Dominica is covered in a vast network of hiking tracks, many of which were originally created by runaway slaves or by the Kalinago, and some of them are joined-up to form a 200km through-island trek called the Waitukubuli National Trail (a 115-mile hike) which is unique to the region. Quite simply, Dominica is a hiker’s paradise.
The water is clear, the marine life varied and the weather warm enough to spend an entire day in the sea. There are dive sites all along Dominica’s west coast, many of which reflect the steep and dramatic topography topside, with steep drop-offs, walls, and volcanic pinnacles. The volcanically active Champagne Reef is in shallow water so even snorkellers can enjoy swimming in a sea of bubbles. In the south east, the Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve is a big draw for underwater photographers. Colourful and healthy coral reefs teem with marine creatures of all kinds, including frogfish, seahorses, passing hawksbill turtles and eagle rays.
Located on Dominica’s rugged east coast, the Kalinago Territory is home to descendants of the island’s first people who travelled along the island chain from South America in their dug-out canoes. The Kalinago Barana Auté is a ‘model’ village of traditional thatched huts where cultural displays explain the legacy of Dominica’s indigenous people. Colonial culture is reflected in Creole – a fusion of Africa and French European – and that manifests itself today in language, place names, music, dance, and food dishes such as callaloo and sancoche.
Dominica’s volcanic nature becomes apparent and accessible in its numerous hot, mineral-rich springs and pools. Head to the hamlet of Wotten Waven in the Roseau Valley and you will find that naturally occurring springs have been transformed into beautiful wellness spas and gardens where you can enjoy a soak, a volcanic mud scrub, a massage or a yoga class.
On the iconic Boiling Lake Trail, natural hot pools can be found trailside and are a real bonus on the return journey when your leg muscles are longing for some respite. Fresh air and pure water, wholesome ‘ital’ food, and a helping of exercise, combine to make Dominica the natural wellness capital of the Caribbean.
In addition to the Boiling Lake Trail, the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is full of natural beauty. A popular and accessible attraction for many is the Emerald Pool, an idyllic waterfall and pool surrounded by rainforest in the lush heart of Dominica. The Middleham Falls, one of Dominica’s tallest, is also located in the park and is a relatively easy there-and-back hike.
Nestled between the volcanic peaks of Morne Mictotrin and Morne Trois Pitons itself are two crater lakes; the Boeri and the Freshwater, both of which have scenic hiking trails through montane and cloud forest. For the adventurous, a round-trip hike to the summit of Morne Trois Pitons takes around six hours and offers spectacular vistas of the island.
Because Dominica’s inshore waters are so deep, they are a perfect habitat for pelagics. Sperm whales are present year-round and, if you are lucky, can even be spotted from the shore. The best way to see them, however, is to take a whale watching trip with one of the operators in the south. Sightings of sperm whales are common, and the trip will often encounter large pods of dolphins. Pilot, humpback and killer whales are also frequently sighted here.
Dominica is an island of adventure and you can take your experience to the extreme in any number of ways. The 200km Waitukubuli National Trail is a challenge to both hikers and trail runners, a plentitude of remote farm feeder roads double-up perfectly for mountain bikers, and there are tough volcano trails for those who like a bit of climbing with their walking. A popular form of extreme adventure is a canyoning trip through one of several river gorges where rappelling down tall waterfalls and leaping into deep pools is both thrilling and stunningly beautiful.
Dominica has two endemic Amazonian parrots – the Sisserou and the Jaco – both of which are officially considered ‘vulnerable’. With an experienced birding guide, the parrots can be sighted in Dominica’s forested interior, especially along the Syndicate Nature Trail in the Morne Diablotin National Park. Other notable birds found on Dominica include the Rufous-Throated Solitaire (known locally as mountain whistler), tremblers, thrashers, forest thrushes and four species of regionally endemic hummingbirds.
With empty beaches, lush rainforest and jagged, jutting mountains, it’s no surprise that Dominica was the setting for much of the Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. While it helps if you’ve watched the film (you can see Calypso’s house, swim through the gorge where Orlando Bloom was chased, and head to Hamstead Beach, where there was a three-way sword fight between the main characters) you don’t need to be a movie buff to enjoy the scenery. As you walk across the rickety rope bridges, explore the ruined churches or sail along rivers lined with gnarled roots of mangrove trees, it’s very easy to picture yourself as the hero of a movie, striding where few have gone before.
Carnival takes place each year on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (usually late Feb/ early March). The main parades are in Roseau where T-shirt bands and bouyon music fill the capital’s streets on Carnival Monday. Colourful costumes and traditional ‘old mas’ bands such as lapaud cabwit and sensay provide spectacular imagery and frivolity on Shrove Tuesday. Tewe Vaval, the traditional burning of the carnival spirit, takes place in the Kalinago Territory on Ash Wednesday.
There’s also Creole Week in October, packed with traditional music and dance, steel pan and cultural events, culminating in the three-night World Creole Music Festival. In May, the highlight of the Jazz and Creole Festival is an international music event held at the atmospheric Fort Shirley Garrison in the Cabrits National Park.
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