Sitting amid the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, Dominica –dubbed the Nature Island -is one of the few destinations of the region which is not famed for its beaches. Instead what this magnificent jewel offers is a stunning landscape of virtually untouched rainforest and mist-enshrouded cloud forest, majestic mountains, sparkling lakes and numerous spectacular waterfalls with idyllic jungle pools at their bases.
Volcanic in nature it is also liberally peppered with fascinating natural sights connected to this such as boiling pools, hot springs, sulphur vents and other signs of geothermal activity. One of these is the amazing Champagne Reef where you will feel as if you are swimming or snorkeling in a giant champagne glass filled with bubbles. All of this natural majesty is chock full with plants, animals, birds, fish, and marine creatures, many of them rare and found nowhere else on Earth. Dominica, as a result of all this incredible treasure, adds up to a destination ideal for the adventurous nature lover and a place so incredibly pristine that it is said it is the only one of the Caribbean islands which Columbus would still recognize today if he came sailing by, as he did in reality long centuries ago.
There are a multitude of ways to immerse yourself amid all this splendor and the activity menu here is an exciting one. Possibilities include such things as river tubing, hikes both easy and challenging to visit eerie volcanic moonscapes or waterfalls, rowing into a mangrove, snorkeling over coral gardens, whale watching or hopping aboard a 4×4 safari to explore unspoiled wilderness. The capital –Roseau –is a picturesque tapestry of painted wooden houses where explorations on foot will lead you to such highlights as the colorful Old Market or the 18th century cathedral of St. Patrick’s. No matter how you decide to spend your time on the Nature Island –a filming location for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series -you will almost immediately realize you have arrived in paradise and one which most agree is unrivaled for its dramatic majesty throughout the entire Caribbean.
A Morning in Roseau
Dominica has a justifiably earned alternative title of the Nature Island and what better way to introduce yourself to this Caribbean gem than to explore one of its Mother Nature-gifted treasures –the spectacular Trafalgar Falls.
After a break for coffee you can continue on the natural magnificence theme with either a row up the Indian River or an underwater snorkeling adventure.
Dominica is exceptionally rich in natural wonders and one of the island’s most impressive examples of this is also one its most easily accessed. Just six kilometers from the capital, Roseau, can be found Trafalgar Falls which gives you not just one but two cascades known as the ‘Mother and the ‘Father’.
As the waterfalls are found after nothing more than an easy 15 minute stroll it is unlikely you will have them to yourself but getting there early in the day gives you the best chance of beating the busiest times.
Trafalgar Falls lie on the edge of national park land and their beauty can first be glimpsed just minutes after you set out. There you will find a viewing platform which allows you to get that all-important shot of both the plunging Mother and Father at once.
While simply gazing upon this marvelous duo is enough to satisfy some the waterfalls also offer the opportunity to take a gorgeous jungle-surrounded dip which for many is the highlight. Requiring a little more hiking effort to reach, the smaller of the cascades –the Mother –has a magical swimming hole at its base where you can cool down as jungle vines dangle from above. The Father also empties into a pool after plunging for almost 40m but this time its waters are of the hot sulphur variety. Mineral-rich, such waters are said to have curative health properties and whether or not you feel this could benefit you bathing in such a gorgeous natural environment as the sunlight filters down through the lush tropical greenery is exceptionally magical.
Morning Coffee in Roseau
As if the impressive Trafalgar Falls aren’t reward enough in themselves they also offer a very easy option for a coffee break very close by. Located close to the start of the falls trail can be found the gorgeous Papillote Tropical Gardens and the Rainforest Restaurant. Open for snacks and lunch, this restaurant is also happy to serve just coffee and refreshments and has an idyllic setting.Open-sided, Papillote’s restaurant is surrounded by rainforest so you can take a break while listening to the natural serenade of bird song while keeping your eyes peeled for iridescent hummingbirds and exotic butterflies.
If you want to explore a little more of this exceptional place after your morning pause you can wander the botanical garden’s trails discovering orchids, ferns, bamboo growth and an array of blossoming plants such as ginger and begonia as birds and butterflies flit around you.
Should you want to take your morning break back in Roseau head to Le Petit Paris for a French experience. With a simple but cheerful interior inside an old Creole building, Le Petit Paris also has some mountain-view tables out front if you want to be in the open air not far from the waterfront. The most wonderful thing about this little cafe/restaurant is that it also serves as a bakery and has a mouthwatering array of pastries. Some of these are of the classic French kind while others have a distinctly Dominican slant such as their chicken-filled croissants.
Exploring the Indian River by Row-boat
Located up the coast from Roseau in the town of Portsmouth can be found the Indian River, so named for a bygone era when the indigenous Kalinago people (Carib Indians) had settlements along its banks. Ideal for direct access to the sea, the river served as an integral cog in the Kalinago world as they traded goods with sailors and inhabitants of other islanders within the region. Highly picturesque and with lush vegetation crowding in from every side, the Indian River protects an important mangrove habitat which resembles a mini Amazon in both appearance and for its plentiful wildlife.
You can get among this natural splendor on board one of the manually-oared boats which ferry visitors back and forth for a 90 minute journey of exploration. Because the boats’ locomotion is created by nothing more than the muscle power of the rower your passage is slow, serene and all but silent which enhances your chances of spotting the creatures which call this area home. As well as iguanas and crabs there are a wide variety of birds here including graceful egrets and herons along with hummingbirds and kingfishers whose iridescent plumage flashes in the rays of sun which filter through the canopy. The plant life is also fascinating with the bwa mang trees and their incredible root buttresses especially notable.
Each journey by rowing boat also includes a landing which allows you to explore a little of the botanical gardens here with its famous open-air Cobra’s Bush Bar (a filming location for the Hollywood blockbuster series Pirates of the Caribbean) an essential stop for all. The highlight at Cobra’s, besides the welcome refreshments and snacks, is the ‘Dynamite’ –a rum punch made on site which is said to contain more than 40 fruits and has a kick so potent that ordering a second glass might not be the best choice to make if you want to do anything else in your day.
A Morning Alternative –Snorkeling at the Champagne Reef
If you’d rather be exploring what is under the water than floating serenely above it you can instead opt for a snorkel adventure to round off your morning. There are several incredible snorkel sites on Dominica but arguably the most spectacular has to be Champagne Reef, just 10km south of Roseau. Evidence of this volcanic island’s geothermal nature is everywhere on Dominica with natural hot pools, sulphur springs and boiling lakes just a few of the more obvious signs. Champagne Reef is one more attraction which owes its characteristics to such activity and has earned itself the title ‘champagne’ because of the constant stream of bubbles which flow from seabed and rock vents to the surface here. Many who snorkel this reef with its warm water patches liken it to swimming in a giant champagne glass.
Confident swimmers can make their way to the snorkel site from Champagne Beach while novice snorkelers or those feeling a little lazy can hop aboard a boat. Once at the reef, part of a marine reserve, you can set off exploring the spectacular underwater world spread with corals and sponges. The marine life here is prolific with rainbow-hued fish such as the pipe-like trumpet fish or elegant batfish constantly swarming around while other species frequently seen here include seahorse, ray, squid and even dolphin.
Lunch in Roseau
Blessed with fertile volcanic soils and surrounded by waters teeming with fish and shellfish, Dominica’s restaurants are gifted with a multitude of the freshest and highest quality ingredients to work with, all grown or caught right here on the island. For you this means some great dining whether you want to sample local specialties infused with Caribbean flavors or opt for something more internationally focused.
Quintessential Dominican dishes include conch, fish cakes, pumpkin soups, plantains and goat stew and the venues which offer them come in categories ranging from the humble to the sophisticated and refined.
One option for a range of Dominican flavors and ideal if you are the kind of person who finds it hard to choose from a menu when there is so much on offer is central Roseau’s Guiyave where the buffet lunches allow you to sample a little of everything. Located inside a typical Roseau building with a stone lower base topped with a wooden upper story, this restaurant has a good variety of Creole cuisine and island favorites. Waiting for you in this category are such things as plantain dishes and goat stew but the spread is quite something and also incorporates international flavors too if you don’t feel like being overly adventurous.
Of course while Roseau offers plenty of cafes and restaurants choices you don’t have to confine yourself to here. In fact, if you chose to end your morning on the Indian River you might find it more convenient to lunch in Portsmouth once your feet are back on dry land again. If you want a beach venue you can try the relaxed atmosphere Le Flambeau Restaurant and Beach Bar at the Portsmouth Beach Hotel with its range of both Caribbean and international cuisine or for a freshwater setting head to the Riverside Restaurant. Not surprisingly given its title, this modest restaurant inside an equally modest hotel by Caribbean standards is located on the riverside with an open-sided veranda so you can enjoy the location. The food however –an eclectic mix of Chinese, steaks, fish, pastas and more –is of excellent quality and beautifully presented.
An Afternoon in Roseau and Dominica
While almost anywhere you venture on the Nature Island will surround you with the magnificence of Mother Nature at her best the island’s greatest treasure is the heart-achingly beautiful Morne Trois Pitons National Park. This ultra-special destination is where you can spend your afternoon hours exploring the many possibilities packed within its boundaries which include gazing at easy-to-reach waterfalls, swimming in high altitude fresh water lakes or taking on challenging treks to immerse yourself amid incredible volcanic features.
The Morne Trois Pitons National Park
Measuring just 29 miles north to south and 16 miles across at its widest point, the small island of Dominica is nevertheless home to three national parks. The principal jewel in this crown of natural loveliness is the Morne Trois Pitons National Park. The closest of the parks to Roseau, this amazing destination covers much of the southern interior with untouched primordial rainforest thick with blooming orchids and towering ferns and which, as the land rises, gradually becomes a steaming cloud forest swirling with mists.
As the baby of the Antilles, Dominica is still being molded by its geothermal activity which gives rise to a collection of natural and fascinating phenomena and volcanic features such as boiling lakes, hot springs and geysers; all of this can be seen in this national park. Hiking the trails of the Morne Trois Pitons will give you the chance of accessing such sensational sights as well as plunging you amid luxuriant jungle scattered around with soaring peaks, cascading waterfalls, picturesque lakes and crystal mountain streams. Not surprisingly, such a lush and pristine environment is home to an astonishing biodiversity of flora and fauna and overall considered so exceptional it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Quite what you can see will depend on the level of hiking you are happy to undertake as well as any time restraints you may have. Some of the park’s major highlights are harder to get to such as Boiling Lake and need guides while others –the Emerald Pool and the Victoria Waterfall for example -take far less effort. Perhaps needless to say the more easily accessed gems are also the most popular while the reward for those prepared to work a little harder is to sometimes have their stunning destination all to themselves once they arrive.
The park’s naturally spectacular highlights are so numerous it would take a book to cover them all but the following are a small sample of what awaits.
The Emerald Pool
Representing the park’s most accessible waterfall and with nothing more required than 15 minutes to reach it, the Emerald Pool is not surprisingly the most visited of Morne Tres Pitons jewels.Although having it to yourself is unlikely this gorgeous tropical forest-surrounded waterfall-fed pool is a must-see sight. It does indeed appear to be filled with emerald-hued waters which is something more due to the light effect as it arrives after filtering through the jungle canopy than anything else.
Undeniably magical and for all the world looking as if it had been plucked straight from the pages of a fantasy book or movie, this exquisitely lovely place has not surprisingly been used as a filming location while its romance infused air makes it popular for weddings. If you want to take a dip in the pool be prepared for water temperatures which are refreshing to say the least as the waters here arrive directly from chilly mountain streams.
Along with the Valley of Desolation, Boiling Lake is the park’s most famous volcanic feature and is every bit as dramaticas its name suggests. Believed to be a flooded fumarole or vent in the crust of the Earth sitting above a lava chamber, the temperatures of the lake’s waters at the edges reach as high as 92°C/180°F while its center is indeed at boiling point.
The somewhat eerie atmosphere of this lake is no doubt enhanced by the almost continuous presence of swirling vapor clouds while the grey waters are a perpetually simmering pot.
The minimum three hour hike to this amazing sight is an arduous one, full of steep inclines, river crossings and challenging terrain but of course the reward is an isolated wonder, the second biggest of its kind in the world.
Another of the park’s highlights –the Valley of Desolation –is found halfway along the trail to Boiling Lake and is an other-worldly landscape of brightly colored lava and sulphur deposits crossed by bubbling streams and amid which continuously escaping steam clouds rise into the air.
Morne Trois Pitons is home to two stunningly beautiful freshwater lakes both of which can be reached by interest-rich trails. Perhaps the easier of the two to access is Freshwater Lake just 2 miles from Laudat. An oasis of tranquility and beauty, this lake is the country’s largest and is a source of hydro-electric power.
There are a range of hiking trails in this vicinity including a 90 minute loop track which offers some stunning vistas of the lake and its lush surroundings from a series of ridges.
A walk of 1 ¼ miles is required to get to the park’s other freshwater lake which is also Dominica’s highest altitude lake and second largest in the country. Boeri Lake sits in what was once long ago the crater of a volcano and is perhaps even more beautiful than Freshwater Lake. The wilderness-infused hike to get here is as enjoyable and interest-filled as the destination itself, taking you through rainforest peppered with exotic blooms and across shallow crystal-clear streams.Your views on a clear day allow you to take in both the lake from above and the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon while wildlife along the way may include tree lizards, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Roseau
From alfresco beach bars to sophisticated hotel restaurants and cuisine ranging from comfort food to choices for the culinary adventurous, Dominica can deliver no matter what kind of venue you had in mind for eating and drinking.
If there is anything more magical than watching a glorious Caribbean sunset with a glass of wine or tropical cocktail to hand then it has to be something rare indeed. One of Roseau’s contenders for best spot of all to have both is the Warner’s Bar which forms part of the Fort Young Hotel. This bar is located on the island’s west coast making it a prime sunset viewing spot and it seems only fitting that your day on the Caribbean’s Nature Island should both begin and end with marveling at its natural treasures.
Offering the best of both worlds with a vibe which is casual beach along with a service which is 5-star, Warner’s Bar offers an extensive cocktail menu packed with classics such as margaritas and daiquiris as well some concoctions very much the venue’s own. The drinks may be first-class but it is really the setting which steals the show. From the beautiful wooden deck here you can drink in expansive sea views above which you can watch the skies become a riot of colors as the sun sinks and the stars start winking into view.
The capital is not the only location on the island with a bar scene of course. North along the coast can be found the town of Portsmouth where the C&D Beachfront Bar and Grill swaps the genteel surroundings of the Fort Young Hotel for the fun-infused opportunity for sharing sundowners with the locals.
Beloved by the islanders, this lovely spot offers a stone patio just steps from the water or places a few bench tables right on the sands themselves for an experience which embodies the idyll of beach living.
Whichever you choose the views are lovely and, just like the Fort Young Hotel, places you on the best side of the island to enjoy the sensational sunsets. Having made the effort to get to Portsmouth you might decide dining here too makes sense so you’ll be happy to know that this venue is also a restaurant serving food which more than a few islanders will tell you is the best on Dominica.
While Dominica has a diverse variety of restaurant choices those who like to keep life as simple as possible will appreciate being able to follow their sundowners with dinner without changing venue; in the case of the C&D Beachfront Bar and Grill you can actually do thiswithout moving a muscle.
Set at absolute waterfront and with tables on either the stone patio or the beach itself, this restaurant’s super casual beach-living vibe belies the quality of the food which will arrive in front of you after you’ve placed your orders.
There is a regular menu here but also a huge blackboard filled with specials which is dictated by whatever has arrived here that day from the fishing boats. As a result fish and seafood are the focus but you can also feast on chicken, duck and steak and there are many who will tell you that the island’s food quality gets no better than this.
Transitioning from drinks to dining at the Fort Young Hotel takes slightly more effort although only that of moving from the cocktail deck to Palisades Restaurant beneath it. Sensational Caribbean Sea views continue to be the theme for every diner no matter at which table you are seated and for all those who enjoy a bit of air-conditioned comfort the restaurant’s interior is another choice.
The menu is a wonderful mix of both local and international cuisine with an emphasis on flavor and culinary creativity. All the dishes are intended to showcase the island’s bounty, whether that is from the farms of the region or the seafood variety of the Caribbean Sea.
An Evening in Roseau
Once darkness descends on the Caribbean jewel of Dominica everything focuses around the bars and restaurants which offer everything from oases of tranquility to lively spots with more of a party vibe.
In common with most of the Caribbean islands music plays a large part in the culture with jing ping bands playing the traditional music of Dominica. Besides this the opportunity of enjoying live performances of everything from jazz to reggae is there for those who want it. Sometimes it is just about wandering until you hear something which interests you spilling out from within while other venues host regular weekly events and allow you to plan in advance.
The hotels are typically your best bet for live music and entertainment one or two nights a week and most are open for non-guests. Options here include the Sutton Place Hotel’s Cellars Bar which was formerly a rum and spice warehouse and the Garraway Hotel which has music and entertainment in its lounge bar.
For something less aimed at tourists and for those who want to share their evening with locals you might like to check out Symes Zee’s where the focus is jazz and blues.
Besides the bars and restaurants Dominica can seem a little sleepy after dark. The exception to this is when there is a festival on and this small island has plenty of those ranging from one day to several weeks long.
Festivals are often punctuated with all kinds of exciting activities besides music and dancing and come in a variety of themes. Possibilities include the Jazz and Creole Music Festival, celebrations centered around food or culture such as the Kalinago (Carib Indian) week and the Independence season. This latter celebrates the island’s break from Great Britain in the 20th century and is full of color and traditional dress and offers a lively festivity featuring traditional food, music and dance. Arguably the most wonderful carnival is that of the Mas Domnik whose reputation pulls in visitors not just from all over the island but from far and wide too.
With so many events, carnivals and festivals staged annually it is not unlikely you will luck into something during your time on the island so head to the Discover Dominica website to see what’s on while you’re in town.