Dominica

The Unspoilt Nature Island Offering A Reprieve From The All-Inclusive Resort & Rum-Swigging Caribbean Norm


”I knew Dominica was going to be different. And yes, I had read about its fiery interior. But I was still pleasantly surprised to find a sulphur-smelling volcanic region with an active otherworldly boiling lake slap-bang in the middle of a 17,000 acre UNESCO-listed National Park, the majority of it dense & untouched rainforest.”


Image || Boiling Lake, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica. June 11, 2015.

(Commonwealth of) Dominica

dominica_fluttering_flag_256It’s time to take it down a notch or two. It’s time for some nature, Caribbean style. From experiencing the serenity of the hum of the thick Dominica foliage while cooped up in a hillside bungalow to hiking through the UNESCO-listed volcanic interior of the island to a real boiling lake, the second-largest of its kind on earth. Reviewing a visit to the Lesser Antilles island of Dominica, the Caribbean’s coma-inducing and self-titled Nature Island, one that offers a reprieve from the all-inclusive beach resort & palm-tree-heavy, rum-swigging Caribbean norm.

 

Commonwealth of Dominica - Brief History & Tourisim

Brief History
Dominica was christened such by Columbus after the day of the week – Sunday, Domenica in Italian – on which he spotted the island in November 1493, claiming it for Spain in the process. Largely ignored by the colonialising Spanish, who were more interested in the larger islands of the Greater Antilles further west (Cuba, Hispaniola & Puerto Rico), the French claimed the island in 1635 making it the very last of the many Caribbean islands to succumb to a colonial European power. The French & British skirmished over Dominica throughout the 18th century and when the French upped sticks and left in 1805 the Brits stepped in to fill the void, hence the reason the island speaks English to this day. It wasn’t until 1967 that the island gained some semblance of autonomy from London, followed by all-out independence on November 3, 1978, the 485th anniversary of Columbus’ ‘discovery’.

Bubble Beach, Soufriere, southern Dominica. June 11, 2015.

Bubble Beach, Soufriere, southern Dominica. June 11, 2015.

Tourism
Today the island, officially the Commonwealth of Dominica & with a population of over 70,000, is in many ways the non-conforming Caribbean island, a regional anomaly – it has been spared the mass tourism of neighbouring islands in large part because of its lack of the prototypical Caribbean tourist magnets of sandy beaches, flashy, mega resorts and direct international flights, the latter ensuring you really need to make an effort to get here via a neighbouring island. Blanketed by dense & untamed rainforest & with an active volcanic centre, this is the region’s Nature Island, the Caribbean island for escaping the Caribbean itself, or at the very least for putting it on hold as you pass through the region while embarking on a spot of Caribbean island-hoppin’. Either way, don’t miss it.

Navigating Dominica
Read all entries as posted from the Dominica road in chronological order or jump to specific postings using the following links.

Arrival & First Impressions || Roseau || Morne Trois Pitons National Park & Boiling Lake || Soufriere & Bubble Beach

Old Market, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Old Market, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Valley of Desolation, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Valley of Desolation, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

ARRIVAL & FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Date ||June 9, 2015
Location || Hibiscus Valley Inn, Marigot, Dominica (map-pointer-icon)

And now for something just a little different. Something untouched. There are no Puerto Rican style traffic jams here on Dominica; no mega, gated all-inclusive resorts; no (large) cruise ship terminals; no deafening overhead jets; & definitely no bass-pumping, every-hour-is-happy-hour bars. Things are a little more sedate here, a 50 kilometre by 25 kilometre island with no direct flights from any major overseas destination meaning making the effort to come here assures tranquility, the sort of serenity I haven’t experienced in the Caribbean thus far. Of course I’m still in the Caribbean but I feel here in Dominica that I’m escaping it at the same time. Yes, I know that’s a rather daft thing to say about travelling through one of the most unrushed, laid-back regions on planet earth, but it is what it is.

My jungle digs. Bungalow 5 at Hibiscus Valley Inn, home for my 4 nights on the island. It’s the perfect place to wait off a hangover, not that you’re likely to get one here. Most likely you'll need to, like me, you bring it with you from a neighbouring island - I met some good people on Sint Maarten and we had a good night last night. Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 9, 2015.

My jungle digs. Bungalow 5 at Hibiscus Valley Inn, home for my 4 nights on the island. Enveloped by nature, this is the perfect place to wait off a hangover, not that you’re likely to get one here. You’ll need to, & as I did, bring it with you from a neighbouring island – I met some good people on Saint Martin / Sint Maarten and we had a good night last night. Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 9, 2015.

The Nature Island
Branding itself as ‘The Nature Island’ means Dominica is all about the outdoors. Home to the tallest peak in the Lesser Antilles, the island’s compact area of 750 km² boasts the richest biodiversity of any Lesser Antilles island and is full of lush green mountain valleys, waterfalls, 5 volcanoes & 365 rivers, one for every day of the year being the lofty claim. So, and if you want to do something when here other than nothing (a great plan of attack, by the way), hiking in the mountainous interior is the island’s must-do activity. I’ll get around to embarking on a hike eventually (& I’ll get myself to the capital, Roseau, as well) but for now I’m happy to relax in my airy bungalow on the outskirts of the northeastern village of Marigot listening to the soothing hum of the jungle all around me. I normally listen to music when putting stuff like this together, but drowning out the ever-present cacophony of whatever’s surrounding me right now would be wrong. Just oh-so wrong.

ROSEAU

Date ||June 12, 2015
Location || Hibiscus Valley Inn, Marigot, Dominica (map-pointer-icon)

It has been a stress-free few days here in Dominica. I hiked to the otherworldly Boiling Lake in the UNESCO-listed Morne Trios Pitons National Park; I found a beach, albeit a stony one; I hung out in my bungalow listening to the soundtrack of whatever creepy crawlies call the foliage surrounding me home (I’d sometimes turn up the volume by leaving the bungalow door open); and I took a few minibus trips across the centre of the island to the colourful island capital of Roseau. Getting there was always an adventure, riding the minibus with the locals on the island’s twisting, roller coaster-esque roads.

On the road of Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 12, 2015.

I don’t like brandishing a camera on public transport; it tends to rile the locals and I don’t like riling the locals. But sitting down the back of the minibus en route to Roseau this day saw me grabbing a quick memento of the memorable jaunts I took criss-crossing the island. On the roads of Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 12, 2015.

Dominica Botanical Gardens, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Dominica Botanical Gardens, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Colourful Roseau
The Dominican capital is a colourful place. That’s the first thing that struck me about the small port town. The second was how charming it is.

Colourful stone-&-wooden buildings in Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

A busy enough place, at least during the day, & with a very visible Rasta culture & olde worlde Caribbean feel, Roseau is laid out on a grid system with one street of colourful vintage stone-and-wooden buildings after another, the definite highlight of the town for me. This would be a great place to be a carpenter or a painter. Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Wee be jammin. Old Market, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Wee be jammin. Dominica, West Indies. There’s colour everywhere in Roseau and especially here in Old Market. Once the historic centre of the town, Old Market is now a small cobbled space given over to numerous souvenir stalls all catering to the cruise ship crowds who disembark mere yards away and spend a few hours looking around before moving on again. Yes, there is a small cruise ship terminal here in Roseau, but this is not one of those Caribbean islands – a quick pit-stop en route elsewhere, cruise ships come and go in the space of a few hours, taking the crowds and noise with them (while hopefully leaving plenty of money behind). Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Dominica Botanical Gardens, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Roseau’s Dominica Botanical Gardens date to the late 1880s. The gardens, once the finest in the region, were devastated by Hurricane David in August 1979. Killing 2,000-plus in the region, it was deadliest hurricane of the modern era and the strongest weather force to hit the island of Dominica in the 20th century; the Category 5 major hurricane killed 20 people on the island, caused numerous landslides on the mountainous island, destroyed the majority of the mostly-wooden buildings in Roseau and made large swathes of the population homeless. Needless to say, the Botanical Gardens didn’t escape David’s wrath. Virtually destroyed, many of the garden’s established trees were toppled. A remnant of that dark day in Dominica’s recent history is the Botanical Garden’s infamous yellow school bus. Empty at the time it was flattened by a gigantic African baobab tree, it and the tree remain today were they lay following the David battering, now something of a tourist attraction on the island (I was certainly aware of it and thus searched it out). Dominica Botanical Gardens, Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

A boat offshore of Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 12, 2015.

Idyllic. A boat offshore of Roseau, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 12, 2015.

BOILING LAKE & MORNE TROIS PITONS NATIONAL PARK

I knew Dominica was going to be different. And yes, I had read about its fiery interior. But I was still pleasantly surprised to find a sulphur-smelling volcanic region with an active otherworldly boiling lake slap-bang in the middle of a 17,000 acre UNESCO-listed National Park, most of it dense & untouched rainforest. The only problem, which wasn’t really a problem at all, was getting there. In doing so, and while in the company of my guide, Franklin, I was to ensure my second full day on the island wasn’t exactly a day of rest.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Entering Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Hiking in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Some thirteen kilometres in total round trip and with many a strenuous up-and-down through dense rainforest, along narrow ridges & through volcanic valleys. That, in a nutshell, is the Boiling Lake Trek, Dominica’s preeminent amble. This picture was taken at the highest point of the trek, about 90 minutes in, when you rise above the rainforest cover that had been sheltering you up to this point. The view of the surrounding jungle and of Dominica’s mountainous interior is amazing & if walking through the untouched rainforest to get here wasn’t proof enough of Dominica’s inaccessible & largely untouched interior then the view from here would leave it in no doubt. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Luxuriant natural tropical forest blends with scenic volcanic features of great scientific interest in this national park centred on the 1,342-m-high volcano known as Morne Trois Pitons. With its precipitous slopes and deeply incised valleys, 50 fumaroles, hot springs, three freshwater lakes, a ‘boiling lake’ and five volcanoes, located on the park’s nearly 7,000 ha, together with the richest biodiversity in the Lesser Antilles, Morne Trois Pitons National Park presents a rare combination of natural features of World Heritage value.

– UNESCO commenting on Morne Trois Pitons National Park

In the Valley of Desolation of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Surveying the Valley of Desolation. From the highest point in the trek it was down into the so-called Valley of Desolation, an area of the park destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1880. Today the photographic valley is alive with sulphur rivers & belching steam vents with the strong, ever-present hissing & sulphur-heavy air a constant reminder of the dangers lurking beneath. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

By the edge of Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

The end. By the edge of Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Overlooking a bubbling Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

6.5 kilometres in & after some 150 minutes of walking, this is as far as one can go on the Boiling Lake Trek, which is really only the halfway point. If Dominica itself is remote then this particular point in the heavily-forested centre of the mountainous island is especially so. A Caribbean highlight that will long live in the memory, being here evokes the feeling of being on another planet. The 60-metre-wide & 60-metre-deep lake, the second-largest of its kind in the world after Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand, is said to be a flooded fumarole, a fissure in the earth’s surface allowing gases to escape from the molten lava below. Looking like a large witch’s cauldron – Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble – it’s quite the sight sitting as it does in a deep rocky basin with steam rising from the bubbling & swirling greyish water (said to reach temperatures of 90°C) and all surrounded by lush vegetation. The moist, heavy air & acrid smell of sulphur deters loitering so I didn’t hang around here too long, just long enough to get a few pictures before Franklin & I retraced our steps back whence we came, the return slog just as enjoyable as the outward one. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

THE BEACH – SOUFRIERE & BUBBLE BEACH

Dominica, the Caribbean black sheep, the regional anomaly, doesn’t do beaches of the sandy picture-postcard kind, but this quaint little stone beach, Bubble Beach, does its best to welcome those who make the effort to get here for a dip, going so far as to provide a photo prop to mark your visit. How cute and how inviting.

Bubble Beach, Soufriere, Dominica. June 11, 2015.

Bubble Beach, complete with a colourful & rustic garden shed-esque bar, massage room & rocked-off wading pool, is located in the southern village of Soufriere. Near the extreme south of the island, it nestles on stunning Soufriere Bay, the rim of a massive sunken volcanic crater. Bubble Beach, Soufriere, southern Dominica. June 11, 2015.

Soufriere Bay, southern Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

It may lack sand, but make no mistake, this is still the picture-postcard Caribbean. Soufriere Bay, southern Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 11, 2015.

Island-hoppin’ On
The Customs Official in Douglas-Charles Airport told me this would happen. When arriving on Tuesday last (today is Friday) he slipped into jovial conversation a warning about how I wouldn’t want to leave Dominica when the time came. He was right. I’m not quite there yet – I’ve one sleep to go – but when the time to leave does come in the morning, when I’m boarding the next rickety twin-prop for the short hop south to St. Lucia, I will indeed be sad to leave the Caribbean’s Nature Island. You would be too.

Kubuli beer, Mamaj's, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

Kubuli beer served nightly in Mama J’s, a rustic ‘Local & International Cuisine & Pizza Parlour’ and ‘A place of a difference where good people meet!!!’ Unfortunately there were no other people, ‘good’ or otherwise, in attendance on the evenings I frequented Mama J’s, a short walk along the quiet Dr. Nicholas Liverpool Highway from my jungle digs, but I enjoyed my chats with the charming girl manning the place, not to mention the well-earned bottles of ‘Dominica’s Pride’. Mama J’s outside Marigot, Dominica, Lesser Antilles. June 10, 2015.

There are more than a few islands in this part of the world so when embarking on an island hop one has more than a few choices, assuming you don’t have the enviable time & money to do them all. I stopped off on Dominica because it was labelled as different, a break from the Caribbean norm; I’d seen enough of the Caribbean prior to arrival to know the norm. I’m glad I did – stop off that is – and yes the customs guy was right, I don’t want to leave. But I will & I’ll pine for Dominica in St Lucia, a similar sized island not too far south and that bit closer to South America. Seemingly there are tourists, beaches, bars & resorts on St Lucia. So after a 4-day sojourn I guess it’s back to the tourist-brochure Caribbean.

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