DominicaThe 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
It’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
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’.
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.
ARRIVAL & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– UNESCO commenting on Morne Trois Pitons National Park
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.
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.
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.