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Dominica, West Indies, Emerald Pool, Morne Trois Pittons National Park (c) Thomas R. FletcherDominica: Natural Choice for Caribbean Travel  

by

Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher

            Verdant rainforests, plunging waterfalls, rainbows, rugged mountains and jagged Atlantic shoreline define Dominica (pronounced “dom in eek a”).  Aptly, she’s called the “ Nature Island of the Caribbean .”  Located midway down the arc of Caribbean islands stretching from Puerto Rico to South America , Dominica is an English-speaking island nation squeezed between two French-speaking islands; Guadeloupe and Martinique .              

  Steep mountains soar nearly 5,000 feet on this largest and most mountainous of the Windward Islands, presenting some of the most rewarding hiking in the Caribbean .  Twenty-six miles long and sixteen miles wide, at its widest, Dominica has plenty of terrain to explore.  A population of 71,000 is scattered about the island’s 290 square miles.Caribbean, Rainbow over Dominica, West Indies (c) Thomas R. Fletcher

Morne Trois Pitons National Park —a UNESCO World Heritage Site—encompassing 17,000 acres, features some of the island’s most stunning scenery.  The Boiling Lake and Emerald Pool are two special attractions in this park.  Birders will be delighted to know 176 bird species have been cataloged on Dominica .  The island boasts of having “a river for every day of the year,” claiming 365 rivers slicing through the mountainous terrain.  Though water is abundant, many of the “rivers” are little more than creeks.

Pounding surf on the Atlantic (eastern) side of the island provides some dramatic scenery, if unsafe swimming conditions.  Any swimming should be done on the Caribbean side of the island around Portsmouth , where the seas are calm.  Beaches are not the primary attraction in Dominica .  Nature is.

Dominica has a trail suited to most any skill level.  Hike for an hour or hike for a day, your choice.  Tour guides in Roseau offer cruise passengers ½ and full day excursion packages.  There’s room for price negotiation when no ships are in port. 

The Trafalgar Falls Trail, located four miles northwest of Roseau , is anTrafalgar Falls, Dominica, West Indies F-0-1-5 easy hike but visually rewarding.  The trail opens to expansive views of the huge falls tumbling down the green mountain.  Cool and refreshing is the first thought to come to mind.  Plunging into the water, we discovered the water wasn’t cool and refreshing, it was hot.  It seems the source for the falls is Boiling Lake .

Another easy hike is the Emerald Pool Trail, located eight miles northeast of Roseau .  A short trail leads to a cool, lush green grotto where the waterfall plunges 40 feet into an emerald pool.  Though quite popular, there are times when a couple can have the pool to themselves.  For a bit of romance, take a picnic lunch mid-day—on a day no cruise ships are in port—and you may have the place to yourselves.

The Boiling Lake Trail is a demanding—six hour minimum—hike.  Prepare to get wet and muddy on this difficult trail.  The reward is seeing the Boiling Lake , one of very few in the world.  The lake boils because it is situated on an active volcano.  Sulfurous gases ensure one smells the lake long before one sees it.  For the most serious hikers there’s the Morne Diablotin Trail, a demanding, all day hike leading to the island’s highest peak of Morne Diablotin (“ Devil Mountain ”) at 4,747 feet.

Though English is the official language, one must listen very closely, as a French Creole patois is spoken by the population of mostly African descent.  The language is reflective of the island’s history of changing hands from the Spanish to the French to the English and back again several times down through the centuries.  Dominica achieved independence November 3, 1978—the 485th anniversary of Columbus ’ “discovery” of the island in 1493.  The Eastern Caribbean Dollar is the official currency, though US Dollars are readily accepted.  The best exchange rates, however, are to be found at island banks, not from the shops and vendors.

Dominica is home to the last remnants of the indigenous Carib Indians, who once dominated the Caribbean .  The Caribs were the first known inhabitants of Dominica .  Set aside in 1903, the Carib Territory covers some 3,782 acres on the eastern shore of the island and is home to about 3,000 tribe members, gathered in eight villages. 

We were unfamiliar with the island, until 1987 when our church was preparing to be part of a denominational mission trip to Dominica .  The island seemed a bit of an undiscovered paradise of nature back then.  Tourist traffic was practically nonexistent (we may have saw ten tourists over a two week period).  The introduction of cruise ship docks has changed all that.  Now there’s a steady flow of tourists to the island. 

One thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is the narrow one-lane roads (used as two-lanes) that snake their way through Dominica ’s steep mountains.  Adrenaline flows as a tour bus driver takes a hairpin turn that requires backing up to negotiate the turn.  We look over the precipice; it’s a long, long way to the bottom.  In fact, we can’t see the bottom.  Our only comfort is that the driver seems to know what he’s doing, and the horn works.  He constantly honks as we approach each blind curve—and there are many—to warn oncoming traffic of our approach.

It rains frequently in Dominica —July through November being the wettest months.  Not enough to ruin a vacation, but enough to thoroughly soak you if you’re caught outside—so carry rain gear while hiking if you plan to stay dry.  It often comes in brief, drenching downpours.  One such downpour in July 1987 had us repainting a building we’d just painted.  At the time we were using a water-based paint that was little more than a white-wash with color added.  Our crew had just finished painting a structure in the village of Wesley when the sky seemed to burst.  The pounding rain probably didn’t last five minutes, but it was enough to wash away the paint we’d just applied.

Dominica is one of the “windward” or “banana” islands.  Called a Coconut Trees, Dominica, West Indies F-0-4-20“banana” island because the windward location ensures the island flourishes under an abundance of rain, sautéed in bright Caribbean sunshine, creating near perfect banana growing conditions.  Bananas are one of the island’s primary exports, as are coconuts which do equally well in these sunny, wet conditions.   Trade restrictions limited Dominica ’s income from bananas and coconuts and something had to fill the void.  Enter tourism.

A bevy of businesses have grown up around the new influx of cash brought by the cruise passengers; markets offering everything from trinkets to fine art, hiking tours, and garden tours.  This influx of tourism dollars has brought economic opportunity to many and prosperity to some.  It has made mean bums out of others, and revealed tourism to be a double-edged sword.

We saw a large man, affecting the look of a Rastafarian, with fierce piercing eyes banging a bongo in the market in Roseau .  His long dreadlocks swung as he wheeled his angry gaze upon an unsuspecting tourist.

“Give me money,” he demanded, fixing his cold, angry stare on his latest victim.  He was definitely an aggressive panhandler.  Several tourists quickly shoved some change or a few dollars into the bucket he thrust before them, before quickly moving away from his threatening scowl.

New facilities are being developed to handle even more tourists.  The once pristine and relatively empty trails are now being trampled by the cruise ship hordes.  Seven major cruise lines now stop in Dominica , bringing 350,000 passengers annually. The ships pull into three locations: Roseau , Woodbridge Bay Port (a five minute drive north of Roseau ) and Cabrits Cruise Ship Berth on the north side of the island.  There’s a loss of innocence since the 1987-Dominica.  Even so, Progress must be made.

Dominica features some of the best hiking and adventuring left in the Caribbean today.   The island has preserved much of her natural beauty in her national parks for future generations. We recommend you see it soon, before even more tourism infrastructure is put in place.  The rustic, laid-back quality has its own appeal.

Stock photography by Thomas R. Fletcher at Alamy

If You Go:

Dominica’s electrical system is like that of Europe, operating on 220/240 volts 50 cycles, so take along your adapters for hair dryers, electric razors, or other electrical appliances.  There is a departure tax of $18 US per person.  Roseau is the island’s capital and largest city, with a population of 25,000.  The island is served by two airports: Canefield, located three miles from Roseau and Melville Hall in the northeast, 32 miles from Roseau .  Connections are available through many Caribbean islands.    

 

Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, West Indies F-0-3-7Portsmouth Beach Hotel

(Located on Dominica ’s Northwest Coast ½ mile outside Portsmouth )

PO Box 34

Roseau

Commonwealth of Dominica , West Indies

Phone:  767-445-5142/5131

Fax:      767-445-5599

E-mail:  pbh@cwdom.dm  

Web: http://www.avirtualdominica.com/pbh.htm

Prince Rupert Bluff, Prince Rupert Bay, fishermen, Dominica, West Indies F-0-3-13

Dominica Tourist Office

New York , NY

Phone:  1-888-645-5637

Web: www.dominica.dm

Dominica, West Indies, Emerald Pool, Morne Trois Pittons National Park (c) Thomas R. Fletcher Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, West Indies F-0-1-5 F-0-1-5 Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, West Indies
Cruise ship disgorging passengers, Roseau, Dominica, West Indies CAR-23-2 CAR-23-2 Cruise ship disgorging passengers, Roseau, Dominica, West Indies Cruise ship, "Fascination" at dock, Roseau, Dominica, West Indies (c) Thomas R. Fletcher CAR-23-19 CAR-23-19 Cruise ship, "Fascination" at dock, Roseau, Dominica, West Indies

Caribbean Sunset, Dominica (c) Thomas R. Fletcher

Caribbean Rainbow, Dominica (c) Thomas R. Fletcher
Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, West Indies F-0-2-5 F-0-2-5 Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, West Indies Banana and Coconut Trees, Dominica, West Indies F-0-4-19 F-0-4-19 Banana & Coconut Trees, Dominica, West Indies
Coconut Trees, Dominica, West Indies F-0-4-20 F-0-4-20 Coconut Trees, Dominica, West Indies Londonderry Bay, Dominica, West Indies F-0-8-2 F-0-8-2 Londonderry Bay, Dominica, West Indies
Londonderry Bay, Dominica, West Indies F-0-7-17 F-0-7-17 Londonderry Bay, Dominica, West Indies Outside Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies F-0-10-3 F-0-10-3 Outside Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies
Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies, beached boat F-0-15-10 F-0-15-10 Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies, beached boat Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies F-0-15-11 F-0-15-11 Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies
Sandwich Bay, Dominica, West Indies F-0-16-12 F-0-16-12 Sandwich Bay, Dominica, West Indies Indian River, Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies F-0-14-13 F-0-14-13 Indian River, Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies
Banana & Coconut Trees, view from the village of Wesley, Dominica, West Indies F-0-5-4  F-0-5-4 Banana & Coconut Trees, view from the village of Wesley, Dominica, West Indies Breadfruit, Dominica, West Indies F-0-13-14  F-0-13-14 Breadfruit, Dominica, West Indies
Rainbow over Dominica CAR-24-16CAR-24-16 Rainbow over Dominica Rainbow over Dominica CAR-24-11 CAR-24-11 Rainbow over Dominica

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