Jacko Steps leading to Layou River, Dominica (David Madison/Lifesize/Getty)

Cottage at Jungle Bay Resort and Spa, Dominica (Jungle Bay Resort and Spa)

South Side of Dominica (CIA)

Hiking at Jungle Bay Resort & Spa, Dominica (Jungle Bay Resort & Spa)

Rocky River near Trafalgar Falls, Dominica (Corbis)

Waterfalls at Jacko Steps on the Layou River, Dominica (David Madison/Digital Vision/Getty)

Tropical waterfall in Dominica, Caribbean (iStockphoto)


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What to do in Dominica

Why visit Dominica—an island without golf courses, luxury resorts, or amazing beaches? Go for the verdant landscape of mountains and rainforests laced with waterfalls and rivers, the rich reefs teeming with fish, and the surrounding sea where sperm whales breach year-round and humpback leviathans surface in the winter. Dubbed the "Nature Island," Dominica delivers eco-adventures in one of the Caribbean's most unspoiled settings. That's why this island works best for families with outdoorsy 'tweens, teens, and 20-somethings.

In fact, the lush island led producers of two of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, to film several scenes in Dominica. Ti Tou (little throat) Gorge, one of the locations, impresses even non-movie buffs with its natural pools created by giant boulders. Swim between the huge rock slabs to the base of a waterfall and soak in a nearby hot spring, or ride the aerial tram from Laudat up into the jungle's canopy—an effortless way to savor the rainforest.

With nearly 300 miles of trails, Dominica appeals to hikers. Hire a local guide, who not only knows the paths but also the trees and the island tales. Ever have a fantasy of splashing in waterfalls? Two easy outings, each 15-minute hikes from the trailhead, deliver the goods. At Trafalgar Falls, twin cascades of 125 feet and 75 feet, you can swim at the base of Mother, the smaller waterfall. Surrounded by ferns and fed by a 40-foot chute, Emerald Pool is idyllic (except on cruise days when the green waters get crowded).

Dominica challenges the hearty with arduous hikes, one of the most difficult being the all-day trek to Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Labor up steep, mountainous trails, then down into the Valley of Desolation, a region bubbling with hot springs, before reaching the steaming Boiling Lake, whose waters range between 180 to 197 degrees Fahrenheit. While Morne Trois Pitons delivers the real thing, Wacky Rollers Adventure Park creates jungle experiences, where you can cross a rope bridge, glide along a zip line, and paddle a river in an inner tube. Their outfitters also offer four-wheel-drive tours to island sites.

Under the sea, Dominica houses rich coral reefs. On outings in Scott's Head Soufrière Marine Reserve, off the island's southwestern tip, glimpse frogfish, seahorses, loggerhead turtles, and squid. A favorite snorkel site is Champagne, named for the thousands of bubbles that rise to the surface from the underwater geo-thermal vents. On a dive at Dangleben's Pinnacles look for whales, dolphins, sting rays, and giant barrel sponges. Cabrits National Park, off the northwest coast, also has good diving.

Inland, discover the Carib Indians, properly called the Kalinago. More than 2,200 live on a 3,700-acre reserve on the island's eastern coast. At Kalinago Barana Auté, a heritage center opened in 2006, learn about their culture through performances. Jungle Trekking Adventures and Safaris offers kid-friendly outings pairing pirate lore with Kalinago tales and include bonfires, river swims, and sometimes a barbecue.

Tip: Since Dominica receives quite a bit of rain, especially in the mountains, make sure to bring slickers and sturdy shoes, if you're hiking.

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