Dominica: Adventuring in the Wild Caribbean


If you're looking for broad white beaches and scrubbed travel-poster towns, go somewhere else.

Dominica is a place for people who want sweat and grit in their Caribbean vacation—with a dose of nature's thunderous beauty thrown in. This poor, mountainous island between Martinique and Guadeloupe has 4,000-foot peaks that rise out of crashing surf and disappear into the clouds. Vast tracts of old-growth rainforest. Hundred-foot waterfalls. A lake that boils. An undersea gas vent with bubbles tickle your toes like a school of nibbling minnows. And untouristed villages where the locals greet visitors with an amiable "Okay!"

Until a couple of years ago, Dominica didn't even have a cruise ship dock. Now, (some note with sadness) ship-borne tourist invasions are almost a daily occurrence, though fortunately these mostly sedentary mobs venture ashore for only a few hours before scuttling back to their floating cocoons.

They entirely miss off-the-beaten-path attractions like Morne Trois Pitons National Park and the picturesque fishing village of Soufriere, which serves as a base for scuba divers, mountain bikers, and sea kayakers. Mountain bikers may have found their heaven in the Caribbean here: long, steep grades are commonplace, both on paved roads and off-road trails. Be prepared for serious quad burn. And no traveler should visit Dominica without making the rugged six-hour round-trip hike to Boiling Lake, a flooded volcanic caldera whose 190-degree water roils and gurgles and envelops the crater in perpetual steam.

Practically Speaking

Getting to Dominica takes a bit of work. There's no flat place on the island large enough for a jet, so you'll have to puddle-jump in from one of the other islands (most flights come in from Antigua). There's not a single high-rise beach hotel on the island; a few dozen modest guesthouses and small hotels take care of overnight visitors. Petit Coulibri is a popular favorite: it perches 1,000 feet above the sea at the end of a rutted twisting dirt road that winds through the rainforest. Prices range from $25-$50 a night for the typical local guest houses up to $200 a night for a two-bedroom cottage at Petit Coulibri. You'll need a rental car to get around, or hook up an outfitter to arrange day trips.

Mountain biking is good year-round; and other activities follow suit. The heat and humidity can be withering, but it does rain often, particularly in the interior mountain areas, where most of the riding takes place. The semi-dry season (January through June) is slightly hotter; the semi-wet season (July through December) is a bit cooler because of greater cloud cover.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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