Discovered in 1493 by Columbus, don't confuse Dominica with the Dominican Republic; and don't expect a cliché-type Caribbean island. In fact, if it's pristine beaches you seek, best go elsewhere. Here, they are scruffy, laden with volcanic grit. However, if you fancy limitless permutations of the colour green and want to encounter cheerful inhabitants, this lush island offers terrific hikes amidst its water-fed mountains that attract nature lovers galore. Located between Guadeloupe and Martinique,
Dominica was the first country benchmarked by
Green Globe , an internationally recognized program certifying sustainable environmental and cultural tourism.
Not to be missed is
Morne Trois Pitons National Park at 6,800 hectares (16,796 acres), a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southern region with an elemental rainforest and steamy hot springs. The mountains soar to 1,524 m (5,000 feet), exposing a flourishing rainforest, hundreds of rivers and waterfalls, rare orchids and exotic birds. Geothermal activity produces hot springs, bubbling pools of mud, small geysers and
Boiling Lake, second largest of its kind in the world.
Hikers trek to
Victoria Falls and
Middleham Falls, a narrow plume of water falling 200 feet from a cliff notch. A strenuous excursion to Morne Diablotin (
Devil's Mountain) provides glimpses of two local parrots,
the jaco and the sisserou. Boiling Lake and the Titou Gorge, a deep and very narrow ravine whose depths were created as lava flows cooled and contracted, are an adventure for the most experienced hikers. Tour guide, Peter Green, reports it's strenuous but worthwhile, a hike up to 1,066 m (3,500 feet) above sea level that requires 6 or more hours depending on the individual fitness level. In the Valley of Desolation it's a bizarre sight to witness clouds of steam drifting above the green abundance.
Rainforest Aerial Tram offers a 70-minute journey through the treetop canopy, a much easier route for up to 8 people to commune with nature, observing birds and plants while listening to the tuque-clad local guide. Mountain biking, horseback riding, river tubing and jeep safaris are other options to enjoy the area.
marine environment is also intriguing as healthy reefs with amazing formations and 100-foot visibility are a draw for scuba divers. Dominica's waters host 22 species of
whales and dolphins, a prime whale-watching destination throughout the winter.
Unlike the other area islands where native Caribs were systematically expelled or exterminated, here one may visit Carib Indian Territory where many remain on the northeast coast in their 1,480-hectare (3,656-acre) reserve ruled by their own chief. Some 3,000 Indians practice their ancient customs such as carving canoes from tree trunks and weaving baskets. Irvince Auguiate, a proud Carib councilor, explains that the mountain terrain helped safeguard the indigenous population against
Margel Durand, a bespectacled guide, adds that the local patois with its unique grammar evolved as a cautionary mix of Creole from its African roots, a "language of disguise" to protect against the dominant Europeans when locals either "planned a party or a revolt!"
For history lovers, there's the capital, Roseau and Fort Shirley to explore. Tours of a rum distillery and the
Rosalie slave plantation estate are also available. Local restaurants serve predominantly native Creole cuisine; mountain chicken (frog legs) is the national dish.
The World Creole Music Festival takes place in October, and
Mas Dominik, the island's carnival, features calypso and steel pan competitions, jump-ups and a costume parade.
Historian Lennox Honeychurch relates that there is a lawless tradition here. Because Dominica was last to be colonized, it attracted pirates and adventurers so there are myriad tales of sunken ships and buried treasure in nearby caves. Appropriately, many scenes from Hollywood's
Pirates of the Caribbean were shot here.
Honeychurch says that because of the quality of life, with clean rivers for swimming and access to fresh vegetables and fruit and because the island is primarily agricultural, there's no big city rat-race to wear one down. Thus, it's one of the countries with the most people aged over 100 years old. "Isn't the most important thing in a person's life, happiness and contentment?" he rhetorically asks. Indeed, this island is a true break from the norm, combining the spirit of adventure with a simple joie de vivre.
1. Neither of the two airports is large enough to handle a jet; there are no nonstop flights from the U.S. or Canada. Melville Hall Airport (DOM) on the northeastern coast, is a 1.5-hour taxi ride (36 miles) from Roseau on the southwestern coast. The more modern Canefield Airport (DCF) is a 15-minute taxi ride (3 miles) from Roseau. Antigua, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Trinidad are all within a 2-hr flying distance. London: 8 hours. Miami: 3.5 hours. New York: 4.5 hours. Toronto: 5 hours. (allow for short connecting flights) LIAT connects from Antigua, Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia. The easiest way to reach Dominica is via the daily American Eagle flight from American's hub in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Anyone who remains on Dominica for more than 24 hours must pay a $22 departure tax.
2. Daytime temperatures vary between 75-90 degrees F. Coolest months are December to March.
English is the official language. Creole or French based patois is spoken by many.
3. With a population of 79,000, Dominica achieved
independence in November of 1978. It occupies a seat in the United Nations.
4. If you rent a car, there's a fee of $11 to obtain a driver's license, which is available at the airports. The island has 500km (310 miles) of paved roads, and only in a few areas is a four-wheel-drive vehicle necessary. Driving is on the left.
5. There are several major bank branches in Roseau, complete with ATMs that dispense EC dollars. Dominica uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$), worth about EC$2.70 to US$1 (EC$1 = US37¢).
6. U.S. and Canadian citizens must have a passport. In addition, an ongoing or return ticket must be shown.
7. The electricity is 220-240-volt AC (50 cycles), so both adapters and transformers are necessary for U.S.-made appliances.
8. Tap water is safe but different so stick to bottled water.
Courtesy of Caribbean Tourism Organization
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.