Whether you’re arriving in Dominica by cruise ship, commercial plane, or private jet, this volcanic, rainforest-covered island offers up plenty of ways to simply kick back and relax. It’s Dominica’s adventure scene, however, which makes this a truly unique and rewarding Caribbean holiday.
There’s no shortage of beautiful islands to choose from in the Caribbean, but one gem that is often overlooked in the Windward Islands group is Dominica. Remarkably different than other nearby islands both in terms of culture and natural landscapes, Dominica is finally starting to gain attention as the next hot ecotourism destination.
Having been a filming location for Pirates of the Caribbean, you too can partake in your own exciting adventures including jungle jeep safaris, scuba diving, rowboat river journeys, river tubing, and horseback riding both on the beach and actually in the sea.
Two-thirds of Dominica is covered in rainforest, much of this untouched land home to national parks filled with waterfalls, hot springs, and other natural wonders. While narrowing down the best things to experience in Dominica definitely isn’t easy, here are my top five things not to miss on your next Dominica getaway.
Top 5 Things to do in Dominica
Head to the Emerald Pool and Boiling Lake
Let me start with a few of those natural wonders. Two of Dominica’s most famous natural wonders can be found in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, the nation’s first national park.
The park’s Emerald Pool lies about a 30-minute-drive northwest of the nation’s capital Roseau. Emerald Pool is one of Dominica’s most easily accessible natural wonders and taxis can be easily booked to bring you to the site.
An easy-to-manage 15-minute trail leads to a lovely swimming hole that is fed by a 40-foot waterfall. The tropical grotto is enveloped in lush green rainforest and you are welcome to take a refreshingly crisp dip if you wish.
Unlike the easy-to-manage Emerald Pool trail, the trek to Boiling Lake requires a bit of endurance. This roughly 7-hour hike starting from Laudat Village will leave you sweaty, exhausted, and muddy (tip: don’t wear nice shoes or clothes), but the effort is well worth it.
The hike leads to Boiling Lake, which is actually a flooded fumarole where you wouldn’t want to swim. Regarded as the world’s second-largest hot lake, the bubbling greyish-blue water can reach temps over 100 °C.
In addition to Boiling Lake and its ever-present cloud of vapour, the trail also passes through Titou Gorge, the Valley of Desolation, and various sulfur springs.
The hike can be done without a guide, but I would recommend hiring one of the knowledgeable local guides that are readily available to ensure your safety. Hikers have been known to be killed by harmful gases or injured by not knowing where to step.
Enjoy Dominican Food
Another highlight of any Dominica trip is the opportunity to sample authentic Creole cuisine with a distinct twist. Dishes in Dominica offer a blend of local Caribbean, French, and African flavours, presenting a number of local favourites that will definitely require you to be a bit adventurous with your taste buds.
While callaloo soup and its blend of local vegetables including callaloo leaves may not seem too exotic, you will find plenty of more peculiar items on local menus.
You have to try the mountain chicken, but be warned that this dish doesn’t actually involve chicken at all. The dish actually consists of fried legs from an endemic frog that are cooked with spices and usually served alongside yucca and plantains.
Other dishes worthy of a truly curios foodie are the agouti spicy curry stew, an agouti being a type of large rodent, and the smoked manicou stew which let’s just say involves the meat of an opossum.
There’s also a unique soup made with octopus that is known locally as chatou water. There are of course more tame dishes available such as British-influenced fish and chips or bacon and eggs.
A great hangout for expats is the Poz Restaurant with its poolside bar known for its bacon-wrapped plantains. If you’re looking to try the more adventurous local dishes I mentioned above, check out Pearl’s Cuisine restaurant.
Scuba Diving and Snorkelling
Dominica offers up exceptional year-round diving opportunities. You’ll find far fewer divers than elsewhere in the Caribbean, especially Dominica’s north Portsmouth area with its diving spots like Toucari Caves and Five Finger Rock.
Dominica’s main dive sites, however, are located along the southwest coast.
Champagne Reef, just south of Roseau, is by far the favourite and most accessible dive and snorkel spot on the island. The reef takes its name from the fact it features bubbling waters which rise through the ocean floor’s volcanic thermal springs.
In addition to feeling like you’re swimming through warm champagne, you have the opportunity of spotting parrotfish, sea turtles, eels, rays, octopus, and even an old shipwreck. Champagne Reef is one of the only shore dives on the island and offers its own dive centre.
Another great dive spot just south of Champagne Reef is Scott’s Head Pinnacle. At a depth of around 10 metres, this dive spot offers great visibility and an abundance of fish such as soldierfish and grunts as well as beautiful sea fans and lobsters.
If you have a lot of extra cash lying around, you can even scuba with giant sperm whales, although you’ll need to apply for a limited permit years in advance and book with a pre-organised tour. The experience will set you back as much as $8,000 in total.
You’ll find most of the island’s dive shops along the west coast and a number of the local hotels even offer their own dive shops. It’s best to dive early to beat the crowds and avoid days when cruise ships are docked if possible.
Meet the Kalinago People
Dominica has been colonised by both the French and British in recent centuries, but it was originally inhabited by the early Arawak people from South America and more recently the Kalinago people which arrived during the 15th century.
The Kalinago would have witnessed Columbus sailing by the island in the late 1400’s during his voyage to the Americas. You can interact with the last remaining Kalinago people while they share their customs and cultural traditions at the Carib Cultural Village by the Sea, known locally as Kalinago Barana Aute.
This reproduction village sits along the Crayfish River and allows visitors to tour various huts (ajoupas) and take in authentic cultural performances.
View the traditional canoes cut and shaped from gommier trees, hot-rock cooking techniques, and basket weaving. There is also a small gift shop where you can purchase locally made handicrafts. Most cultural village experiences offer complimentary hotel pickup and drop-off.
You can learn more about the history of Dominica and its people by paying a visit to the Dominica Museum in Roseau. You’ll discover the island’s dark past association with slavery, the museum itself positioned in what was once Dominica’s colonial-era centre for slave trading.
See portraits of past rulers, artefacts relating to both the Arawak and Kalinago peoples, and stuffed wildlife specimens that relate to the local fauna that inhabits the island.
Image: Mickaël T. (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Spot Local Wildlife
Dominica has plenty of animals to match its many natural wonders. The stunningly colourful imperial amazon (sisserou) parrot is one of the roughly 180 bird species that are found on the island and this rare parrot can only be spotted on Dominica where it is endemic.
The national bird of Dominica, the parrot can be spotted in Morne Trois Pitons National Park where it has been reintroduced as well as mountain forests like those found on Morne Diablotins.
Mammals on the island include bats, agoutis, and manicous (possums), the last two of which you have already learned can end up on your dinner plate. There are also boas that reach lengths of 3 metres as well as numerous iguanas.
A great place to look for land-based wildlife is the Papillote Tropical Gardens just before the Trafalgar Falls trailhead. But Dominica is of course better known for its marine life.
There are several whale and dolphin species that can be spotted, making Dominica the Caribbean’s whale watching capital. The star whale most people hope to see in Dominica is the sperm whale which can reach 12 metres in length and live up to 70 years.
Dominica is one of the most reliable destinations to spot these giant creatures and there are several reputable whale watching cruise operators located on the island.
You can also visit Rosalie Beach and with a little luck at night between March and October you may spot one of four species of sea turtles that come ashore during this period to lay eggs.
Other Dominica Attractions
While I have outlined my top picks for things to do in Dominica, there are plenty more activities and attractions to check out.
Don’t miss the 18th-century Fort Shirley garrison ruins at Cabrits National Park as well as the famous twin falls known as Trafalgar Falls which I briefly mentioned a bit earlier.
If you’re looking to spend an extended period on the island and are extremely adventurous, there is also the 185-kilometre long distance hiking trail known as Waitukubuli Trail which runs from Cabrit’s National Park in the north to Scott’s Head in the south.