Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies

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Commonwealth of Dominica
Locals put on a culture performance in Roseau, Dominica.

Dominica: The Nature Island of the Caribbean

By Dana Armstrong

Updated in October 2021 with corrections by Cyrilla Alexis, a representative from Discover Dominica Authority

WHERE

Map of DominicaTucked between Martinique and Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, the Commonwealth of Dominica (NOT to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is situated at the northern end of the Windward chain of the Lesser Antilles.

Dominica is the largest island of the group, covering an area of 290 square miles. Once a British colony (fought over several times by the French and now independent), Dominica is often overlooked by Caribbean travelers, who, more often than not, have never heard of the last remaining unspoiled Caribbean island.

WHY GO

Called “The Nature Island of the Caribbean,” Dominica’s lush, rugged terrain features towering volcanic peaks, dense, primordial rainforest, untouched coral reefs, bubbling oceans, the largest boiling lake in the world, dozens of wild waterfalls and lakes, and 365 freshwater rivers — “one for every day of the year!”

Fresh Water Lake Kayaking 1
Fresh water kayaking on Dominica’s lakes is just one of the water sports locals and tourists enjoy.

And, as the last outpost of the remaining Carib Indians, there’s even some unique, indigenous local culture to discover. In fact, Dominica is as close to a South Pacific Island as you can get in the Caribbean. OK, there are no picture-perfect, white-sand beaches (they’re black or silver, thanks to the volcanoes of the island), but there are also no hustlers and no crowds of drunken, sunburned, T-shirt-wearing tourists.

Dominicans are serious about keeping their island safe from the clutches of high-rise, cruise-ship, Caribbean tourism, and what little you will find on the island has been responsibly and consciously developed.

If you are a nature buff, like to hike, climb, kayak, snorkel, or SCUBA dive, or are just into getting away from it all on a laid-back, but the unique island, discover Dominica.

WHEN TO GO

It rains a lot in Dominica, which is why it is so lush. The clouds soak up the water from the 365 rivers and then hover around the Morne Trois Pitons and Morne Diablotin (over 4,500 ft.), obscuring views and shrouding the island in a kind of misty mystery.

Sometimes, the clouds are so thick, you can sail right past the massive island without seeing it! Every afternoon every day of the year, these incessant clouds let loose with a light shower somewhere on the island. Even in what is considered high, dry season–December through April–the seas can be rough and the rains frequent.

The temperature varies: on the coast, it averages in the mid-80s all year, but up in the mountains and rainforests, it can get as low as the 60s. Whenever you come, bring something to keep you warm and dry. It does get warm and sunny here, and you can even get a good tan, but, hey, you didn’t come here for the sun and sand.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

Dominica’s tourism and health authorities have announced new protocols for travelers fully vaccinated for COVID-19. For detailed information on entry protocols, visit Discover Dominica’s Travel Advisory page.

By air

International flights from North America and Europe are connected to the island through hubs in Antigua (ANU), Barbados (BGI), Martinique (FDF), St. Maarten (SXM), Puerto Rico (SJU), Guadeloupe (PTP), and St. Lucia (SLU), and Trinidad (POS). Visit for this page for more details.

Starting December 8, 2021, American Airlines Jet service will commence operations for the first time directly between Miami (MIA) and Dominica (DOM). The service will operate twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday, departing Miami International Airport at 11 am and arriving at Douglas-Charles Airport at 3:21 pm. The return flight will leave Dominica at 4:24 pm and arrive in Miami at 6:55 pm.

Douglas-Charles Airport, formerly known as Melville Hall, is located in the northeastern side of the island, approximately one hour from the city and features a longer runway and updated terminal. Canefield Airport is 15 minutes from the capital city of Roseau and has a shorter runway, measuring 3,100 feet.

Roseau Aerial View
A view from above Roseau, Dominica as it welcomes an incoming cruise.

By sea

You may get to Dominica by ferry service from the French islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique as well as St. Lucia via the L’Express des Îles ferry service. The ferry operates at various times of the year, but more frequently during the summer months. Val Ferry offers service from Guadeloupe via Marie Galante to the northern town of Portsmouth, docking at the historic Cabrits berth.

Getting Around
There are a number of car rental agencies on the island offering vehicles for rent. But before you get on the road, you will need to obtain a driver’s license which costs $30 (US $12). You must have at least two years’ driving experience with a driver’s license to qualify for a driver’s permit. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, most of which are well maintained.

Visit Discover Dominica Authority for more detailed information on-island transportation.

If you plan to do a lot of hiking or sightseeing, the best bet is to hire a guide or taxi to take you where you want to go. Dominica’s hiking trails are widespread and varied. They incorporate waterfalls, rivers, lakes, mountain tops, volcanic landscapes, village communities, and heritage sites. Some began life as functional trails linking villages or farms, some were cut by Amerindian settlers, others by Maroons. Most have a history.

From hikes that take an hour to those that last all day, there are trails here to suit all holiday schedules and levels of ability. The 14 segments of the Waitukubuli National Trail can be tackled as individual trails or as a single 200km joined-up trek which is the only one of its kind in the eastern Caribbean.

Click here for information on tour operators and tour guides.

BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS
There are more than enough attractions to keep you satisfied for a long time on the island, but here are few you won’t want to miss.

  • Emerald Pool 2
    Emerald Pool is located in Morne Trois Piton National Park, near the center of the island.

    Emerald Pool
    This is the hidden tropical waterfall/pool of your imagination. With lush vegetation, colorful flowers, warm water (that appears emerald green), rocks to sit on and slide down, this grotto gem is the most popular attraction on the island, and for good reason. It’s just a 15-minute walk down a well-marked nature trail just off the Castle Bruce Road and is open daily from morning until dusk. Whatever you do, don’t go on a cruise-ship day (twice a week in season), or it will be overrun with tourists. Instead, pick an off day and you’ll have the pool to yourself for hours! Small admission fee.

  • Trafalgar Falls
    If you’ve ever wanted to climb a waterfall, this is the one to try. Trafalgar Falls is actually two separate falls — one warmer than the other — that cascade down a river of boulders into rocky pools. It’s a short walk to the viewing platform, and from there, follow the path down the rocks to the falls. You can climb all the way up to the pool at the base of the falls for an exhilarating swim. Be careful, though. The rocks are slick and in the rainy season, flash floods can occur.
Boiling Lake 2
Aptly named, Boiling Lake is heated by volcanic heat.

Boiling Lake
One of only two such lakes in the world — and the largest — Dominica’s Boiling Lake is in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a 17,000-acre park that also houses several freshwater crater lakes, Middleham Falls, and dozens of hiking trails.

Boiling Lake’s temperature is extremely high, thanks to the volcanic heat of the crater in which it lies, and the sulphuric springs of the nearby Valley of Desolation produce quite a smell.

  • This isn’t a swimming place if you haven’t figured, but it’s an amazing and eerie sight. It’s a three-hour, strenuous hike to the lake, and while you can do it by yourself, it’s a good idea (advisable, really) to hire a guide, as the trail is rough. Bring lots of water.

BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS

The Kalinago Territory

Dominica’s Kalinago Territory is unique to the Caribbean. Descendants of the region’s first people live and work here. They are extremely proud of their cultural heritage and are happy to share aspects of it with visitors. All eight villages of the Territory are interesting places to visit.

The Kalinago Barana Auté (KBA) in Crayfish River is an important cultural highlight of the Kalinago Territory. Often described as a ‘model village,’ it is rather like a coastal park that is dedicated to Kalinago culture. A drive through Kalinago Territory is worth the effort for the last glimpses of a once-mighty culture.

Stop into the Salybia Catholic Church to see the incredible canoe altar, climb up Crayfish River, and check out L’Escalier Tete-Chien, “The Snake’s Staircase,” a stepped, hardened lava flow jutting into the ocean that features in Kalinago Legend. Stop at one of the roadside stalls and pick up a beautiful woven basket made and sold by traditional crafters.

Champagne

So-called because of the thousands of tiny, warm, air bubbles that percolate up from the ocean floor, this unmarked, rocky beach south of Roseau is worth finding. Like being in a natural hot tub, you can swim and snorkel among the escaping volcanic bubbles rising from cracks among the coral. There isn’t much to see underwater, but it’s a lot of fun.

Champagne is located in the southwest of the island, at the northern tip of the Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve.

Titou Gorge 7
Swimmers enjoy Titou Gorge

Syndicate Nature Trail

If you are a bird watcher, you’ll want to head to Syndicate Nature Trail in the Northern Forest Reserve, to spot the indigenous and endangered Sisserou and Jaco Parrots. The best time to catch them is dawn or dusk.

TiTou Gorge

TiTou, meaning ‘small hole’ in Creole, or patois, refers to the entrance of this visually stunning river gorge.
Located on the margins of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, near the village of Laudat, TiTou Gorge is a short, accessible section of a long river canyon. Access is by swimming.

The water is deep and cold, and the rock formations worn smooth by water over thousands of years are dramatic and beautiful. The 5-to-10-minute swim ends at a waterfall hidden within the narrow gorge.

This is one of many river gorge waterfalls that can be enjoyed on an accompanied canyoning trip.

BEST ACTIVITIES AND TOURS

Hiking

There are three national parks on the island — The Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Cabrits National Park (land and marine park with the ruins of an old fort) and Northern Forest Reserve — and numerous other preserves for hiking and trekking.

You could easily spend weeks trying to hike the many different trails to lakes, waterfalls, mountaintops, and ruins. But to make sure you have the best hiking experience, it’s a good idea to hire a local guide.

Hiking
Dominica is known as “The Nature Island,” and you can take in many of its natural wonders through the hiking trails around the island.

For visiting sites on land, it is US $5 per site OR US $12 for a Week Pass.

  • Ken’s Hinterland Tours (KHATTS)
    10 Old Street, Roseau, Dominica
    Tel: 767-235-3517
    Email: info@khatts.com
    www.kenshinterlandtours.com
    Ken’s Hinterland Tours is the oldest tour operator on the island and can provide single-day or multi-day guide packages for all kinds of activities with transportation included.

For more information on other tour operators and tour guides please visit here.

SCUBA Diving and Snorkeling

Dominica’s underwater bounty is just as spectacular as that of the land. With miles and miles of untouched reef, made even more colorful by the volcanic stirrings and freshwater runoff, Dominica has the best diving and snorkeling in the Lesser Antilles.

There are several great dive spots, including Soufriere/Scott’s Head Marine Reserve (an underwater crater teeming with coral and fish), Cabrits Point and numerous smaller spots up and down the Western coast.

Scotts Head
Scott’s Head Marine Reserve: a picturesque spot for any scuba divers

Opportunities for whale and dolphin watching are also available. There are several dive shops/hotels between Portsmouth and Scott’s Head, all of which offer dive packages, day/night dives and whale watching, along with other island tours.

  • Dive Dominica
    Roseau, Dominica
    Tel: 767-448-2188
    www.divedominica.com
    Dive Dominica is the oldest dive outfit on the island and is located just outside Roseau in Castle Comfort.

Click here for more diving tour options.

BEST LODGINGS

Dominica, once known only for its quaint family-size accommodations has in recent times welcomed a spurt in resort development. High-end boutique hotels, exclusive villas, and uniquely Dominican eco-resorts offer all the amenities desired away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Jungle Bay Resorts, Cabrits Resort & Spa, Kempinski Dominica, and Secret Bay Resort are the first of the high-end resorts on the island. The Anichi Resort (Marriot Brand) and Tranquility Beach Resort (Hilton Curio) are presently nearing completion. Coulibri Ridge in Soufriere is poised to open soon.

Hotels & Guest Houses vary in styles with facilities catering to every taste from romance to family, to business travel, to eco-adventure, and wellness to dive.

Cottages are self-contained and options abound in or out of the city, on the beach, or by the river, with the rainforest as your neighbor. Dominica’s accommodations cater to any budget and style of travel, from independent to all-inclusive.

Here are two of the real standouts for small-scale options.

  • Papillote Wilderness Retreat
    Located in the rainforest a short walk from Trafalgar Falls, the Papillote Wilderness Retreat is a hidden Eden. With acres of tropical gardens, waterfalls and natural hot springs hot tubs. After the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017, Papillote rebuilt its accommodations. It now offers two self-catering suites with their own kitchens.
    Trafalgar, Dominica
    Tel: 767-295-9564
    Email: papillote@cwdom.dm
    www.papillote.dm
  • Roxy’s Mountain Lodge

    The closest lodging to the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Roxy’s is like a youth hostel in the rainforest. An excellent base if you plan to do a lot of hiking, Roxy’s can provide excellent, knowledgeable local trail guides. Great food, hot herbal teas, friendly folks.
    Laudat, Dominica
    Tel: 767-448-4845
    Email: roxysmountainlodge@gmail.com

Camping is not allowed anywhere on the island to preserve the natural environment.

Children at Carnival
Children celebrate Dominica’s version of Carnival in the streets of Roseau.

BEST EATS

The local specialty is something called Mountain Chicken, which really isn’t a chicken at all, but a frog that lives in the rainforest. Eat it if you must, but only in season. Otherwise, go for crayfish, callaloo or fresh fish. Some locals say nobody eats this anymore.

The local beer is Kabuli, and the brewery likes to produce all kinds of special editions, depending upon the season (the Carnival brew has a higher alcohol content than the regular!). All hotels have their own restaurants and there are a few snack bars and small eateries in town, but once again, your best bet is to head out.

One of the great things about dining out in Dominica is that restaurants are not concentrated in one area, they are all over the island. The ingredients are always fresh, the food delicious, and there are great options for all tastes and budgets.

Be sure to check out Friday night barbeque stands, roadside grills serving roasted plantain and corn, and Kalinago bakeries serving delicious cassava breads and much more.

For detailed information on places to eat, visit here.

River Rock Cafe

Just down the road from the Papillote Wilderness Retreat is a small roadside restaurant and bar that is the best local spot on the island. Sidle up to the bar for a drink with one of the local guides waiting for his charges, or step inside and sit at one of the tables on the deck overlooking the river and rainforest.

It’s a great place to wait out an afternoon rain shower and the rum punch is strong. Lunch is served off the full menu, but for dinner, you have to order in advance: the owner, Dennis and his lovely wife, Laura prepare the meal just for you — chicken, fish, callaloo, dasheen, plantains, rice — a genuine Creole home-cooked meal.

You could be the only guests for the night! The owner has an amazing stereo system, and like all Dominicans, a love for local music.

BEST ENTERTAINMENT

DSC00082
The World Creole Music Festival

Music is a big thing on Dominica, and every village and neighborhood has a local band that plays compas, cadence, zouk, soukous or Creole music of some kind. The best local entertainment is to catch a jump-up or dance party. Ask around in Roseau or Portsmouth, which is where they are most likely to happen.

World Creole Music Festival

Beginning on the last Friday in October, Dominica is host to the annual World Creole Music Festival featuring three nights of pulsating music with bands from all over the Creole world, from Africa to the Caribbean. Catch the latest sounds from Cuba, Haiti, French West Africa and even Canada. If you like island dance music, you’ll want to be here.

DSC06955
Miss Dominica 2020 at the 2020 Mas Domnik

Carnival in Dominica
If you’re lucky enough to be in Dominica at Carnival time in February/March, you’re in for a treat.

Dominica’s Carnival, dubbed “Mas Domnik,” is a distinctly local affair with the local band after band parading through downtown Roseau on flatbed trucks racked with thumping speakers.

Add costumes, jump-ups, a battle of the bands that last for the next three days, an ongoing beauty pageant to select the Queen and Princesses, and free-flowing rum and Kubuli beer, and you have the makings of a party to end all parties.

But don’t be surprised if you’re one of only a handful of foreigners: remember, the world hasn’t discovered Dominica yet; enjoy it while you can.

For exact dates of festivals and events, contact the Dominica Festivals Commission at 767-448-4833, dfc@cwdom.dm for the official dates.

BEST SHOPPING

Dominica is not very popular with shopping; however, great deals abound in the city, Roseau. You will find Duty-free shops along the Dame Eugenia Chares Boulevard offering a wide range of services to locals and visitors alike. Choose from a wide variety of quality items – from jewelry and leather items to clothing.

Supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies on the island are well known for authentically manufactured wellness products.

Vendors at the old market square in Roseau sell an array of souvenir-type ornaments and traditional Kalinago baskets. You can also purchase Kalinago craft items on your trip to the Kalinago Territory.

Roseau Bay front Stiltwalkers performance
Stiltwalkers perform in front of The Dominica Museum in Roseau.

If you are into art, there are several talented local artists whose work can be found at the Old Mill Cultural Center in Canefield. As you wander through historic Roseau, discover quaint shops along small streets and hidden country-yards.

VISAS AND DOCUMENTS

No visa is required for entry to Dominica, though a valid passport and a return or onward ticket is required. Here are the departure taxes per person:

  • Non-Nationals: EC$59.00/US$22.00
  • Non-CARICOM Nationals: EC$59.00/US$22.00
  • CARICOM Nationals: EC$45.00/US$18.00
  • Nationals EC$:45.00/US$18.00
  • Children 12 years and under – Exempted

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Dominica is very safe. Other than the usual precautions, make sure to lock cars and don’t leave any valuables in them or on the beach. It’s a good idea to hire a guide if you are planning any kind of hike into the Boiling Lake region or the Northern Forest Reserve. Hikers have gotten lost or caught in flash floods.

Up in the rainforest, the water is so pure you can drink from streams (I’ve done it several times, though it’s not advisable). The tap water is also drinkable and safe. In an emergency, there are three public hospitals on the island: the Marigot Hospital, the Portsmouth Hospital, and the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).

DSC07430
Extravagant costumes are a mainstay of Dominica’s Carnival, including this nature-inspired gown.

MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS

The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$2.67 = US$1), though US dollars are accepted. Travelers’ checks, cash, and credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.

Here are some of the banks in Dominica:

  • Dominica Agricultural Industrial & Development Bank
  • The Bank of Nova Scotia
  • The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank
  • First Caribbean International Bank
  • Griffon Bank
  • National Bank of Dominica
  • Royal Bank of Canada

According to Discover Dominica, Dominica has a modern and reliable telecommunications system. It is easy to find public phones in the city and in most communities. Hotels offer International Direct Dialing from their rooms, and there are three major mobile service providers on the island: Cable & Wireless, Digicel, and Orange Caribe. The island’s area code is 767.

The main post office in Roseau is open daily from 9 —4.

RESOURCES

The official Government tourism site is Discover Dominica

Dominica Consulate

685 Third Avenue, Suite 1110
New York, NY 10017
Tel: 212-599-8478