For us Dominica immediately takes a place in the Top 3 favourite countries we have ever visited, along with (in no particular order) Iceland and Fiji. We have now visited 3 islands in the Caribbean including Barbados and Antigua and as beautiful as their beaches are, Dominica will definitely be remembered as our favourite Caribbean island.
Visiting Dominica during times of Covid has meant we have had a different experience than most visitors to this lovely Island. During our time here England has locked down and many other countries have put in curfews, tiers and other measures to try and manage the virus. Here in Dominica however we were in one of the safest countries in the world; looking at covid stats Dominica was 199 out of 220 countries in term of covid risk and it has been managed very well here. At the time of writing there have only been 121 cases throughout the pandamic and no deaths. We were therefore not only visiting an absolutely beautiful island, but also currently one of the safest places in the world!
One of the problems of writing a travel blog, is that it’s a snapshot in time. New buildings will be built and some, such as those damaged in hurricanes, will be bulldozed – landscapes can change and a view of any place can be skewed by the size of the crowds. When visiting a bar or restaurant you don’t want to be the only ones there, because other people add to the ambience, but you also don’t want it to be crowded, or to have to queue. However having some fantastic beaches and snorkelling waters entirely to yourselves is a whole different matter. Absolutely beautiful. One thing’s for sure, thanks to the COVID pandemic, very few will ever see Dominica the way we saw it!
Dominica is known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean and many people get it confused with the Dominican Republic, but they are two very different places; Dominica is a predominantly English speaking country which is still a member of the Commonwealth. It is a mountainous island with volcanoes and hot springs; dont expect to find white sandy beaches here, it’s more of a brown and black sand caused by volcanic activity many years ago. Given its jungly (ok, tropical rainforest to give it the correct terminology) landscape and wildlife it is an absolute paradise for nature lovers!
Dominica is not that well known as there are no direct flights to get here from US or UK. Though that will change big time if they procede with plans to build an international airport/runway. We travelled from Barbados, via St Lucia on an inter island flight service which allowed Caricom (Caribbean Community) bubble entry. This meant that we didn’t need a Covid test prior to arrival but a rapid test on arrival. All was clear and due to the bubble we had no isolation requirements
Dominica’s closest neighbours are Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante to the north and Martinique to the South. On a good day these are clearly visible from either end of the Island. Unfortunately our pictures don’t do it justice, but all of the neighbouring islands are easily visible to the naked eye most days (i.e. Everyday we didn’t have a camera with us). Also when in the mountains you can pick up French language radio from Marie-Galante and Guadeloupe.
Despite being surrounded by French islands the official language of Dominica is English with some areas speaking French Patois. As English speakers we had no issues with communicating with the locals besides trying to understand the accents, and that applied both ways! The currency used in Dominica is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar which is tied to the US Dollar at a rate of 2.7:1. Many things are quoted here in USD so its handy to have a conversion calculator at the ready! It appears most of the tourism here is from cruise ships and given the fact they are not currently running this has clearly impacted a lot of local businesses. For us however it felt we had the whole island to explore by ourselves!
In 2017 Hurricance Maria ripped through Dominica causing widespread destruction. Originally a category 1 hurricane it quickly changed direction and was upgraded to a category 5. It ripped through most of the island from South to North with winds up to 160mph. As a result approximately 80% of the population were directly affected, 31 people died and 37 were reported missing. Water and electricity were disrupted and 90% of properties lost their roofs. The devastation was widespread and estimated a a total cost of $930.9m. To gain a clearer understanding of what this looked like visit here and the many other videos available. Our experiences here however show very little sign of the devastation caused; there are still some buildings which have never been repaired and some headless palm trees but the country has recovered remarkably well and wildlife has recovered to a point you would not even know it had happened. The only place we saw that really did show signs of the hurricane was Rosalie on the East Coast. With numerous headless trees; upturned roots and much debris around the coast.
Travel and Transport
This was an easy one for us. We hired a 4×4 from Darren at Island Motors. After reading reviews of the Island it was clear that there are a lot of hills and that some of the roads especially to attractions were quite difficult to navigate without a 4×4. We had a RAV4 which was 15 years old (most cars here are older and imported used) but it did a job, was reliable and well maintained and got us where we needed to go. Also due to the lack of tourists at the moment there are very limited tours available so the car gave us a chance to explore on our own.
Some of the roads were challenging for sure; although the majority of main roads around the island were maintained well you still had to watch out for the potholes! The main hazards when driving here were goats, dogs, chickens and people walking along the roads at night. Whilst there was street lighting we didn’t do much driving after dark as the mountain roads were windy with steep bends and required a great deal of concentration.
There is a variety of accommodation available from the 5* Cabrits Kempinski resort to private rooms, depending on your budget. We looked for an apartment with self-catering facilities and decided to book Success Apartments in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is the 2nd largest town in Dominica and has good links via road to north and south of the island. Our apartment was well maintained with amazing views overlooking Portsmouth Bay and the Cabrits National Park.
The property comprised of two apartments; a smaller one bedroom apartment downstairs and a 2 bedroom apartment upstairs. We stayed in both, swapping after few weeks when the upstairs apartment became available. The view was one we never got bored with, surrounded by rainforest, mango, passionfruit, avocado and papaya trees as well as a view of the bay, distant Marie-Galante and Guadelope. Some days it was difficult to get motivated to go anywhere, because it meant leaving this fantastic view behind. Some days we would sit for hours on the balcony just looking out at the scenery and the wildlife. It was always worthwhile, especially the day we were rewarded with the elusive parrots coming to pose for photos in the mango tree right next to us.
Thanks to Ashton who was hosting us we had everything we needed for a very comfortable stay. He was happy to answer any questions we had and offer any assistance as required.
Where we visited – West Coast (North to South)
Cannor Heritage Park – Capuchin
This place has an honourable mention; it is on the far north of the island and is the start of Section 14 of the Waitukubuli Hiking Trail. For the keen hikers among you there is a long distance walking trail in Dominica which spans from the South of the Island at Scotts Head to Capuchin where it ends, some 114 miles. We drove to the North coast of the Island and took in some of the views at the Cannor Heritage Park. If you are passing it is worth a visit for the sea views and the views across to Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante on a clear day.
Toucari is located North of Portsmouth and is a hidden gem. It is a tiny fishing village with a small cove a couple of bars and restaurants and a clean beach. We decided to try swimming and snorkelling here and towards the left of the cove was some of the best snorkelling we have seen; it was a whole underwater garden with loads of live coral. We also had a beer at the beachfront Reef Bar which was very refreshing. If you want privacy, great snorkelling and friendly locals this is as good a place as any!
You won’t find this place on any map and we found it by accident driving past it on the way to Penville; but despite the lack of map guidance it has a clearly marked trail and toilet facilities at the start. Not to be confused with Soufriere to the south of the Island this is a small place which is unique due to the fact its bubbling sulphur springs are cold! There is a short pleasant walk to reach the springs; be careful if it has been raining as the path can be a bit muddy; its not somewhere you would need a long time to explore but worth a stop if you’re passing or in the area. Further information is available here.
Portsmouth is located in Saint John in the upper north west of the Island and this is where we stayed for the duration of our time on the island. Portsmouth is the second largest city on the Island and hosts the Cabrits National Park (which is currently closed due to covid), the Kempinski 5* hotel, a small town area, a large stretch of beach and a harbour. Portsmouth is the main fishing village in Dominica and many people visit here to stock up. The town hosts a magnificent fruit and vegetable market every Saturday which we visited on several occasions.
The Indian River
The most famous attraction in Portsmouth is the Indian River; its easy to locate on the main road near the National Bank of Dominica. For a reasonable cost of around £13 each you can hire a guide in a rowing boat to take you up the river. Due to the fact no motor boats are allowed it is a tranquil place to visit and there is even a rum shack you stop at for a drink. We had a nice afternoon trip here with Loki. We didn’t book in advance but in higher tourist times this may be necessary. Sightings here included fairly large land crabs, plenty of fish, a little green heron and a hummingbird.
Saint John hosts the longest stretch of beach on the Island; spanning from Picard and Ross University up to Cabrits National Park. We snorkelled on Coconut Beach on Christmas Day. Its a nice secluded area with a couple of Beach bars (opening hours are unclear due to covid). Be prepared to be joined on the beach by cows and the road leading to it is currently part of a contruction site. A nice beach however and we saw some good snorkelling at the end of the pier.
If you walk a short distance down the beach towards central Portsmouth you will come across some white picket fences outside Infinity Restaurant which is run by Neriq. This is attached to the Picard Beach Cottages complex and offers a wide array of drinks, reasonable food and live sports on the TV. Even better however is the sunset view from here which is fantastic. This was the best restaurant we found on the entire island.
This is an area towards the end of beach near Cabrits known due turtles nesting here. Here you will find the Purple Turtle beach Restaurant and Bar which offers reasonable local food and drinks but also a very popular beach spot for locals. You will often see families swimming here at sunset. We snorkelled here towards the rocks on the right and we saw our first Lionfish and electric ray. It was a nice spot for sunset or a swim and was the busiest area of the beach we saw. Again a lovely place for a sunset.
Syndicate Nature Trail and Falls
Located to the South of Portsmouth in the Parish of St John is Syndicate; reached by a quite challenging, pot holed and steep road with some places leaving very little space to pass. We visited on 3 separate occasions; twice to the Nature Trail and once to the falls.
The Nature Trail is located at the end of the road and is clearly signposted. When we visited we didnt see anyone else there but the building at the start of the trail did have toilets. There was noone in attendance although there were clear signs of refreshments and a gift shop that we would imagine are open in peak times. We heard the elusive parrots but didn’t see any; we did see hummingbirds and several other beautiful birds.
It was a relatively short walk and ideal for families with children. I have read different pages but depending on your speed of walking and your interest it can take 45 minutes to an hour exploring. Whilst walking here look out for parrots, clouded boa costrictors and the copious birdlife in the area
The falls are not suitable for children due to the river crossings required. It is easy to miss the turning for the falls if you don’t pay attention however it is further down the road from the Nature Trail and is a right turn. There is a sign pointing towards a dirt track which takes you to the entrance of the walk to the falls. When we visited the area was quite overgrown in places and we made an error when trying to see the path; it was so overgrown we missed it so we trekked up stream through the River Dublanc. We were completely alone, had no idea if we were going the right way, had never previously walked through a fast-flowing river, and at no point did we really know if all our efforts were going to be worthwhile. This is not recommended but was an adventure none the less. Hint: when you reach the river; cross it and there is a footpath; although you can clearly see how we missed it as it was so overgrown.
Despite taking the hard way to the falls it really was worth it when we got there. We loved it and it made our trek, an hour long scramble upstream through the river, very worthwhile. The joy we felt when we had our first glimpse of the falls was tremendous. The pool in front of the waterfall was an emerald green colour and made for a well earned refreshing swim.
We have watched youtube videos of the river and noted that the water levels were significantly higher when we visited than other times of the year. In addition the property is up for sale and we couldn’t be sure whether this contributed to the fact the path wasn’t maintained or just nature running wild through the rainy season. We would definitely recommend coming here and making sure even if you find the right path you wear good water shoes. The waterfall was around 30 metres high, and had an impressive volume of water flowing over it. Over our long history of travelling we’ve seen bigger, far more impressive waterfalls, and even in Dominica we went on to find at least two more impressive waterfalls, but because of the excitement and novelty of our journey there, Syndicate Falls now have a special place in our hearts as our very favourite.
This little gem was one we found towards the end of our stay although we had passed near it many times. The beach is one of the few on the island which has sand coloured sand, not the volcanic darker sand. This was a really nice stretch of beach and had some bars and restaurants along the front. We could imagine during peak tourism this would be a busy spot but we enjoyed near enough the whole beach to ourselves. The water was calm and although we only stopped for a picnic we would have probably swam here as it did look inviting.
The capital city was nothing like we had experienced so far in Dominica, it is crazy busy with people as well as cars and the driving and parking are quite a challenge. We visited Roseau on numerous occasions whilst on the island; mainly because it had the only big supermarkets on the island and the only place we could find diet soft drinks. The Fresh Market and Whitchurch IGA supermarkets are the ideal place to stock up on your groceries and get whatever food you may need. In addition to this we also had to attend Roseau Medical Centre based in the Botanical garden for our departure PCR test and also for the results (more of that later)
One of the most fun things we did however from Roseau was whale watching with PH Whale Watch Dominica. This is nature, so we knew there were no guarantees of seeing anything. After 3 hours plus of Carol feeling seasick, and Nigel’s back killing him (it’s a very bumpy ride at high-speed) we saw precisely nothing! Captain Kevin and Pam both seemed genuinely disappointed that they weren’t able to find the whales for us.
They offered us another trip, should the circumstances conspire to provide us with the opportunity when the chances of seeing them were higher. We thought about it, did we really want to go through it again? We decided to risk it, and gratefully accepted Pam’s kind offer. The circumstances changed, and we did get the promised call. Pam and Harry were as good as their word, which is a quality we greatly admire.
We made our way down to the ferry terminal in Roseau, and set-off on Whale watching trip Mkll. The hydrophone was working well, the Sperm whales clicks were detected and relayed to us via a speaker. There was hope. The clicks were coming from all directions, we headed north. Another 2 hours at sea and still we had seen nothing. At least we heard them this time.
And then it happened, a very excited Captain shouted “There she blows! ” Kevin had seen a whale use its blowhole, some way off in the distance. It was then a case of “hold tight, full speed ahead”
Sperm whales typically spend 45-50 minutes under water, then 10 minutes at the surface preparing for their next dive. We got there in time, saw our first whale, and Kevin even knew when she was going to deep dive and show us her tail fluke. We saw it 😊
Another boat got closer and Captain Kevin called on the radio “why are you so close?” He even asked the other captain to back off! Captain Kevin really respects these animals, and always observes from a safe distance, totally respecting their space.
We went on to see half a dozen or so female Sperm whales, including one of the named ones who stay in the area all year round, she was called Can Opener. We also saw a mother with her calf, who dived one quickly after the other and we saw both tail flukes at once. Awesome! Even if we did fail to capture the moment on camera.
Furthermore, we saw a pod of who knows how many Fraser’s Dolphins, 30 or so perhaps? They played in the bow waves, with two coming back the other way and completely jumping out of the water about 3 or 4 metres from us. Spectacular! It was a day that will live long in our memory and we cannot thank Kevin, Pam and Harry enough for their efforts.
Another honourable mention in Roseau is the home of Dominican Cricket, Windsor Park Stadium. There were no games happening during out visit unfortunately but Nigel was able to charm security and gain entry to take some pictures of their stadium. The most famous player ever to call this place home? Phil de Freitas. I know him from his days of playing for England, but he’s not in the same league as icons from other Caribbean islands we visited, such as Malcolm Marshall, Gary Sobers and Viv Richards.
Just a short drive south of Roseau is a beach where you can swim with bubbles occurring due to volcanic activity; resembling champagne bubbles hence the name. Many tours we saw advertised included this but it was very easy to park at the top of the cliff and walk down. We were fortunately enough to meet with a guy we had met previously in Portsmouth, Paul, and also a marine ranger who were able to point out exactly where the reef was to us (by the log in the water at the far left of the beach). This is also where we first met Pam and Harry from PH Whale Watch as they are currently building a bar and advertising their tours from here.
We visited here a couple of times; once from the road and once on a canoe; the water can be very choppy here and our second time was disappointing due to the churning up of the sand and the lack of visibility; however we had a great snorkel on the reef the first time amongst the bubbles. If you think spectacular you may be disappointed as there aren’t that many bubbles here but its still a fun experience. We have heard stories of 20 people here kicking each other when it has been the height of tourist season; however come by yourself first thing in the morning and you should be fine.
If bubbly water is your thing then Soufriere is more impressive than Champagne; there is a small warm bubble ‘spa bath’ just on the beach and loads of bubbles in the sea. Now from our first impressions of Soufriere and we are being honest here; it was a bit of a dump! The beach was full of rubbish and glass (please wear hard soled shoes for your own safety) and loads of construction going on. To the right of the beach there was a nicer area with a couple of beach bars. We were however extremely impressed by the snorkelling and the sea experience so if thats your thing don’t let the beach put you off. We saw some snake eels here and had much more fun just snorkelling up by the rocks than at Champagne Reef.
Soufriere is also home to Nature Island Dive who offer a wide range of water based activities. We were impressed with their service when we hired a couple of Kayaks for the afternoon and paddled round the local area. This was reasonable at US$20 each for the whole afternoon. Unfortunately we cannot share any pictures of this experience as our underwater camera fell in the sea! The rough water churned up the sea at this point making visibility very poor, so we were unable to retrieve it. If you find it charge it up, have a look at our fantastic photos from around the coast, then please format the memory card and enjoy what is probably still a perfectly good underwater camera.
Also based in Soufriere is Jungle Bay, a wellness and adventure resort. Our budget couldn’t stretch to a stay here but we did managed to spend a day there for Carol’s Birthday by purchasing a day pass for US$60. The grounds of the resort are really peaceful, we had use of the Infinity Pool, a really good, tasty lunch was included in the price and the cocktails werent too shabby either! We also booked in for a massage, Nigel shared the room with a bananaquit, a beautiful yellow-breasted bird who seemed very interested in his massage. We had a lovely day here and would recommend a visit if you can.
Just a few minutes drive from Soufriere is the village of Scotts Head; the starting point for the Waitukubuli walking trail. It is possible to drive across the tombolo; the small section from the village to Scotts Head (which has been formed by waves from both the Atlantic Ocean one side and Caribbean Sea the other) and to drive up Scotts Head for some amazing views down on the village. Martinique is also clearly visible from here. We drove across the tombola and most of the way up the headland of Scotts Head but were doubtful of our trusty Rav4’s abilities to navigate the last section so walked the rest of the way. You do need a good 4×4 to attempt this!
Once we reached the top however the views were spectacular! There are old cannons here and you can read about the history of the the french invasion of Dominica in 1778 where Scotts Head was the first invasion point.
We also did some snorkelling at Scotts Head just past the tombolo on the Caribbean Sea side. Despite the rocks this was some of the best snorkelling we saw on the island and had a bit of a lunar appearance underwater. The area is well known for snorkelling and diving here and we could see why.
East Coast of the Island (North to South)
We discovered Au Parc whilst driving to the far north of the island. Located just before Thibauld in the far north east of the island we loved this little spot so much we came back for a picnic here. Again this is not somewhere you will really find on a map but a very popular spot for locals; we sat and watched some children playing cricket and with rubber rings in the sea. There are toilet facilities and quite rough sea both sides of the Parc. It isn’t a big place but a lovely spot to chill for a while.
We both agree that the best beach on the island is located in Batibou Bay. Batibou can be located just before Calibishie and you can either drive down a rather rough dirt track in a 4×4 or if you fancy a walk (or your car isn’t suitable) park at the top and walk down. The beach is privately owned and there is an entrance fee of USD $5 for conservation. When we visited there was a security guard called Hubert present who was happy to speak with us and answer any questions we may have. On our second visit we met Irma, one of the owners of the land. She was really helpful and gave us lots of advice and tips on making our stay on the island more comfortable.
It is a lovely spot and worth the nominal fee to visit this beach; with its soft golden sand and palm trees overhanging the sea it is a piece of paradise. A great place to sit and chill, have a picnic and a swim or just to sit and read a book! Being on the Atlantic side the sea is a little rough and visibility for snorkelling not so good. As a side note, Batibou Bay was the location for the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where Johnny Depp is chased along the beach by some cannibals.
Drive on from Batibou and through Calibishie, turn left at the Pointe Baptiste Chocolate Factory, follow the road up and you can reach Red Rocks. Just before you enter the Red Rocks area there is a restaurant and bar called Red Rock Cuisine, the staff are really friendly and the food and drink very nice!
The landscape really is amazing and somewhat otherworldly given the green surroundings of the island, but the rocks have been naturally formed by years of geothermal and volcanic activity. Our advice would be to use footwear with good grip and try to visit late in the afternoon as it can get very hot out there. The rocks can be accessed by a path behind the restaurant. A great place for a picnic or apparently great to watch the sunset.
Kalinago Territory (Barana Acute)
The Kalinago Territory is a 3,700 acre area previously known as the Carib Reserve which is home to approximately 3000 indiginous people . The territory was formed by British Colonial Authories in 1903 and the population were mostly isolated from the main population of the island during the 20th Century. Today visitors are able to visit a modern Kalinago Village to gain a clearer understanding of the daily lives of the Kalinago residents. To read more about the Kalinago history read the link here. We took a rather long drive from Portsmouth to visit the territory.
Our experience of the Kalinago Village was a little disappointing; we visited on a day when nobody was there; perhaps if some of the Kalinago people were present to speak with or show us more of their culture this would have added to the experience. We are also aware that COVID has likely impacted the amount of activities that are happening. What also was disappointing was that although this was supposedly an authentic village, the thatching on the roof was made of plastic and stapled on. An authentic indigenous dwelling? We think not! Maybe our experiences were unique and many other visitors had much more positive visits however we came a long way. We would not recommend making the long drive here from Portsmouth to especially see the territory, especially in times of COVID; however it is a mildly interesting place with some great views, so if you are passing by stop and have a visit.
We had a little trip here after a recommendation from a fellow traveller. Despite its name we did not find any castle named Bruce. According to Dominica Online Castle Bruce is described by Honychurch, an historian, as one of the oldest parts of Dominica with its originals as a sugar plantation and had a great Kalinago presence. It gained its name from James Bruce, a local Sugar Plantation owner who employed slaves and was said to care nothing for their welfare. Today Castle Bruce shares similar features of Roseau and has a beautiful beach, rivers and mountain views. We had lunch at the Islet View Restaurant and bar which provides stunning views over Castle Bruce. The food was freshly prepared and we really enjoyed our chicken curry. The only downside was the construction works being undertaken just adjacent to the property.
We continued a drive down the East Coast to Rosalie Bay; mostly known for the Rosalie Bay Eco Resort. Despite the resort there really wasn’t too much to see and the resort from the outside looked really run down. We had a walk down the stony beach on the adjacent side of the river and this is the one place we saw that really did still show the destruction left by Hurricane Maria; it appears that little has been done to clear up this area.
It was quite humbling to see this snapshot of the destruction this island had faced back in 2017. On the positive side however it was really amazing to see how the majority of the island had recovered so well. When leaving the bay however we came across a real hidden gem, The Rosalie Bay Nature Trail. We hadn’t seen this in any brochures or online but stumbled across it by accident. The trail is a really easy 10 minute walk which leads to a turtle nesting beach. The walkway was really well maintained and it was a really lovely walk. Despite the fact we weren’t in turtle season the beach was also a lovely spot; although due to being on the east coast and the roughness of the sea you couldnt swim here.
Morne Trois Piton National Park
This is probably the most famous area of Dominica and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Located in the central and southern highlands the area is lush green tropical rainforests which is centred on the 1,342m high Morne Trois Piton Volcano. There are numourous natural places to visit here including lakes, rivers, hot springs and 50 fumeroles, openings in the earths crust due to volcanic activity which emit steam and gasses. Due to phyiscal limitations we were unable to visit some of the most well known areas such as the Boiling Lake, Jaco Falls, Middleton Falls and the Valley of Desolation; however here are a few of the places we did visit in the area.
We had a trip to Titou and organised our visit with Chadi from Island Adventures in advance. Visiting Titou Gorge involves swimming through a series of chambers originating from the base of a waterfall. The high cliffs and ledges are naturally formed from lava and light coming through makes for some spectacular views. The gorge is very deep and you are required to wear life jackets.
We were very grateful of Chadi’s guidance and assistance here as he was able to tell us where to step and where to swim to stay safe. The waterfall itself is really powerful but it was great fun!
The twin falls are reached by an easy 10-15 minute walk from the main entrance. There is a viewing platform which allows you take pictures of both the falls and if youre feeling more adventurous you can climb around on the rocks and have a swim in some of the shallow pools. Be careful if you decide to do this as some of the rocks are very slippery but this a definite must see around the area.
This was probably the most heavily invested tourist attraction we visited with a well maintained path and several staff present in the area ensuring that the location was kept in good order. We were lucky enough to have the entire Emerald Pool to ourselves when we visited. It took approximately 15 minutes to walk to the pool with a few viewing platforms on the way. Unfortunately the loop path was closed so we did have to come back the way we came.
The pool itself was lovely although not as impressive as others we had seen such as Syndicate. In order to enter the water you do need to navigate some rocks so like the majority of places hard soled water shoes are definitely beneficial here. We had a great time though swimming around in the rather cool (in every repect) pool and by the waterfall. It’s not that big so if there were lots of other people there we could imagine it would be crowded; never the less it was a charming place at which to spend an hour or two.
After reading on the Discover Dominica website that this was an ‘easy hike’. We decided to give this walk a go. We picked a day which had quite poor visibility and with hindsight we probably should have checked the weather; however given how the weather changes so quickly in Dominica we gave it a go anyway.
The trail is supposed to last an hour and offer amazing views; what we were not aware of however is that it is very steep and involves a lot of steep steps up and down. We got soaked, didn’t really see much and Carol especially found this very challenging.
It took us a lot longer than an hour, probably nearer 2. We did feel exhilarated afterwards when it was finished but it was a tough walk and one which took a few days to recover from so don’t be fooled by the term ‘easy’. Also in case of bad weather make sure you have really good footwear!
The village of Wotton Waven is home to hot springs and enterprising locals have converted some areas into bathing areas for tourists. We initially went there visit Bongo Baths; however to our disappointment this was closed and all the pools were empty. We carried on up the road and came across Screws Sulfur Spa; a multipool property with natural sulphur pools just next to Baileys Bridge. This apparently wasn’t the original location but has moved due to irrepairable damage caused by Maria. There were 5 pools and a mud pack available at the pool across the river.
We had lovely hour or 2 here just bathing in the pools; be careful not to get the clay in your eyes and make sure you take off youre jewellery before entering; all ours turned black (however another local recommended colgate to clean it up and it did the trick!)
Things to know when visiting Dominica
We spent nearly two months in Dominica and had a fantastic time; we will always cherish the memories we have from here. In order to give a balanced view however it is important we point out some of the quirky and not so positive things about visiting here:
You will share your room with creatures; mostly millipedes, lizards and frogs. It is the nature island after all! Just be prepared with a dustpan and brush and a broom to chase them away. None of them are harmful just annoying and there are apparently no dangerous creatures on the Island; nevertheless it’s always handy to have a can of Bop! in your room just in case. Cockroaches can come up the drains so cover them when not in use. I was advised to pour boiling water and vinegar down and this did the trick. Mosquitos can be pretty brutal here so make sure you cover up well after dusk and at dawn especially.
Another thing to note about Dominica is that you get crabs not just by the sea but in mountains as well! on our drive to Syndicate we came across a land crab on the road – this was something we had never seen before but don’t be alarmed as you can see them all over the place and they scuttle away quickly.
Goats, Chickens and Dogs
You will see these everywhere running wild, in roads or fields. It is also not an uncommon site to see people taking their goats for a walk which we found quite funny. If you’re driving be warned they do run out into the road with no warning whatsoever. We had no issues with stray dogs at all, they left us alone and were not aggressive.
Knives and Machetes
Coming from a country where knife crime is at an all time worrying high we would generally feel very alarmed at someone walking towards us with a machete in their hand, however here it is very normal; locals use them all the time to cut back trees and bushes. As long as you are prepared for it it’s fine and luckily we had read about this beforehand . Machetes are sold in general shops and are easily accessible but they appear to just be used as a tool and with no malicious intent. It is just normal day to day life here.
Nightlife – Restaurants and Bars
If this is what you are coming for I’m afraid you will be disappointed and this is not likely to be the place for you. Whilst there are some nice bars and restaurants that appear to be attached to resorts there is very little in the way of local bars; rather shopping containers that sell beers and rum shacks by the side of the road. We spend our evenings in mostly as we couldn’t find much to do at night and although we visited during covid I don’t feel it would be much different full season. In respect of restaurants we found a few detailed above but they weren’t in abundance. If you are a vegetarian then you could struggle a little here.
Self Catering – Shops and Supermarkets
Where we were based in Portsmouth, there were a few supermarkets but we found it very difficult to find what we wanted, for example fresh meat, without going to Roseau. The main supermarkets can be located there but don’t expect to find much in the way of english or american brands here. In Portsmouth we found an amazing little shop which was just starting called Savers in Picard on Ross Boulevard. They stocked so much stuff such as gravy granules and oxos which made us more comfortable and feel more at home. We even managed to cobble together a Christmas dinner thanks to this shop with its stuffing! The one thing to note is that alcohol is at no shortage here although you do pay for premium brands such as Smirnoff or Gordons; shop around because the price difference can be as much as 40$ EC difference!
Covid Protocols and PCR Testing
In general covid protocols in the community were really good; social distancing and mask wearing advice was followed, sanitising going into shops and temperature checks in some places; however the most stressful and frustrating processes were entering and leaving Dominica.
We came from Barbados as part of the Caricom Bubble which meant we didn’t need a PCR test or to quarantine; we were however required to take an antigen test on arrival. From leaving the place we were marched to another building where there was a confusing system; you had to go to one window to collect a form return the form to another window, wait in a waiting area to get called for your test and then wait for the results. It took about an hour and a half to pass this point before baggage claim and leaving the airport. The process itself was a little stressful because throughout this noone kept us informed what was going on or what we were waiting for so it was all guess work. Eventually we got the all clear and were on our way.
Departing Dominica and gaining a PCR test however was the most complicated and disorganised system which caused us a lot of extra cost and stress. The protocols on the Dominica website are pretty complicated with no explanation as to how exactly you passed each step.
We got as far as booking our appointment but they were not able to advise where the other locations were we needed to visit including how to contact our District Medical Officer. If we were staying in a hotel or resort the reception staff i’m sure could have helped us more with this but we were clueless; in the end I called a local hotel for advice about what to do (thank you to Leez at The Champs!). We attended Portsmouth Hospital and gained a requisition form and then discovered we were now able to pay online which whilst it was a relief meant we also had to find somewhere to print the receipt, which meant more driving around to find a print shop!
All PCR testing is undertaken in Roseau which was a 44km journey from Portsmouth and on a bad day with traffic could take an hour and a half. We left at 6am to attend our appointment arriving at 7.15am. We waited in a tent with other people waiting for the clinic to be opened. A security guard came and took our requisition forms in the order of arrival. At around 9am a doctor came out and advised what would happen re the tests (you keep your mask on and move it for both the nasal and throat swabs) and asked if we had had our ID checked. We advised the security guard had taken our forms.
It appears despite the order of people showing up in the morning there was already a generated list. We eventually had our test done and were ready to leave around 10am but wanted to check that our contact details were correct for our results to be sent. From speaking to the staff member at the medical centre it appeared that we would have to drive down to Roseau again the next day as they have no facility to email results at the weekend. As you can understand we were frustrated by this but as there was no other way we agreed to come down the next day. Imagine our reaction driving down again to discover after a 2 hour wait that our results weren’t back! This was despite the fact we were the 2nd and 3rd people tested and others who we saw were tested way after us had their results. The nurse appeared very stressed but she was very helpful and did agree if our results came back this afternoon that she would whatsapp them to us and she did. If she hadn’t we would have had to have driven back down again for a 3rd day in a row. The whole system was so disorganised and the staff were very stressed themselves. This system did put a real dampener on our final days in Dominica and caused so much stress and extra expense in petrol, printing and time which was a real shame. As beautiful as Dominica is, it needs a huge dollop of English-style organisation in order to improve.
We don’t believe we saw the country at its absolute best, with COVID having a severe effect on visitor numbers, meaning some places such as Cabrits National Park remained closed for the duration of our stay. Many other times we were at absolute gems such as Batibou Bay, Syndicate Falls and Emerald Pool with the entire areas completely to ourselves. Glorious!
Towards the end of our stay it occurred to us that the main word we would associate with Dominica, other than nature, is potential. It is absolutely beautiful, the flora and fauna on land and sea will be enough to lure many a new visitor, and anyone who does visit will not be disappointed. Dominica is way behind other islands in respect of technology and infrastructure but could be made so much better in many ways, including the PCR system for tourists, the country’s main source of income. Oh to be a multi-millionaire – this would be a fantastic place to invest!
Some attractions in Dominica such as those in the Morne Piton Trois National Park are heavily advertised and there has clearly been a lot of investment in this area; yet are they the best the Island has to offer? from our experiences some of the smaller less accessible areas have more charm and were more spectacular. We are aware that a plot of land has been identified to make Dominica an international air travel hub and this will undoubtedly change the island considerably, making it more accessible for tourists other than cruise ship passengers and inter island travellers like us. We are sure that once the Covid Crisis has subsided and the airport is up and running this will give the country the cash injection it needs to develop other less known areas
Scrap cars also present a problem, just with the sheer numbers of abandoned vehicles you see around the place. In the UK, scrap metal is a huge money making business, in Dominica is clearly isn’t financially viable. Perhaps a Caribbean central hub is needed to provide sufficient material to make the undoubtedly enormous invest worthwhile. There are plenty of people in neighbouring islands who could all send their metal to same place for processing. Overstay in your parking spot here, and your car will be reclaimed. Not by the council, but by the jungle!
Another thing which would really improve the island is to make it more accessible for disabled people; we saw nothing which indicated this has even been a thought.
Whilst we loved Dominica, and spent longer there than we have in any other foreign country and didn’t want to leave, many of the locals we spoke to told a different story. Many adults we spoke to couldn’t wait to leave, not enough opportunity to grow and not enough things to do were their main complaints. Our sat nav gor us lost on one occasion, and we ended up having a great conversation with 8 year old Byon. I said how much we love his country, and asked if he felt the same way. His response was an instant no! Nothing to do. I asked how he was doing at school, and did he work hard. He said he liked school and was doing OK I said that if he worked harder, and did better than OK, when he grows up he could become the Prime Minister. Byon liked this idea and his eyes lit up. What does the Prime Minister do? He asked. Rather simplistically I told him The Prime Ministers job was to decide how everyones’ taxes were spent. If he was Prime Minister, he could perhaps decide to spend the taxpayers’ money on building basketball courts, soccer pitches and cricket pitches, and then all the children would have plenty to do, to keep fit and have fun. He rather liked that idea and again his eyes lit up. At this point his father joined in the conversation and he quite liked the idea too.
As mentioned previously, Hurricane Maria struck Dominica in September 2017. Ashton, the property manager at Success Apartments, told us the aftermath, in the valley below us reminded him of TV footage he had seen of Hiroshima. It was a devastating event which ended 30+ lives, and changed forever everybody else’s. From our observations the Island’s nature has made an amazing recovery and largely the people have recovered too, though they do still like to be talk about Maria a LOT.
We certainly are not dismissing the physical, emotional and financial impact of Maria which must have been devastating; however often Maria is used as an excuse, I’ll give you some examples; Walk into a bar and pay 10 East Caribbean Dollars (ECD) for 3 beers, go into the bar next door and get asked for 7 ECD for 1 beer. Ask why it’s so expensive and you will get a reply guaranteed to begin with “since Maria…”
Some people can’t even bring themselves to say the name María, their stories are simply peppered with “before…” and “since…” Go into a shop and ask about bread because you can’t see any on the shelves and they will reply “Since Maria…” The shop next door will have shelves full of bread, there is no bread shortage. The same goes for almost any shopping item you can think of; wine, vodka, fresh fruit, milk… If they’re out of stock, Maria will get the blame. We went into one shop on a Friday, looking for bacon, only to told “Before… We used to get bacon in, but since Maria…” Funny how it didn’t stop them having a fridge full of bacon the previous Tuesday
The people of Dominica are very mentally strong and resilient. The worst nature could throw at them brought out the very best in the people. A remarkable community spirit in the aftermath of Maria seems to still holds strong, and their rehabilitation is well on the road to completion. Maybe it’s time for the people of Dominica to stop focussing on the past and start celebrating their ability to survive, recover, and flourish.
Dominica is an absolutely amazing place. We loved the landscape, we loved the wildlife, and it will always be in our hearts.
Carol & Nigel xx