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Top Things to Do in Dominica

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Dominica is the youngest island of the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean.  With its lush, mountainous rainforest and variety of a rare flora and fauna, Dominica calls itself the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  Adventure awaits those who visit the 290 square mile island.  Below are some top things to do in Dominica.

History of Dominica

But first, lets it explore its history, because that will explain why the culture leans French, but the driving is English style on the left side of the road!

Dominica was first settled by the Arawak in the 5th century.  They were later displaced by the Kalinago in the 15th century.  Christopher Columbus sailed by the island on a Sunday in 1493, and as a result called it Dominica, latin for Sunday.

The Spanish had little success colonizing Dominica.  Consequently, the French claimed it in 1632, though they did not establish a permanent settlement until 1690 when woodcutters from the neighboring French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe began harvesting trees.

The French ceded Dominica to Great Britain in 1783 under the Treaty of Paris after losing the Seven Years’ War.  For nearly the next 200 years, the British ruled Dominica until it granted the island independence in 1978. 

Despite the more recent and longer reign of the British, the culture is predominately French Creole, though Dominica’s official language is English.

Top Things to Do in Dominica

Most of Dominica’s population centers around its capital, Roseau, in the south and Portsmouth in the North. It takes about an hour to drive from Portsmouth to Roseau and even longer to reach Soufriere, a popular tourist destination.  While the coastal roads are flat and straight, the inland roads wend over mountainous terrain. The long drives make tours costly, consequently, determine which things to do in Dominica suit your fancy and pick your stay accordingly.

Where to Stay in Dominica

We spent one week in Roseau on a five-day dive package with Fort Young HotelFort Young Hotel with its waterfront view sits on the edge of town.  The hotel features a nice restaurant, a pool and hot tub with an outdoor bar, a conference area, a small gym, and a dive shop.

A handful of connecting buildings make up the hotel complex.  As a result, the ways to the rooms can be mazelike, but the rooms are pleasant with nice décor.  Ours looked out on the water and included the typical amenities like a coffee maker, small fridge, TV, safe, phone, clock and a nice sized bathroom and closet.

Fort young hotel in Dominica

The hotel offers an all-inclusive option and an a al carte option as well as many tour packages.  Our package included breakfast, 2 tank morning dives for 5 days, and a land excursion to Trafalgar Falls and Titou Gorge.  The hotel also offers $6 shore dives on your own or more expensive guided dives.

Given we visited to dive, it seems appropriate to start this “top things to do in Dominica” list with SCUBA Diving.

Go SCUBA Diving

All of the SCUBA diving in Dominica takes place in three marine parks, the marine section of Cabrits National Park in the north, the Salisbury Marine Reserve on the west coast, and the Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve in the south.

The pristine coral reefs and sponges provide a beautiful underwater home for a variety of marine life including tropical fish, octopus, crabs, shrimp, sea slugs, turtles, and an exhorbitant amount of eels!

Dominica is also known for its famous champagne reef where bubbles vent from underwater hot springs.  Be sure to feel the warm sand! Snorkelers can enjoy this reef and the house reef at Fort Young, as the water is shallow and teeming with life.

For more dive site information, visit my post, Diving Dominica.

feather duster

Whale Watch

If you’d rather see the “big stuff,” then perhaps whale watching is a better choice. Dominica is the only country in the world where sperm whales reside year-round.  That said, the sightings are more frequent between November and April.

There are two ways to see the sperm whales in Dominica.  You can take a 3-hour whale watching tour with Dive Dominica or join freediving excursion which requires an expensive license and is limited to 6 people.  Only 10 licenses are awarded a year.  For more information of free diving with sperm whales in Dominica visit Free Diving Holidays.

For the 3-hour tour, Dive Dominica hosts several whale watchers on its large vessel. The company uses sonar devices to listen for the whales and motors offshore in search of the resident pod.  Worse case, you get a nice boat ride and free rum punch.  Best case you see sperm whales, pilot whales and dolphins.

If Salisbury Hill Productions (some friendly expats from Arizona) is on board, you get a link to the videos of the sperm whales.

Sip Dominica’s Famous Punch

Speaking of the rum punch, everyone should at least take a sip.  Each establishment in Dominica makes its own version.  I’m not much of a rum drinker, nor am I big on sugary drinks, but the nutmeg and spices make Dominica’s rum punch pretty tasty.  If you go on the Indian River Cruise, try the Dynamite punch.  It’s the only place on the island where you will find it.

dominica rum punch

Float the Indian River

The cruise along the Indian River takes place in the northwest part of the island.  Several operators await your arrive to row you in a wooden boat up a tranquil river while pointing out the flora and fauna. You may drive there yourself or have a hotel arrange the excursion.

Sam proudly welcomed us to his boat which he crafted himself. During low season and no cruise ship patrons, we enjoyed a quiet afternoon on the river. It is best to go in the morning or evening when the birdlife and wildlife are more active. Birds, iguanas, crabs, fish, flowers and the Witch’s House in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest are a few highlights.

At the half-way point, there is a bush bar surrounded by gardens with a hiking path.  Sip a rum punch while watching the hummingbirds or take a stroll.  Our guide, Sam, will make you a hummingbird out of reeds.

indian river

Visit Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Filming Locations

The Witch’s House was not the only scene of POTC: Dead Man’s Chest filmed in Dominica.  There are several filming locations on the island including the old church scene, the waterwheel fight scene and the chase scene in the northern part of the island, the cannibal village and bridge scenes near Soufriere, and the cage of bones drop scene at Titou Gorge.

Titou Gorge

Explore Fort Shirley

When taking the Indian River Tour, add some time into the excursion to explore Fort Shirley.  The fort, located on the Cabrits National Park Peninsula is just a few miles north.  Fort Shirley is one of many fortifications constructed on Dominica during the Britain and France conflicts of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

While some of the fortifications have been overtaken by forest, Fort Shirley has been refurbished and hosts weddings, concerts, and other events. It is a nice place to stroll around and take in the views.

Chase Waterfalls

As I mentioned above, our hotel package included a land excursion to Titou Gorge and Trafalgar Falls, which are about 20 minutes from Roseau.  When we asked what we should wear and bring, we were heavily confused by the responses that ranged from fins, hiking clothes, bathing suits and more.  We cleared up our confusion upon arrival to the separate locations. Trafalgar Falls is a hike and Titou Gorge is a swim! 

Trafalgar Falls

A short 10-minute hike on a well-maintained trail lead to a covered viewpoint of Trafalgar Falls, which features two beautiful cascades tumbling between tall green cliffs.  Our guide expected us to stop at the man-made gazebo, but some reviews mentioned climbing through the boulders.

The waterfall lover in me had to get to the spray of the cascades, so I went scrambling which makes the hike longer than 10 minutes. I followed the trail which begins to the left of the creek and crosses through the water a few times to the hot springs located at the base of the tall falls. The lower falls features a refreshing pool.

trafalgar falls

Titou Gorge

Titou Gorge, which means small throat requires a short swim through aqua waters to a waterfall.  Brace for COLD water! Life jackets are required and are available on site.  The whole excursion probably takes 10 minutes.  Our guide kept talking about how he wears fins in order to rescue people.  I could not envision this scenario. 

Upon our visit, aside from the waterfall that cascades over the mossy cliff, the water is calm like a swimming pool.  Perhaps it depends on how much it rains.  Water shoes, a bathing suit, a towel and waterproof camera are all that’s needed.

The Titou Gorge swim reminded me of an extremely short and very tame version of The Wadis of Oman and the Millennium Cave Tour I took during Four Days in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu that required exhilarating hikes and swims.

Other waterfall hikes in Dominica include Victoria Falls, Sari-Sari Falls, Dubuc Falls, Syndicate Falls, Brandy Falls, Spanny Falls, Jaco Falls, Emerald Pool, Sultan Falls, and Middleham Falls.

Take a Hike

With the highest peak in the Caribbean, Dominica’s hikes vary in difficulty from easy to hard as well as from short to long.  Dominica is most famous for the hike to Boiling Lake.  As the name suggests, the 6.1 mile grueling trail leads trekkers to the second largest boiling lake in the world.

It climbs over a mountain top, drops into the Valley of Desolation filled with steaming sulfur vents, and goes back up to the lake.  Get a guide, go early, and plan for at least six hours on this trail in sturdy shoes.  For more information, see my post, Hike to Boiling Lake

boiling lake in dominica

If hiking isn’t for you, wait a few years, as a the longest detachable cable car in the world is under construction. The aerial tram will take visitors 4.1 miles in 20 minutes to the Boiling Lake.

If you are up for a multi-day backpacking trip, try the 14 segments, 115 mile coast-to-coast Waitukubuli National Trail.  This track is not well traveled and difficult to follow in places.  Travelers should get a guide and register with the forestry office. 

Soak in the Hot Springs

Any long hike in Dominica screams for a soak in the hot springs at the end!  Seeing as Dominica is home to nine active volcanoes, hot springs dot the island.  They range from underwater, to free and natural, to paid and man-made hot springs.

The underwater hot springs are best experienced by SCUBA diving at Champagne Reef.  A few natural hot springs may be found at Trafalgar Falls, on the way to Boiling Lake, and at Bubble Beach Spa near Soufriere.

For a paid, man-made experience, try one of the hot springs near Wotten Waven, just twenty minutes from Roseau.  One popular choice is Ti Kwen Glo Cho, which means little corner of water.

Ti Kwen Glo Cho offers bathrooms, changing rooms, and a bar.  Well maintained trails descend down to a few pools of rust colored water, stained by the orange sulfur.  Don’t wear your favorite bathing suit because it could get stained too. The pools vary in temperature and the bathtub is a cute novelty.

Ti Kwen Glo Cho hot springs in Dominica

Rove Around Roseau

While many of the aforementioned attractions are outside Roseau, be sure to save some time for the capital city. When on vacation, sometimes it is easy to just relax by the pool, but in Dominica, locals add the flavor.  The colorful Roseau is particularly robust on Fridays and Saturdays when Dominicans attend the market on the western edge of town. Stroll the streets, shop the markets, taste the flavors, catch a cricket match, and soak in a sunset.  It’s all doable in a single day!

As mentioned, there is a permanent market on the edge of town, but it is much busier on Fridays and Saturdays.  Fridays also feature music at the cruise ship port just steps away from Fort Young Hotel

market in dominica

On the opposite side of town from the market, you’ll find the Dominica Botanic Gardens where quite often you’ll find a local cricket match among the flowering trees. 

Courtesy of the Chinese, Dominica also has a cricket stadium which hosts international matches.  Windsor Park Sports Stadium, just north of the gardens, also hosts soccer matches, music festivals, and pageants.

Where to Eat in Dominica

I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide a few restaurant recommendations for your Dominica vacation.  Two noteworthy places are Lacou Melrose House and Le Petite Paris.  For more information about these restaurants and a few local gems, visit my post, Places to Eat in Dominica.

Finally, don’t miss the sunset which you can watch from Fort Young, the main street (Dame Mary Eugenia Charles Blvd), or the Roseau River Promenade by the market,

As you can see, there are many things to do in Dominica.  We could have easily spent another week exploring the nature island of the Caribbean.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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