Don’t be confused — this is NOT the Dominican Republic. This is Dominica, an unspoiled tropical island located in the Lesser Antilles section of the Caribbean. And although you might happily spend a week just lazing in the sunshine, you’d be missing out. There’s a lot more to Dominica than warm weather and palm trees!
If you’re looking to see whales, look no further. The waters offshore are the year-round home of a group of sperm whales. You’re also likely to see a variety of dolphins — and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a humpback or killer whale. This particular part of the Caribbean also boasts some of the most pristine coral reefs left in the world, and the reefs are teeming with life. Among the rare sea critters that live around Dominica are batfish, Caribbean reef squid, sea snakes, and electric rays. You’ll also encounter a wealth of less rare sea life, including stingrays, octopus, frogfish, lobster, crab, and brilliantly colored sponges.
On land, discover the amazing diversity of plants and birds Dominica hosts. There are dozens of species of orchid here, and over a hundred varieties of ferns. This is the place to watch the ancient sea turtles come ashore to nest, and to see two species of parrot — the Sisserou, or Imperial, and the Jaco — that are found nowhere else on the planet. There are hummingbirds, bats, and butterflies almost in excess, and iguanas and boa constrictors for those who prefer reptiles.
Dominica offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. The underwater topography and the astonishing variety of marine life will quite simply take your breath away. Offshore to the southwest, the dramatic volcanic crater at Soufriere Bay features huge pinnacles and endless drops, with an incredibly vibrant and colorful reef. There are several different dive sites clustered in and around the town of Soufriere, all of which are spectacular. But by far the best site on Dominica’s southern shore is Scott’s Head Pinnacle — don’t miss it.
To the north, you can explore the wreck of an 18th century ship at Cottage Point, or swim the honeycombed caverns at Toucari Bay. But the most popular and well-known northern site for scuba divers and snorkelers is the Champagne Reef. Here you’ll move through warm, bubbly water that’s heated by geothermal vents in the ocean floor while you view huge schools of squid and stoplight parrotfish.
Hiking from mild to wild
Dominica is an island forged by volcanic action and blanketed with rainforest. There are 365 rivers on this tiny island, and a lot of canyons and deep gorges as a result. This makes for superb hiking, with a full range of difficulty to satisfy amateurs and hardcore climbers.
Opened in 2011, the Waitukubuli National Trail is the first long-distance hiking trail in the Caribbean, and it’s 115 miles of hiker’s paradise. For hardcore backpackers, this trail is ideal. Spend two weeks or more winding your way across the island from Scott’s Head to Cabrits National Park. On the way you’ll pass through the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site, Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
Experienced hikers looking for shorter treks will weep with joy at the Boiling Lake trail, a 6-hour round trip through some really challenging terrain and a visit to the world’s biggest lava-heated body of water. (The Dominican government recommends having a guide for this trip.) Less accomplished hikers won’t be left out, though. Dominica has a number of amazing hikes for intermediate and beginning trekkers as well. A highly recommended intermediate trail is the gorgeous Boeri Lake trail in Morne Trois Pitons Park; beginners will enjoy the Emerald Pool trail — a short 2/3 mile hike to a crystal-clear pool fed by a 40-foot waterfall.
This might seem like a pretty big “to-do” list — but we’ve barely scratched the surface of Dominica’s many pleasures. Our best advice: pick one spot on the island for your home base and start exploring! Truthfully, there are so many possibilities for adventurous souls in Dominica that you can’t possibly exhaust them all in just one visit.