Dominica. The Nature Island of the Caribbean, Home of Pirates of the Caribbean And Bubbling Seas
Dominica is a real gem. I knew very little about it, other than it often gets confused with the Dominican Republic. I found it to be such a jewel and find. Different, distinctive and it really stands out from many of the other Caribbean islands that have started to merge into one generic Caribbean look and experience.
Dominica is known as the “nature island” of the Caribbean. It is one of the more unspoilt and less developed of the Caribbean islands. Although it is on some of cruise ship routes and has luxurious resorts, it is less focused on attracting mass tourism – preferring to nurture its eco outlook and encouraging traditional industries, like fishing and agriculture.
It is the most rugged, hilliest and densely forested of all the Caribbean islands. So, despite being 300 square miles (twice the size of the Isle of Wight in the UK), it has very limited flat land suitable for building and development. Only 20% of its total land mass.
Over time it has been a major producer of coffee, until disease wiped that out, then limes and now bananas. Limes for a long time were very key, and Dominica produced lime and associated products for sailing ships to use to help prevent scurvy among their crew on their long voyages.
The rugged landscape will be familiar to fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, as much of the 2nd film was filmed across the island. Tourist maps mark the various parts of the island that were used, and tour guides will point them out.
Cruise ships that do visit will dock either in the capital at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berth, like the Queen Mary 2 did when I visited, or at Woodbridge Bay which is about a mile north of the capital . You can see that dock and the Queen Mary 2 docked in the video I made of the island.
Passengers step off the ship straight into Roseau, a town of 20,000 people. Right across the road is the tourist information office, which has a small and vibrant local market selling locally made carib craft items including dyed reed baskets, wood carvings, soaps, spices and hand painted candles.
Although much of Roseau was destroyed in a fire in 1805, there is a mix of Creole architecture and Georgian buildings. A large French influence is present across Roseau and the whole island, although it was a British colony from 1763. It gained independence in 1978.
After exploring the town and the markets, you can hop onto a small bus style trolley train that will take you on a tour of the area, including out to the popular botanical gardens. However, my main tip is to head back to the dock and set off to see Dominica from the ocean.
There is an R.I.B (rigid inflatable boat) speedboat tour that is the most exciting option available today. I really recommend taking this option as it has a great mixture of sight seeing, history, culture and snorkelling.
On the RIB tour, snorkelling is the first stop. You stop at a place called “Champagne Bay” where you snorkel through seas that are actually bubbling from escaping gas from volcanic action below the surface. All equipment is provided and the crew escort you, explaining in great detail the unusual sponges, fish and coral you are exploring in the crystal clear seas.
From there you speed off to explore an amazing part of the island, which is known as “the Abyss”. Volcanic action created the huge steep sloped mountains which are matched by equally deep and sudden pits in the sea floor. These are as deep as the mountains above. At one point the sea will be a few feet deep, and then suddenly the water changes colour as there is a sheer drop way down deep.
Then you speed off to explore Soufriere. This is a beautiful and historic town that was once a major agricultural hub on Dominica. Coffee was the main crop here until disease wiped it out, and then they grew limes right up the steep hills around the town. The limes were picked and zip lined down into the town for processing.
The beach of Soufriere is hot under foot from the volcanic action under the island. You get to explore from the hot beach up into the now quiet and sleepy town, including visiting the ruins of the old Roses Lime Cordial factory which was destroyed by hurricane in the 1970s.
The Soufriere Church, built of stone carved out of the mountains on the grounds, has a fascinating mural that depicts the day in the life of a fisherman and their importance to the island. On the beach below the church is a hot spa bathing area, where the water and the beach is heated from underneath by the volcanic action deep below.
Seeing the mountains and lushness of Dominica from the sea is my tip for any first time visitor. You get to appreciate why this is called the “nature island”, and you get to see the traditional heart of the island and the how importance of the sea, fishing and agriculture is still core to the economy and passion of the islanders.
After exploring the island on the RIB, you head back to the cruise dock. Having got both some history and feel for the heart of the island. I loved Dominica and its focus on staying natural and resisting too much development. It really stood out as a different and distinctive island.
Watch my Tips for Travellers video tour of Dominica, including Roseau, the markets, Soufriere, Champagne Bay and the “Abyss”:
Other popular trips and excursions on the island, if this does not appeal, are:
• River tubing and Hibiscus Falls viewing. You float down a river on tubes and view one of the stunning waterfalls. There are various options and lengths. Very popular. You can combine this with kayaking too.
• Whale and Dolphin Viewing. This also is very popular, boats depart from the dock and usually you will get to spot sperm whales fairly close to shore (3 to 8 miles off shore). Sperm whales use the area as a breeding ground and so chances of seeing whales is good. The RIB boat will often head out to try and give you a look at whales on the way back to port as well.
• 4×4 Tour. This takes you on a drive around the island and to spots where Pirates of the Caribbean wa filmed as well as to the rain forest and Ti Tou Gorge.
- See all my photos of Dominica on Flickr