20 reasons why Dominica is one of the hottest spots for 2020
Local expert Paul Crask explains why you should visit the Nature Island this year
01 It’s a natural wellness destination
Wellness is one of the hottest travel trends. Millions of people around the globe are opting to take healthy holidays – and Dominica has offered that sort of experience since long before it became an international trend. Fresh air, rivers clean enough to drink from, wholesome food, natural wonders, mineral spas, yoga, massage treatments, forest bathing, outdoor exercise… all combine to make this one of the world’s healthiest destinations.
02 It’s even more committed to nature
Dominica is known as an island apart: it is breathtakingly mountainous and verdant; its lush tropical forests hide countless rivers and waterfalls; it has three national parks (one of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) plus forest and marine reserves. In short, it is where nature lives, a paradise for lovers of the outdoors who want to breathe fresh air, feel well and have their senses stimulated. And it’s now taking extra care of its precious environment. On the front line of climate change, Dominica has seized the initiative following two extreme weather events. Everything is undertaken with climate resilience in mind, and single-use plastics are banned.
03 Its hiking trails are the region’s best
No other island in the Caribbean comes close to the diversity of Dominica’s vast hiking network. The Boiling Lake Trail passes through rainforest, up and down a mountain, over rivers and across an active volcanic caldera, ending at a boiling-hot flooded crater. Half-day hikes take walkers to waterfalls and heritage sites. And the 200km-long, 14-segment Waitukubuli National Trail winds its way across and up the entire island, incorporating forests, rivers, waterfalls, villages and volcanic peaks. Attempt it in one go, camping along the way, or pick a few individual sections to get a taste of the journey. New for 2020, check out the official Hiker’s Log Book and Passport to record your hikes and even claim prizes for your achievements.
04 It’s thrilling underwater
Where Dominica’s mountains meet the sea, they just keep on going down. Reef formations, dramatic walls that drop into the abyss and submerged volcanic pinnacles remind scuba divers of the origins of the island. Jaw-dropping coral reefs and sea mounts are encrusted with diverse hard and soft corals, barrel and tube sponges, crinoids and sea anemones that are home to colourful fish, seahorses, frogfish, octopus and lobsters. Visitors to these reefs include hawksbill turtles, large schools of Creole wrasse, barracuda and eagle rays. There are dive operators all along the west coast offering daily boat and shore diving, try-dives and tuition.
05 Its whalewatching season year round
Sperm whales permanently reside in Dominica’s deep coastal waters, which makes the chances of spotting them on a whalewatching trip very high. Huge pods of dolphins are also common sights off Dominica. In addition to sperm whales, migratory species include pilot whales, humpback whales and false killer whales.
06 It has a vibrant living French Creole culture
During colonial times, the cultural influence of the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique merged with the traditions, folklore and language of enslaved Africans to create a new cultural identity that is commonly referred to as French Creole or just Creole. This culture manifests itself in traditional food, dance, art, music, dress and language. Creole Week, in October, is a great time to experience all forms of French Creole culture.
07 It has unique birds
Dominica is home to two species of Amazonian parrot that can be found nowhere else in the world: the imperial parrot (better known as the sisserou) and the red-necked parrot, or jaco. Though elusive, both can be spotted in Dominica’s forested interior, especially in the foothills of Morne Diablotin, at 1,447m the island’s tallest peak. Four hummingbird species – purple-throated Carib, green-throated Carib, Antillean crested and endemic blue-headed – are also resident here, along with tremblers, thrashers, kingfishers, bananaquit, magnificent frigatebirds, and many, many more. A birdwatching trip along the Syndicate Trail in the company of a local expert such as Bertrand Jno Baptiste (better known as Birdy) is a must.
08 It is an island of vitality
There is a small but culturally significant population of Rastafarians in Dominica, who practise a way of life that is guided by the Old Testament of the Bible and by the purity of nature. Bush teas, herbal medicines, Ital food, and crops grown free of synthetic additives are vital ingredients of the Rasta lifestyle. Travellers can learn about and experience this way of living first-hand in the company of Moses James and his family in Zion Valley near the village of Delices in the south-east of Dominica.
09 Its accommodation scene is diverse
From rustic wooden forest cabins to full-service luxury eco-retreats, Dominica has a wide range of accommodation options, spread all around the island. There are places to suit all budgets – you can spend anything between US$50 and $1,500 a night here. Long-established and much-loved hotels and guesthouses are now increasingly being joined by new lodges, retreats and boutique hotels such as Jungle Bay, Secret Bay and the Kempinski Cabrits Resort – all new or revamped in 2019.
10 It’s a natural choice for adventure tourism
More and more people are seeking adventurous holidays – and Dominica is ready and waiting. Its terrain lends itself perfectly to activities such as canyoning with a certified operator such as Extreme Dominica. Once geared-up and trained, you rappel down a series of waterfalls in a deep river gorge in the company of two expert guides. The journey is an adventure, and the river canyon is beautiful. For beginners, the journey ends in the gorgeous Cathedral Canyon; more advanced canyoneers continue downriver and rappel to the bottom of the Trafalgar Falls.
11 Its heritage remains beguiling
Dominica’s history and associated heritage can be traced back through time with the help of colonial-era sites such as the 18th-century plantation house of Bois Cotlette or the partially restored fortifications of Fort Shirley Garrison in Cabrits National Park. The woodland trails around Cabrits reveal forest-covered garrison ruins and silent cannons, and the restored buildings of Fort Shirley offer a fascinating glimpse into the island’s colonial past as well as fabulous views across Prince Rupert Bay to the mountains of the interior. Many of the island’s sugar factories are now abandoned to nature, but travellers can still see good examples of factory ruins, complete with waterwheels, at places such as Hampstead, Geneva, Belfast, the Old Mill Cultural Centre and Bagatelle. Despite the impact of hurricanes, the Botanic Gardens at Roseau, established in the 1890s, is a national treasure. It is a beautiful open space that was once a living museum of domestic and exotic plants and trees, ponds, walkways and ornate buildings.
12 Its art scene is thriving
Dominica has a very healthy art scene, with established painters such as Earl Etienne and Ellingworth Moses now being joined by a new generation collaborating as the Waitukubuli Artist Association (WAA). Exhibitions are held regularly at the Old Mill Cultural Centre and other venues around the island, and WAA has also been instrumental in the introduction of colourful, imaginative and themed street art. Less in the limelight, yet equally impressive, are the artistic works of expat artists who have made their home in and are inspired by Dominica. DOMFESTA in May offers the chance to check out Dominica’s art and film festivals. For a truly original perspective on Hurricane Maria, seek out the independent film Uncivilized, by Michael Lees.
13 It has one of the most authentic small-island Carnivals
Often referred to as the Real Mas, Dominica’s Carnival parades are vibrant, offbeat and fun. Although small parades take place in some of the villages around the island, the main event is in the capital, Roseau, beginning in the early hours of Monday morning with the bacchanal of J’Ouvert, the traditional opening of Carnival. The celebrations continue throughout the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, with traditional costume displays, contemporary and artistic costume parades, and the heaving tee-shirt bands and live music floats. On Wednesday, in the Kalinago village of Bataca, the spirit of Carnival is laid to rest during Tewe Vaval, a heart-stopping festival of fire. Catch it on 24-25 February 2020.
14 It has countless rivers and waterfalls
Here’s a new year’s resolution for you: try to count the rivers on Dominica! No one really knows how many there are; locals like to say 365 – one for every day of the year. Whatever the actual number, it is likely to be high. And since the island is so mountainous, many of these rivers, on their journey to the sea, have spectacular waterfalls and cascades, many of which can be accessed via hiking trails or even short paths. How many countries do you know that can boast rainforest and twin waterfalls within a 15-minute drive of the capital? Notable waterfalls to visit (and splash under) include Trafalgar, Victoria, Middleham, Sari Sari and the Emerald Pool. There are even waterfalls that tumble from coastal cliffs into the sea.
15 It has loads of volcanoes
For such a small island, Dominica has an astonishingly dense cluster of volcanoes. With one exception, all are dormant: the Valley of Desolation is very much an active caldera of bubbling mud, warm water rivers, hot, colourful rocks and countless powerful fumaroles.
16 Its resurgent indigenous culture is regionally unique
Around 5,000 years ago, Amerindian people from South and Central America travelled by canoe to the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Several migrations of people and cultures took place over the years before the Europeans arrived in the region, mistakenly believing they had arrived in the East Indies. When Europeans landed on the shores of Dominica, they were met by indigenous people calling themselves Kalinago. Today, their descendants live in a regionally unique, semi-autonomous area of the island known as the Kalinago Territory. In recent times there has been a movement among Kalinago people to reclaim and rediscover their ancestry and cultural identity. Travellers to Dominica can get a taste of Kalinago culture by visiting the villages of the Territory, as well as heritage sites such as the Kalinago Barana Aute, a ‘model’ village showcasing traditional thatched buildings, basket weaving and canoe construction. At Touna Aute, former Kalinago chief Irvince Auguiste combines tradition with contemporary life, demonstrating how the Kalinago live in the modern world using the skills and knowledge of the past.
17 It has natural spas and tropical gardens
Hot volcanic springs can be found in various places in Dominica, many of them deep in the wilderness. The most noteworthy and accessible are the creatively constructed and landscaped hot spas in and around the village of Wotten Waven in the Roseau Valley. Ti Kwen Glo Cho and Tia’s are well-established favourites. The mountain village of Giraudel is known for its flower-growers and their annual Flower Show, usually in May. Papillote Gardens in Trafalgar is the most celebrated private garden, a popular destination for horticulturalists for many years. As well as an abundance of tropical plants and flowers, Papillote boasts hot volcanic pools and waterfalls.
18 It’s a got a marvellously mixed music vibe
International recording artists such as Michele Henderson are accomplished exponents of a French Creole genre, and even the ubiquitous bouyon music that was born in Dominica has its roots partly in Creole. Bouyon bands such as WCK and Triple Kay International are as popular in the French-speaking islands as they are at home. In May each year, the Jazz & Creole Festival is held at the Fort Shirley Garrison in Cabrits National Park. And on the last weekend in October, the finale to Creole Week, the World Creole Music Festival takes place at Windsor Park Stadium in the capital, Roseau. Other popular music genres are reggae, soca, zouk and dancehall, and concerts are held at intimate venues island-wide throughout the year.
19 It stimulates artisans and entrepreneurs
Buying local and seasonal are in fashion right now – and in Dominica you are spoiled for choice in both areas. For example, local artisans are creating a range of excellent, additive-free, all-natural products such as soaps, body scrubs, essential oils, skin cleansers, honey, bush and cocoa teas, coconut oil and organic chocolate. Pointe Baptiste Chocolate, produced just a short walk from the mystical Red Rocks coastline near Calibishie, is among Dominica’s finest, and you can even visit the factory to see it being made.
20 It has mouth-watering Creole cuisine
The Creole cuisine of Dominica combines French and African influences, traditionally incorporating meats, fish and crustaceans. It is usually heavily seasoned and served with root crops such as yam, dasheen and tania – collectively known as provisions – as well as vegetables, breadfruit, green banana, plantain, rice and peas. Traditional dishes include callaloo soup (made from young dasheen leaves), crabback (made from land crabs), sancoche (usually a codfish and coconut milk dish) and one pot braf, a broth of ground provisions, smoked meats and green banana. This style of fill-you-up cooking still prevails to this day, with lunch usually being served as the main meal of the day, enjoyed at restaurants and small eateries island-wide. Come with an appetite and prepare to feast!