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This island is usually not well known when talking to people about the Caribbean. Other, more popular, Caribbean islands typically come to mind first. This may be because it is not your classical tourist destination island. The Caribbean create images of turquoise-blue or aqua-colored water, white sandy beaches, and all-inclusive resorts where you can lounge in a chair while drinks are brought to you by the seaside. And Dominica is not like that at all, or at least with very little exception.
The island was used to film several scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean which should be enticing enough. Dominica has both Caribbean and Atlantic currents. The Atlantic side (East) has rough waves and dangerous currents. In fact, very little of the overall population lives on this side of the island. The Caribbean coast is much more calm and boasts some impressive coral reefs. T he center of the island is dense with rainforest and mountainous ranges. Again, not much of the population lives towards the center of the island. In large part, the population of Dominica is contained in the capital, Roseau and Portsmouth.
My trip to Dominica was taken because a good friend of mine named Gina was attending Ross University School of Medicine. Between school, work, and traveling I didn’t have an opportunity to visit her until her second year on the island. Finally, in February of 2016 I was able to find time in order to go during her winter break.
When searching online, I learned that the flights to the island from the United States (I flew from Connecticut) are generally between $600-900 or more. To get there for a reasonable $600 I had to transfer several times. Once in Trinidad and Tobago and once in Barbados before taking a tiny little island hopper to Dominica. You might think this is a pain, but if you plan it right you can take advantage of the beach in between flights (and this is exactly what I did in Barbados).
Dominica’s Douglas-Charles (Melville Hall) Airport was in a very bad shape due to Tropical Storm Erika. Indeed, the entire island showed signs of serious damage, mainly the roadways. Taxis on the island are extremely expensive. Round trip from the airport to Portsmouth was around $100 with a Ross University discount because Gina arranged it.
Unfortunately, I do not know how much a car rental would be but expect it to be expensive. The roads are very windy so if you are prone to getting car sick be forewarned. In addition to windy and narrow roads, people drive fast. Many people are killed each year due to car accidents or pedestrians being hit by drivers. The drive is scenic so enjoy the ride because even though the distance is only 33.5km (20.8 miles) it takes over an hour to get to Portsmouth, and 70 minutes (46.8km/29miles) to Roseau.
Note: Dominica is right-hand drive. For a reliable taxi transport, which I used, call Alexis Taxi at 7674456303.
Transportation Note: taxis are expensive and may cost you for a roundtrip close to a $100 or more should you need the driver to wait for you. If you are staying in a nearby town where the activity in question will take place then private transportation may not cost as much.
However, for example, a taxi from Fort Young hotel in Rosou to Trafalgar Falls and Screws Sulphur Springs was roughly $100. These locations are close to Rosou. I n some cases I do not think this is avoidable unless you book specifically with a tour company that offers pickup.
Local buses on the island do exist and cost almost nothing (a few dollars at most). However, bus routes are limited and selective for only popular routes such as to and from Roseau/Portsmouth or to and from Roseau/Scotts Head. Schedules for buses are non-existent and slightly unpredictable. You will be with the locals in a mini-van styled vehicle. Be wary as they also do not run late in the day. Buses will perhaps stop running between 6-7pm.
Portsmouth is by many standards a small city. There are some rather nice restaurants by the sea or in town and it generally seems safe to wander. Standard caution is advised at night like in any place around the world.
Food on the island is on the pricier side (compared to the US) so be prepared to spend a little more on food than you would back home. There is a young population due to the medical students who live in this city. You may be able to find them at a few select bars should they not be studying. It’s here in Portsmouth that you will find some of the attractions, such as: Coconut Beach, Indian River (one of the filming locations for Pirates of the Caribbean), and Secret Beach.
Coconut Beach is probably not ideal for sunbathing as the sand is not incredibly pleasant to lay on. The shaggy dock that extends out into the sea is a highlight here and offers a relaxing view of the sunset. The dock can also serve as a great place to jump from into the water for some decent snorkeling. Walking further down the beach from the dock the beach becomes rather deserted. During low tide this may be a better place to sunbathe in seclusion and the quality of the sand was better than near the dock.
Secret Beach is a small cove of beach found around the cliffs of Coconut Beach. Access is only by boat or for a massively brave soul that decides to swim. However, it is not recommended.
Note: to access Secret Beach you can hitch a ride with Clint Poponne.
The Indian River Tour will be worth your time as well. Perhaps not so much if you have sailed down exotic rivers in Africa or South America, but otherwise it will be of interest. During the filming of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’ the crew was ordered to deconstruct the house of Calypso that was used for the movie. Entertainingly enough, it was re-constructed because of the tourism it drew and you can see it during the tour of the river.
Note: I booked my Indian River Tour with Eddison Laville. Phone: 7672253626.
The southern part of the island, near Roseau, has a large number of activities and things to do. This happens to be the capital and the largest city on the island. The city is not very big by most standards and is easy to navigate. Again, caution at night is advised. We stayed at the Fort Young Hotel and I was rather pleased with the stay. The staff was nice, food was decent, and the rooms were fine for a Caribbean island. Our room had a view of the sea so it was hard to complain.
From Roseau, you have access to the famous Boiling Lake Hike in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Screws Sulfur Springs, Trafalgar Falls, and Scotts Head.
Boiling Lake Hike
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park is an absolute must if you find yourself in Dominica. The hike takes you to one of just three naturally flooded fumaroles in the World; of the three it is the second largest after the one in New Zealand. The lake is deep in the jungle and the round trip hike will take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours to complete (depending on your fitness level). My FitBit recorded that the round trip was 13 miles (21km), over 29,000 steps and over 7,000 flights of stairs.
About the hike: first off, I highly recommend hiring a local guide. They know the way and where the dangers are. The hike is not short so there are plenty of places to take a wrong turn and your safety is not worth the risk. Richard and Liz are originally from England and America, respectively, and arrange guides, transport and food for the trip (they will pack your lunch for you!). Our guide was a young guy in his twenties (Buraimi*) who was incredibly friendly, well-mannered and funny.
Note: for Richard and Liz contact ‘Extreme Dominica’ for Boiling Lake. Phone: 7672957272.
The trail starts off relatively easy with just some trekking through the woods. This area gets more rainfall than the coast so just watch your step because where you step may be much more slippery than you thought. The first major crossing is over the Trois Piton River (also known as Breakfast River) where you can fill your bottle with fresh water.
I travel with a LifeStraw water bottle which filters 99.99% of bacteria and protozoans so I am much more trusting of water sources. People regularly drink from this river when they hike to Boiling Lake but you can never be too careful in my opinion. You never know what may have died or defecated upstream from where you are filling your water bottle. After the Trois Piton River, the trail generally only goes upward with some oscillation in elevation.
Mourne Nicholls marks the next area along the trail as the highest point on the trail at 965.6m (3,168 feet). On a good day like the one I had you will be able to spot the coast and the steam from the Boiling Lake nestled in between the mountains. The section of this hike you have to be much more careful on is the Valley of Desolation and the sections of trail leading to and from the valley. You will see the valley as you are hiking long before you actually reach it due to the steam that emanates from the earth.
The reason for caution is because the trail becomes more narrow and this is where you will begin traversing downward along sometimes unstable rocks. All I advise is caution, not fear. Once you reach the Valley of Desolation you will see why it is so iconic; it is plentiful with boiling streams and pools of water. Our guide here pulled out some eggs and began boiling them in the water as a little treat. Looking around the Valley of Desolation you can imagine why it might have acquired this name. The trail and point of direction for the Boiling Lake becomes lost. However, of course there is still a trail to be found.
The trail continues slightly downward following a river where you can find pools of water collecting at the base of miniature waterfalls. Your feet will get wet here if you are not careful, so do watch your step along the rocks. The end of this section has you hike again somewhat upward along very rocky terrain.
Note: it is here that I made a careless hiking error on the way back from Boiling Lake. I deviated from the indiscriminate path everyone else was taking and stepped on an unstable rock. I fell horizontally from a short height but onto rocks, which are highly unforgiving to soft human tissue.
The top of my iliac crest (hip) made heavy contact and virtually crippled my movement. Every step causing flexion of my left side sent sharp pain searing through my lower back and leg. The return journey took significantly longer because of this. Until that point I had thought the hike was extremely easy considering my fitness level is fairly high. This mistake turned what I found to be an easy hike into a very, very difficult hike. I am telling you this because I came to realize that danger can find you in the most relaxing and seemingly harmless of situations. My injury could have been significantly worse had I broken something or hit my head on a rock as I fell. M ay my mistake be a lesson.
Alas, after the rocky uphill trail you will finally reach the Boiling Lake! The view is beyond rewarding, so I suggest you enjoy it, especially after the hike. This will conclude the entire hike. The only thing left to do after is to hike back the same way you came!
Other Activities Near Roseau
Trafalgar Falls are closely located to Roseau and are only a short drive from the center of town. I have seen a few waterfalls in my travels already and while these were not the most impressive, they stand as something to still make your way to see in Dominica. The bus/taxi/driver will drop you off in the parking lot to the entrance and the path that leads you to the falls is very well maintained. A small observation deck allows you a great visual of the falls. It is strongly advised for you not to climb down and to the falls due to potential rock slide.
Screw’s Sulfur Springs is a real treat in Dominica. There are several but Screw’s has some of the most positive reviews and it happens to be the place Gina and I decided to go. It is also only a short way from Roseau.
My recommendation is for you to go around dusk or nightfall because the place is alight with color. Screw’s Sulfur Springs has many different temperature pools for you to enjoy. Luckily, we were there whilst it was raining ever so gently. You could hear the birds and amphibians making wonderfully soothing noises in the rainforest as you floated in the warm pools.
Scotts Head was the last place I experienced while in Dominica and definitely a must visit. Scotts Head technically refers to the town of 700 people at the southern-most tip of Dominica. It’s a colorful little fishing village that straddles the dangerous Atlantic and calm, warm Caribbean waters. There is a small tied island connected here (merged only by a strip of beach) which offers a nice view over Soufriere Bay and the village. The bay is what remains of an extinct volcano.
Beyond the aqua blue area of the water is a crater that plunges to an unknown depth. Encircling the crater is a very popular snorkeling area filled with coral and strange fish. Note: swimming beyond the crater and around the tied island puts you in the danger of aggressive rip-tides and a strong sea current.
I would love to thank my dear friend Gina Fatahi for an absolutely amazing trip to the place she called home for over a year. Gina recommended several of these places to me, put in the phone calls to arrange the activities, and arranged all the transport in addition to my pick-up and drop-off at the airport. This article was written by me but carries her effort and I give the credit to her for masterminding our adventures. She will no doubt make a fantastic doctor so be on the lookout for her when your children get sick.
The warmest regards Gina.