Dominica: The nature island
Published: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.
This island is covered by tropical rain forests and is home to 1,200 plant species. Its official name is the Commonwealth of Dominica, to distinguish it from the Dominican Republic. Rivers, lakes, streams and waterfalls abound, and its Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean.
Part of the Windward Islands, Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by the Europeans. The Carib Indians still living here are the only remaining pre-Colombian population. France ceded possession to Britain in 1763, and it was made a British colony in 1805. The island finally gained independence in 1978, but the new freedom brought increased challenges, and economic and political struggles.
By the mid-1980s, Dominica had settled down as a stable and peaceful country. Only 70,000 people inhabit its 289 square miles, with a significant portion living in and around the capital, Roseau. English is the official language, but it's spoken with a melodic French lilt. Creole also is spoken, as well as Kokoy, in a few northern villages.
The island is a vibrant mixture of African and European cultures, along with its indigenous population, known as the Kalinago.
Adventure enthusiasts will love the variety of activities: biking, hiking, trekking, canyoning, freediving, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, river tubing, horseback riding, zip-lining, whale and sea turtle watching, and more.
International flights to Dominica require changes in hubs such as Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, St. Maarten and others; and you will need to do some research to find the best air schedules. Melville Hall (DOM) is the airport serving commercial airlines. The currency is the East Caribbean Dollar.
We stopped here on a cruise and found the island truly enchanting. Exploring in a rental car, we visited Trafalgar Falls and hiked to the Emerald Pool for a quick dip in the refreshing water. As avid hikers, we would love to go back to experience some of the Waitukubuli National Trail (14 sections totaling 115 miles), especially the six-hour round trip to Boiling Lake.
The trail begins at 1,600 feet, where a stretch of rocky pathway blends with wooden steps. Through the rainforest, the trail rises to 2,260 feet before dropping to the Trois Pitons River. On to the highest point for panoramic views, and then a side trail takes you to the Valley of Desolation, covered in mosses and lichens.
An hour later you arrive at Boiling Lake (actually a crack through which gases escape from the molten lava below). It's the world's largest boiling lake, and appears like a cauldron of bubbling blue-gray water enveloped in clouds of vapor. This is the most spectacular trail on Dominica, and is only for the experienced hiker, accompanied by a local guide.
Other volcanic evidence is Champagne Reef, named for the continuous bubbles rising from the hot vents below. Land is reasonably priced, the country welcomes foreign investment, and crime is relatively low. Dominica is a little bit of paradise.
Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published on the first Sunday of the month.