SETTING THE SCENE
In all honesty, most of the Caribbean islands I have traveled to since 2005 were part of a cruise package. With the exception of a few islands, such as Cuba (2002, 2018), Trinidad & Tobago (2019), and Dominican Republic (2012), I had only spent a day on each island. As of 2021, there were only two islands left to visit and I wanted to make sure I gave them sufficient time and attention.
I had heard many great things about Dominica as an island that was covered in lush green vegetation, with plenty of waterfalls and activities to indulge in. Reading the history of the island, it turns out the island was first occupied by the French and then the British took over after the seven year war in 1763. That said, by then the population, made up of some indigenous (Carib) but mostly former African slaves had already adapted a creole dilect that was made up of French, English, with aspects of Kalingo (a sub-group of the Carib people that predated European settlers). The British held onto the island until it gained its independence in 1978.
Geographically the island is one of the most lush in the Caribbean. Yet, what is most fascinating is how the island itself evolved due to natural events such as numerous hurricanes and earthquakes. In fact, these happenings changed the shapes of the beaches, forests, and wildlife preserves throughout the island. A few recent and disastrous hurricanes were Hurricane Dean in 2007 and most recently Hurricane Maria in 2017, which destroyed an estimated 90% of the structures on the island.
Through the local guides that instantly became friends, I learnt how about Dominican politics and its political parties — did you know that Dominica had the first female head of state in the Caribbean back in 1981– and how the CBI (Citizen By Investment) program works or doesn’t (if you don’t know about how Caribbean islands have for decades sold passports in return for investments then you need to know!).
Yet, despite the natural disasters and political issues, the island has been working hard to maintain an image as an eco-friendly destination. As one local told us, “we just want a small slice of the Bali hype, because Dominica has even more to offer.” The campaign ‘Keep Dominica Clean & Green’ is a mantra truly upheld by the people we meet, from dive instructors to jungle trekkers. And from our observations it did seem quite clean and certainly still very very green due to being one of the most rain-drenched of the Caribbean islands. In fact, someone put it very well, Dominica is likely the only New World territory left that Columbus would still recognize given how rugged, lush, and unspoilt it remains.
FLIGHTS & COVID PROTOCOLS: Getting to the island was a challenge. What we (my partner and I) decided to do was find a direct flight from Puerto Rico to Dominica which only runs on certain days (we took Silver Airways, which I believe is a code-share with JetBlue). Incidentally I stayed in PR for a few days before heading to Dominica. Because of that, I had to get a PCR in PR before heading out. Once I got the result, just in time, I uploaded it to the Dominica health authorities website to give me the thumbs up to travel there. Once I landed, I had to take another Antigen test and thankfully it came back negative (never thought I would love seeing the word negative in my life!).
DRIVING: The second thing we had to do, other than book hotels, was find out how we were going to get around the island. Because of the British influence, Dominicans drive on the left side of the road. This gets some getting used to, especially when putting on the blinkers, hitting the windshield wipers, figuring out roundabouts, and remembering how to change lanes (thankfully I had driven on this side of the road in Mauritius and New Zealand before). This was especially challenging driving from the airport to the hotel at night for 1.5 hours, often through rain, on a one-lane highway/road. Talk about trial by fire!
RENTING CARS: Renting a car here takes some negotiating and forward planning. Usually I book cars via Orbitz, but in Dominica that option did not exist. I tried googling some spots but was drawing blanks. Our option was to just use cabs to get around but that turned out to be SUPER expensive (initially I was told $120 from Melville Airport to Soufriere Bay. Should be closer to $70-80). However, through the few taxi drivers I found on google searches, I was able to get someone to recommend a rental car company that had an available car at the airport. We quickly booked it but had a taxi on stand-by in case the rental car fell through. It all worked out and we got the car rental as promised with Courtesy Car Rentals.
DATA PLAN: Last thing to mention, if you have the ability to do so is to have a data plan when traveling. I can’t tell you how many times this came through for us — helping us schedule an antigen test, traveling around the island to hard to reach spots, calling our rental car company when we lost the keys [keep reading to find out why], coordinating with local guides etc.. T-Mobile has an amazing plan (Global One) that I have used in maye 50+ countries. Definitely worth it.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Typically I usually travel on a budget but this time we decided to splurge a bit and my partner found a beautiful yogie style spot in Soufriere Bay. Now I don’t usually make a big deal of where I stay but wow she really nailed it. Jungle Bay was gorgeous, so much so that we were only too excited to return each night back to the hotel to explore the grounds, relax in the yoga studio, swim in the pool/hot tub, and lounge in our room with a view.
On vacations I rarely stay in my hotel, but I’m thinking on these Caribbean vacations, especially when the sun goes down at 5PM in the winter, it’s great to have a place to look forward to going back to. Jungle Bay is definitely worth checking out, even just for a visit if you’re in the Soufriere Bay area.
I was very ambitious. I wanted to do a lot, mostly within 30-60 minutes from where we were staying. But the weather was not very cooperative. It must have rained 2-3 times every hour for 5-10 minutes at a time.
I started off the day getting my traditional run in each new locale (Dominica was my 79th country I have run in). I chose to run along the coastal road (paved and smooth) in Soufriere Bay through the rain until I got to the little village near Scott’s Head.
We then decided to explore Champagne Beach for some snorkeling. The draw to this black sand beach was the natural hot springs nearby, which produce air bubbles under the water, hence the beach’s namesake.
We saw all kinds of unique fish, coral, and sea life, and our guide Linton (great guy, look out for him and his crew on the beach) even pointed out two cannons that were on the seabed…likely a relic of the constant sea battles between the British and French.
Next stop along the coast was Rouseau, a small little city, and I only say city because it is the capital of Dominica (though many argue Portsmouth should be the capital). Nevertheless, if you have an hour or so to spare and are in the general area, then check it out. Some interesting architecture and apparently more plentiful cuisine.
After the whole Antigen scare, we were ready to relax a bit. So we went to Trafalgar Falls. Close to Rouseau and unique in that it has two large falls that create a myriad of water pools. Apparently there is a hot spring pool to the far left of the falls if you are feeling up to the hike. Again it was pouring down on us so the rocks were way too slippery to trek up to the springs. We took pictures, basked in the scenary, and cut out to the last feasible stop: Titou Gorge
It was no joke getting to Titou Gorge. Deep in the village of Laudat, not too far from Trafalgar falls. I had very little expectations of this place, but when we got there, we met Chadi Symes, an awesome guide who owns My Island Adventures [IG: islandadventures_767] that quickly became a friend!
He gave us life jackets, warned us of the cooler “refreshing” water, the current and sent us into the gorge. It was simply amazing and turns out this is where on of the scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was filmed. After floating down this Gorge, maybe for ten minutes, we come across a pretty intense waterfall that is amazing, but don’t get too close because apparently there is a wicked whirlpool which you can get sucked into.
Now if you have a chance to go there on a less rainy, blue sky day, then do it! The water will be crystal clear and blue and it will be even more magical. Another tips, DONT TAKE YOUR CAR KEYS INTO THE GORGE. Yes I did, and yes I lost them, and yes another rookie mistake! Thankfully the guys at Courtesy Rental Cars came through in the clutch and saved us with a spare key.
In terms of food, however, that was tough. Admittedly I could have done some more exploring to take it all in. Remember the island has a lot of influences: French, British, Creole even a little Indian from islands like Trinidad. Chadi decided to take us to his favorite seafood dive – Hi Rise. Best thing we had there was the Lionfish. Interestingly, lionfish became an invasive species and after the locals figured out (with the help of Japanese experts), how to eat the fish, they are now a delicacy. We had the lionfish with a traditional spicy creole sauce and different versions of fried plantains, which was delicious!
The second day started off much better in terms of the weather, which was simply amazing. So we seized the opportunity and decided to do the first segment of the Walitukubuli Trail.
Note, the trail zigzags across the island but unfortunately, many of the trails have been washed away and abandoned since Hurricane Maria. Well we didn’t get that memo lol! So there we are trying to make sense of this crazy trail, using old ropes to climb up hillsides, negotiating weed covered paths, dancing on top of loose rocks and of course giving plenty of space for the local creters – snakes, lizards, parrots etc! But when we finally got to the valley of the first ridge on Crabier peak (thanks to Alltrails) it was all worth it!
I have to mention that up there in the valley, which was a former coffee plantation about 200+ years ago, we discovered a mecca of wild fruit, we found coffee trees, avocado (maybe one of the best I’ve ever tasted),
wild pink guava and other island fruits.
It was like coming across the fabled Garden of Eden (especially for me since I love fruits and veggies). I guess, it’s just another perk of being on such a lush, wild, and unspoilt island!
On the way back towards Rouseau we jumped in Soufriere Bay which was literally placid since the weather was amazing. Water temperature was perfect and there was no one there except for a few locals and us. Amazing but remember its a rock shore so wear water shoes if you have them.
Instead of going to some of the islands more popular destinations like Emerald Pool, Middleham Falls, Spanny Falls, or Boiling Lake (water in the lake had receded so much that folks worried there may be an explosion or release of toxic gases), we instead decided to call Chadi and go to Victoria falls on the other side of the island.
It was a trek for sure but SUPER worth it. After parking in a Rasta Zion village, we traversed a river for about 20 minutes until BOOM we received this absolutely gem of a falls.
You could get almost right under it and swim in the plunge pool, though the water was coming down so hard it was blowing us back to shore. If you have the means to do it, then DO IT! Can’t overstate how beautiful the road is to the falls and how magical these falls were, untouched, raw, ethereal…
Now if you only have 3-4 days on the island (sadly we had 3 days and just stuck to the south), I would recommend the following if you are feeling ambitions:
- Day 1 & 2: Stay in the South (Soufriere Bay) and see all the major waterfalls (see the ones mentioned in Day 1 and 2 of this trip) and trails
- Day 3 & 4: Stay in the North (Portsmouth) and check out the Indian River, the town, the Kalingo preserve, and the more raw and rugged coastline in the northeast and northwest of the island. Then fly out of Melville Airport (which is in the northeast)
As we saw the last glimpses of the island from the airplane on the Day 3, I realized how Dominica showed me once again, if you dig deep to learn about the local economics, political landscape, historical tribulations and social customs, you REALLY can learn to appreciate a destination and its people far more than jumping from one POI to the next! I have enshrined this belief in a simple mantra of my own: Travel with the intention of making the destination a life experience.
- COVID Planning: When you get to your destination, plan to figure when, where, and which tests you need even before you start exploring. That way you are not panicking and potentially ruining your travel experience. Ask your hotel or locals where to get tests. On this trip, we realized we needed to get an Antigen test before we could go back to the U.S. So we went to Rouseau to look for a hospital/clinic/lab. The only one that did it was closed when we got there and apparently no other spots could do it until Monday 9AM (our flight was Monday at 815AM)! Rookie mistake! Thankfully, the hotel staff was able to arrange a doctor to visit our hotel and test us on a Sunday…pheeeew!
- Car Rental/Taxi: Research car rental in advance or on orbitz, cross reference with blogs for price and quality. If you are stuck, find the numbers of some local taxi drivers on google, whatsapp them to price shop for how much it is between destinations. You can also use the taxi drivers to find car rental companies, especially in small destinations where everyone will know each other. Then make sure you can pick-up/drop-off the car at the airport.
- Befriend Local Guide(s): This can help with getting to know the terrain, the history, the best sites to see (and off trail options), bargain prices, localized food options etc. If you are traveling alone maybe ask the hotel if they know of a solid guide just to be on the safe side. Maybe even take your guide out to dinner to get to know them better and make that destination a life experience.
- Int’l phone/data plan: Make sure you sign up for an international phone/data plan so you have recourse in case anything happens, especially for emergencies.
- Google Maps: While google maps is key, don’t rely solely on it, especially for harder to reach destinations. Be prepared to ask locals to make sure you get to the right place.
- Variable Weather: Especially on Caribbean islands, be prepared to have change of clothes and plan B and C in case it really starts to come down hard!
- Check Receipts: Always ask for itemized receipts for car rentals, hotels, even restaurants etc in case you are overcharged and make sure to try to charge these expenses on your credit card so you have recourse to dispute charges later.
If you made it this far, you are hopefully enjoying my Final50 journey. So make sure to check out our city tour blog in Lisbon HERE as we tour one of my favorite cities in Europe!
Stay Curious. And I look forward to seeing you on my next journey!