Dominica is the closest thing to Eden on earth that I have ever seen. It is billed the nature island as a result of its largely undeveloped natural landscape that is carved by 365 rivers and home to some of the best diving in the world. The lush green beauty and varied vistas are at times literally breathtaking. I find my pictures only do the landscape partial justice.
Dominica is a former British Commonwealth home to inhabitants, many of whom speak patois although some speak French Creole.The currency is the East Caribbean Dollar and a good deal for Americans these days at 1:2.67. Dominica is accessible via American and Liat Airlines as well as by ‘Express des Iles' ferry service from Guadeloupe.
Renting a car or hiring a tour operator is essential to really seeing what the island has to offer. Driving there is not for the faint of heart. First of all, as a result of it's British past, vehicles travel on the left side of the road. Roads are can be steep, curvaceous or under construction to boot. This is not to deter personal exploration, but to encourage extra vigilance.
Day 1: Scott’s Head and Champagne beach
Based in Loubiere, just south of Rousseau I headed south my first afternoon on the island. I traveled the entire southeastern coast passing quaint seaside villages like Point Michel. Finally I arrived in Scott’s Head, a village situated on the southeastern tip of the island. There you can continue driving down a small peninsula to the ruins of Fort. On a nice day the Fort would be great for some shots of the house-dotted hillsides, but it was a cloudy day.
On my way back up the coast I stopped at Chez Wen a little restaurant of local and French-inspired specialties. I grabbed a chicken dinner and headed for the sulfur springs to have a look around. You usually need a site pass to enter the area, but as it was the late afternoon the attendant let me pass. You can take a well-kept path up to three warm water pools or continue hiking to reach the steaming, smelly sulfur deposits above. I hiked up before returning to bathe in the pools. The water is very pleasant and surprisingly odorless. In the pools I met a family who’d brought along sulfur mud, which is good for skin conditions and general skin health. As a result of their generosity I had an unexpected mud facial.
I left the pools for Champagne Beach, a much-heralded attraction on the island that did not disappoint. Now I make it no secret that I prefer the river to the beach any day, but Champagne might be my favorite beach to date. It has great snorkeling, bubbling underwater volcanic vents, and none of the usual sandy repercussions. I spent a good hour or so in the water looking at a myriad of fish as I swam along the shore. At the end of the beach is where you find the underwater vents that make it seem as if you’re swimming in Champagne, after my swim I stayed to watch the sunset before returning home for the evening.
Dominica Day 2: Central Forest Reserve and Carib Territory
I started out early on my first full day on Dominica. It turned out to be a good idea as the beginning of my trip was slow going. It took me a while to find the road leading up to the Central Forest Reserve, but after making a few circles I was on my way*.
Upon finding the forest road, I also found a municipal sign signaling the road was under construction. They weren’t kidding; avoiding large potholes and larger machinery was key. The construction ran from the beginning of the road to the “Pont Cassé,” a mountain round point that is an important landmark for travelers to internalize. I probably never broke 20 mph while traveling the road. This was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to stop quickly when I came upon a huge green house as I rounded a corner.
The future guesthouse happened to have been built by a Rasta contractor named Charles and his architect brother with the help 18 other Dominicans. Charles let me have a look around his expansive garden and gave me some fruits and vegetables to take on my journey. Comprised of 6 apartments of varying sizes, this guesthouse will likely be open to visitors by the end of summer.
I continued on to the Pont Cassé and veered right towards the Emerald pool. This is one of the most well know attractions on Dominica, known for the piercing green waters the flow under the cascade. It was another cloudy day, so the color wasn’t as brilliant as possible, but it was worth the quick stop.
From the Emerald Pool I continued on to exit the forest reserve and drive along the coast. I traveled up to Melville Hall Airport, if for nothing else to know it’s situation. It was here I began my day’s descent, driving back through Carib Territory. I was excited, as I hadn’t made it to this side of the island on my last visit.
The Carib Territory is comprised of the land of eight villages that was set-aside for the Caribbean natives in 1903. Dominica has the largest population of Caribs in the world, with about 3000 residing on Dominica’s North Eastern coast. There is a tourist village you can pay to enter, but an equally touching experience comes from simply driving though the region. The altitude is high, the foliage lush and green, and the sense — mystic. You see immediately the change in the people as you enter the territory; you see in their skin the history of the land. They are a people untainted, seemingly pure descendants truly of those you see pictured in museums and books.
I, for one, have no pictures of the territory because it didn’t seem right. These weren’t people smoking, dancing, or doing anything stereotypical or ceremonial. These were people going about their daily lives — playing ball in the road or walking to the market. Nevertheless, there is simply a palpable mysticism in the Carib territory that is worth experiencing. I dare you to got there and then call me crazy.
As much as I enjoyed my time in the territory it was time to head back towards home — again through the forest reserve. I took a different road back, passing some great rivers, and making some stops along the way. The first was Spanny Falls, a waterfall with a nice basin that is accessible by stairs. It also feature’s a small produce market and seating area that is well frequented on hot days.
The next stop was Diamond River, which has several rapids emptying into small pools that are perfect for bathing. I could see it being a very fun location for a hot day, which again, it wasn’t.
I continued downward towards the town of Layou; passing the Layou River on the way. I ended up coming across the outlet where the river met with the sea. I t was the perfect last stop for the day. As I sat on the hood of my rented 4x4 and watched the water flow back and forth I felt good. I felt a sense of calm, satisfaction and unity, as if all the sights I’d seen, and waterways I’d followed were present and connected.
*Author’s note: It’s worth saying that the roads and subsequent turns leading to attractions are not always marked and it can easy to get turned around. Some recommend having a guide when traveling Dominica. I don’t happen to think it’s necessary, but I can see why this advice is given. If choosing to travel solo, be extremely vigilant when following the map or directions.