So how many of you have heard of the amazing Caribbean island Dominica? Show of hands? Oh, a lot of you! Wait – not the Dominican Republic – Dominica – pronounced Dom-in-ee-ka? Ah ha – I see a lot of those hands went back down. Well – than I sure am glad that you are here because this gem of an island is one that should absolutely be added to your list of places you must see!
Now I am going to be honest with you guys – this was an introduction to Dominica for your Travel Guru too! I knew that Dominica was an island in the Caribbean, but I have to confess – I had no idea how beautiful it was or all that there was to see and do there.
Recently I had the pleasure of welcoming Fernanda Melgoza from Discover Dominica to one of my weekly video chats to walk us through all of the amazing pieces of what is known as Nature Island. And she was extremely excited to share with us all of the little secrets of this hidden gem in the Caribbean.
Now – tray tables up, seat in an upright position, fasten your seat belts and prepare for take off to an amazing little island!
Background: So, we have already made it clear that it’s not the Dominican Republic we are discussing today. Check. The country’s official name is the Commonwealth of Dominica and the original Carib Indian population named it Waitukubuli which translated means “tall is her body” – and this is because of the mountains and what the island looks like from the distance.
Dominica is situated south of Guadeloupe and north of Martinique in the Caribbean and has a population of 71,293. Its capital is Roseau and although the official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, the American the dollar is widely accepted throughout the island.
English is the main language with French Creole as the next commonly spoke language. And that is Dominica 101!
Getting There: Although it is certainly not hard to get to Dominica it is a destination where you will have to change planes as there are no direct flights to the island from the continental US. There is the option to fly directly into Antigua, Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia or Saint Maarten and then simply take a hopper from there for an easy transfer over to Dominica. Or – as Fernanda advised – the main hub where visitors travel to from the US is typically into San Juan and then on to Dominica. And you know what I am going to say next right? Yup – we can make this a multi-destination adventure and add a few days before or after in Puerto Rico for you! Note: There are some cities from the US that have same day service to Dominica but keep in mind they could be seasonal – among them are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Connecticut, Fort Lauderdale, Houston (IAH), Los Angeles, Miami, New York City (JFK), Philadelphia, and Washington DC (DCA and IAD). Fernanda did confirm that she lives in New York and typical travel time to Dominica is that she will get an early morning flight out and be arrive to the hotel in Dominica by late afternoon.
Sightseeing and Activities: You may be wondering – just why should I visit Dominica? Well first and foremost the Nature Island has remained one of the hidden gems in the Caribbean. Meaning – it’s a very unspoiled destination and it is quite different what from the image that you may have of Caribbean destinations. Home to three national parks where you can have everything from soft adventures to extreme adventure experiences – it’s really a destination for everybody from nature lovers to those who just want to escape the crowds and do some social distancing in gorgeous surroundings.
- Whale Watching: Here’s a fun fact – Dominica is home to the world’s only year-round resident sperm whale population. So – every season is whale watching season! This is thanks to the country’s sheer underwater drop offs that create deep sheltered bays and make Dominica the perfect haven for the sperm whale to breed and calve. So, all you have to do is just hop in a boat and get out there and try to find them. And Fernanda said she has done this twice and was lucky enough to spot them both times – so you know chances are rather good.
- Diving: For those of you guys who are divers – plenty of opportunity here! In fact, it is one of the top diving destinations in the world. And we can certainly make it happen for you – including equipment rental and if need be certification as Fernanda has local dive operators that will work with me through her.
- Hiking: And for my hikers – plan on a two week stay at least. Why you ask? Well because Dominica is home to the Caribbean’s longest hiking trail. In fact, it covers the entire island and can be done in sections however if you did choose to do it all at once it would take approximately two weeks or so.
- Boiling Lake: The second largest of its kind in the world Boiling Lake is reached after a three-to-four-hour hike through the rain forest – crossing over streams and ridges. Yes – it’s certainly not the easiest hike but it’s a must if you are a hiker and just getting there is super rewarding! Of course, since it is approximately an eight-mile hike – four miles up and then four miles down – it will be an all-day excursion.
- Canyoning: Adventurers rejoice! Here you can trek into the heart of the rainforest to climb waterfalls, swim through blue pools, hike across riverbeds, repel down rock faces, and jump over cascades into crystal clear waters! What a fantastical way to experience nature in the heart of the jungle! You can even zip line here!
- Snorkel in Champagne Bay: Dominica is a volcanic island and there is still some activity on the ocean floor – volcanic gases that vent from the ocean floor to be exact. In Champagne Bay you can see these bubbles coming out from the bottom of the sea so it’s like you’re in a glass of champagne! You can go snorkeling or shallow diving in a wall of bubbles and view an abundance of fantastic sea life. Now is this a bucket list item or not? Super cool!
- Rejuvenate at Emerald Pool: How about a refreshing dip among the islands lush vegetation to revive your body and soul? Visiting the natural pools of Dominica is a must – and there are many to see. The Emerald Pool is beautiful, and it is pretty accessible as it’s only a short ten-minute hike from where you start – and when you arrive there is a little waterfall and a natural pool – which is just what we need after being in quarantine for so long! What a great place to recharge your batteries. Fernanda said the times she has been there she has the place all to herself and being surrounded by nature and vegetation was just as rejuvenating and refreshing as jumping into the natural pool on a really hot day after the hike there.
- Soaking in a Hot Spring: Dominica’s natural Hot Springs are a fabulous way to relax, unwind and lie back in a soothing steam surrounded by the sights and sounds of the jungle. Once again – thanks to it being a volcanic island you have plenty of hot springs available to you where you can easily hide and social distance till your hearts content! And Fernanda notes that the hot springs have been engineered in fun ways – such as one with a bathtub in the middle of the jungle and others where there are pools built around them.
- Go Chasing Waterfalls: With 365 rivers – one for each day of the year Fernanda joked – and 12 waterfalls – Dominica offers a variety of waterfall hikes for all levels of hikers. Some are accessible and some will take a bit more determination to get to – but they are all beautiful!
- Ride Down the Indian River: A lazy ride down the Indian River is the perfect way to sit back, relax and enjoy Dominica’s tranquil surroundings. Definitely not an extreme adventure like the others – here you just hop in a boat with a local guide and they’ll row you down the river. Fun Fact: Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest was filmed here so you’ll get to see some of the set that still remain! And my favorite part – at the end of the ride – before heading back – they take you to a bar in the jungle for a rum drink to make your experience complete!
- Festivals: I found out that one thing is that they love to do is party in Dominica. In February there is Carnival which is their biggest festival. It’s a month-long celebration full of parades and contests and dancing and concerts. Per Fernanda it’s just so fun to be there during that time to see the local people rehearsing for dances and witness all the festivities. In July they host Dive Fest which is focused on sharing the underwater resources and educating not only locals but visitors as well. With October is the World Creole Music Festival which is another big one where local and international artists come and perform. And this is just to name a few! So, if you are up for some partying, we can certainly plan your visit around one of these events.
Culture: Dominica is home to the last remaining community of people that are actually native to the Caribbean – the Kalinago culture. They have their own territory on the island that is just for the Kalinago population and there are about 3000 of them that are living there. Their traditions and culture are still very much alive so when you get there you can visit with and listen to a local historian relate stories about the history and the beginnings of Dominica. Here you will also have the opportunity to partake in the fine art of basket weaving, experience cassava bread baking and view presentations on traditional canoe building and herbal medicine. You can also buy really cute souvenirs made by the local people which as we all know is sustainable travel at its best. They have their own local language too, so you have an opportunity to learn a native language while you are there. And for my families who travel with your kids what a great living classroom experience this can be!
Accommodations: Fernanda noted that she only included four properties to talk about to give us an idea of the different options you have when it comes to accommodations but there are many more besides these.
- Jungle Bay: Located on the south end of the island near Scotts Head which is the very tip of Dominica this is an award-winning wellness eco resort – which means of course that they focus on your wellbeing. Features of the property include wellness adventure packages, an onsite spa – Bamboo Spa – and two yoga studios so that you can wake up and do yoga overlooking the ocean for a fabulous start to your day! With only 50 villas I wanted to call it small property, but Fernanda actually advised it is one of their larger properties as most of them typically have a smaller number of rooms. That being said – 50 villas would be great to do a buy out for a family reunion or a destination wedding!
- Secret Bay: For you guys who are looking for an all-villa resort and want something a little bit more secluded Secret Bay is a wonderful option. Featuring six gorgeous, secluded villas this six-star experience was featured on the April 2019 cover of Travel and Leisure Magazine. The whole concept here is high end luxury, personalized service to make you feel like this is your second home – like your own personal vacation home. Recently renovated (as was Jungle Bay by the way) due to being hit pretty hard in 2017 by Hurricane Maria everything you see here is new – even though the hotel existed for years prior. And the best part? It actually became a Relais and Châteaux resort at the end of last year which means it is a boutique hotel that is recognized for its outstanding service, beauty and culinary excellence – which consists of sea to table dining.
- Cabrits Resort and Spa Kempinski: At 151 rooms this is the largest property on the island and as per Fernanda is a little more typically of the type of resort you would find in the other Caribbean destinations. Opened in late 2019 this five-star resort features a full-service spa, four bars, a restaurant and a fitness facility. Plus, it’s beachfront so you have direct access to the beach. It is also surrounded by Cabrits National Park and there are hiking trails that you can access right from the property as well.
- Wanderlust Caribbean: This property is the smallest on our list with just five suites total and is considered an adventure travel boutique hotel. Offering three-to-seven-day adventure packages, it is located on the scenic northeast coast in a little village called Calibishie and it is managed by like local couple. Like all the other properties on the island it is surrounded by nature and very focused on the adventure traveler.
Gastronomy: Let’s talk about eating because you guys know that I am always hungry and interested in the local dishes of each and every destination. Being an island, you will not be surprised that the cuisine is mainly seafood and always served as a very hearty meal including a side of rice and a salad. But although it is mainly seafood there are other local delicacies and Fernanda advised she has had some fabulous chicken and pork dishes in Dominica as well. As for the culinary scene – there are charming food establishment throughout the island and since it is very untouched you are going to get true, homemade meals wherever you go. And my friends – this is that cultural immersion that I so adore – homemade meals right from the locals. What a great place this would be to set you up with a family where you can go into their home and they can teach you how to cook local dishes or you can simply break bread with them – your choice!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Dominica.
So, I think that this has been super amazing, and I have fallen in love with another country in the Caribbean that now is on my bucket list! And I am willing to bet a lot of you did too! So, what do you say we start planning a visit to the Nature Island for some wellness, social distancing and a bit of adventure to look forward to in 2021?
For more details on things to see and do in Dominica, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!