Call me optimistic but now more than ever it feels like the right time to plan the next adventure. Even if you can’t do it just yet, and all you do is escape for 10 minutes in a little day dream.
The planning phase is usually one of the most exciting parts about travel. Scanning through endless photos, comparing hotels, watching YouTube videos, writing endless to-do lists, and choosing the right tours.
Don’t deny yourself any longer!
Whether you travel to Dominica this year, next year or in 5 years. Bookmark this list for all the reasons you should travel there at some point in the future.
Dominica is the Caribbean’s very own Nature Island. It’s undiscovered, it has hidden gems, it’s rough around the edges and off the beaten track.
So let me start right now by telling you it’s absolutely undeniably brilliant. It’s by far one of the (if not the) best islands I’ve visited in the Caribbean. And I am lucky enough to have been to a fair few now.
Now of course, we must travel to Dominica when it’s safe to do so. Here in the UK outbound travel is completely banned, and you can get up-to-date UK government advice here. Please check the current advice for where you are travelling from.
Dominica too has its own travel restrictions, and a 3 tiered risk level depending on the country you’re coming from. Upon arrival you must submit a health questionnaire and undergo a rapid PCR test, a finger-prick blood test giving results in 15-20 minutes.
Dominica has also put many protocols in place such as sanitation in transport, limited numbers at attractions, temperature checks, and extra space at restaurants. There are also COVID-authorised taxi’s and COVID-authorised accommodation, making up their Safe in Nature programme. You can read more about that here.
In terms of booking your trip, make sure your airline or booking agent offers a fully flexible ticket or a refund in the case of the trip being cancelled due to Covid, and make sure your insurance covers you for anything that happens during your stay.
Now, on to the fun stuff. Get yourself a cuppa as I have a lot of reasons to digest…
Reasons to visit Dominica: Whale Watching
I am starting strong here, but the reasons in this article are not in any order. Dominica is one of the best places in the world to see Sperm Whales, and the only place you can see them all year round.
The deep sheltered bays mean the female and juvenile Sperm Whales feed in these waters, with only the males migrating. There’s believed to be around 300 here, and whilst they are not the only whales to be spotted in Dominica, they are the most common.
I’m lucky enough to have been whale-watching a few times around the world, and still nothing can prepare you for the excitement and thrill of seeing such an incredible creature in the flesh. Sperm Whales are intelligent and sociable animals, at one point we saw four playing on the surface.
This experience is simply a must do in Dominica. The whole trip was run in an ethical and responsible way. There are only a few boats allowed for Whale Watching to not disturb the whales, and there is no feeding of any kind. You can’t scuba dive with the whales and you can only swim with them with one of the limited permits, which will set you back $3000.
Sperm Whale fact: Did you know Sperm Whales have the biggest brain in the animal kingdom?
A 3-hour whale watching tour with Dive Dominica costs approximately £50 (US$69) and includes all professional guides, drinks on board (including rum punch on the way back) and hotel pick-up/drop-off too.
Reasons to visit Dominica: Scuba Diving & Snorkelling
Let me start by telling you Dominica has some of the best scuba diving and snorkelling spots in the world. You can find cliff walls, colourful reefs, caves, pass-throughs, and even crystal bubble vents coming out of the sand.
The best part is no matter what level you are at, there is still plenty to see in Dominica. Most dives sites are centred around Scott’s Head, a protected marine reserve. You can scuba dive into a volcanic crater and see an abundance of wildlife here. A lot of the wildlife is at a depth of less than 10 metres, making is perfect for beginner divers and snorkelling.
Diving for all levels can also be found at L’abymes and Champagne Reef. Champagne Reef is one of the most popular spots on the island, where snorkelling is also possible. Most of these are within easy reach of the town of Soufriere. From here you have easy access to 20 of the islands best dive sites.
We went with Nature Island Dive in Soufriere. They are Safe in Nature certified and offer a two-tank dive for $100 USD. They also have snorkelling, kayaking and Stand-Up Paddle-boarding.
Reasons to visit Dominica: the Rum
Yes absolutely a whole section on Rum! And why not? I love Caribbean rum, and the rum is a big part of the Dominican culture.
You’ll get plenty of opportunities to drink rum, but my advice is the smaller the place the better. In Dominica you’ll find tiny independent bush bars dotted around the island. Either on the side of the road, at a nice viewpoint, next to a river or at the beach.
These places are run by locals and they all have their signature rum or rum punch. If you meet the right people, you might get to taste something homemade. Our guide Trevo, one of the warmest and kindest people I’ve met on my travels, took us on a detour to his friends house which encapsulated the Dominican sprit.
The house was nestled right in the heart of the jungle, backing on to the river and we tried a whole host of rum infusions, rum punches and even one that was supposed to be an aphrodisiac!
Reasons to visit Dominica: Hurricane Maria
The ‘reason’ here is the recovery and resilience this magnificent island and the people have shown following the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
Dominica is fully open for business, but the evidence of devastation can still be seen. Over 90% of the infrastructure was damaged, schools took a year to reopen and restoring power to the island has been a constant challenge.
It was a natural disaster on a monumental scale, and it’s hard for many of us to comprehend just how devastating that can be. Especially for a small Caribbean island.
Yet the island has been rebuilt stronger and hurricane resistant. They still follow the incredible eco-initiatives (more on that later), and more importantly it hasn’t broken their spirit.
Reasons to visit Dominica: People & Culture
Closely linked to the point above, it wouldn’t be hard to write an entire article on the people and culture of Dominica. Yet this is something that can only truly be experienced in person. How do you put into words something that you can only feel when you’re there?
Well these words sum it up for me: Spirit. Courage. Openness. Kindness. Passionate. Resilience. Warmth. Pride. Welcoming. This list could go on.
The island is nestled in between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, so there is also a French influence in the culture. There is a unique mix of languages, heritage and culture referred to as the ‘Creole Culture’.
The island also has it’s own indigenous community, the Kalinago people. Once dominant throughout the Caribbean they are approximately 3000 remaining in Dominica. This represents the largest indigenous population in the East Caribbean. They appoint their own Chief every 5 years to oversea the territory.
Reasons to visit Dominica: Carnival
Leading on perfectly from the points above, nothing encapsulates the culture and spirit of the local people more than Carnival! Mas Domnik is known as the Real Mas because it still keeps some of the old traditions, as well as bringing together French and African traditions.
Now you must experience a Caribbean Carnival at least once in your lifetime, and there is no better place than Dominica. Carnival happens once a year in February and is centred around the capital city of Roseau (I recommend visiting Roseau regardless).
Essentially the carnival is a mass parade of music, colours, smiles, street food, Calypso shows, pageants, traditions and of course, rum! Dominica is also known as one of the safest places to experience Carnival in the Caribbean.
It takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the early hours of Monday is the all-night party of J’Ouvert. Usually reaching pace at 6-8am!
Reasons to visit Dominica: Waterfalls
The next few sections will very much move onto all the reasons they call Dominica The Nature Island. There are enough waterfalls and hiking experiences to last you a week here.
The most popular falls on the island are the twin waterfalls at Trafalgar Falls (pictured, photo by Discover Dominica). The walk there is relatively easy and the most popular is “mama falls” at 40 metres, although “papa falls” is bigger at 85 metres.
Emerald Pool, inside Morne Trois Piton National Park is stunning and has a fantastic spot to swim in so please don’t forget your swimwear! And Victoria Falls, Middelham Falls and Sari Sari Falls all involve more challenging hikes so I’d recommend going with a guide.
Reasons to visit Dominica: Hiking
When it comes to hiking and safaris I honestly think you might need a whole year here! We’ve already mentioned a couple of the easier and shorter hikes, such as the Emerald Pool Trail and Trafalgar Falls.
There are also a few I’d recommend that I didn’t get a change to do, such as Titou Gorge and the Jaco Steps. I’ll talk about a few others under National Parks too, and for more information take a look at the Adventures section of Discover Dominica.
The Discover Dominica website breaks the hiking down into easy, intermediate and advanced. With intermediate trails such as Boeri Lake and Victoria Falls, and advance such as Boiling Lake and the Perdu Temps Trail. I didn’t get time to complete many hikes myself, but my plan is to come back and write a complete guide to hiking in Dominica.
Finally, take a look at the Waitukubuli National Trail. This 114-mile trail takes you from Scott’s Head to Capuchin, passing through the Kalinago villages and some stunning landscapes and waterfalls. It’s the first long-distance walking trail in the Caribbean.
For more challenging hikes I’d always recommend going with an experienced local guide and making sure you have a good level of fitness.
Reasons to visit Dominica: National Parks
All of the reasons surrounding nature are closely linked to National Parks, and many of the main attractions are inside Dominica’s three National Parks. They’re part of what makes Dominica so special, protected and wild landscapes that are truly what the Caribbean should be about.
Firstly you must visit Fort Shirley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of Cabrits National Park. This fort plays an important role in Dominica’s history, and it’s most famously known for the revolt by African slave soldiers in 1802 which led to the freeing of all slave soldiers in 1807.
Fort Shirley later played an important role in British and French conflicts in the 18th and 19th centuries. It lay derelict and abandoned for sometime, but now has been fully restored as a tourist attraction and events venue. And that’s not all Cabrits National Park offers, there are also 1313 acres of tropical forests, coral reefs and wetlands.
Next up the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our local guide told me this is still relatively undiscovered. It has a lush green rainforest, huge peaks and wild flowers.
You’ll also find many attractions here, some I’ve talked about already. Such as Boiling Lake, Titou Gorge, Freshwater Lake, Boeri Lake, Emerald Pool and Middleham Falls.
Finally Morne Diablotins National Park in the north of Dominica. There are over 8,000 acres of mountain ranges primarily protected to save the endangered Sisserou Parrot.
Reasons to visit Dominica: The Indian River (and Pirates of the Caribbean)
This section was very nearly simply called Rivers, as there are 365 rivers on the island! Needless to say, I didn’t visit them all. But it would be fun to try.
We passed countless rivers and hiked over a few, but the one that stands out was Indian River. Located in Portsmouth, Dominica’s second biggest city. It’s already won me over as I’m from England’s Portsmouth.
We took a 2 hour tour up stream and through the mangroves and coconut forests. Our guide Denroy rowing the boat and helping us to spot birdlife, iguana and giant crabs. The water was calm and there was a peaceful silence in a usually excited group. We were taking it all in.
The trips stopped at a rustic bush bar. This bush bar was quite literally nestled in the bush, accessed by boat. Another chance to try a signature rum punch and Kubali beer (the local beer).
On the way back we went via the famous Witch House, a filming spot for Pirates of the Caribbean, on Bayou River. This spot is the site of Calypso’s House in Dead Man’s Chest.
Reasons to visit Dominica: Hot Springs
Relaxing in open air pools, surrounded by nature and sipping on a local beer or rum punch. Have I got your attention?
Dominica has 9 active volcanoes, yes 9! This means hot sulphur springs and spas. Taking a trip to a Hot Spring is definitely a ‘must do’ on your Dominica itinerary.
There are a few hot springs to chose from. We visited Ti Kwen Glo Cho, close to Roseau. After a long day exploring this was a nice treat. Healing mud, hot sulphur baths heated from the volcanic activity below, and supposedly medical healing qualities. What’s not to love?
Many of them have a bar or somewhere to buy a drink if you fancy it. I did. And a few of the hot springs are open into the night, what better spot for some romantic star gazing.
Reasons to visit Dominica: Eco-Tourism
Sometimes small nations and islands can put the rest of the world to shame when it comes to eco-initiatives and eco-tourism. This is one country definitely getting it right, and it’s brilliant to see.
The tourism is very much linked to the local community and the island doesn’t have many big hotels taking over. Almost everything we ate has been sourced locally. They’ve completely banned single-use plastic (why can’t the rest of us seem to do that?), and have a large number of rustic eco-lodges around the island.
Every type of tourism involving wildlife, from whale-watching to snorkelling, seems to have the welfare of nature at it’s core. And all of the tour operators are buying into it, and please be sure to ask them how they are protecting their wildlife.
And central to all of this are the national parks. Dominica is only a small island yet there are 3 huge national parks, and one with a sole purpose to protect the Sisserou Parrot. It’s fantastic to see.
Reasons to visit Dominica: The food
Okay one last reminder that this article is not in any order! If it was, then food would be far closer to the top. Now, I cannot tell you how much I love Caribbean food in general. And the food in Dominica is extra special.
The breakfast was always delicious and fresh, with local bananas, papaya, mango and guavas. The main meals have it’s Creole routes, a total mix of influences. One guide described Creole food as colour and flavour. Whether that’s the flavour in the rice, the saltfish or yellow fin tuna with garlic, chives and lime.
Pretty much every restaurant we entered you just knew you’d have tough choice when it comes to the menu. I’d usually go with Trevo’s suggestion, or the signature dish. Surprisingly I tried a lot of different soups here too, including Callaloo Soup, a Creole specialty.
Other than the Callaloo Soup I suggest you try Sancocho; a chicken or beef stew made with plantain and cassava melon, and any fresh fish with rice and beans. Or why not ask your guide or hotel about the cooking classes you can try on the island?
Where to stay
Jungle Bay Resort
Our first stay was in an eco-villa at Jungle Bay, just a few minutes from Soufriere where you can find most of the scuba diving and snorkelling. It’s a wellness boutique hotel, specialising in yoga retreats and spa relaxation.
The location is simply stunning and the rooms are incredible. There is exquisite attention to detail at Jungle Bay, and the local fresh food every day was second to none. Oh and what about that infinity pool?
Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski
The only 5-star hotel on the island, Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski has broken the mould as one of the only multinational chain, but they’ve done it the right way. The design of the hotel is unobtrusive and hidden away, and they have kept everything locally sourced.
The food at the four restaurants was perfect and a highlight was having a cocktail made by Nishantha designed specifically for my tastes, overlooking a fantastic Caribbean sunset.
Please note both Jungle Bay Resort and Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski are Safe in Nature hotels.
You can’t fly to Dominica direct from the UK, but please don’t see that as a negative! It’s untouched for a reason, and direct flights would mean more people and package holidays.
You’ll most likely fly to Antigua with Virgin or British Airways, taking 8.5 hours. Followed by a short 30-40 minute hop to Dominica with Liat. Trust me arriving at the tiny Douglas-Charles Airport with a local welcome makes it all worth while.
Our layover was only a couple of hours, and you could even book a couple of nights in Antigua to see another part of the Caribbean.
This list could have gone on and on, and if you’ve made it this far I’m impressed. I could have listed the beaches, birdwatching and safaris. But as always, if you have any more I must add, please drop them in the comments below. Because I know for sure, this is an island I’m going back to.
This article was supported by Discover Dominica but as always, the opinions and photos in the article are all my own, and I think it’s clear to see I loved every minute of my time on this amazing island!