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Home > Destinations > Dominica > Trip Reports > Trip Report

Dominica - Trip Reports

Impressions of Dominica and Nature Island Dive

November 2000

Getting There

Dominica has been high on my travel destinations list for a few years, but the high cost ($1000-$1500) and inconvenience of flying there from Seattle made it less attractive. However, by using frequent flyer miles on American Airlines we were able to avoid the high airfare. The trip is still very long, requiring at least three flights with an overnight stay along the way. We chose to spend the night in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The afternoon departure of our flight to Dominica allowed us time in the morning to walk from our hotel in the Condado area to Old San Juan. Even though I've done this before, I'll never tire of touring the fort and the narrow streets of Old San Juan.

We flew in a large America Eagle turbo prop plane from San Juan to Melville Hall Airport on the North end of Dominica where we rented a large 4-wheel drive vehicle. It became immediately obvious why most tourists use taxi service for transport. The roads are extremely narrow, very steep, and driving is on the left hand side of the road. In addition, there are people, dogs and other cars to contend with when passing through the many small towns. All this makes for a challenging driving experience, even for the most competent driver. After driving the first couple of hours across the center of the island to the capital city of Roseau, I was very glad to relinquish the driving duties to Greg, who ended up doing most of the driving for our group. My recommendation would be to take a taxi from the airport, even though it is expensive, and to use buses, taxis and walking to get around.


Dominica is a lush volcanic island that looks similar to the wet side of the Hawaiian Islands. In other words, there are large ferns, vines, rivers and waterfalls, with steep terrain right up to the ocean. The scenery is as pretty as it gets in the Caribbean. The lush flora is made possible by the rich volcanic soil and abundant rain. In fact, it rained off and on during our entire week on the island. Typically, there were short intense down pours followed by sunny periods - the cycle repeating over and over.


It was dark when we finally arrived at our Cottage located right on the bay between Soufriere and Scotts Head Village on the very south end of the island. We rented the lower of two floors of the Gallette Cottage, which can comfortably accommodate two couples, and has a full kitchen. The view of Soufriere Bay is absolutely stunning and the cottage is so close to the water that waves were lapping on to the stone beach just below the large deck. The cottage's proximity to the water was one reason why the lower floor in which we were staying was completely destroyed exactly one year before by Hurricane Lenny. Nature Island Dive, from whom we had rented the cottage, had just finished restoring the lower unit on the day we arrived. Simon Walsh, a partner in the business, had been working 14-hour days to complete the rebuilding. However, there was still a bug in the electrical system. A loose wire caused us to spend the first 2 nights without electricity, and there was an island-wide power outage on the third, so we ended burning candles and using flashlights.

As a testimony to the destructive power of Hurricane Lenny, nothing but a couple of broken walls remains of the cottage next door to Gallette. The road along Soufriere Bay on which the cottage is situated was also washed away and was still being repaired during our stay.

It was hard to sleep during the first couple of nights with the noise of the surf breaking on the beach and several intense rainsqualls. Also, we were not acclimated to the tropical heat (the cottage had no air conditioning). Eventually we became comfortable with both the climate and the surf noise, and slept like babies for the remaining nights.

The first morning we awoke to the sound of fisherman laying a net along the shore in front of the cottage and a beautiful rainbow over Soufriere Bay. The bay was once the crater of a large volcano with Scotts Head comprising a portion of the crater rim. A three-minute drive north to Soufriere from the cottage brought us to Nature Island Dive with whom we were to dive for the next four days. The first dive was with a group of 12 or so divers off of a large comfortable catamaran. The ride to the dive site was less than 5-minutes within the protected waters of the bay.


The underwater terrain on the south end of the island was interesting, with many steep walls descending into the abyss, pinnacles, and a few nice caverns and arches. The coral is abundant and healthy, with lots of large and colorful sponges. I would rate the diving as the best in Caribbean (and I have been to all the major dive destinations), except for the lack of fish, and particularly big critters.

There are lots of fish to see while diving on the south end, but big schools of fish were rare and big fish over 18" were almost nonexistent. We did find a 4' nurse shark on one dive and a very large turtle on another, but that was all for big critters. The reduced fish population can be attributed to over fishing by the locals. Even though fishing is done on a small scale, using nets, fish traps and hook and line, it is enough to have a significant impact. On most dives we encountered large fish traps carelessly thrown by locals on top of healthy coral. However, Soufriere Bay is an underwater park, and enforcement of fishing bans is supposed to begin soon, which may allow the fish population to recover. I think that the south end could become a world-class dive destination if this occurs.

My favorite dive was at night at a location called Champagne, because of the bubbles produced by volcanic vents. The dive masters quickly located two frog fish, one yellow and the other black, that were living on a sponge-covered wall in shallow water. The intense light from all of our flashlights must have spooked the yellow frog fish because he fell off of the wall and began to sink to the bottom. I reached out my hand and gently caught him and placed him back on the wall next to his buddy.

Nature Island Dive is a very well run family dive operation. The head dive master and partner in the business is Simon Walsh, who has trained two capable dive instructors, Weefy and Tony. Tony's parents are owners of the business and his mother works at the front desk. Tony's father is a practicing physician in the capital Roseau, a short drive from Soufriere. They have good quality, well maintained boats; friendly hard-working staff; and a prime location right across from the beach in Soufriere. The diving is as easy as it gets, with very short boat rides (<10 minutes), little or no current, superb visibility (>80' on every dive) and very calm conditions within the bay.

In short, this is an ideal destination for new or inexperienced divers. However, more experienced divers may not be completely comfortable with their policy of group diving. I personally hate to dive in large groups, and instead prefer to dive my own profile without being guided around by a dive master. This was only a problem on the first dive when my buddy and I were gently scolded for straying from the pack. Thereafter, they split off our small group of four on to a separate boat, which was very much appreciated. The staff at Nature Island Dive told me that they normally limit to 4 or 5 divers per boat, which is much better than most dive operations.

The staff takes care of all your dive gear, including changing tanks between dives, and rinsing and storing the gear in the evening. In short, you don't have to do a thing with your dive equipment from the time you arrive until the time you leave. A quick tour of the Nature Island Dive facility revealed a very neat, clean and organized operation. My gear was never mixed up and was set-up properly for every dive.


Free use of kayaks was included in our package from Nature Island Dive. We used the kayaks only once for a late afternoon paddle around Soufriere Bay. We were hoping to encounter dolphins, which are often seen in the bay, but we had no luck. We paddled below the cliffs of Scotts Head and turned the corner into the Atlantic, but high wind and waves made it unsafe to continue further. Frankly, the condition and care of the kayaks from Nature Island Dive was not up to their usual high standards. The back bands were broken on just about every kayak that I examined making them very uncomfortable to paddle. My back was quite sore from resting against the back edge of the cockpit. Also, the spray skirt did not seal in the back so water leaked into the boat. Finally, there were no foot peddles in my buddy's boat. This situation is all too familiar, most resorts that I have visited do not bother to maintain their kayaks because most clients do not know how to properly use them and simply treat them as a toy to play with on the beach.

Waterfall Hiking

There are some great hikes on the island, but getting to the trailhead often involves challenging driving up very steep and narrow roads that are usually unmarked. Once again, it's probably best to take a taxi or go on organized tours. With all the diving that we were doing, there really wasn't a lot of time available for hiking. We did a short hike into Trafalgar Falls one afternoon, and then climbed up to the companion falls, in both cases we swam in the pools beneath the falls which was great fun. There are several other beautiful falls on the island such as Middleham Falls that I'm sorry that we didn't have time to visit. We also drove up to the Soufriere Sulfur Springs one afternoon and hiked up to the sulfur vents, but these were a disappointment.

Boiling Lake Hike

The Boiling Lake hike is long and strenuous but well worth the effort. We went on a particularly nasty day with heavy rain and high winds. The trail is very steep both up and down, and it became slippery and muddy from all the rain. We started out hiking upwards through dense tropical rain forest until we crested at a clearing on top of a ridge and then we descended into the Valley of Desolation, which has many fascinating examples of volcanism such as steam vents, small geysers and boiling pools. After another short uphill climb, we made it to the rim of the crater containing the boiling lake. There is so much steam coming from the boiling lake that it is often difficult to see the boiling water.

Our group was very much aware of the consequences of falling into the lake because our guide, Stanley, was the only person to have ever done so and lived to tell about it. His version of the story went something like this. A client dropped a video camera from the lip of the crater and it landed at the edge of the lake. Stanley used a rope to lower himself down; he picked up the camera, and then climbed back up the rope. As he reached the rim, he lost his grip on the rope and fell 50' into the boiling lake, somehow landing on his feet. In a pain-crazed delirium he waded out of the boiling water receiving third degree burns up to his crotch. He quickly went into shock but someone pulled him out of the crater and a rescue helicopter was called, but the helicopter couldn't land near the lake so they had to carry him up to the ridge top clearing that I previously mentioned where he was picked up and flown to Martinique where he spent 6 months in a hospital recovering from third degree burns. He showed us his badly scarred legs to prove that it all happened.

On the way back from the boiling lake in the Valley of Desolation there is a warm volcanic stream in which we stopped to swim. There were several nice swimming holes below small waterfalls that made an excellent location to relax. Once we got into the warm volcanic water we did not want to leave, especially with the cool rain and wind, and the soaking wet clothing that we would have to put back on.

When we finally got back to the trail head I was looking forward to a cool dip in a stream that lies in a deep narrow rock canyon that ends in a waterfall. But the place was crawling with cruise ship people (cruise ships often stop in Roseau) who had been bused up there to play in the stream. Despite their presence, I swam up the canyon to the waterfall and it was quite nice.


We spent some time walking the streets of the capital city, Roseau. The town has little charm but it is clean and safe. There's not much for handicrafts shopping, but we did buy some batiks and baskets. The best time to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and fish is during the Saturday morning market along the waterfront near the ferry dock. The only bad thing I can say about Roseau is that there are some very aggressive panhandlers, perhaps the result of so many cruise ships coming into port.

The People

The people of Dominica are poor, most making a subsistence living by fishing or farming (usually bananas), but there is no abject poverty or slums. In fact, the people look quite healthy (much more so than the typical North Americans), neat and clean (aside from a few scruffy looking Rastafarians). The island is also quite clean, both on land and in the water, with very little litter. The people of Dominica are also very proud of their island. On several occasions we were stopped, while walking or driving, by Dominicans who just wanted to give us a lecture on the beauty of the their island. They weren't really interested in our affirmation, they just wanted to tell so.

The favorite pass-time of Dominican men was the game of Dominos, usually played in the evening after work on a makeshift plywood tables. The dominos were slapped down on the table with such force that it could be heard 100' away.

Driving Excursions

We ended driving around both the north and south ends of the island, and looping back through the center of the island. These excursions took several hours and involved quite challenging driving. We passed through many small fishing villages along the coast and small farming communities in the mountains, along with countless rivers and streams. The scenery was first-rate. The East side of the island (Atlantic side) consisted mostly of steep cliffs rising out of the rough ocean. There were beaches of black volcanic sand, much like Hawaii.


I would rate Dominica as an excellent adventure travel destination for those interested in participating in a variety of activities such as hiking, scuba diving and kayaking. For those only interested in diving, there are better and less expensive destinations in the Caribbean such as the Cayman Islands and Bonaire. But the lush tropical beauty of Dominica blows away these other destinations.

Thanks to Mike for this trip report ...
December 2000

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