> Destinations > Dominica > Trip Reports > Trip Report
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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'
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
Thanks to Mike for this trip report ...