Dominica: Nature Isle of the Caribbean

At first glance from the ship, this isn’t the typical Caribbean port stop with jewelry and souvenir stores lined up to greet the tourists in a downtown area.  The town actually didn’t look very appealing.  Looking beyond the cluster of buildings though, we saw houses on hilltops, lush mountains and dense jungles.

Dominica port view image

Dominica hillside view image

This was Dominica (pronounced Dom-inn-EEK-ah), nicknamed the Nature Isle of the Caribbean – an independent nation located in the Lesser Antilles, Caribbean between Martinique and Guadeloupe.  It was one of our stops during a Southern Caribbean cruise a few years ago.  I’ve actually never heard of this island before the cruise.  It was named by Christopher Columbus after he spotted it on a Sunday (dies Dominicus or Lord’s Day in Latin) in 1493.  Often mistaken for the Dominican Republic, this is very different from that island’s stretch of all-inclusive resorts.

Dominica Port view image

We bypassed the capital city of Roseau during our tour and headed to the valley.  The rugged, unspoiled beauty of Dominica was captivating.  It wasn’t very big at 29 miles long and 16 miles at its widest point yet more than 50% of it is tropical rainforest.  Our drive was through winding roads up the mountain with barely any railings and some one way roads – steep and a little treacherous.  I was so glad we had a driver used to these roads because there were a few instances where I started praying for safety.

Dominica Roseau Valley image

Our first stop was Ti Tou Gorge literally meaning “small throat hole” in Creole.  We hiked a bit and ended up at this open area with water cascading from the rock wall.  To the right was a small entrance to a narrow, water-filled canyon formed by lava leading to a small waterfall.  Supposedly, parts of the Pirates of the Caribbean II movie was filmed here.

Ti Tou Gorge Dominica entrance

My husband and daughter did this attraction since my son was a little too young for it.  The gorge required a short swim through the passageway with high cliff walls.  We were a bit envious as they came out all refreshed on a hot, humid day.

Ti Tou titou Gorge Dominica

We passed some interesting things along the way too.  This sign and the smoke coming out from the roadside hole piqued our curiosity.

sulfur cave

Dominica lies in the Caribbean’s hurricane belt.  In 1979, a Category 5 Hurricane (David) destroyed more than 80% of the island.  One of the things we passed, which our guide pointed out, was this African Baobab tree that fell on this empty bus.  The main stem is now 19 ft (5.8 m) in circumference.  It’s a stark reminder to the islanders of the natural dangers they face.

Dominica fallen tree on bus from david Hurricane image

We also saw quite a few of these plants that looked like corn dogs hanging from the leaves that amused the kids.  I forgot to ask what it was so if anyone can enlighten us, we’d appreciate it. {Update: Thanks to Bob from Pirancafe who says it is called a sausage tree. I was totally expecting a more creative name.}

Dominica corn dog plant image

The highlight of the tour was a visit to Trafalgar Falls which was located inside the Morne Trois Pitons National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Trafalgar actually consisted of two waterfalls.  They were affectionately known as Father on the left and the smaller one to the right, Mother, nestled within a rainforest.

Dominica Trafalgar Falls image

They were separated by a mountain and converged in the river below.  With two ships in town, it was a bit crowded with passengers.  This was a popular place for visitors to soak in the hot springs and then cool off with the falls’ cold water at the base.

Trafalgar Mother Falls Dominica image

The platform viewing area was where we can actually see unobstructed views of the two falls.  Beyond this point is a “proceed at your own risk” area to the base of Mother falls.  We made the slippery trek through fern and moss covered trails with plenty of birds chirping along the way as our background noise.

Trafalgar falls Father image

This was not an easy hike, especially with kids in tow, since it required some climbing over rocks and boulders.  It was definitely not for those with mobility issues.  Our then 3 and 6 year olds needed some help scrambling and had to be carried on some areas but they made it.  It helped to have a  good guide who led us to the more manageable trails.

Trafalgar falls Mother base image

Natural pools from the waterfall created mini hot springs but as we got closer to the waterfalls, the water cooled off.  Water here was clear and perfect for a hot, humid day and the cool mist was refreshing.  This would have been a perfect oasis(minus the tourists) with the waterfall and the lush tropical vegetation surrounding the pools.

Natural pools Dominica trafalgar falls

Our last stop was a scenic hilltop, called Morne Bruce, overlooking Roseau.  This presented a panoramic view of the town, the ports and the docked ships.  We were told it rained a lot here so we got lucky with these views and the sunny day we had.

Morne Bruce Dominica view of Roseau image

I’m still a bit unsure whether I’d go back to Dominica with the kids for a land-based vacation.  While it was certainly scenic with so many beautiful, natural trails and attractions left undiscovered, it seemed like a logistical struggle for traveling with kids other than a cruise ship.  But for avid hikers, eco-tourism travelers and adventure seeking tourists, this nature island may just be the perfect getaway.

Dominica view image

*Have you visited Dominica?  Does this undisturbed, not typical Caribbean island appeal to you?

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