Mom always said, “If you don’t end up dirty and sleepy, you’re not having enough fun.” Mom would’ve loved Dominica. After a few days of snorkeling in “champagne bubbles,” soaking in tea-colored hot springs and hiking through a rain forest with sucking mud, friendly goats and a boiling lake, you’ll realize personal grooming has taken a holiday. And you won’t care one bit, because you’re having the Best. Time. Ever.
The Caribbean island of Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic to its west, made headlines in 2015 after being hard hit by Tropical Storm Erika. But the Nature Island is back and lovelier than ever.
Located in the Windward Islands of the West Indies between Guadeloupe and Martinique, 290-square-mile Dominica is larger than the better-known Barbados. Velvety green mountains rise nearly 5,000 feet from sea level on this volcanic landmass, surrounded by aqua sea. Sixty percent of the island is covered by rain forest, and there’s a river for each day of the year, plus 12 waterfalls, 19 major dive sites and 22 species of cetaceans, making Dominica a favored dive spot and year-round whale-watching destination.
These natural glories are alluring to visitors, and truly prized by islanders, says Beverly Deikel, owner of Rosalie Bay Resort, an eco-retreat comprised of 28 suites situated on 22 acres, primarily powered by wind and solar energy: “Guests know that what we have on Dominica is authentic.”
And local culture runs deep. Dominica is still home to some 3,000 Caribs (also known as Kalinago Indians), descendants of the civilization that once dominated the Caribbean islands.
Fizzy fun awaits visitors at the effervescent Champagne Reef, located at the southern tip of the island. You’ll meet at a beach bar to get your snorkeling gear, and after a quick stroll to a rocky beach, you’re underwater — and being tickled by the strings of warm bubbles that rise from the hot springs below. Post-swim, “just lime” (local parlance for „chill out”) with a cold Kubuli beer or coconut punch at the beach bar on site.
And speaking of watery treats, who could resist the lure of an ochre-hued hot springs that’ll leave your skin baby soft — and maybe add years to your life? (Dominica is one of those so-called “blue zones” where many people live to age 100 and beyond. Just saying.) Try Screw’s Sulfur Spa and Tia’s, where you can soak in three sulfur pools surrounded by lush foliage.
Then swap out your flip-flops for hiking boots. The island has 300-plus miles of trails, from easy to OMG.
It’s a quick hike to Emerald Pool, a lavish waterfall with a popular swimming hole at its base, located within the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This is your introduction to the 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail. Split into 14 segments, this marked footpath runs from Scotts Head Village in the south to the Cabrits National Park in the north. The scenery ranges from foliage to farmlands (hello, goats!), plus villages, coastal areas, ancient pathways — and, most likely, mud. Hiking through thick mud and over slippery rocks can make even flat sections of trail rather tricky, and many of the segments are rated “moderate” (a couple are “very difficult”). But the payoff comes when the landscape opens to reveal views of the mountains.
Feeling super-fit? Consider taking on the island’s fiercest hike, featuring the Boiling Lake (the world’s second-largest hot lake) and the Valley of Desolation. And we do mean fierce; the trail is sometimes closed because of strong fumes and excess boiling (check news, gou.dm for the latest). Head out with a guide and plenty of water and snacks; you’ll need the energy to ascend to 2,264 feet in the rain forest and descend 98 feet toward the Trois Pitons River.
The Valley of Desolation screams “selfie spot!” but tread lightly — it’s a geothermal wonderland of sulfur streams, (literally) boiling mud, mini-geysers and fumaroles. Then there’s the lake, a cauldron of boiling water about 200 feet wide. Eerie and fascinating, this wonder is well worth the six hours of round-trip hiking.
If you’re an outdoorsy soul, you’ll leave with what the locals call “a banana on your face” (a smile) and the urge to discover more of Dominica — well, maybe after a massage.