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A visit to Dominica (pronounced Do-min-ee-kah) promises to be unlike any other stop on your itinerary. Prepare to slow down, take in the scenery, breathe fresh air like you haven't breathed in years, sample fruit right off the trees and experience nature in a way you can only do so in a few places on earth. This "Nature Island" is 29 by 16 miles of rainforest, dense lush vegetation, waterfalls, freshwater pools and bubbling hot springs from the active underwater volcanoes surrounding the island. Once off the ship, head inland or out to the water to experience the best of what this island has to offer. Indeed, it's easy to spend the day here and never see a beach -- at least a sandy one.
We learned why producers selected Dominica as the backdrop for Pirates of the Caribbean I and II. As you drive the coastline on roads hacked out of the mountainside, jagged edges plunge into the ocean with mango trees and ginger root cascading down into the sea. And as you take the valley roads inland, you'll be awed by the utter majesty of the unspoiled nature rising up around you like a cathedral.
The island has a lot to offer, not just in what it does have -- but also in what it doesn't. There are no chain hotels, big-box mega-stores, or ubiquitious restaurant brands. Locals have fought to keep it that way, too, and so the island remains untouched. Originally populated by the Carib tribe of Indians in the 1800's, the French and British fought for control of the island. If you glance at a map of the island, it's clear by the town names that the French populated the South (Roseau, Soufrieres) while the British occupied the North (Portsmouth). Eventually, the British conquered the French portion of the island and maintained control until 1978 when Dominica gained independence. The island still has a Carib population of about 3,000 people; they occupy a northeastern corner of the island. A drive through this "Carib Territory" will give you a glimpse into life as it was for the native Indians a century ago and as it still is today.
Dominica has survived with a predominantly agricultural-based economy, though in the past year the World Trade Organization withdrew subsidies for Dominica's banana farmers, which caused quite a stir on the island. It remains to be seen what will come out of the protests against the lost subsidies. Tourism also remains strong with Dominica attracting a stream of naturalists who flock to the island to see 172 types of birds, 12 major waterfalls and peaks that rise to 5,000 feet. Divers and whale watchers also come in hordes to explore the waters that plunge to nearly 6,000 feet right off the coastline, providing an ideal base for seven types of whales that can be seen nearly year-round.
Weather on the island is a moderate 77 degrees year-round, although it's cooler in the mountains, humid in the rainforest and warmer on the coast. The driest months are January through April, but don't be surprised if you experience a brief downpour every day.
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Other Southern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Antigua • Aruba • Barbados • Bequia • Bonaire • Curacao • Dominica • Grenada • Guadeloupe • Martinique • Nevis • Port of Spain, Trinidad • San Juan • St. Barth's • St. Kitts • St. Lucia • St. Vincent
The language of Dominica is English, however, many of the locals also speak "Key-wol" Creole.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, which is relatively stable and pegged to the U.S. dollar (E.C. $2.68 / U.S. $1.00). There are ATM's in Roseau and Portsmouth connected to Cirrus, Star and Plus networks, which dispense E.C. dollars. Banks will also change money. U.S. dollars are widely accepted by most tour operators, restaurants and vendors; however change will be given in local currency.
Kubuli, Dominican-produced beer, is made with the island's natural spring water.
Where You're Docked
Most ships dock at Roseau Cruise Ship Berth. It is located right in town and literally just steps away from shops, restaurants and transportation.
Portsmouth Dock, on the northwestern tip of the island, houses the Ross Medical College and is well equipped with restaurants, shops and local transportation. Portsmouth is located 48km (30 miles) Northwest of Roseau -- travel time is roughly one hour.
Roseau - Downtown Roseau is within blocks of the dock and offers a local fruit and vegetable market that many say is the best in the Caribbean, as well as local arts and crafts stalls. A bit further from the pier but still within walking distance is the Dominican Botanical Gardens where you can catch a glimpse of the rare Sisserou parrot without going all the way to the park to see it.
Portsmouth - Docking in Portsmouth provides proximity to some of the only white sandy beaches on the island, as well as Cabrits National Park. Portsmouth was the site of a famous battle between the French and English vying for occupation of the island.
Taxis line up at both cruise piers (for an island tour, expect to pay $150). Roseau, the island's capital city, sprawls in many directions from the foot of the pier. Jeeps can be rented from a handful of local operators including Bonus Rentals (767-448-2650), Island Car Rentals (767-448-2886) and Nature Isle Car Rental (767-440-3861). Be sure to give yourself extra time for driving. Even distances that look very close on the map can take a long time -- one-lane roads often passes for a two-lane highway.
Watch Out For
The friendly islanders! Dominica was recently voted the fifth friendliest country in the world.
Hiking and Swimming: This is the number one activity on this gorgeous island. Go for a hike through rainforests or valleys that end in sparkling freshwater pools. You can choose your hike based on the level of difficulty. Suggestions include:
Easy: A 15-minute trail in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park leads to the Emerald Pool, complete with 50-ft. waterfall plunging into a freshwater pool for swimming.
More Difficult: Trafalgar Falls. Another 15-minute walk through the rainforest in the Roseau River Valley leads to these twin falls and swimming pool. In certain areas you'll have to climb over boulders, which can be challenging, especially when they're slippery.
Challenging: For a day-long adventure, this is undoubtedly the most impressive site on Dominica. Hire a guide to take you to Boiling Lake. This 2 - 4 hour hike (each way) leads you to a steaming water-filled crater with temperatures believed to reach 197 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake is actually a crack in a volcanic crater through which gases escape from the molten lava below.
Wacky Rollers: Sign up with Wacky Rollers for river tubing, sea kayaking, a visit to an adventure park or a Jeep safari ride.
Rainforest Tram: Don't worry if you're not up for hiking. You can still experience all the rainforest has to offer by coasting above the treetops in your own tram. Sign up at the Fort Young Hotel for a ride.
Morne Diablotin National Park: This park is named for Dominica's highest peak, Morne Diaboltin, which rises almost 5,000 feet above sea level. It's in this park that you have the best chance of spotting the rare Sisserou Parrot, the green and purple bird that can only be found on Dominica. Bring binoculars for other bird watching.
Cabrits National Park: One of the most impressive remnants of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean, this old fort housed over 700 men in its day.
Been There, Done That
Snorkeling: For a snorkeling adventure, head to Scotts Head Marine Reserve at the southern tip of the island. Next to the town of Soufrieres, this reserve offers a chance to snorkel on top of an underwater cauldron that's still bubbling up warm water.
Indian River Tour: Book a guide for an Indian River boat ride. This is one of the island's best bird-watching spots. To arrange for a guide, stop by the Portsmouth Visitor's Center.
Carib Territory: Take a driving tour of the Carib Territory, home to the native Dominican Indian tribe. Nestled in a Northeastern corner of the island, the tribe -- now about 3,000 strong -- farm and produce handcrafted items that you can get at nearby shops.
Whale Watch Adventure: Take a 3.5-hour trip with Anchorage Dive and Whale Watch Centre to see the local humpback whales, sperm whales and orcas that love Dominica's deep offshore waters.
Beaches: Champagne Beach -- On the West Coast of the island just north of Roseau, this beach gets its name from the volcanic vents that are still spitting bubbles up from fissures in the ocean floor. Scott's Head Beach -- On this narrow strip of beach on the southernmost tip of the island, you can opt for the Atlantic side with some rough waves (be careful of currents) or the more gentle Caribbean side, which is ideal for snorkeling.
Casual Lunching: In Roseau there are several excellent restaurants offering local Creole cuisine. Among them are Guiyave (5 Cork Street, noon - 2:30 p.m., 767-448-2930), La Robe Creole (3 Victoria Street, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m., 767-448-2896) and Pearl's Restaurant (50 King George V Street, 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m., 767-448-8707). All offer local fish prepared in Creole style and fresh local fruit and vegetable juices.
Gourmet Lunching: For an authentic Dominican lunch set in the middle of the rainforest, Papillote is not to be missed. A restaurant, guesthouse and gift store are located at the head of the Roseau River Valley, just yards from the trail to Trafalgar Falls. The restaurant features fish specials as well as local specialties, like Callalou soup. Try the soup with the "local lunch," which changes each day but always features local fruits and vegetables, like dasheen and plantain as sides.
Papilotte is located off the main road to Trafalgar Falls -- any taxi or bus service will know how to get there. It is no more than a 15-minute drive from Roseau. Hours vary seasonally. Call for reservations 767-448-2287.
Discover Scuba Diving: Explore the beautiful underwater world of Dominica on this guided dive for non-certified divers.
River to Ocean Kayaking Adventure: Enjoy a leisurely kayak adventure down Dominica's longest river from the island's rainforest interior to the Caribbean.
Scenic Mountain Bike Adventure: See the natural beauty of Dominica as you bike a mostly downhill road from the lush green mountains to the Caribbean Sea.
Highly recommended: Extreme Dominica offers adventure tours.
Staying in Touch
In Roseau, there are two options: The Cornerhouse Internet Cafe (King George V Street, 767-449-9000) and Marpin Internet Cafe (bayfront, 767-448-4107).
For More Information
On the Web: www.dominica.dm
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Dominica
The Independent Traveler: Caribbean Exchange
--by Amanda Orr
--Images appear courtesy of www.dominica.dm