Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.
Despite over-development in many parts of the Caribbean, there are still islands where you can escape the crowds and enjoy an affordable vacation. Top of that list is Dominica, a truly emerald isle lush with rainforests, waterfalls, secluded beaches, and fresh food plucked that morning from the ocean or the garden.
Like many islands in the Caribbean, the culture is a mix of European influence, especially France and England, plus African and Creole cultures, as evidenced by the annual Carnival celebrations and the World Creole Music Festival each October. And because this is one of the top diving destinations in the world, there’s an international Dive Fest each July. Meanwhile, eco-adventurers will find miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, plus extreme adventure canyoneering. Scuba divers will find some of the best dive sites in the Caribbean. And everyone will find gorgeous beaches and fantastic year-round weather.
What to do in Dominica
Whether or not this is the only twin, side-by-side waterfall in the Caribbean isn’t important, because the fame and appeal of Trafalgar Falls is that this unique destination offers a cold-water pool from one fall, and a hot springs experience at the base of the other. You can take a dip in either one—or both—or just take photos from a viewing platform. Best of all, it’s just 20 minutes from downtown Rouseau, one of the island’s two major cities.
No, it’s not for swimming, just admiring, because this large pool is filled with water super-heated by the molten magma well below the surface. Located within Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the lake requires a hike, but the reward, as the saying goes, is priceless. Ocean views and the island of Martinique in the distance come and go through a dancing wave of steam vapor.
Papillote Tropical Gardens
There are smaller versions of the Boiling Lake in this rainforest garden, plus waterfalls smaller than Trafalgar Falls, making it a popular destination for both residents and visitors. Many of the island’s 1,000 species of flowering plants, including 74 species of orchid, are on display here. Bring a bathing suit and take a plunge in one of Papillote’s many cold and hot volcanic pools, take a walk along pathways dotted with multi-colored flowering plants, or just catch a breeze from the wings of thousands of hummingbirds.
Whale and dolphin tours
Dominica’s steep underwater drop-offs create sheltered bays that make perfect havens for whales to breed and calve, making it one of the best spots for whale watching in the Caribbean. While Dominica is the only place in the world where sperm whales reside all year, your best bet for spotting them is between November and March, but especially in mating season in November and December. Dive Dominica offers tours, rum punch included, every Sunday.
Rappel down cliffs into gorges carved by eons of rainforest, and take a swim in crystal clear pools. Extreme Dominica offers an eight-foot training wall for beginners, and guides trained according to American Canyoning Association standards.
If you’d like to get SCUBA certified, Sunset Bay Resort offers an on-site Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) dive site. If you’re already prepared for the open water, two popular dives are the Coral Garden and Batali Pinnacle in Batali Bay, and Rodney’s Rock, a favorite for night dives. There also are some shipwrecks around the island, including from recent hurricanes, for advanced divers.
Where to eat
Dominica’s multi-cultural population is represented in the nation’s cuisine, which ranges from Creole to East Asian, focusing on fish and seafood plucked that morning from the surrounding clear ocean waters. Ray’s Roti near Glanvillia is a popular beachside destination for Trinidad-style rotis. For seafood, head to Old Stone Grill and Bar in downtown Rouseau to try local dishes like coconut battered fish; the restaurant also claims to have the largest drink menu on the island.
PoZ’ Restaurant and Bar may be the most famous on the island, thanks in part to its non-traditional peanut rum punch. It’s located in the village of Calibishie, and its backyard garden supplies such herbs and spices as ginger, bay leaf, and lime for dishes that include curried goat, local lobster, and Callaloo soup, a Caribbean staple made with dasheen leaves, yam and other root vegetables and spices. There are as many versions throughout the Caribbean as there are palm trees. While it’s not on the beach, PoZ’ has its own pool, which can turn into an all-day experience.
Where to stay
Many visitors opt to stay in Portsmouth, Dominica’s second largest city. Besides having a solid concentration of nice hotels, the town’s location on the north end of the island puts you close to some of the country’s best beaches and at the doorstep of Cabrits National Park. One standout resort here is the five-star Secret Bay Resort, set on a cliff overlooking the sea. The eco-chic property is made up of just 10 sustainable luxury villas, and features a private beach, 10 outdoor pools, and a restaurant, plus perennial kid favorites like a tablet and free WiFi for each family.
Several regional airlines serve Dominica via San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Search Travelocity to view all your flight options.
There are also ferries between Dominica and Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia, for island hopping.
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.