By SANDY IRLE
Dominica is a Caribbean destination unlike any other. Located between Guadeloupe and Martinique, the “Nature Island” is the perfect place for nature lovers and hikers with some good diving options, too.
Located on the Northeast coast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Calibishie is a good first stop to get a taste of life on the island. Village life is relaxed, and you’ll find markets, food stalls and a few beach bars to entice you. Relax in the sun, breathe the clean, salty air and watch the ever-present, magnificent frigatebirds flying overhead.
As you make your way out to drive the narrow, winding roads (with the additional excitement of driving on the left) you’ll learn to dodge large trucks, plus the occasional goat, cow, chicken or land crab. Although it’s virtually impossible to get lost, it’s also very difficult to find what you’re looking for as road signs are practically nonexistent. Fortunately, the people are very friendly and happy to give directions.
Drive south along the East Coast and pass through Marigot. This village has a large fish market that supplies the East Coast of the island. We picked up a fisherman walking on the road and he took us to the market and showed us how to buy fresh spiny lobster and whatever fish is available. Picking up locals walking the steep hills is a great way to get to know them, plus they’re happy to give you suggestions and directions.
Continuing south, the road winds down toward Pagua Bay, a lovely sight with the crashing waves of the Atlantic beating the rocky East Coast. High above the bay sits the Pagua Bay Hotel, a modern, luxurious restaurant surrounded by a set of individual private rooms and suites, set apart and each with its own distinct personality.
We stepped into the lobby, ordered a rum punch and made our way to the comfortable couches arranged around a concrete coffee table. Soon we fell into conversation with some French travelers and spent a wonderful afternoon learning about their home and life.
Traverse the island through the Central Forest Reserve to the west side of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, and stay at Crescent Moon Cabins – a respite in the rainforest. At 1,800 feet, these lofty cabins look out over the Caribbean in the distance with the rainforest canopy below your hammock on the deck.
This is one of a few eco-lodges in the Central region. Here they grow their own fresh produce, make their own chocolate and cheese and roast their own coffee, all of which the chef/owner uses to create sumptuous meals. We had the rare opportunity to see a lunar rainbow during our stay.
From here, hike the nearby Valley of Desolation and to Boiling Lake, the second largest hot spring in the world. You’ll want a guide to take you to Boiling Lake, but there are many waterfalls, sulfur springs and beautiful rugged trails within an easy drive or hike.
To the west, you’ll find the capital city of Roseau on the Southwest Caribbean coast. With a small population of more than 16,000, this little port city is an interesting day trip. Walking the narrow, crowded streets, you’ll rub shoulders with the locals as you navigate toward the large indoor/outdoor farmers market, shops and wonderful roadside eateries. Don’t miss Le Petit Paris Bakery for their wood-fired pizza, near the Botanical Garden.
The Botanical Garden is central to everything. Previous to Hurricane David in 1979, this was said to be one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the West Indies. The most photographed site is a bus crushed during the hurricane under a Baobab Tree, reminding you that you are on an island, vulnerable to tropical summer storms.
Take a day trip to Scotts Head at the southern tip of the island, on the Martinique Channel. Walk along the peninsula and climb the hill to see the magnificent view of Soufriere Bay, a popular spot for snorkeling and diving. On our walk, we met a man selling coconuts. “Warren” cut one open for us with a machete and told us about his life in this small fishing village.
Next, drive north up the West Coast to Mero, a tiny village on the Caribbean with a wonderful black sand beach. Here you can swim, sunbathe, play sand volleyball or dine in one of the beachfront cabanas. Romance Café is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, with its charming art-covered tables, the open-air view of the sea and the delightful meals created by the French owner/chef.
It is a scenic drive north to Picard Beach on Prince Rupert Bay near Portsmouth. We stayed in the Picard Beach Front Cottages just a few steps from the Caribbean Sea. Once a coconut plantation, this is the island’s longest golden sand beach. The water is calm, the pace is laid back and it’s not crowded. If I were going for a week, I could easily stay at Picard Beach and venture out from there.
We finished our trip at Red Rocks Villa. A gorgeous spot high above the crashing waves of the Atlantic with a private beach and infinity pool, this is a great place to relax. I was fortunate enough to find a friend in Elaine, a very special person who oversees the villa and made our stay carefree. She made me wish I could stay and join her for Carnival, an island-wide celebration that takes place in February.
In the end, the people we met on Dominica made this trip very special. We were greeted with a wave and a smile around every corner and made friends with whom we still keep in contact. We even made friends with the French couple we met at Pagua Bay, meeting again for dinner the evening before they left for home. They invited us to visit them on their farm in France, and we’re keeping in touch.
One trip just seems to lead to another!
Sandy Irle is a travel journalist and digitalBURG contributor. You can read more of Sandy’s work at iplanetrip.com.