Beach + Rainforest = Dominica
We love nature and we love the sea, so it makes sense that most of our holiday planning starts with a Google search for “beach and rainforest”. This hasn’t let us down yet, and over the years the results have taken myself and my wife all over the world. A few of our favourite destinations include Queensland in north west Australia, Tobago off the coast of South America, Koh Lanta in Thailand and now the power of the internet was directing us towards Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean. We have been to the Caribbean a few times but had never come across Dominica. I guess that the simple reason for this is that we hadn’t been looking for it properly.
Dominica is Perfect for Nature Lovers
Researching your next holiday is always fun, and within a few clicks it becomes clear that Dominica could be the perfect holiday destination for anyone wanting to get close to nature. The island is dominated by rainforest and there are alleged to be 365 rivers, one for each day of the year. Dominica gets a lot of water. There are plenty of beaches too, and the sea-life around Dominica has lots to offer those of you that want to get in a boat or a wetsuit. It is known as ‘The Nature Island’ after all.
There Is Plenty To Do
Dominica (or to be correct, the Commonwealth of Dominica) should not be confused with the Dominican Republic, which is also a Caribbean island. These places are worlds apart both in size and what they have to offer, with Dominica being a small island that is only 290 square miles in area. As well as having loads of trekking routes, rivers and rainforests for us, Dominica is famed for its diving. There are some amazing reefs and the wrecks of ships left as a souvenir of the area’s maritime history (Read more about Dominica’s history on Wikipedia). Whale watching trips leave daily, with the local captains co-ordinating with one another using sonar, making actually seeing a whale quite likely. We missed out on whale watching due to the weather, but this will give us something to look forward to the next time we go. It isn’t a big island but there is an enormous amount to do.
Forests and Rivers
Dominica has been said to have 365 rivers; one for each day of the year. We weren’t around long enough to count them all but it is true that there are rivers and streams all over the place. It rained for a few days when we were in Dominica, so all the waterways were at their best. Dominica is covered in lush rainforest and everywhere you go you are surrounded by water of some form. Plants and wildlife really are all around you, making it the perfect holiday destination for anyone wanting to get in touch with nature.
Getting to Dominica
We’ve been to the Caribbean a few times before so knew that if we wanted to get off the beaten track and find somewhere special, we would have to put up with a long trip. Be prepared for a full day’s traveling. Also, be prepared to be patient should Mother Nature decide to interrupt your time in paradise. We chose to travel at the end of February which was outside the wet season and hopefully ensured some pretty good weather. We took off from London Gatwick, flying into Antigua after a couple of films and a snooze, before connecting with a LIAT flight to Dominica via Guadeloupe. We only stopped in Guadeloupe for half an hour so were soon on our way to our final destination. We flew through rain and wind before the prehistoric landscape of Dominica could be seen in the distance. As we neared the island it was clear the rain and wind could be an issue to us, and on our approach to the runway the pilot announced a message we had all been dreading. The 19 mph tailwinds were too strong to land safely in Dominica so instead we flew on to Barbados for a night before trying again successfully the following morning.
Yes, we lost a day of our long-awaited break. This was not ideal, especially as the accommodation that LIAT provided was not very good, to say the least. It also took the airline staff over 2 hours of hanging around and inactivity to arrange the accommodation, which was a lesson in how relaxed the locals can be. Don’t come to the Caribbean if you want things done quickly – you will just not fit in, I’m afraid. At least we ended up with somewhere to stay, even if all we could see from the balcony was a beige wall.
Arriving in Dominica
The following day brought a few more hours of delays but we finally had another go at the flight and successfully landed at Douglas-Charles airport, the only international airport on the island. Luckily we landed safely second time around and after collecting out luggage we were greeted by one of our first hosts. Tim from Mermaid’s Secret met us at the airport (after hanging around for about 3 hours, bless him!) and took us in his truck to their rainforest retreat in Rosalie. After being hit with Caribbean warmth and humidity at sea level, before long we could feel the temperature drop and the air become fresher as we drove up through the mountains along one of Dominica’s many terrible roads. The roads are so bad here that the health of your tyres is a big concern so you need to be very careful to avoid the cracks and holes you will inevitably encounter. During the drive Tim filled us in on a few things we needed to know about the island and a few key things to get in while we are here. We felt welcomed, if not a little jaded after our journey. We were definitely pleased to have arrived!
Mermaid’s Secret in Rosalie
We spent our first week in the hands of Tim and Sam in the middle of the rainforest at Mermaid’s Secret. The place is awesome. Tucked away down a forest road, Mermaid’s Secret is a riverside retreat set in 360 rainforest views. There are 3 well-equipped cabins and a couple of yurts set in a beautiful clearing in the rainforest. We stayed in the orange Carib cabin which is furthest from the dining area without being too far away to quickly nip to if you need anything. I was amazed to have WiFi on our balcony which was good as I like sharing my holiday photos and to keep in touch with the world, if I choose to. Check out Mermaid’s Secret’s Tripadvisor Reviews – it looks like perhaps Mermaid’s Secret will not be such a secret for much longer.
There is a huge array of wildlife to keep you entertained at Mermaid’s Secret, with birds, insects and reptiles always within sight. Hummingbirds feed from the flowers that surround your balcony and the occasional mammal will make a fleeting appearance. Needless to say, you will enjoy having a camera around. I took over 1,000 photos, some of which are on this page, and some will probably find their way onto Molly’s Tropical Plants on another day. You also have superb access to rainforest walks, some of which reward you with beautiful untouched waterfalls and pools. The resident river and crystal-clear Mermaid’s Pool are good for swimming and refilling your water bottle when you need to cool down, especially if you have been trekking through the forest all day, which we did on a few occasions.
Even though you are located in the middle of the forest, one of the beautiful aspects of this 13 by 26 mile island is that you are never too far from the sea. In surprisingly little time, you can be sitting on a rocky Atlantic beach among hundreds of fallen coconuts, staring out to sea.
The Boiling Lake
We spent a lot of our time at Mermaid’s Secret exploring the local area, but the highlight of our excursions further afield was our trek to the Boiling Lake. Tim drove us the hour or so journey to the Titou Gorge which marks the beginning of a grueling 8 hour trek through the forest, up and over mountains, through volcanic sulphur fields until you finally reach the Boiling Lake, which is a lake fed with hot volcanic gas, causing it to boil and billow out hot steam. There are other boiling lakes in the world, but this is one of the biggest as well as one of the most interesting to get to. One thing is for sure, we will never forget this trek, mostly because it was the hardest trek we had ever done and on more than one occasion we didn’t think we would complete it. The following images give you a feel for the scenery but they do not portray the effort and exhaustion!
Getting Around Dominica
We walked a lot. We walked through the rainforest, through rivers as well as along roads. It is probably a good idea to get a jeep when you visit Dominica but we enjoy making our way around on foot. Not only is walking very good exercise, but you get to take everything in at your own pace which gives you extra opportunities to soak in the world. If you prefer to save your feet or are going further afield there are taxis, buses and many willing locals who will help you get around. It is normal to flag a truck down and jump in the back for a quick lift in Dominica.
Around The Capital
We spent a day in and around Roseau, taking in the bustling but tatty capital city before going out to Scotts Head where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, separated only by a strip of pebbles. There were many more people in this part of the island as cruise ships dock in Roseau bringing tourists and their money, so don’t be surprised to see the occasional beggar. Be polite and firm and you should not encounter any problems.
The cruise ships bring tons of garbage with them, that the Dominican government disposes of in exchange for continued visits and the income this brings. The cruise ship’s waste is dug into a huge landfill set in the mountains which is a travesty in itself, but this was really brought home when the Dominican Landfill Catches Fire (opens in new winsow) not long after we left Dominica, causing serious disruption, damage and air pollution. The fire took several days to put out. Think about this next time you go on a cruise.
Not far from Scotts Head lies the Champagne Reef which is another stunning by-product of Dominica’s volcanic roots. Curtains of volcanic gas bubble from the sea floor, giving the sensation and sounds of swimming in a huge glass of champagne.
As Tim drove us to our second destination we both had that knot in our stomachs that told us we were leaving one of the nicest places we had ever been. We simply didn’t want to leave. However, all good things must come to an end and anyway, we had earned our second week, which was to be spent chilling in a fishing town in the north of Dominica, called Calibishie. I spent a couple of days fishing off a large rock, sharing the sea with a couple of pelicans and not much else. I was fishing in the Guadeloupe Channel which is where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean at the north of Dominica. The water is not calm at the best of times, but the locals told us this was the roughest the sea had been for 5 years. This made fishing a bit trickier than I had hoped, but there are plenty of fish to keep you interested and the scenery and wildlife are second to none.
Fort Shirley near Portsmouth is a bus ride away and offers an interesting day out. The part-restored fort is in a national park that offers miles of walks with diverse wildlife and stunning scenery. From the nearly perfect restoration done on the main fort building, right through to the ruins that are intertwined with decades of trees and shrubs growing through them, Fort Shirley has something at every turn, including the harmless Grove Snake, which emits a smelly secretion when it is scared. Portsmouth itself is a nice seaside town on the Caribbean side of the island. There are plenty of shops and boats to keep you busy, but Fort Shirley was definitely the best thing around.
Hopefully the last 2500 words have given you a taste of what to expect in Dominica. The Nature Island has left a deep impression on us and we will be going back. It isn’t easy or cheap to get to, but nature-lovers will be rewarded with a truly unforgettable experience. It is amazing how much you can find to do on such a small island. I have only shared a small part of the island with you but I will add more photos as time goes by and probably add to this page. In the meantime, the best thing you could possibly do right now is book your flights and find out for yourself.
We were particularly impressed by Mermaid’s Secret, the rainforest retreat in Rosalie. The atmosphere and location of this retreat are second to none and this is entirely down to the hard work that Tim and Sam have put into creating this little bit of paradise. Visit Mermaid’s Secret’s website HERE to find out a bit more about them.
Tell Tim and Sam that Henry says ‘Hi!’