Peter Dick, who retired to Dominica with his wife Jane in 2001, is a Custodian of the island's Waitukubuli National Trail. In the first of two articles, he shares his love of this enigmatic island...
Imagine a small but well-known and popular Caribbean island. It has mega resort hotels catering for its well-established tourist trade. An international airport with non-stop flights from the UK. Air-conditioned shopping malls for duty-free shopping. Plus exciting nightlife. A bit like Las Vegas but with real beaches. Everything you ever wanted?
If this is your idea of holiday heaven, then don’t come to Dominica.
Life here in Dominica is s l o w. Like the roads, where it takes the best part of three hours to drive the thirty miles from one end of the island to the other. Assuming you don’t stop to talk to someone. Which you usually do.
This is a place where life is so relaxing that the expression “I see you on Monday” doesn’t define when on Monday. Or even which Monday.
Life in Dominica is like living in the 21st century but with old fashioned values.
So the Church is still central to many people’s lives. There is automatic respect for elders. Children are well brought-up, polite, friendly but slightly shy.
Locals get very excited about politics. And music is always loud, especially around Carnival time. Cricket is followed with fanatical interest. A game of dominoes is almost a contact sport. And the local Machoucherie rum is still made by crushing locally grown sugar cane on a Victorian water wheel.
Due to the comparative lack of stay-over visitors, Dominicans are genuinely welcoming and curious to meet the travellers who do come.
Having been stuck in a tourist backwater for many years, Dominica is now right at the front of modern eco-tourism.
Got the picture?
Seriously… this is an amazing country. But it can rain a lot. And I mean a lot. That’s why everything is so green and lush with huge forest trees, exotic flowers, plentiful fresh fruit and amazing birds. But no golf courses.
On the other hand, Dominica is renowned for its hiking.
There are trails that cater for every level of fitness: from the Emerald Pool which anyone can reach in ten minutes to some segments of the National Trail that take almost all day for even the super fit.
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The Waitukubuli National Trail is the first long-distance hiking trail in the Caribbean: 115 miles divided into 14 segments, some hard, some very hard. Most come with glorious views, spectacular nature and trees. Lots of trees.
My favourites happen to be the most challenging: Segment 8 which crosses the middle of the island via the delightfully named Mosquito Mountain at 3,342ft /1,019m and Segment 9, a rollercoaster hike which includes eight peaks and valleys.
There is also the Morne Diablotins hike up to the top of Dominica’s highest mountain at 4,747 ft / 1,440m. On a clear day the view from the top is amazing. Sadly it‘s rarely a clear day. This hike is often described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience as nobody would be mad enough to do it twice.
No article about hiking Dominica would be complete without mentioning The Boiling Lake. This six-hour there-and-back extreme hike includes walking through the brilliantly named 'Valley of Desolation'.
While you don’t necessarily need a guide to find your way on the easy hikes, having a local guide will greatly enhance the pleasure of hiking.
Although Dominica doesn’t have the glorious white sand you’ll find in Las Vegas, it does have a large number of rivers, many of which have swimming holes. A river bath in cool, clean water during or after a hike is very restorative. But a cold beer is even better.
Life below sea level is just as exciting. Dominica regularly features in the Top Ten best SCUBA sites in the world. Try snorkelling at Champagne Reef, where the geo-thermal activity releases hot air bubbles, like swimming in champagne. But it doesn’t taste as good.
In some villages, this geo-thermal feature creates hot springs that have been adapted to form healthy sulphur pools. One of the largest, Screws, has five big pools of different temperatures, ranging from pure cool river water to the almost too hot to enjoy…
For the more adventurous, several local companies will take you river tubing or canyoning.
Dominica also has a variety of low technology activities waiting for visitors. For example you can be paddled, by a guide, up the Indian River. Your guide will point out where part of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.
For horse lovers, you can arrange with Rainforest Horses to ride a horse, bare back, into the sea. The horses love a good swim!
Getting around Dominica is simple: you can hop on a local mini bus or hire your own car, most of which are Japanese, from one of the numerous hire companies. Sadly, there isn’t a Porsche dealer on the island.
So, if you seek the unusual, seek an eco-holiday with an off-road challenge, seek the combination of modern life with old-fashioned values – then come to Dominica. If not, book that flight to Vegas.