Pack Your Bags For the Caribbean Island You Haven't Heard of — Yet
Most people have never heard of it. Others confuse it for another Caribbean country, the Dominican Republic. To many Dominicans and the people who love the 290-square-mile island, that's not such a bad thing. Nicknamed the Nature Isle, Dominica (pronounced Domi-NEE-ka), with its miles of undeveloped rainforests (60 percent of the island), healing springs, and no major resorts, is like traveling back to the Garden of Eden.
In fact, in 1998 UNESCO designated Dominica's Morne Trois Pitons National Park a World Heritage Site. New flight routes are making Dominica even more accessible; catch a flight on any major carrier to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and take Seabourne Airlines directly to Dominica's Douglas-Charles Airport, or check out the offering from new affordable transcontinental dreamliner Norwegian! Fly directly from major US cities like Ft. Lauderdale, FL; New York; or Baltimore to neighboring islands Guadeloupe or Martinique (fares as low as $49 one way!). While there, get your fill of powder sand and beach-laying for a day or two, and then head over to Dominica on an hour and a half ferry ride, approaching from the sea like an old world explorer, totally setting the tone for your trip of discovery. Here's just a few of the things to discover on Dominica that'll have you packing your bags.
A Hiker's Paradise
Dominica's hiking trails draw people of various skill levels from all around the world. The Waitukubuli National Trail is the only long-distance trail in the Caribbean at 115 miles long. You’ll traverse through river crossings, streams, and beautiful old ruins. More of a casual hiker? Dominica offers everything from a quick stroll to a waterfall to trekking through a rainforest to a sulfurous boiling lake. No matter your level, you’re definitely putting yourself in the way of beauty — and that’s what Dominica is all about!
The Island Where Neoprene Is Always in — Scuba!
With miles of coastline unspoiled by development, Dominica is a very popular spot within the diving community, with diving locales ranging in levels from beginner to moderate. The reefs are healthy and vibrant with colors rarely seen on other Caribbean reefs.
Have a While of a Time
Speaking of aquatic life, Dominica is dubbed the Whale-Watching Capital of the Caribbean. Plan a trip during peak season (November to May) to see sperm whales, humpbacks, and dolphins. You'll have a high chance of seeing them; invite a local on a whale-watching excursion and you might hear the humblebrag, “Oh, I see whales from my living room.”
Enjoy the Land of 365 Rivers
There's a saying in Dominica: “Land of 365 rivers, one for every day of the year.” While my driver joked that it’s hard to say if this is actually true, there are a lot of rivers ebbing through this island. In some communities the rivers are the lifeblood, with people still obtaining fresh spring water and washing there. While staying at the Rosalie Bay Resort, the rushing river is the spa soundtrack. While landing at the Douglas-Charles Airport, you’re greeted by the Melville Hall River, where pilots would land the plane, hop out, and jump in the water.
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls
Dominica has 12 major waterfalls and countless others that seem to sprout up on a daily basis. I saw a cascading fall appear on the highway due to heavy rains that week; the island is magical! Take in the views of a majestic island favorite Trafalgar Falls while having a therapeutic soak in a mineral pool at the base.
Take a Dip
Isn’t a dip in Trafalgar Falls so tempting? It's a perfect reward after a long hike.
Eat Organic, Breathe Organic
Organic eating isn’t a trend in Dominica, it’s a way of life. With over 1,000 flowering plants on the island, locals, like the farmers and botanists of Bellevue Chopin Organic Farmers Movement, have natural, plant-based cures for everything from a stomachache (bush tea that cured my traveler’s gut) to weight loss to scientifically proven instances of reduction in instances of diabetes. But it’s not just health cures, it’s the spring water many Dominicans drink and the fresh fish that they eat. There’s such a high respect for nature on this island that there’s almost a symbiotic relationship with locals and the land; they really get to the very root of organic.
This cure for a headache is a lot prettier than an Advil.
The Island Is Gluten-Free Friendly
Gluten-free? Be sure to try the local delicacy cassava bread, made from a starchy root similar to yams.
It's the Fountain of Youth!
Dominica has one of the highest life expectancies in the West. Second to Canada and above the United States — and if you think about the major difference in access to health care, that’s wild! The island has a large population of centurions — 29 —— including the world’s oldest living person, Elizabeth Israel, who lived to be 128. Mrs. Israel’s neighbor was 118! You can live long and live well on this island.
Every Day’s a Spa Day
Of course, this island that exudes health and wellness is rife with hot springs, sulfur, and iron. Sulfur is known as nature’s beauty mineral, because not only is it a component of keratin, which gives you strong hair, nails, and skin, but your body also needs it to manufacture collagen. A dip in a sulfur bath has been proven to do things like lower cholesterol, relieve eczema, and treat sinus problems. There are hot springs formed from recently active volcanic areas all over the island, but be sure to try those in the Wotten Waven area. Featuring pools of varying temperatures and secluded nooks with streams cascading through bamboo shoots into vintage bathtubs, Ti Kwen Glo Cho exudes spa goals.
Try Forest Bathing
Do you ever feel like you need a digital detox? Have you heard of forest bathing? It originated in Japan and is a walking meditation through the forest meant to really connect you to nature. Put your phones away, cameras, GoPros. See, listen, and be present. Born in the UK, rejuvenated in her father’s homeland of Dominica, PhD wellness and healing expert Terri Henry leads guided meditative hikes that will turn you into a tree hugger in no time — literally.
Learn the History and Culture
Not only is the land preserved in Dominica, but the people and culture as well. Dominica has the largest population of Kalinago Indians, descendants of the population that once dominated the Caribbean islands. With protected territory like Kalinago Barana Aute, there is a strong interest in preservation of the culture. Cultural center tours are available for the history buffs in your group, and even if you’re not, it’s worth a hike through the beautiful lands and a visit to see Kalinago women at work making beautiful basket crafts in traditional methods — and you can purchase them!
The Views Are Stunning
The Kalinago Territory is among the most picturesque on the island.
Buy Your Summer It Bags
Way more affordable than the It Summer bag at your local boutique, right?
You Won't Find Your Typical Island Resort
Dominica specializes in eco-tourism, and many of the hotels on the island are a far cry away from the cookie-cutter resort you might get on another Caribbean island.
There's a Turtle Call List
Have you ever been on a turtle call list? If you find yourself in Dominica in May, be sure to visit Rosalie Bay Resort. The hotel's beaches are home to thousands of nesting leatherback turtles in May, and the hotel has taken a vested interest in helping these hatchlings make it to sea. Burn the midnight oil and watch the turtles come on land, or, if you join the call list, you'll be notified at first sightings!
You'll Get a New Meaning of Infinity Pool
With rustic-chic lodging built into the forest evoking a wonderland, Aywasi Kalinago Retreat is fully equipped for a vacation of serenity and connection to nature and your loved ones. Have you ever seen a swimming pool like this?
Experience the Papillote Wilderness Retreat
The kind of place you fear checking in because you’ll never want to leave, Papillote Wilderness Retreat is a botanical wonderland. Papillote’s five acres of gardens are internationally known, attracting a majority of visitors that aren’t even hotel guests. Spend hours walking the grounds of this beautiful property. You might run into a peacock here and there! As for the rooms? Who needs a hot tub when you can have your own private natural hot spring? *Note: on this side of the valley the hot springs are iron-based, not sulfur, so no need to worry about that smell while you sleep!