The Only Island that
Columbus Would Recognize
This is the time of year when a large number of you will take to boats and set sail for the Caribbean. I did the same thing myself some 35 years ago, and it is as great an adventure today as it was then.by Chris Doyle
The Caribbean you will see has changed considerably over those years, and in many ways you will like the islands much better now than you would have then. This is because the islands have evolved with, among other things, visiting yachtspeople. Thus you will find marinas and haulout facilities and beach bars right close to where you anchor.
But yachtspeople are not the only ones who push development; there are land visitors, cruiseship passengers and the rising wealth of locals themselves. This has led to a pretty impressive building boom, which is most concentrated in calm waterfront areas, just the kind of place we are likely to visit.
There is always some cost to development, and in developing, the islands have become much more international, losing some of their original individuality.
But there is at least one major exception, and it is for this reason I would recommend that you plan a reasonably long stay in Dominica. Dominica is a spectacular island: its interior the most beautiful in the Caribbean, with tall mountains, dense rainforests, fast flowing rivers, waterfalls, and rainbows. Dominica also has beaches, but it doesn't have the numerous white-sand, palm-backed beaches that have become the icon for tourism, so it never really became a tourist or a yachting hot spot. It does not have many large and fancy hotels, neither has it received overseas investment to the same degree as other islands. Added to this, the population is fairly small compared with the island's size.
You will not find many marine facilities, but you will find something else instead. For while it sometimes seemed that Dominica was getting left behind, this country was forced into developing along its own lines, and in doing so it is emerging whole, its essential character, soul, and culture intact.
This authenticity is a compelling reason to visit Dominica, to become saturated in the beauty, the feel of the island, and to get to know some of the inhabitants, who have not yet become overwhelmed by outsiders and will greet you with a refreshing interest and honesty. They say that if Columbus were to return today, Dominica is the only island he would recognize.
Anyone addicted to exploring and hiking can spend several weeks here and leave plenty to come back for. I find I like to go exploring both with a knowledgeable guide and on my own. For some things, like the Boiling Lake, a guide is essential for your own safety. Dominica's Forestry and Tourist departments have been excellent at training both taxi drivers and hiking guides so they really know about their island and can communicate their knowledge to you. To get a feeling of Dominica, you probably need to spend a little time in all three of the main anchorages.
The main anchorage in the south is off the Anchorage Hotel just south of Roseau or, conditions permitting, you can pick up a mooring off the Fort Young Hotel, which is closer to town. Many years ago I got a glowing letter about a taxi driver called Sea Cat. I looked him up and we have been friends ever since, and he has taken me on many great trips. He always has an idea for somewhere different. We tend to go to the less visited sites such as the Victoria and Sari Sari falls. Last time we hiked from the Freshwater Lake right up in the mountains down to the west coast, a superb walk.
A new attraction here is the Rainforest Aerial Tram, which only operates on Saturdays and cruiseship days. This is a spectacular tour, with a great walk over a suspension bridge across the Breakfast River Gorge. If you go on a cruiseship day, go late, towards the closing time, as by then the passengers will all be back on their ships.
But it is also nice to be on your own, and one of my favorite hikes is the marked trail to Middleham Falls, starting in Laudat and walking out at Cohrane. Another I discovered this year is a walk between Soufriere in the south over the mountain to Tete Morne (this small walking path used to be the main thoroughfare), where it is not too hard to get a bus back.
The main anchorage in the middle of the island is off the Castaways Hotel in Mero. A mile or so north of here is the Macoucheri River. You can walk to the river right along the shore. A feeder road, which winds up the river valley behind an old rum factory, makes a fabulous walk among sugarcane and mountain scenery with plenty of river pools for cooling out.
Dominica's best anchorage is Prince Rupert Bay in the north, off the town of Portsmouth. This is the most popular anchorage for yachts, and the local guys who will help you here are great. They include Martin (Providence), Jefferson (Early Bird), Jeffrey (Sea Bird), and many more. (I list them in my Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands.).
The closest big attraction here is the Indian River. You must go with an official guide, and it's worth it because he will do all the rowing, leaving time for you to observe. The river quickly narrows and gets completely overhung by huge swamp bloodwood trees on both sides. Their massive roots spread out above the soil and down into the water, twisting and tangling into interesting wavy designs. Here and there, long vines dangle into the river, and as you glide along you see fish below and crabs on both banks. Overhead, the trees form a complete canopy, so it is dark and cathedral-like. This, along with the occasional sounds of insects and birds, creates a magical quality. Many of the herons are quite tame, and there is a chance of seeing iguanas.
Arrange with one of the guys to visit the magnificent Syndicate rainforest and waterfalls, or maybe take a half-day to visit the lovely Chaudiere Pool. This is one of the Caribbean's most perfect tropical pools, set amid lush vegetation. It is fed by a small waterfall and surrounded by rocks. The water bubbles from the falls, reminding one of a cauldron. The pool is about 15 feet deep and swimming is part of the fun; the adventurous can jump from the cliffs.
Hikers can tackle the walk around the northern end of the island from Capuchin to Pennville. This is a totally wild area, well away from civilization and you can find a couple of lovely little waterfalls along the way.
Walking from Toucari northwards, or up on one of the feeder roads, or along the mountain road to Penneville will take you through delightful countryside. Another trip, easily done, is to take the bus to Calibishie. The road traverses gorgeous countryside and Calibishie is a charming beachfront village where you will find somewhere to eat lunch.
At some time, take your dinghy to the cruiseship dock and explore another nearby site, the Cabrits National Park, which has well-maintained trails, great views, restored historical buildings, and buildings that are being slowly dismantled by strangler figs.
The government in Dominica want to encourage yachts, and as part of this they have come up with a two-week in-and-out clearance, leaving you free to explore the countryside rather than the bureaucracy.
Many of the hikes are in national parks, and there are fees involved. The best buy is the weekly pass to all sites for US$10.
If you like to explore on your own, invest in the various publications put out by the Forestry Division (in the Roseau Botanic Gardens) and buy the large Dominica Ordinance Survey map which comes in three sections and is available from the government planning and survey department.
For more information on Dominica and other islands visit Chris's website www.doyleguides.com.
Copyright© 2005 Compass Publishing