Beautiful Dominica: Why the Nature Island Needs You

Wed, 9 September 2015
Dominica-nature-island

Just days after I wrote this article for Volume 12 of SUITCASE Magazine, Tropical Storm Erika ravaged Dominica. Its streams and rivers swelled into raging torrents that ripped away land, buildings and roads, and steep mountainsides became deadly landslides that engulfed homes and some of the people within them. It was a tragedy almost beyond words and in the months and years to come, as Dominica gets back on its feet again, the memory of what happened in August 2015 will continue to haunt many. You could help very directly by visiting this beautiful island and helping its already fragile eco-tourism sector to survive. Alternatively you could donate via any one of several funds that have been established: opm.gov.dm, gofundme.com/JBDominicaReliefgofundme.com/DAwecareFUND – thank you for your support.

Consider this: an island in the Caribbean, only 47km long and 26km wide, but in that small space there are an astonishing nine active volcanoes as well as habitats like rainforests, cloud forests and coastal woodland. Meandering down from the mountainous interior are hundreds of rivers, each one with its own breathtaking waterfalls and countless cascades. There are volcanic vents, animals you can find nowhere else – like the sisserou and the mountain chicken frog – and the second largest boiling lake in the world. Living along the east coast in their own territory are the Kalinago, the island’s indigenous people, and virtually the last of their kind in the eastern Caribbean. All this on an island some people still refer to as ‘small’, and many others have never heard of. There is no other Caribbean island quite like it.

Before Columbus turned up in 1493, Amerindians lived here and called the island Waitukubuli, meaning ‘tall is her body’. The colonists pushed the natives out to the margins and brought slaves and slaughter to the island. Runaways hid in the mountains and forests alongside the dwindling population of Kalinago, while the British and French fought over the island’s spoils. The natural environment helped the poor and the persecuted to survive, and their skills and knowledge of plants have been handed down through the generations ever since. Dominicans today are a true fusion of Africa, South America and Europe; a Creole mix that is rich in culture and exists in harmony with the island’s natural environment.

Often confused with the Dominican Republic, the ‘Nature Island of the Caribbean’ is part of the Lesser Antilles island chain. It is sandwiched between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and resembles something out of a Jurassic Park film. Nature plays a huge role here in daily life – in the food, culture, traditions, as well as the natural attractions and activities, and in the wide variety of places to stay.

Where to Stay in Dominica

Banana Lama

Newfoundland Estate, Rosalie, +1 767 446 1183

Stylish and professionally designed, completely off-grid with solar panels and its own spring, Banana Lama is a self-sustainable modern riverside villa and cottage. This place will suit anyone seeking an escape to the tranquility and beauty of unspoiled natural surroundings. Set within three acres of private gardens, forest and riverside land, Banana Lama Eco Villa is located close to the turtle nesting sites at Rosalie and Bout Sable Bay, as well as the waterfalls of the south east.

Citrus Creek Plantation 

Taberi, La Plaine, + 1 767 446 1234

Nestled alongside the Taberi River, in a 20-acre protected valley within easy reach of natural attractions such as Sari Sari Falls and Bout Sable Beach, Citrus Creek is ideally situated for exploring the east. There are no pretensions here and the relaxed and comfortable ambiance will make you feel right at home. Eight wood and stone cottages fit perfectly into the forest, garden and river environment and will suit all budgets and tastes.

La Bou Cottage

La Bou Road 8, Soufriere, +1 767 440 9059

Set in an acre of private garden, La Bou Cottage is one of Dominica’s most uniquely designed and original places to stay. Truly an artistic creation, there is nothing else like it. Honeymooning couples often opt for the romantic ‘birdhouse’, some prefer the delightful main cottage, and others head for a hammock in the garden pavilion. This private hideaway can sleep up to six people and has all you need – including a fully equipped kitchen, indoor and outdoor dining, decent wifi and a proper shower.

Where to Eat in Dominica

The lionfish has become a plague in the Caribbean. It doesn’t belong here (it’s home waters are in Asia) but discarded aquatic pets have now colonised many reefs and threaten to wipe out unsuspecting native fish populations. Conservation efforts are in full swing. Divers and fishermen hunt them in an attempt to keep numbers down and enterprising restaurant chefs have discovered they make rather good eating. As a consequence, lionfish has become an environmentally conscious dining option. Places to try it include:

Rainbow Restaurant

Main Road, Calibishie, +1 767 245 9995

Located on the water’s edge, Rainbow Restaurant has a reputation for exquisite French Creole dining using only the freshest local fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood. Lionfish and curried chicken in pineapple are the top choices here, but try anything – it’s all good. Chef and co-owner Karine is an artist in the kitchen, while her partner and reggae singer Michael (aka Nature Warrior Jahcall) is the perfect host. Eat inside, on the covered beach, or completely al fresco on the upper deck.

Café Desiderata

Roseau, +1 767 448 6525

Located in the historic French Quarter of the capital, Café Desiderata’s high-quality breakfast and lunch menu changes daily according to what is fresh and available. Lionfish is a regular entrée along with spicy octopus soup, coconut chicken curry or couboullion mahi mahi, all prepared by Nikki, twice winner of the Island Chef award.

Romance Café Beach Bar & Boutique 

Mero,+1 767 449 7922

Enjoy the west coast Mero Beach vibe to its fullest at Romance Café, where high-quality French and West Indian cuisine is created using only the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. Seafood is a speciality. With a respect for the environment, the mini boutique sells personally selected Dominican arts, crafts and natural products.

What to Do in Dominica

The Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a protected Unesco World Heritage Site. Filling south and central Dominica, the park contains six active volcanoes, numerous waterfalls and three crater lakes. The Boiling Lake is an extremely large and deep fumarole – a vent in the Earth’s surface that emits steam and volcanic gases. The gases rise from a magma chamber and superheat the ground water, turning it into steam and forcing it up to the surface, where it condenses to water and is trapped within a volcanic crater. En route to the Boiling Lake, hikers trek through the Valley Of Desolation, the Caribbean’s very own Yellowstone Park, where hot rivers combine with steaming vents and bubbling mud.

Wotten Waven

This village is at the head of the Roseau Valley. It sits on top of a shallow magma chamber which heats up spring water to create hot, sulphur-rich rivers and streams that have been tapped by innovative villagers to create artistically designed hot sulphur spas. A site devoted to wellness and relaxation, these spas are visually impressive. Don’t miss Screw’s, Tia’s and Ti Kwen Glo Cho. All are signposted.

Papillote Wilderness Retreat

The ten-acre tropical garden at Papillote Wilderness Retreat was first created in 1967 by owner Anne Jno Baptiste, and then rebuilt after it was destroyed by Hurricane David in 1979. Although it appears to be a natural forest environment, the garden has been thoughtfully designed, and hosts an impressive collection of aroids, bromeliads, gingers, heliconias, begonias and orchids. There are also examples of plants here like the elephant foot yam and the jade vine. A walk along the footpaths of this exquisite garden will lead you to a waterfall and warm water streams. Birdlife is abundant, especially hummingbirds, and those with a keen eye may spot a stick insect amongst the flowers and the foliage.

Words and Photos by Paul Crask Feature image by Ania Collado

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