Dominica is a small Caribbean island nation with a plethora of outdoor adventure. It isn’t the best place for a beach lounging vacation but is more geared towards adventurous types or people looking for an island with culture and identity. Diving and scuba are very good. Hiking to the various waterfalls or volcanic hotspots are the name of the game. Driving around, picking up locals and enjoying the slower pace.
Dominica is not built up in any sort of resort sense and that is some of the charm here. At the other end of the spectrum, the marketing about it being this adventure paradise is maybe a little too strong at times. If you travel alone, you might enjoy hiring a guide to see the sights with. If you travel with a friend or two, you will generally not need a guide although they can certainly make things easier as Dominica is not an open book and finding certain things takes a little research and intuition.
Best Time to Visit Dominica
Short Answer: You’ll want to go sometime between December and May.
Longer Answer: While sometimes you want to go to a place during low season, Dominica is not one of those. I went in the middle of January and contended with very little signs of tourism, great weather and decent rates and that is technically high season. Further, if you go in the July through October/November period, you can find yourself with washed out roads from the storms and consequences of being there during rainy (and hurricane) season.
January and February you can find yourself in the middle of Carnival parties but if you aren’t into that type of thing, there is plenty of countryside to escape into.
Whatever you do – I would not recommend going in July, August, September or October.
Miscellaneous Travel Tips for Dominica
The first thing to mention is that Dominica IS NOT the Dominican Republic. Dominica is an under-touristed nature paradise where you will have trouble finding an all-inclusive.
Getting to Dominica. If you fly in, it is expensive. All locals I talked to noted that Leeward Islands Air Transport or LIAT Airlines is awful and should be avoided at all costs due to random cancellations and delays that ruin vacations. Flying to Dominica on standard carriers is typically expensive. As an alternate, you can fly to St Lucia, Martinique or Guadeloupe and take the Express Des Iles Ferry
There is an exit tax of 59EC ($22USD).
You should buy a week pass (aka site pass) to the national parks/sights upon arrival. It costs 32EC ($12USD) and covers you in visiting Emerald Pool, Cabrits National Park & Fort Shirley, Trafalgar Falls, Syndicate Forest, Middleham Falls, Soufriere Sulphur Springs, Boeri Lake, Indian River, Boiling Lake, Morne Diablotin Trail, Freshwater Lake, Morne Trois Pitons Trail. Ask a local where to buy it. I was asked to show it after completing the hike to Boiling Lake. I also used it to get into Emerald Pool where they have someone checking. (If you want to be cheap and screw this wonderful country from $12, you will probably be okay in all honesty but for the work put into some of these trails (especially Boiling Lake) you should feel awful if you do this).
Currency in Dominica is XCD (or EC, as in Eastern Caribbean Dollar). For a rough conversion, divide it by 3 for USD equivalent. If you are in a touristy spot, they might quote you in USD. Good to confirm (EC or USD?)
Power plugs in Dominica – I’ve seen US & Euro & UK. The most popular seem to be UK. Second most popular US. Euro pop up here and there. If you need to bring one converter – bring the UK converter.
Definitely rent a car and make sure it has high ground clearance. 4×4 is helpful/useful in normal conditions (required in wet conditions) but high ground clearance is required unless you are a pansy interested in wasting your vacation and money. DON’T RENT A SEDAN! You’ve been warned.
Maybe rental car companies will pick you up and drop you off before & after rental. Some will do this island-wide.
If you don’t rent a car – hitchhike and take the bus. Both are totally acceptable in Dominica. If you do have a car, feel free to stop and ask people if they need rides. It is a good way to give back to the people and they very much appreciate it. You will also gain a good insight from the locals on all kinds of various matters.
Better to stay more of your time in the south of Dominica – stay in or around Roseau. Spend a night or two up on the northern end. Roseau is more lively than Portsmouth but you are here for nature. Great hikes in the south. Beaches better in north but not world-class. Snorkel/Scuba good on north and south.
North is very quiet and I thought less to do.
Do NOT eat at POZ on the northern coast. It is a tourist trap. You can read the review here.
DO EAT at Urban Garden Cafe in Roseau. It is not a dirty hole in the wall restaurant and might be a slight bit touristy but it does have good food, WiFi & accepts credit cards.
Hike to the Boiling Lake. No, you don’t need a tour guide (this is true of almost all hikes/adventures although you might struggle at times figuring things out). The Valley of Desolation is a cool place. The Boiling Lake itself isn’t worth the hike but the scenery and Valley of Desolation is. It is like a mini-Yellowstone Park of sorts. The hike WILL take at least 5 hours round-trip and could take longer. You need to be in adequate shape. If you aren’t in shape it will kick your butt. Start in the morning!
Before and after the Boiling Lake hike lays the Titou Gorge. Swim up through a small gorge to a waterfall. Strong current. Life jacket rentals are recommended for all but really strong swimmers.
Waterfalls in Dominica are great. Trafalgar Waterfalls have seen a bunch of change since the Tropical Storm of 2015. There are signs not to climb down towards them but if you don’t or won’t, you should skip the sight altogether. Middleham Falls is a 45 minute walk each way. Victoria Falls is a good place to swim.
One of the more touristy places (besides Trafalgar) would be Emerald Pool. Either go when a cruise ship isn’t docked or go earlier or later in the day. Seems they closed around 4pm when I was there. You might think you should skip it due to its seeming popularity but it’s quite a cool spot.
Chaudiere Pool is located up north near Calibishie. It is not as good as Emerald Pool even though you should have it to yourself. I don’t think it is worth the trip really.
Also in the north of Dominica is Number One Beach & Batibou Bay Beach. The former is a black sand beach and the latter a light-coloured sand beach. Both have the jungle as a backdrop and are quite scenic. Wave currents can be quite strong. This stretch of coastline was utilized in the Pirates of the Caribbean was film. Not that Batibou Bay Beach has a $5 fee per person if the attendant is around.
Visit rum shacks and try the various homemade rum punches.
Products you can buy are soaps (Coal Pot Soap), coffee, chocolate (there is a “Bean to Bar” chocolatier called Pointe Baptiste Estate on the north coast which makes absolutely awful chocolate), sugar (ginger sugar for instance) and hot sauce.
Fruit juices are plentiful and excellent. Try soursop and sorrel if you haven’t before. The grapefruit, orange and passion fruit juices were also very good. The beer is Kubuli and runs 3 for $10EC on special or $4-$5EC per bottle (which are smaller than your standard bottle).
The people around Roseau seemed friendliest. The people in Scott’s Head (on the south) and along the north didn’t seem nearly as friendly. However, overall, the crime was low and the people were helpful (even if not always friendly). The nature experience is great. If you don’t like hiking or exercise or the elements, don’t visit Dominica. If you are looking to just lounge on the beach, go elsewhere. If you want to hike and scuba and explore in peace, this is one of the best islands to do it.
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