On one of our Southern Caribbean cruises, we got lucky with an itinerary that included the island of Dominica. This was a new island for us, and I was eager to see as much as possible during our short time there.
After researching the options, we decided to book with Bumpiing Tours, a small tour company run by Levi Baron, a local who loves sharing his knowledge of the Nature Isle with visitors. He offers several different tours, many of which cater to cruisers’ tight schedules. Of these we chose the “Roseau Valley Treasures” tour that would give us a bit of snorkeling as well as a trip up into the national forest. Here is a map of the tour we booked:
Sailing into port is always a treat. You can usually find us out on the balcony with our camera, a cup of coffee and a whole lot of anticipation for the day ahead. This morning’s approach to Dominica was no exception, as we watched the island come into view with the early morning sun shining through the clouds in welcome.
Our tour arrival time was at 8:30, so we scrambled off of the ship as soon as disembarking began. We were off to a good start as we made our way down the long stretch of pier that transitioned us from our floating city to solid ground. I love the look of the wooden pier, such a nice change from some of the other islands’ mega piers that more closely resemble a highway.
And of course the welcome sign was a nice touch too…
Our meeting point was just around the corner from the the pier, next to a beautiful, old stone church and the Fort Young Hotel, built on the site of an old military fort. I would have loved to have wandered around a bit, but we wanted to be sure we met our tour guide on time. We did at least enjoy a nice view of our ship as we waited.
Once we met our guide, we situated ourselves in the van and headed to the Champagne Reef for some snorkeling. We made a quick stop to get changed, deposited our belongings in the van for safe keeping, and made the trek down the stony beach to the water.
Snorkeling here at Champagne Reef was a unique experience. Swimming through bubbles created by springs on the ocean floor, we made our way around the reef that is home to so much beautiful sea life. The water was fairly cool and we’d been outfitted with snorkel vests so we could float about at length without getting tired. Our tour guide swam alongside us, pointing out interesting coral and fish along the away, and with all we saw, this may have been one of our favorite snorkeling excursions in the Caribbean.
I have no pictures from our snorkeling adventure since this trip was before we had the good sense to get a GoPro, but please do yourself a favor and search Google images for “Dominica Champagne Reef.” There are so many beautiful pictures to give you a peek of what we were able to see.
After we finished up at the Reef, we boarded the van and drove north to check out the views from the Morne Bruce lookout point. The views from atop the hill were spectacular, with the dark greens of the forested hill sloping down to meet the brightly colored rooftops and the calm, blue waters that stretched toward the horizon. Some heavy clouds had started to roll in, but the day still looked pretty perfect from our vantage point.
Our next stop was the Dominica Botanic Gardens, where we saw not only gardens, but a little memento of Hurricane David. During the category 5 storm in 1979, this massive Baobab tree fell, crushing an empty school bus. What a crazy reminder of what nature can do!
From the gardens, we headed up to Titou Gorge in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Here you can take a cool and refreshing little swim through the cavernous gorge that was formed by the cooling and splitting of lava. The gorge is not only one of the many ways to enjoy Dominica’s natural beauty, but also earns you the right to say you’ve been to one of the filming locations of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Now normally this is where I would describe what it was like to float through the gorge, but I won’t. Because I can’t. Because it had started raining. And the water was cold. And I was shivering. That’s right, I’m weak! We also have no pictures because it was raining too much to bother with our phones and cameras. Fail! But hey, at least I can tell you that everyone who went had a really good time. 🙂
After the brave (read: not wimpy) swimmers emerged from the gorge, we hightailed it back to the warmth of our dry van, and made the short drive to the Trafalgar Falls. By the time we reached our destination, the rain has subsided, and the sun was shining once again, inviting us to explore. From the parking area, it was just a short walk to the waterfalls. As we made our way there, we admired the 360 degrees of green that surrounded us. Trees, bushes, and smaller plants, all fresh and vibrant, some still covered with beads of water from the earlier shower. It was on this walk that we saw our first breadfruit. If you are unfamiliar, breadfruit is a large, heavy fruit that grows in tropical climates. A mature breadfruit can be used very similarly to potatoes and when fully ripened, it is sweet. Another interesting fact, and one and more relevant to this particular scenario, is that occasionally one of the large fruits will fall from the highest branches of the tree, gaining momentum as it plunges to the ground. This would certainly be interesting to watch anytime, but is even more amazing when the drop is perfectly-timed to assault your friend, barely missing her head. Sadly we have no pictures of the naughty falling breadfruit or the welt on my sister-in-law’s arm, but it definitely added to the excitement of walking to the Trafalgar Falls!
At this point, we had worked up quite an appetite, so we asked our driver to take us somewhere for lunch. He suggested Papillote Rainforest Restaurant, a small restaurant nestled into the jungle with wonderful hilltop views. The food was typical rustic island fare–barbecued chicken with some sides, if I recall–but the views and the wifi were awesome! These are the only pictures I have from the restaurant–we must have been too hungry to snap any pictures before digging into our lunch.
After we were sufficiently filled up with food and we used the wifi for anything we could possibly think of, it was time to make our way back down to the capital city of Roseau. Our driver dropped us off a couple of blocks from the ship so we could wander a bit and do some shopping.
Our favorite find was the Ruins Rock Cafe, where a little shop can be found in the back of the restaurant. The shop was tiny, but had a nice selection of teas, spices, and other local/artisanal items. After a while of browsing and tasting, we walked out with some teas and a delicious coconut hot sauce that packs a punch.
The distance from the Ruins Rock Cafe to the ship is not far, but with the multitude of vendors lining the sidewalk, we took our time perusing the hats, jewelry, magnets, and all of the other souvenirs beckoning us to pull out our wallets. Once all of the knick knacks started looking the same, we resigned ourselves to boarding the ship once again and saying goodbye the the nature isle.
Tips and Lessons Learned:
- Rain in the Caribbean is not always warm and delightful. If you are like me and tend to get cold easily, be sure to have extra dry clothes and an extra dry towel handy if there is rain in the forecast.
- Make an effort to participate in all of the wonderful activities you can, especially when you may only have one opportunity to visit somewhere. I thoroughly regret missing out of the Titou Gorge experience just because I was cold. If I could go back, I would force myself to suck it up and enjoy the experience!
Dominica Post Maria:
Dominica was one of the islands that took a severe beating from Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Since we have not been back since our 2015 cruise, we have not seen the destruction or recovery, but what I have read lately is positive. Many of the island’s natural attractions are welcoming visitors and showing off their beauty and resilience. Many diving shops are up and running, and much of the coral (especially in deeper dives) is looking bright and healthy. One article I read mentioned ways to participate in voluntourism, which sounds like a pretty amazing opportunity if you are able to head over and pitch in. The Dominica Update website is a great place to see how the island is doing and what tourism currently looks like. Check it out!