If you’re thinking of taking a trip to the Caribbean, you’re probably looking at popular islands like Jamaica, the Bahamas and Barbados. It’s unlikely you’re considering Dominica as a destination…
But you should be.
Often overlooked in favour of other Caribbean islands, Dominica is a criminally underrated holiday destination. The little island has a wealth of charms that have been unearthed by very few from outside the region, making Dominica the true hidden gem of the Caribbean.
Why Dominica is overlooked
Named by Christopher Columbus after the day of the week on which he spotted the island – a Sunday (‘Doménica’ in Italian) – Dominica is one of the Windward islands. Sandwiched between two better-known French-influenced neighbours, Guadeloupe and Martinique, the island was once a major exporter of bananas. However, as globalisation spread and cheaper South American produce became more popular, Dominica’s agricultural economy went into decline.
With its lack of white-sand beaches, and slowly developed infrastructure, Dominica has not had the influx of tourists that many other Caribbean islands enjoy. As late as the 1960’s, there was no road between the two largest cities, the capital Roseau and Portsmouth, and even as paved roads began to be built across the landscape, Dominica remained difficult to explore and the tourism industry struggled accordingly. The country didn’t even have an official Ministry of Tourism until the 1980’s, and you cannot got a direct flight to the island from outside the Caribbean (visitors can fly to Antigua before boarding a 30 minute flight to the island). However, the nation is slowly beginning to harness its potential, and between 2005 and 2016 Dominica welcomed 78,000 international tourists a year on average.
How Dominica’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses
One reason for Dominica’s resurgence is that it is one of the cheapest Caribbean islands to visit. For example, for just $12, you can get access to all of the national parks, and accommodation costs are very reasonable. The rural Hibiscus Valley Inn in Marigot has basic rooms available for just $39 per night, as well as nature rooms from $55 and deluxe rooms costing $145.
As well as being inexpensive to visit, an increasingly popular option for those wanting permanent access to Dominica’s delights is to invest in a Dominican citizenship through the country’s relatively affordable citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme. By making a minimum US$100,000 contribution, investors can be welcomed to Dominica’s Global Community, and reap the many benefits the nation has to offer. This outlay is substantially less than many other CBI programmes, and includes the right to live and work on the island, as well as visa-free travel to more than 120 countries and territories.
What the island itself lacks in white sandy beaches and modernisation, it certainly makes up for with other features. Doing more than enough to earn the title of the ‘Nature Island’, nearly half of Dominica is rainforest and around a third is national parkland. Even at a mere 29 miles long and 16 miles wide, the island has an astonishing variety of landscapes that will appeal to the adventurers out there. Dominica boasts deep gorges, mountains, cloud forests, rivers, waterfalls, and the world’s second largest hot spring, Boiling Lake. Located at The Morne Trois Pitons National Park, it takes a 3-4 hour hike to reach the spring, an approximately 200 foot wide cauldron of grey-blue bubbling water.
For a more serene alternative, the Papillote Wilderness Retreat is a 10 acre nature garden with an abundance of wildlife, and is popular with the keen twitchers out there. The garden is home to 27 species of bird, such as the yellow-striped bananaquit, as well 19 species of butterfly.
For birdwatchers wanting to see the sisserou – a native parrot that is depicted on Dominica’s national flag – the Syndicate walking trail on the the island’s north-west coast is the place to go. A photographer’s paradise, the trail features both beautiful fauna and flora, and only takes an hour and a half to complete. The Indian River is another ideal location for those looking to unwind and see the wildlife the island has to offer; glide leisurely upstream in a rowing boat as herons and hummingbirds fly above you and land crabs shuttle along the mangrove shoreline beside you.
With the island yet to be fully infiltrated by tourists, Dominica has a calm, tranquil quality that is all but a distant memory for many of its fellow Caribbean islands. If you go at the right time of year it may even feel like you have the whole island to yourself. The island has an unparalleled authenticity to it, as it has yet to be contaminated by many of the features you associate with tourist countries. There are no all-inclusive hotels or even a gift shop at the airport, nor is there is a super-resort on the island. Accommodation is largely in lodges and guesthouses, although there are a handful of small eco and boutique resorts now emerging. Secret Bay, located close to Portsmouth, is one of the island’s more popular boutique resorts. Offering panoramic views by virtue of perching atop a clifftop, the resort is more like a catered villa than a hotel. There’s not a lobby, bar, or restaurant in sight and meals are taken to your suite.
Whilst Dominica has long been flying under the radar, its undeniable charm means it won’t be this peaceful for long. With its wonderful selection of nature and serenity, and all at an affordable price, the enchanting little island should be right up there on your list of places to visit.