Sailing to Dominica taught us that the best bits of the Caribbean often have nothing to do with it’s white sand beaches.
Having spent the last 7 months sailing from England to the Caribbean, we have learnt that islands which lack the miles of white sand beaches, usually also lack the hoards of tourists that line them. Often confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica (Dom-in-eek-a) is a country of spectacular natural beauty, whose relative lack of both long sand beaches and large international airport have saved it from becoming as spoilt as some of its neighbouring Caribbean islands. The interior of the island is what makes it; huge valleys, gorges and pinnacles which are completely covered in a thick, lush tangle of trees, vines, shrubs, ferns and flowers. Waterfalls plunge down from awe-inspiring heights, producing rainbows at their base. Hot sulphur springs bubble and a lava crater fuels the 2nd largest boiling lake in the world. Because of this, and the country’s reputation for great hiking, we were really excited to head inland and explore.
The local Dominican people are very friendly and helpful, a good job as it would be difficult to get anywhere or find anything out without the help of local knowledge. The public buses in Dominica are minibuses, privately owned by the individuals who run them. The are incredibly good value ($5EC, around £1.50 for an hours journey). The only trouble is there is no timetable, route numbers or obvious bus stops (apart from in the main street). Very few of the buses even have a sign in their window to show where they are going, however it seems every driver is known by name by the locals, who are happy to direct you to the right spot. Once there you need to ask every passing bus where they are heading until you get the right one. The challenge is then set as to how many people you can cram into a small bus whilst still giving it chance to make it up the steep, winding, rutted roads. Hitch hiking is normal across the island and we found it to be the the best way to head back from the end of your hike. We found that not being able to afford a taxi was a positive thing as it allowed us to meet many interesting people and see parts of the island we might otherwise have missed. The local people and visitors we met on the bus, hiking or hitch hiking between sites gave us some of our favourite moments on the island.
You could easily spend 2-3 weeks hiking on Dominica. Unfortunately we only had a couple of days before we had to head back to St Lucia to collect and fit our new boom, having broken the old one crossing the Atlantic. The short time frame meant that we had to be very selective about where we visited, so with some more local advice we set out to see:
The early start we made to avoid the crowds from the approaching cruise ship was well worth it as we had the falls to ourselves. The very short walk to the falls from the end of the road means that they are the most popular waterfalls on the island. A slippery scramble over the rocks led us to an emerald plunge pool where we could not resist taking a dip.
The National Trail
There is no clear route between the falls, so again we sought local advice, which was to wind our way through the villages and take a shortcut along the national trail before hitching a lift on the road to the start of the Middleham Falls trail. Past the villages, the trail descends into a jungle path and becomes a vertical mud track through dense forest, reminiscent of the garden of Eden. In awe of the range of vegetation, Amy spotted a lone grapefruit tree and scrambled up it to fill our rucksacks. A local guy, on his way to the next village joined us in our grapefruit feast and chatted with us as we walked. Despite being in his 60’s Sydney walked this section of trail everyday and set a cracking pace. We picked his brains on the local area whilst he quizzed us on how to find a rich white woman to marry. Disappointed that Amy was neither rich nor had any sisters, we bid farewell at the top of the trail.
Said to be Dominicas’s most beautiful waterfall and Sydney’s favourite, Middleham Falls is situated a 45min hike from the road, through dense forest, alive with the sounds of birds and frogs. The roar of the falls reaches you long before you can glimpse it through the trees. After the hot hike, the cool pool, complete with a full circle rainbow in the spray at it’s base is a very welcome sight.
Boiling lake trail
Said to be the islands most challenging and best hike, you are strongly encouraged to take a guide to the boiling lake, but at around $50US each for the day, it was a luxury we could not afford. Instead we had another early start and sought out the only bus heading that way with the directions “just look out for Dr Red”, “is it a red bus?” “no but Red drives it”.
Once at the start of the trail we were able to literally follow our noses as the pungent sulphur smell led through the forest and in the direction of the “Valley of Desolation”sulphur springs. What was once a lush forested area now appears devoid of life. Hot boiling mud and mini-geysers are scattered across the orange valley floor, requiring great concentration as to where to put your feet. Following the steam rising in the next valley, we continued the search for the boiling lake itself. As the smell of rotten eggs increased, we knew we must be close and were soon peering through the cloud of vapour to the grey-blue lake vigorously boiling below. The boiling lake is believed to be caused by hot gases rising through a vent from the molten lava below.
With only two good anchorages on the island and many of the best sites inland, Dominica is one of the first places we have visited so far of which there has been little benefit to arriving by boat. It is however one of the most interesting and beautiful and left us longing to return with more time available. Now when we think of the Caribbean we will remember lush rainforests, waterfalls and sulphur springs, as well as beautiful beaches.