Holiday Adventure Travels, Dominica

I encourage life balance and adventure for everyone. While my wife and I adventure locally and around our own nation, we have not taken the opportunity to travel outside of the country together…until now. We decided we are going to take a vacation, to adventure travel, not go do a training or see family but just go explore. It is the winter holidays and close to her birthday and we decided it is the perfect time to make it happen; so, over the summer we started looking into places that would be unique and adventurous coming from Montana winter time.

After exploring places for adventure travel online,…we decided on going to the “Nature Island”…Dominica. Some of the attributes that attracted us is that it is a completely different environment/ecosystem from what we reside in, it is the least visited of the Caribbean islands and is rugged and mountainous. The island holds multiple active volcanoes, hot springs, national parks, trails and a world heritage site, as well as the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT). It is English speaking and reportedly very friendly and safe (which we found to be true). We started our planning and trip with the intention of hiking all or as much of the WNT as possible. All of that being said, the island was battered by Hurricane Maria with much of Maria’s destruction still evident today. Reading about the hiking and the island online, we expected to be eating lots of fresh fruit and there to be a health canopy to the forest. Maria destroyed much of the canopy shade, allowing for much of the lower forest growth to take over and grow rapidly with the increased penetration of light. This made any off trail travel impossible and often makes the trails that do exist very challenging to navigate or find. It has also meant that fruit harvests have been minimal since the hurricane. The nation is slow to recover with minimal resources. If you are in a position and inspired to look into it further or to donate to their relief effort, I encourage you to visit:

Our trip:

We left Bozeman early in the morning on December 20th and arrived in Puerto Rico late in the evening on the same day. Our flight to Dominica was in the afternoon, so we started our morning with some great local coffee and food, then we took a walk around San Juan, checking out an old fort that is right on the coast as well as a beautiful ornate old church.

Fort on the Puerto Rico coast
Old Church in Old Town San Juan Puerto Rico

The island of Dominica is a couple hours by plane southeast from Puerto Rico. Flying over the Caribbean was cloudy and we were not able to see land until we approached the mountains of Dominica. The air field in Dominica is tucked in tightly between the mountains and the Atlantic ocean making for a scenic approach and landing; we came to discover that the landing strip may be the only relatively flat surface on the whole of the island. After landing, we caught a ride to Roseau, Dominica’s capital, where we stayed for our first couple nights.

Air Strip in Dominica

On our first day of adventure, we got up early and headed south to Scott’s Head, the southwestern most point of Dominica. From there, we hiked the first segment of the WNT. The trail went up steep, loose, slippery and heavily vegetated terrain with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains with the Martinique Channel, the Caribbean Sea and coastline below. After seeing only one other person on the trail all day, the hike ended in a small town named Sufriere that has hot springs, natural and cultivated, all around town.

View from a clearing on Segment 1 of the WNT

After the hike,we stopped into a snackette (roadside shack that serves a minimal assortment of snacks, seriously almost no food, but they have both Kubuli and Carib (the local beers) and Heineken (the local favorite for some reason). Snackettes also seem to be well stocked with rum…mostly bottles filled with rum that have been infused with different roots or herbs. At this particular snackette, we met and shared beverages with a few friendly locals and caught a ride back down to Scott’s Head to retrieve our rental car. That evening, we had a delicious freshly caught fish dinner and went to bed early prepared for the next day’s adventures.

Our next morning started with a visit to Champagne Reef, a beach on the southwest part of the island on the Caribbean Sea. We rented snorkels and flippers, hired a guide and went for a swim. Out on the reef, we saw many colorful fish, urchins, corals and kelps. The name of the reef describes the bubbles that rise in the reef due to the underwater fumarole vents throughout the reef that create a “bubbly” effect through the water that is further accentuated as sunlight passes through the water and bubbles….imagine swimming through turquoise seltzer water with 2 – 6 inch iridescent bubbles rising from the ocean floor all around…a truly unique experience! It would stand to reason that a location this unique would have throngs of tourist; however, other than our guide, we had this gem of an experience to ourselves. After our swim, we had a beverage at the nearest snackette and then headed inland.

Tafalgar Falls, Papa Falls to the left in the pic, Mama to the right

Next stop was Trafalgar falls, a pair of tall waterfalls in the south-central mountains. One of the falls is referred to as Mama, the other Papa. After strolling through the visitor’s center, we hiked over to the base of Mama falls and want for a swim in the cool blue water. We then hiked over and up across slippery boulders to the base of Papa falls. Pretty much all of the rock seems to have a thin layer of moss on it that both holds water and whenever even slightly damp (always) makes the rocks greasy-like super slippery. The base of Papa falls offered a larger pool to swim in as well as a side cascade that was a hot sping. Contrast therapy between the hot spring fall and pool connected to the cool fresh water falls made for some feel good soaking…a real treat that we had all to ourselves.

Hot Springs at Papa Trafalgar Falls

The next few nights that included Christmas, we stayed in the mountain town of Wotten Waven. While in Wotten Waven, both Joni and I became ill…body aches and fever kinda flu that just slam dunked us into bed for about 24 hours. Fortunately, we were only bed ridden for about a day each. In hindsight this may have been a real gift; we had been attached to the idea of hiking the extent of the WNT and our illness allowed us to reevaluate our goals. We decided to do smaller adventure filled days to places that are known adventure destinations…highlights of the Nature Island. The WNT is more of a deep forest trudge without as many “highlights”, so to speak.

Another gift of slowing down in the Wotten Waven area was the opportunity to connect with Dr. Janet Taylor, the island’s only chiropractor. Dr. Janet is a vibrant, kind and generous individual that is mostly retired. While she is mostly retired from chiropractic, she finds inspiration in holding what she calls “the Divine Feminine” retreats; she is a truly inspiring individual to share company with. After stopping by and introducing myself, Dr. Janet shared her home with us. She has converted an old rum making house that still has its copper pot with surrounding rum making architecture into a beautiful tea room/personal yoga studio. We practiced yoga together and shared chiropractic care. Janet offered tea and some herbs to help with our flu symptoms. She shared local cocoa, local travel tips, a bit of education on local flora and fauna, and a guide book that was a huge help on our adventures (we lost our guide book on our flight from Montana).

Steve, Joni, and Janet

After leaving Wotten Waven, we made our way toward the Atlantic coast to stay for a few nights at the Seabreeze Inn on the edge of the town of Castle Bruce. On our way, we stopped for some steep mountain hiking around Fresh Water and Beori Lakes that offered beautiful mountain forest views. We, then, arrived at the inn to find that we were the only guest staying at the inn for the nights we were there; and, other than some local fishermen and women (catching the dinner that they would later serve to us), we had the black sand bay to ourselves. The Seabreeze Inn is situated almost on the sand of a quiet black sand beach in a somewhat protected bay. If you are a beach view kinda person, the view from our first floor bacony was second to none.

Our next day of adventure was probably our favorite day. We did three 2-4 mile hikes; each was a spectacular highlight. First, we went to Victoria Falls. This hike included some serious adventure trail finding and hiking with several river crossings and steep slippery rock climbing to get to the falls…but so worth it. This tall waterfall has its origin up by the Boiling Lake, the higher thermal features provides the sediment at the falls for a vibrant turquoise pool at the base of the falls. After hiking to and from the falls, a local Rasta shared some ‘sweet bamboo” (sugar cane). He shaved the outside of the bamboo for us and showed us that if we simply chew on the fresh cane that we get juicy mouthfuls of rich sweet juice…quite the treat after the jungle hike!

Victoria Falls

Our next stop was a hike to Glasi Point…about a mile hike each direction in and out that took us to a black volcanic rocky outcropping of cliff side abutting the Atlantic and providing miles of rocky cliff-side ocean views with no beach in sight.

Tide Pools and View from Glasi Point

The third destination of this adventure packed day was a hike/climb into Wavine Cirque. Finding the trail was a trick but once on track it was not to difficult to trail find. We hiked for maybe a mile from the car down an ever-steepening heavily forested ridge line toward the ocean. As the trail started to become too steep to negotiate, we came upon a tied rope ladder that descended about 100 feet to a forested shelf on the cliff-side, which we had to carefully traverse and then take another 100 foot rope ladder down to a small black sand beach on the Atlantic. This beach we descended upon was surrounded by cliff all around, was only about 300 feet all the way across the beach and had a waterfall that fell from about 100 feet up the cliff and landed right where the beach meets where the ocean breaks on the shore. Completely surreal! Oh…again, we had the beach, the cirque, the hike all to ourselves.

Wavine Cirque
Climbing out of Wavine Cirque

After this days adventures, we made a dutiful stop at a snackette for a cold beverage before enjoying our freshly caught meal.

Emerald Falls and Pool

The following day, we stopped at Emerald Falls and Pool, a beautiful little waterfall that is easy to access and is maybe the most photographed location of Dominica due more to its ease of access than its grandeur. We then headed north up the Atlantic coast, stopping for a visit at a Calinago (native) historical site and then to the Calibishie area for a local cocoa farm and chocolate making factory tour, with free samples and for purchase goodies to bring home. The Calibishie area also is home to Point Baptiste, an area where red rock cliffs meet the ocean…very different than the rocky and black sand beaches that make up most of the rest of the island. We hiked all around the coastal red rock outcroppings and found in the distance a little black sand beach cove tucked into red rock cliffs. We could not pass up the opportunity to adventure hike and get ourselves onto the little beach cove…it ended up being a beautiful way to get away from the other tourists in the red rock cliffs and, while still enjoying the red rocks, swimming in generally mellow ocean breaks on our own private beach. After our red rock beach adventures, we left the Atlantic coast and headed over the mountains for a stay on the Carribean side in the town of Portsmouth.

Our Private Beach at Red Rocks

The next morning, we took a hike on a portion of the WNT and found it heavily overgrown with vegetation and not well maintained; this affirmed our decision ot spend our days seeking the highlights of the island. We took an opportunity to adventure down a river gully to where it met the ocean and cooled off in some tide pools before heading back up into the mountains. In the mountains, close to Portsmouth, we took a short walk to check out Cold Soufriere, a place where water “boils”or bubbles out of the ground with associated sulfur and travertine deposits and odors but is not hot even though apparently “boiling.” It was very unique for me, having spent so much time around hot springs and thermal activity in and around Yellowstone and the Pacific Northwest. That afternoon we came back down into Portsmouth and hired a guide to take us up the Indian River which offered the opportunity to see brackish water wildlife and mangroves.

Floating on the Indian River

Our next day of adventure brought us to three waterfalls, the two distinctly separate falls of Spanny Falls and Jocko Falls. Also on this day’s adventure, we went to the Jocko Steps, a location rich in history and steep hiking through jungle forest. Chief Jocko was an escaped slave that evaded recapture by putting his camp high on a hillside with very steep steps as the only way up to his camp, providing him with the opportunity to use the landscape in his defense. Very steep tall steps were cut into the hillside of the jungle and can still be hiked today. On our way back to Portsmouth that evening, we took the opportunity to swim at Mero Beach on the Carribean Sea before going up to Syndicate Farms and nature trail for a short hike and parrot viewing. While we did not see the Sisserou Parrot (national bird), we did see 3 Jocko parrots and got to listen to the symphony of sound that they create at dusk. They are super vocal birds.

First Spanny Falls
Second Spanny Falls
Jocko Falls
Jocko Steps
Jocko Parrot

Driving the road out of Syndicate was quite an adventure in and of itself…more so than regular driving in Dominica. I know I have not yet mentioned the roads and driving…but, there is nothing quite like it! Yes, you drive on the left side of the road and pilot the car from the right seat like the British but that is not the crux of the challenge. We had the opportunity to enjoy narrow roads, many places of “road failure”, “road edge failure”, deep water troughs along the edge of road (kinda like gutters on steroids), very narrow roads, rock fall and debris on the roads, piles of untouched gravel in the roads to repair the many potholes or craters in the roads, craters in the roads where landslides have taken their toll, landslides across the roads, without exaggeration the steepest curviest roads I have ever been on anywhere in the world, three times as steep as any road I have been on in the US or Canada, did I say curvy?, there is no such thing as straight here and the jungle is too thick to see around curves, and then there are the many drivers that like to honk and pass anywhere, did I say narrow roads?, roads so narrow it is like playing chicken with every oncoming vehicle…maybe you get my point about driving…enough said.

Looking through the Valley of Desolation with Boiling Lake in Background

The following day we got up early for a big adventure hike in the interior mountainous region of the Tois Piton National Park. We hiked about 9 steep miles over a few ridge lines, across a river, through the Valley of Desolation (huge thermal area) and to the Boiling Lake. The Valley of Desolation was so fun to hike through and navigate with sulfur laden cascades, small waterfalls and steam vents…you could not approach a place like this in the US without being on a board walk with guard rails! Boiling lake is about 60 meters across and just churns with boiling water and waves through the lake. When the steam over the lake clears enough to see the churning waters and the Atlantic ocean in the background it is quite a site to behold.

Hiking through the Valley of Desolation
Joni in the Valley of Desolation
Joni Overlooking the Boiling Lake

On our last day of adventure on Nature Island we took in a few northern beaches and went to one more waterfall for good measure. Bwa Nef waterfall was unique in that is was inside of a tight canyon with a big chock stone at the top. We then spent more beach time and dined in the Calibishie area so that we could make it to the airport conveniently at 5am. We were pretty darn ready to head home at this point even though we had a spectacular adventure trip.

Selfie at Bwa Nef Falls

On our way back, we spent most of a day in Puerto Rico before making it back to Bozeman. While in Puerto Rico, we took the opportunity to enjoy great coffee, a museum, and two restaurants boasting James Beard award nominated chefs…making the most of our adventures.

Dominica is quite a place to travel to. People are friendly there and they welcome your visit. If you have any questions or want some advice or recommendations about a trip to Dominica feel free to ask.

Joni and I had a wonderful and connecting holiday vacation; hope you enjoyed looking at pictures and reading about our adventure.

-Dr. Steve

3 thoughts on “Holiday Adventure Travels, Dominica”

  1. I loved reading your blog & looking at the pictures. It made it so real! If I was younger, I definitely would love to go to Dominica. I think you will inspire many to take this beautiful, wonderful trip.

  2. I had never considered Dominica as a vacation destination, but after reading about your wonderful adventures there and in Puerto Rico, (beautifully described), along with the fantastic pictures of that breathtakingly gorgeous place, it’s at the top of my list. This should be the first of many chapters (would be a great book) in the travel adventures of Steven and Joni.

  3. Awesome adventure! Somehow getting ill on a trip lets one prioritize the adventures to be had. Thanks for sharing.

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