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Dubbed the "hiker's paradise", Dominica does indeed provide the keen hiker with a mighty array of fantastic opportunities. The island's vast unspoiled rainforest, its countless rivers and its amazing boiling lake are some of the island's on-land attractions. But while it may be the hiker's dream-come-true, many avid divers have found it equally appealing for its gorgeous underwater world. Reputed to be the finest place in the Caribbean to see whales and dolphins, Dominica also offers fine snorkelling around beautiful reefs where marine life is abundant. And since Dominica goes undiscovered by many tourists, it allows the traveller to have a unique and personal experience.
In 1635 France claimed Dominica. Shortly thereafter, French missionaries became the first European inhabitants of the island. Carib incursions continued, though, and in 1660, the French and British agreed that both Dominica and Saint Vincent should be abandoned. Dominica was officially neutral for the next century, but the attraction of its resources remained; rival expeditions of British and French foresters were harvesting timber by the start of the 18th century.
Largely because of Dominica's position between Martinique and Guadeloupe, France eventually became predominant, and a French settlement was established and grew. As part of the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years' War, the island became a British possession. In 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, the French mounted a successful invasion with the active cooperation of the population. The 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, returned the island to Britain. French invasions in 1795 and 1805 ended in failure.
Dominica was transferred from the Leeward Island Administration and was governed as part of the Windwards until 1958, when it joined the short-lived West Indies Federation. After the federation dissolved, Dominica became an associated state of the United Kingdom in 1967 and formally took responsibility for its internal affairs. On November 3, 1978, the Commonwealth of Dominica was granted independence by the United Kingdom.
In 1981, a group of right-wing "mercenaries" led by Mike Perdue of Houston and Wolfgang Droege of Toronto, attempted to overthrow the government of Eugenia Charles, but this failed. By the end of the 1980s, the economy recovered, but weakened again in the 1990s because of a decrease in banana prices.
Today, Dominica is gaing in importance for tourists. There are cruises that dock in Roseau harbor, though not as often as many other islands. Dominica mainly sees longer term tourists who come for the nature, making up for what it lacks at beaches.
Dominica is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea, the northernmost of the Windward Islands (though it is sometimes considered the southernmost of the Leeward Islands). The size of the country is about 750 km2. Dominica is largely covered by rainforest and is home to the world's second-largest hot spring, Boiling Lake. Dominica has many waterfalls, springs, and rivers. The Calibishie area in the country's northeast has sandy beaches. Some plants and animals thought to be extinct on surrounding islands can still be found in Dominica's forests. The volcanic nature of the island has attracted scuba divers. The island has several protected areas, including Cabrits National Park, as well as 365 rivers. Dominica possesses the most pristine wilderness in the Caribbean. Originally, it was protected by sheer mountains which led the European powers to build ports and agricultural settlements on other islands. More recently, the citizens of this island have sought to preserve its spectacular natural beauty by discouraging the type of high-impact tourism which has damaged nature in most of the Caribbean.
Visitors can find large tropical forests, hundreds of streams, coastlines and coral reefs.
Dominica is organised into 10 parishes.
The Morne Trois Pitons National Park is the only sight on the island of Dominica that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The park consists of dense tropical forests and different volcanic features which are of significant scientific interest. The park is named after and centred around the 1342 meter high volcano Morne Trois Pitons. The park is just one big beautiful surprise of nature. There are steep slopes and deep valleys, over fifty fumaroles, hot springs, three freshwater lakes and apart from the Morne Trois Pitons, there are four more volcanoes. The park stretches for almost 7000 hectares, occupying a considerable portion of Dominica. Added to all that, it also has some of the richest biodiversity in the region and therefore presents a rare combination of natural features of World Heritage value.
The Calibishie coast is one of a few places in the world where you can travel from the beaches to the rainforest within a few hundred meters. The area stretches from the beautifully rugged Pennville mountains, through the tiny picture perfect fishing village of Calibishie to the Marigot beaches. You will witness palm-fringed beaches, freshwater rivers with secluded bathing pools and many waterfalls. The rainforest is teeming with exotic birds and lush vegetation and most of it described above is all reachable within a days' walk.
Another delight of nature is the Emerald Pool, but try not to visit when a cruise ship has just entered the harbour, because it will be packed during these times. The Emerald Pool is named after its stunningly green setting at the base of a 12 meter high waterfall. The pool is deep enough for a swim and can be reached by walking through a rain forest of ferns and tall trees, full with birds and other tropical creatures. It's an easy but rewarding trip.
A major highlight of the island, Carnival is celebrated a week before Ash Wednesday. Unlike other Caribbean islands, Dominica’s celebration is less commercialized. You can expect local pageants, dancing, and music during the festival.
Every year from April through June, Dominica celebrates its Festival of the Arts. Gallery openings, theatrical performances and concerts take place throughout the island on a weekly basis.
Happening in May, this festival is hosted in Fort Shirley, Cabrits National Park which draws participants from other French islands to Dominica. It showcases local jazz musicians who perform live.
Held yearly in April or May, this eco festival aims to increase awareness of Caribbean birds. Lectures and bird watching tours are part of the roster of activities.
This event showcases Dominica’s natural beauty. You are welcome to discover and sample some of the best vegetables and fruits of the island, as well as admire creative flower arrangements and displays.
One of the Caribbean’s longest-running scuba diving festivals, Dive Fest is held annually for nine days and features swim races, kayaking, a treasure hunt, and canoe contests. It usually takes place in July and aims to educate visitors on the most popular diving and water sports attractions on the island.
Held annually in October, this is one of the most anticipated festivals in the entire Caribbean. Windsor Park Stadium in Roseau is the center of the action which invites different bands to perform live each night.
Dominica has a tropical climate with generally hot and humid weather year round. Temperatures average around 31 °C during the day and 23 °C at night. Although rainfall is possible during most of the year, June to October is rainy season and from August onwards hurricanes are possible but not very common. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weather wise. Unfortunately prices rise sharply during this period and the months of November and May still have good weather. So budget wise these latter months may be a good option as well.
Most international flights arrive at Melville International Airport (DOM), but Canefield International Airport (DCF) receives a steady number of flights as well. Canefield is near the capital Roseau while Melville is about an hour north.
There are no direct flights from North America or Europe so you have to switch planes on one of the other Caribbean islands. Airlines serving Dominica are Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) and American Eagle. Destinations are mostly within the Caribbean region, with hubs at Antigua and Barbados for example, although Dominica also has flights from the neighbouring islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique which is your best bet when flying from Europe, for example with Air France or Air Caraibes from Paris.
L'Express des Iles operates 3 weekly services between the islands of Dominica and Guadeloupe. They leave Roseau, the capital of Dominica on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 3pm (Sat. 1pm) and take about 2.5 hours. In the opposite direction, they leave the capital Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe at Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8am (Sundays 10am) and take under 2 hours.
L'Express des Iles has 3 weekly services between Dominica and Martinique at 10.15am Wednesdays and Fridays and 12.15pm on Sundays, travelling between the capitals Roseau and Fort-de-France. From Martinique they leave on Mondays at 1pm and Saturdays at 11.30 am. It takes about 1,5 hours in both directions.
L'Express des Iles has 3 to 5 weekly sailings between the capitals of Dominica and Saint Lucia, Roseau and Castries respectively. All of them stop on their route in Fort-de-France, Martinique (see above). Most boats leave around 10am and take about 4,5 hours to complete the total journey.
Although Dominica has two airports, there are no flights between them, other than by chartered helicopters.
Renting a car generally is the best way to get around the island. Roads are well maintained although some roads in the hills and mountains can get slippery after rain. Most rental agencies are on the airport or in Roseau and both international and local agecies have cars. You have to be between 25 and 65 years of age, have at least 2 years driving experience and have an international driver's licence. You also need to buy a temporary local driving permit. Remember that driving is on the left side of the road on Dominica.
Local buses are cheap and run regularly along the coastal routes between Roseau and both Scotts Head and Portsmouth. Less buses run during the evening and almost none on Sundays.
Otherwise, you can also get almost anywhere with a taxi. Rates are fixed by law and no tips are expected as a result.
Although there are no regular passenger services, there are many tours that go out on the sea to watch whales, go diving and snorkelling or sea fishing.
Visitors from the United States, Canada, Singapore and European Union nations are granted automatic visas on entry for up to 21 days (with extensions available). Other nations should check with Dominica immigration before traveling.
See also Money Matters
The currency of Dominica is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, or EC$. It has existed since 1965 and is used by 7 other states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States as well. Only the British Virgin Islands (the nineth member) doesn't use it, but uses the US$ instead. The EC$ is subdivided into 100 cents and has been pegged to the United States dollar at US$1 = EC$2.7 since 1976. The EC$ comes in coins of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 25 cents and a coins of 1 dollar. There are notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar.
Languages include English (official), and French patois.
Dominica is not your typical Caribbean beach holiday destination and it caters much more to adventurous travellers, like divers and hikers. There are just a few beaches, several of which are covered with black sand.
There are however great places to stay, both in and near the capital Roseau as well as more inland and to the lusher east side of the island.
Here are some examples:
Freshly squeezed grapefruit is ubiquitous and is perfect with every meal. Coconut water is cheap and readily available by the side of the road. Another local specialty is sorrel. This red refreshing drink is brewed from the flowers of an hibiscus specie common also in Jamaica. The popular locally brewed beer is Kubuli. Ask your hotel to set up a tour of the brewery.
There are many vendors of fruit juice in Roseau. Almost without exception this is non-pasturised fruit juice with water and sugar added. The added water is usually chlorinated tap water. A juice vendor known as Pal sells his juice by the area where one can find a bus to Portsmouth. Pal is one of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable fruit vendors on the island. He sometimes has juice from rare fruits.
Quenchi is a local soft drink which comes in many different flavors. It can be found in every village (with diet varieties at the IGA in Roseau).
Sorrel, known as the Christmas drink for its red colour (and because it only flowers around Christmas) is made from boiled flowers. It tastes heavenly.
Avocado pear juice can be purchased in some small cafes and is certainly worth a try. Other flavours include soursop, passionfruit, grapefruit, orange, lime, beetroot.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Dominica. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Dominica) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Dominica. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Take usual precautions when travelling around Dominica. Although rare, petty crimes are most likely to happen around Roseau. Elsewhere the island is extremely safe.
See also International Telephone Calls
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