A travel journal
to Dominica by Ben the Grate
Quote: Imagine a wild island, untouched by tourism, marked by tall, misty, jungle-covered mountains, laced with waterfalls, and warmed by thermal springs. An island so beautiful and so menacing that Columbus dared not sail too near. It's within your reach if you can reach the Caribbean island of Dominica.
As for getting TO Dominica, American Eagle is the only U.S. carrier that flies there, with one daily flight at 12noon from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The only problem is that only East coast flights to San Juan arrive in time to catch this flight. If you're flying from any other city, you'll have to overnight in San Juan.
Liat, the Caribbean regional carrier, flies here from St. Lucia and Barbados several times a day, and it's possible to make later connections on them.
Once on the island, the cab fare from the airport to the town (located on the opposite coast) is (.25US) per person each way, and the spectacular drive across the mountains takes an hour. This is really the only way to get to town as the island buses do not come to the airport.
Hotel | "Ft. Young Hotel"
The hotel excels in atmosphere, from the thick stone walls and canons of the main area, to the brand new oceanfront unit stairstepping down the cliff to the water's edge (NO BEACH!) alongside a delicate waterfall. Much of the hotel has an open-air atmosphere, including the dining room which, though it has a roof, is open on one side to the air.
The Deluxe Oceanfront rooms in the new addition are simply PALATIAL ($155), and very tastefully decorated with rustic island decor made locally. Marble baths are huge and open, even the shower has a curtained window which looks out to the sea. Private balconies overhang the clear waters of the Caribbean and I always leave my balcony door open at night and the surf lulls me to sleep.
For slightly cheaper, you can have a Superior Oceanview Room ($125) that's almost as nice. And for you luxury buffs, the Ocean Front Suites will likely be about the nicest you've ever slept in at $230. They boast two bathrooms, kitchenette, massive whirlpool tub, and a wraparound balcony.
Cheaper rooms in the older section of the hotel aren't worth the $95.
The hotel has several restaurants, all of them excellent. For more info, see the Dining entry for the Ft. Young.
On weekends, Balas bar often has live steel drum bands, and on Monday nights the hotel hosts a barbecue with live entertainment that is very popular with well-to-do locals.
The hotel has a small pool, but more interestingly they have 2 hot tubs and a cold whirlpool on a deck overlooking the Caribbean. GREAT for sunsets! There are no health club facilities.
Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours has a tour desk here at the hotel. They are the best guide service on the island, and they'll coordinate group or private sight-seeing excursions at their desk above the hot tubs.
It's unusual that an island this small with little tourism can support such a fabulous (and relatively cheap) hotel, but the Ft. Young surprises me EVERY time. It's my favorite hotel in the Caribbean and I stay there time and again.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 1, 2002
Landmark Beach Resort
17501 Front Beach Road
Panama City Beach 32413
The rooms at Ma Bass are small and spartan with no a/c, and the top-floor rooms can get downright SWELTERING in the summer. Thankfully you won't spend much of the daytime in this room, and Ma Bass does provide fans which bring some relief, as do the almost daily rainshowers in the afternoon.
Bathrooms are shared, but there IS hot water now, thanks to a solar panel on the roof.
Ma Bass will cook breakfast for you every morning at quite reasonable prices. She serves up fresh island fruit, eggs, bacon, cheese, toast on local Sukie's bread, and best of all: she squeezed local fruits each morning to deliver you the freshest most deliciously pulpy glasses of juice you can possibly imagine! She will also prepare dinners for you, or send you to her friends who own a small, cheap, and delicious restaurant a few blocks away.
Security is a question many people ask when they consider staying at a guest house in a poor capital city of a non-developed Caribbean island. My response is this:
Yes, you still use an old-fashioned skeleton key to access the guest house, but EVERYONE on the island knows and loves Ma Bass. As long as you are under her roof, no harm will come to you.
I have run into trouble once from drug husslers in the streets of Roseau, but once inside the guest house, no one will dare to break in or try to do you harm.
This is THE budget place to stay on the island, and there is usually a small crowd of international tourists staying there. I usually find that I'm the only American there, sometimes I meet Canadians, but usually Germans.
All the cabbies know how to get here, just tell them you're staying with Ma Bass.
Oh, and tell Ma Bass hello from Ben Starr! She's such a sweetie.
Attraction | "The Boiling Lake, part 1"
The trail winds past a dark crevice fed by waterfalls, through lush rainforest, across pristine rivers, and over barren, steaming valleys to the rim of a volcano's crater that has flooded with water from the rainforest. The water seeps down to the lava where it is heated to the boiling point and spews back to the surface, causing the entire surface of the lake to boil turbulently.
But the trail isn't easy. Under normal conditions, it will rain on you half the time, turning the trail into a river of slippery mud.
The trailhead is easily accessible by car or bus from the Laudat power station. Continue walking down the dirt road past the power station and across the bridge to the big sign marked "BOILING LAKE TRAIL - dangerous do not attempt without a guide!"
Well, that's a bunch of malarkey. If you're a strong hiker, the trail is clear the whole way, a guide just helps to interpret the sights.
The trail begins at the Titou Gorge, a dark crevice filled with rushing water. You can swim up it past a succession of waterfalls if you're strong. At its mouth where the rocks are orange is a hot spring to relax under.
The trail climbs through the rainforest to a high ridge, then drops down into the valley of the Breakfast River an hour into the hike. Cross the river carefully (normally it is waist deep) and then the fun begins.
The trail climbs STEEPLY up to the peak of Morne Nichols, one of the windiest spots you'll ever experience. If you're not shrouded in clouds, the views across the Caribbean are spectacular.
Then you begin the steep and treacherous descent into the Valley of Desolation, a rainforest destroyed by the last eruption. It is now a barren landscape of hissing steam vents and boiling mud pools. The trail becomes indistinct, just make for the lowest part of the valley where you see rainforest (or just follow the water).
Shortly after the trail re-enters the rainforest, you'll hear a waterfall to your left. You've seen many waterfalls thus far, so what makes this one special?
It's HOT! Yes, sir, the water plunging over this 10 foot falls is steamy hot from the Valley of Desolation, and I'd spend the rest of my life under it, if I could.
You continue down, finally crossing a hot stream, and them climb for a bit longer into the rainforest.
**PLEASE SEE PART 2!**
Morne Trois Pitons National Park
Attraction | "The Boiling Lake, part 2"
The trail will climb higher into the rainforest, and then spit you out above another area similar to the Valley of Desolation.
You'll wind down into this barren valley and across a hot grey stream and some more steam vents, and then begin the final ascent to the Boiling Lake.
Be careful near the rim, as the cliff plummets 100 feet straight down into the water. A man rappelling here lost control and fell into the boiling water, and he was in the hospital for 2 weeks and had several reconstructive surgeries to replace his burned skin!
The flat ledge above the lake is the perfect place for lunch, and you'll catch glimpses of the turbulent surface of the lake when the wind blows the steam cloud away.
Careful scramblers can descend the obvious gully to the left to reach the water, and it's a popular Dominican pastime to bring an egg (if it survives the hike!) to boil in the lake. You can do the same, or throw in your cans of beans or stew and they'll be nice and toasty in no time.
Be careful if you venture down to the lakeshore. Sulphur dioxide fumes float above the water, and these are poisonous to humans. If you stay there too long, you can pass out and eventually asphyxiate!
The route home is the same way you came, and when you get back to the Titou Gorge at the trailhead, the cool waters of the gorge and its hot spring will be most welcomed!
It will likely take 8 full hours to do the complete hike. There is MUCH elevation gain and loss, probably equivalent to 5,000 vertical feet up and down in total. This is NOT a hike for the weak, and people do have to be carried out of here with alarming frequency. Even experienced hikers I've taken with me have given up and said, "I can't make it." If you're in doubt about your physical strength, hire one of Ken Dill's professional guides (separate journal entry) who can take you on a "test hike" to a waterfall the day before, even accompany you for strength and moral support on the Boiling Lake trek.
This hike is the adventure of a LIFETIME! Don't miss it!
Several sites (most famous at Champagne Reef) center around underwater hot springs where millions of tiny bubbles spew from the ocean floor, attracting an array of marine life.
The island offers shallow reef dives, wreck dives, pinnacle dives, channel dives, and deep wall dives, and the waters here shelter dolphins and whales YEAR ROUND.
If you've been diving the Caymans and Belize so much you just don't care to anymore, try Dominica. It's diving of a different sort!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 2, 2002
I have used Ken's guides to take me and my guests all over the island for 4 years now, and he never lets me down. (Even Mick Jagger hired him to do the trek to the Boiling Lake. See picture below!)
Finding a guide on Dominica can be sketchy. Virtually everyone on the street will offer to guide you to the Boiling Lake. Chances are, they've been at least one, but can they be trusted? If they CAN be trusted (as most Dominicans can be), are they knowledgable? Will they just walk ahead of you, or spend time answering your questions and giving you history and botany and vulcanology information?
Ken's guides are all friendly, UNDERSTANDABLE (which is a big help!), educated, and carry state-of-the-art equipment to help out in case something goes wrong. Each guide is equipped with satellite cell phone and two-way radio in case anything should happen to you on the way.
NO OTHER GUIDE OR GUIDE SERVICE on the island offers such insurance!
You can join some of Ken's group tours (either by calling or emailing before you leave, or visiting their Tour Desk at the Ft. Young Hotel) or if you prefer and have a bit more cash, a private guide can be arranged.
Ken's guides can take you to any sight on the island, whether you want secluded waterfalls, bat-filled caves, virgin rainforest, native Carib Indians, or endangered parrots.
Give Ken a try... And be SURE to tell him that Ben Starr sent you!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 2, 2002
Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours
Thousands of them...literally. And the island's terrain is so rugged, that (believe it or not) new waterfalls are being discovered all the time as intrepid (and well-equipped) explorers venture up remote and unexplored valleys.
Luckily, there are four major waterfalls on Dominica that you can visit easily.
Trafalgar is the most famous and easily accessible of Dominica's large falls. It consists of two seperate waterfalls (called Father and Mother) that are separated by a rocky spire that seeps hot water. It is located in the valley behind the village of Trafalgar, a cheap cab or bus ride (10 minutes) from Roseau.
Middleham is the highest waterfall on Dominica, at 196 feet. The hike is only about 4 miles roundtrip, but it's a thigh-buster, and many guide services take people on this hike to determine if they think hikers can handle the Boiling Lake Trek. Don't let that scare you, if you're in moderate shape, you can handle this trail. It starts on the road to Laudat, and you'll have to pay park admission ($10EC or $3.70US) to hike the trail. Any cab driver can take you to the trailhead, or catch the Laudat bus and have the driver let you off at the trailhead, he'll know where it is.
SARI SARI FALLS
Sari Sari is perhaps the island's most exotic falls. It is similar to Middleham in appearance (just a few feet shorter) but the hike requires that you scramble up root-choked boulders in the middle of a wild river canyon to reach it. The hike is not far (only 1/2 mile each way) but it takes time to boulder-hop carefully. The falls is located on the east side of the island in the valley above the village of La Plaine. Though there are buses to La Plaine, you cannot reach the village, do the hike, and catch a bus back. And there are no accomodations in this area. So you should either join a tour or hire a driver or cab to take you here.
Just a few miles by road from Sari Sari is the Victoria waterfall, the most dramatic falls on Dominica (by volume of water). The White River, which pours from the Boiling Lake, thunders over a cliff and into a warm pool below. The water, choked with minerals from deep within the earth, is a milky white color. The falls is located just up the valley from the village of Victoria, and the hike is very short but rocky. Victoria and Sari Sari are usually visited in one day, whether you hire a cab or join a tour.
These are just a few of the myriad waterfalls on Dominica. If you enjoy these and thirst for more, try Hidden Falls (hot water in the Valley of Desolation), Sacred Falls, Spanny Falls, Syndicate Falls, Crayfish Falls, and hundreds more.
Ken's Hinterland Tours can provide guides to waterfalls NOT EVEN NAMED.
Dominica is truly paradise for waterfall lovers.
Unfortunately, there are a few words of caution I extend. A decade ago, an American medical school was opened on the north end of the island, and gradually the students have introduced "hard drugs" to the Dominican people. Consequently, many of the desperate youth have become addicted and taken to selling drugs to tourists to support their habits.
Whereas in other parts of the Caribbean -I won't mention any names (*coughJamaica*)-it may be easy and accepted for you to buy pot from a beach vendor, DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES purchase it from someone in Dominica OR bring drugs to Dominica. The drug problem has changed the attitude of an island that 5 years ago knew NO crime. Customs searches bags hard, because the islanders DO NOT want more drugs on their island. Purchasing from a street vendor can only lead to trouble (as I experienced second-hand with a friend who bought a small amount...let's just say we were hassled and chased and bothered and scared for 2 days before we finally went to the police, which made things worse!)
That said, most tourists will never experience an uncomfortable or unsafe situation on Dominica. There are many tourist police, and for the most part Roseau is a well-lit, lively, and friendly city. Like everywhere in the Caribbean, people will beg for money. A polite "No, thank you" will usually turn them away.
Dominica is serious about protecting the few visitors it has, and even asking money from a tourist can get a Dominican locked up for weeks. They will arrest a vagrant SIMPLY on hearsay if a tourist says they were hassled. Consequently, the thieves and mischief makers avoid tourists like the plague.
Should you come to Dominica, please respect the island's committment to conservation by not littering and by being respectful of the wilderness. Dominica is truly a dream-come-true for the adventure lover.
Ben the Grate