When people think of places to visit in the Caribbean, Dominica is often missed. In the past, cruisers sailed by the island due to safety concerns. Others passed it because they just didn’t know anyone else that visited the island. After we crossed the Atlantic and headed north for the season we stopped in Dominica for a week and had the most delightful visit.
Watch our videos, read our article, and determine if Dominica is an island that you want to visit. Note, the below video is a playlist so the first video will play followed by part 2.
Dominica – The Caribbean’s Largest Secret – Part 1 & 2
It wasn’t until we were close to Dominica that some sailing friends recommended a visit.
The first thing that sailors do when they meet up is to swap stories about where they’ve been, what they’ve liked/disliked, and add any life and death stories (sailing through a storm, dealing with a Man Over Board or avoiding a sinking situation) and sometimes big fish events make the exchange.
During this particular encounter our friends, who had traveled to over five countries in the Caribbean thus far, couldn’t say enough about Dominica. They explained that Portsmouth was the place to go – that there were mooring buoys, a large area to anchor in, boatmen to help out and organize excursions, and an island full of raw beauty.
Our friends spoke with such enthusiasm I decided Dominica was a must-see destination.
Later that evening my husband told me that Dominica had a bad reputation and that most sailors pass it by. Apparently, in the past, the crime rate was high. Many sailors reported thefts of dinghies and break-ins on boats.
What I’ve discovered for myself is that many islands get a bad reputation. Something bad happens, it hits the news, and BAM sailors decide to skip the island or country. While sailing in the Grenadines there was a report of a mad-man on the loose on one of the islands and to my knowledge, none of the sailors we know went anywhere near it.
We were told to skip St Vincent because it’s ‘unsafe’ and later I regretted our decision.
Interestingly, however, the same sailors, and I’ll include myself in this, often come from a city or live near a city where bad things happen all the time. Heck, in my home city we have over 300 murders a year. Did that stop me from leaving my house? Of course not…it’s just the way it is. I know enough to avoid being in certain areas at certain times. I make sure to lock my house and car. If I see a situation that doesn’t look good, I move.
Bad stuff happens all over the world, it makes the news and it highjacks our focus that would otherwise be on the 99.9% of the good stuff in the world.
If I passed Dominica by, knowing what I now know, I would have missed out on seeing one of the most incredible countries that I’ve ever experienced.
When we arrived in Dominica our first anchorage was in Roseau Bay.
While motoring into the area a boat came to greet us asking if we’d like a mooring buoy. The kind man on the boat labeled SeaCat explained that it’s $15 USD/night on a mooring buoy but we were welcome to anchor for free.
We decided to take a buoy.
After explaining that friends were coming behind us (s/v Delphinus), the lovely man found two mooring buoys right next to each other. We later learned that the ‘SeaCat’ owned the mooring buoys and offered a variety of services.
On some islands, like St Lucia, you pay the boat boys to help you tie up to a mooring buoy (optional) and then you pay a park official or mooring buoy attendant for the mooring. In Dominica, you pay the guys on the boats for the mooring and they help you to fix the warps (ropes) as the whole part of the deal.
Once we were settled in, we took our dingy to the Anchorage Hotel (no longer there – was taken out by hurricanes later) to get on stable land, enjoy some drinks, watch the sunset and find WIFI. Delphinus joined us for a drink and a discussion ensued about what to do first.
Paul, from Delphinius, wanted to do the boiling lake hike.
After climbing the ‘difficult’ Piton in St Lucia I was a little wary of saying ‘yes’ to hikes. Seacat arrived at the Anchorage Hotel explaining the details. The hike took an average of three hours to get to the boiling lake and three hours back. A short car drive was required to get to the trail. The cost was $50 USD and included the drive, food and our guide. There was also a very small governmental fee to enter the park.
Jayne from Delphinus offered to take her daughter, Lily, and our daughter, Sienna, to Champagne Beach allowing my husband and I the freedom to do the hike. Jayne and the kids would also be able to meet up with s/v Honu Kai, a kid boat with three other kids between the ages of 10 and 14.
Having the freedom to do a long hike with my husband doesn’t come often.
With Jayne’s offer to take our daughter for the day our decision to see a boiling lake was made quickly. Our crewmember, Eve, also decided to come for the walk.
As our plans for the following day solidified, we ordered some grub from the hotel, had a great conversation, and eventually retired to bed.
The Boiling Lake…
If I had known what I was getting myself into I’m not sure I would have done the trek. It’s a hard hike. A very hard hike.
Unlike the volcanic core, I climbed in St Lucia, the Piton, where we hiked for hours up, and then hours back down, the hike to the boiling lake was full of ups and downs.
When I thought I couldn’t climb up anymore, there was a plateau or a downward section. When I thought I couldn’t climb down anymore, there was an upward path. After what felt like hours we eventually asked, “are we near the lake yet?”
Seacat responded with, “we’re not even halfway yet!”
Thankfully, Seacat broke the hike up with periodic stops to look at a variety of tropical rainforest flora and fauna. We learned about ferns, trees, roots, birds, herbs, rivers and loads about Dominica as a whole. Seacat provided an amazing amount of interesting and fascinating information about the country.
On our way to the boiling lake, the path was easy to follow. A series of old fern trunks led the way. There are also red markers guiding the way.
Some people choose to do the hike without a guide.
For me, having Seacat show us the way allowed me to take in the tropical surroundings without having to question my direction. Furthermore, the education we gained was priceless. How many people get to learn about a tropical rainforest from a local while walking through one?
Before entering the Valley of Desolation, a barren area where the greenery has been killed by the sulfur steam, we stopped for a drink break. Seacat said it was rum punch but thankfully it was grapefruit juice. If we had rum I think we would have never made it home.
We then descended along a stream/waterfall into the Valley of Desolation.
What an amazing sight. There were holes in the earth were steam was pouring out and the wind was sending it up along the mountainside. There were puddles of water and mud all over the place boiling at lesser or higher degrees. Some were boiling so much that they were spitting water high into the sky.
Seacat found mud – the kind that’s used for mud masks – so Eve took advantage of the situation. When I saw her, her face was covered in a gray-greenish hue.
Seacat then pulled a bag of boiled eggs out of one of the boiling pools of water.
The eggs were black due to the various minerals and nutrients in the water. We all cracked our eggs and enjoyed the solid whites and milky yellow centers. It was one of the best-boiled eggs I’ve ever had! Perhaps it’s because I felt I earned some food 🙂
Walking along the Valley was tricky. One wrong move and we’d have a boiled foot. Eve and I kept close together and slowly progressed back to a more tropical path.
The rain progressively got heavier and heavier. Thankfully I had a visor to my raincoat that kept most of the rain off my glasses.
Eventually, we arrived at the boiling lake.
That’s when all the hiking struggles paid off. I looked down into this massive crater and saw the lake boiling. A boiling lake! Yes! We made it!
I stared at the bubbles in awe trying to visualize how much lower the lava must be to have such an effect on the lake. Was the lava or volcanic matter close below or was it miles deep? How was the lake able to boil like that?
The smell of sulfur was strong and when the wind blew in our direction we were covered in a white fog of fart smell. It was brilliant!
Then it dawned on me that we had to now walk back. I wondered if I’d make it. Already my feet and ankles were tired.
As I did on the Piton, I said, “Kim, just take one step at a time and don’t think any further.”
The rain got heavier and heavier. Our path turned into a river itself. Interestingly the fresh cool water felt great on my feet. I actually started to look for deeper pools to refresh my weary toes.
With an hour left, we came across an elderly gentleman in a red poncho with one flip-flop.
The man was lost. The fire department called Seacat while we were descending saying to keep an eye out for the lost man. Apparently he was supposed to go to a waterfall, but missed the falls and carried on walking towards the boiling lake. The man walked an hour further than he should have!
While crossing a river, he lost one of his shoes.
Can you believe that when Seacat found the man in the red poncho Seacat immediately took his shoes off, gave them to the lost man, and said, ‘you’re found now!’
Seacat called the Fire Department letting them know that the search was off.
We finally made it to the beginning of the trail. There were picnic tables set up for us to enjoy lunch. The plan was to eat by the boiling lake but the rain was too heavy. We opted to eat at the end of the hike.
Seacat prepared a lovely fresh salad, salt fish and fried plantains. We all shared some baguettes and savored every bite.
The hike was excellent. The boiling lake was incredible. And our guide was fantastic. Our first experience in Dominica was brilliant!
From there on things got better and better.
Simon and I spent some time walking around Roseau, the capital city. Our main objective was to get an all steal lock, pick up some groceries, and sort out our Digicel SIM card. We had a St Lucia SIM and had to get it changed to roaming so it would work in Dominica.
Periodically we’d ask some locals where Digicel was or a hardware shop. Every time we asked they’d all get together and discuss the best directions to give us and then one person would be a spokesperson.
While walking into the city we found a hardware shop. There was a cute little girl around the age of eight watching over the shop for her mom. She got a bit nervous when we asked how much something was and tried to pay for it. Just as her nerves seemed to hit a high her mom walked back into the shop and she yelled out, ‘Thank God you’re back!’
As we paid for our item we enquired where the Digicel Shop was. The woman looked at us and said “I can do something better than tell you where the shop is…Mr Digicel is right behind you.”
A lovely man by the name of Yoni took a look at our SIM, put it in his phone, tried to get roaming set up and then helped us get to the shop. He was so kind. And when we went to the shop, the woman that helped us call customer care was super lovely too.
From Digicel, we wandered around looking at all the unique tiny stores and shacks. I came to the conclusion that everyone in Roseau owned some sort of business. Whether it was a tiny bakery, a shed offering barber services, a street stall provider, or a taxi driver.
The other thing that really stood out to me was the lack of tourist shops. There were a few located near the Cruise Ship dock, but otherwise, the city looked like a working city. It wasn’t set up to cater to tourists.
Finally, I thought, a real city.
The longer I stayed in Dominica the more I fell in love with its authenticity. It is a working country dependent mostly on agriculture and not tourists.
The coastline is filled with wild palm trees, corrugated shacks, rundown hotels, abandoned homes, and the remanence of old jetties. The rivers are still a place where the community comes to wash their dishes, clothes, vegetables, and to talk about life. The restaurants all look like they’ve lived through huge storms and perhaps survived several hurricanes.
There are no big hotels, no fancy bars, and no modern architecture. There are no areas for watersports or beach guys trying to sell palm weaved hats.
What there is, however, are local guides that will show visitors, like me, the beauty of their country. They will pick you up at your boat, arrange excursions, and spend the whole day educating, guiding, and demonstrating the beauty of Dominica.
We left Roseau Bay and headed up to Prince Rupert Bay outside Portsmouth, Dominica’s old capital city.
The wind wasn’t blowing so we set off with our motor. To our absolute delight, we came across two Sperm Whales.
I totally freaked out. For two years I’ve been scanning the horizon for whales. And for two years I’ve seen nothing. Our trip along the Roseau coast finally made a dream come true.
After seeing the two whales we motored closer to them.
A whale sightseeing boat was also looking at the whales. Furthermore, there were people ready to jump into the water with the whales with snorkel, mask, and flippers.
The sightseeing boat pointed out another whale to us so that we’d avoid messing up their experience. We drove over to the other whale and before I knew it, Simon jumped into the water and swam with the whale. Sim looked the whale right in the eye! (Watch my video to see what I saw). If it wasn’t for the whale watching boat offloading people into the water I’m sure hubby wouldn’t have had the confidence to get in the water with a whale!
Here’s the short video clip showcasing our whale experience – check out how close my husband gets to the whale!
Needless to say, I was on a high for the whole afternoon.
We eventually motored into Prince Rupert Bay and anchored next to s/v Delphinus and s/v Honu Kai. Paul from Delphinus greeted us and said, “It’s Yachty Appreciation Week here in Portsmouth. The community is taking us out to eat for free. We have to be at the dingy dock at 6 where buses will take us over to Fort Shirley.”
Free dinner? Bus ride to a Fort? How can life be so amazing!?
We had an hour to get ready. Armed with our videos of the whale experience we met our friends on the dingy dock. We all loaded into a small bus and took a ride over to the Fort that can be seen while anchored in the bay. The fort has been recently renovated and has an orange roof.
We arrived at the Fort Shirley with around 100 other boaties. There were free drinks – rum punch to leave no one standing. After some drinks, we were directed upstairs where there was a massive buffet lined up filled with outstanding food.
Three very short speeches were given.
The Tourist Minister spoke in addition to Marin, our contact in the bay and lovely American man that helped get the mooring buoys set up on the bay.
Each of the speeches thanked us for visiting Dominica and asked us to spread the word about how amazing the country is. Apparently this was the first Yachie Appreciation Week and the plan is to have an event for yachties every year.
The children all had a great time running around the Fort and the adults all enjoyed the rum punch (a little too much enjoyment as everyone’s head hurt a bit the next morning).
The following day, all three of us kid boats were taken for a boat trip up the Indian River. Marin, who goes by the name ‘Providence,’ picked us up from our boats, motored over to the Indian River and then rowed us along what is deemed, ‘The Mini Amazon.’
The trip was magical. Absolutely magical.
Martin pointed out birds, trees, bushes, plants, and wildlife. He educated us all about the history of the island and the flag. Martin even sang to us! He instigated questioning from the kids and worked hard to teach all of us in a fun way. In my video I capture a bit of the education that Martin provided to us…but it would be impossible to capture the whole experience.
Traveling up a river in a rainforest while learning about our surroundings was bliss. To see all the children so interested in what Martin had to say was a blessing.
And people have had the nerve to say that I’m ruining my child’s education – humbug to them.
After the Indian River trip, we all went home to catch up on homeschooling and nap for a bit. In the evening we went to the P.A.Y.S (Portsmouth Association of Yachting Services) BBQ. P.A.Y.S are the official guides that take care of the moorings and assist all the boaties in the bay.
For 50 EC we all ate like kings and queens. There was BBQ chicken, pork, and fish. They also served rice and salad. While at the BBQ we met up with other sailors, swapped stories, and some of us did a bit of dancing.
What excursion did we do next? Milton Waterfalls!
Having our child in tow we often have to find hikes that are not miles and miles. Martin explained that Milton Waterfalls would be best – we could walk around a plantation, hike through a stream, and quickly be at some majestic waterfalls.
For this day out it was only s/v Delphinus and us. The seven of us enjoyed learning about coffee trees, cocoa, cinnamon, lemongrass, thyme, bay leaf, plantains, celery, mangos, grapefruit, passion fruit, papaya, and much more.
Amazingly most of the stuff we saw you couldn’t buy at the local market. Things like lemongrass are all over the place so the locals go pick it rather than selling it. I wonder if the locals will one day realize that they could make a 100% profit by selling the boaties all the natural stuff growing at the side of their roads?!
Just the night before we had a curry potluck aboard Honu Kai and we had to leave out lemongrass from a recipe because we couldn’t find any at the market. Little did we know that we were surrounded by it.
Back to the waterfall…
After learning about all sorts of things that grow in Dominica, we made it to the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen. Watch the video to see for yourself or better yet, get on the Internet and book yourself down to Dominica to see it for yourself.
Everyone had a good shower in the falls
The guys tried to stay under the heavy dropping water but it was too difficult to keep still. The water pressure was intense.
The crew all dried themselves off and we then went to a lovely fishing village to enjoy some sorrel juice, a local Caribbean drink made from a flower. We witnessed people cleaning their dishes and vegetables in the river, a woman carrying a bag of something on her head, chickens and chicks roaming all over the place, and many small little houses made from wood or metal.
On our way home Martin took us to Strawberry Restaurant near the Ross Medical School where we ate like king and queens for 5 EC (less than $2 USD) a plate.
The food was great and so inexpensive.
For our final excursion on Dominica we took a lovely drive down the west coast seeing the towns of Colihaut, Salisbury, St Joseph, Massacre, and Roseau. Our guide, Alec, took us to a lookout point above Roseau so that he could tell us what all the buildings were and some history of the capital.
After our drive, we eventually made it to some hot sulfur springs in Wotten Waven. What a treat! For a very small fee, we had full access to three hot baths varying in temperature and size.
We spent a good hour in the baths relaxing, enjoying a hot shower, and allowing the magical powers of the sulfur springs to heal our bodies.
Previous to the baths our guide also gave us all mud masks.
When my daughter, Sienna, washed her mask off she asked, ‘Do I look younger mummy?’ Hahahahaha.
Alec taught us all about different herbs that were natural remedies for headaches, prostate health, colic in babies and more. Throughout the whole trip, he’d pull over at the side of the road, grab something, and then tell us what it was.
After the falls we all enjoyed a lovely bite to eat at the only French café on the island. Ironically I had pizza – something that’s not really French or of Dominica origins. Regardless it hit the spot.
On the way home Simon, Eve and Sienna all fell asleep.
I enjoyed the quiet ride and looked out at the boats thinking, ‘I wish I had a boat.’ It’s funny because sometimes I forget that I have a boat. Sometimes I look out and wish that I could be living on a boat and then I remember that I AM!
That evening Simon and I went on a ‘Date Night,’ while Eve and Sienna watched a movie.
We took the tender to the jetty to the right of the P.A.Y.S dingy dock where the Blue Bay Restaurant is located. At least, I think that’s the name of it. Half of the building is a Bar – the Sandy Bar and the other half of the building is a restaurant.
I had lobster with garlic butter, sweet potato mash and a lovely tossed salad with Ranch dressing. The lobster was the best I’ve ever had. Simon had grilled Mahi Mahi and with a lime, ginger sauce and that was excellent too. I highly recommend the restaurant.
So…my overall rating for Dominica?
It might be the fact that my expectations were exceeded or perhaps it’s the first time that I’ve found a Caribbean Island that is authentic (not set up for tourists), but simply can’t say enough about this country.
The people are kind, generous, and eager to help out. The anchorages are beautiful, sheltered and mooring buoys provide secure holdings. Excursions and food are inexpensive. The island is full of trails, waterfalls, and dense real tropical rainforests. And…I felt 100% safe the entire time we were there. The only negative that I can offer is that the country is not set up to help sailors in need of serious repairs, but with Martinique only 25 miles away, any serious parts or services can be had there.
Therefore my rating for Dominica is 9.99.
Have you been to Dominica? If I’ve missed anything, please add it in the comments below.
Tips for Roseau Bay
- There is a guy that comes by saying that he provides security in the bay. I believe that the community pay him a small amount to provide the service but I’m sure he’ll also take tips.
- You can use the Seacat jetty to tie onto and get to land (if it’s still there). By walking through the backyard and through the path along the house you’ll hit a road. To the right of the road there’s a tiny minimarket for water and various other bits and bobs.
- Heading down the coast towards Roseau there’s a jetty before the cruise ship jetty. That’s the best jetty to use to get into Roseau. We locked the boat and used our anchor to minimize the effects of the swell on the tender. Once you’re on land, head to the left and carry on walking. You’ll pass the President’s house, a library, some monuments and eventually enter the Capital City.
- On Saturday’s in Roseau there’s a very large market selling all sorts of fruits, vegetables and various other wears. The market is located where the sea and the river meet.
- Try out the baked goods – my favorite was the things that look like sausage rolls (sausages covered in pastry) but were plantains covered in pastry.
Boiling Lake Tips
- Wear sneakers/trainers or hiking boots. You’ll never survive with beach footwear.
- If you wear glasses and rain is on the cards, make sure to wear a wide-rimmed hat or something to keep the rain off your glasses. Also, if you’re carrying a camera, bring a waterproof case – we were soaked through and through after only a few minutes of the start of our hike.
- There are various areas where you can get natural drinking water so you don’t have to bring loads of water…you can fill up as you go.
- Your feet will get wet. Don’t try to keep them dry. At various points you have to cross rivers.
Tips for Prince Rupert Bay
- We anchored for the first couple days but I wasn’t sure our anchor set well. We tried to anchor four times and kept dragging when using the engine to dig in. Knowing there was no wind on the forecast we stayed at anchor for a while. When a mooring buoy became available by the Purple Turtle, we took it – not only did we now have a safe mooring but we could get WIFI on the boat!
- There’s great WIFI at the Purple Turtle and at the P.A.Y.S hut.
- On Sunday many of the local kids come down to the P.A.Y.S jetty and not only swim around the dingy dock but they all get into the dingy’s and sit in them. When boaties walk down the jetty they all get off so they obviously know they shouldn’t do it. My advice – don’t leave your dingy on the P.A.Y.S jetty during the day at weekends. At night there never was a problem but everyone always locked the tender.
- The P.A.Y.S guys will take your rubbish for you for free or someone on a boat will offer to take it for 10 EC.
- There are freshwater taps for potable water tanks in the bay that you can dock up to but at the time of writing I don’t think they were working.
Tips in General
- Unlike islands like St Lucia, the Grenadines, and Barbados where the locals enthusiastically greet you, the Dominicans seem to be more reserved. They tend to sit back and watch waiting for visitors to make the first move. When you do say ’hi’ to a local, however, a huge smile comes across their face and they reciprocate the greeting.
- There is nothing poisonous on the island – no poisonous snakes or plants.
- I never saw an occurrence of bartering. I’m not sure if it happens on the island or not? The cost of everything was so reasonable that we never felt the need to barter it down.
- If you get a Digicel SIM from a non-French island it will work in Dominica under a roaming plan. That’s the case for both phone service and data service. Currently, I’m using my St Lucia SIM in Dominica. As a side, my St Lucia SIM did not work in Martinique so I got a different SIM for the French Islands. Contrary to what many people think, you do not have to buy a new SIM on every island/country.
- The country must have had a big push to clean it up. They must have had an issue with littering as you can’t go more than a mile without seeing a sign that says ‘Keep Dominica Beautiful, Don’t Litter.’ I did see places where people dumped trash but as a whole I thought the island was very clean. The country of Italy could learn something from this little island!
Like I mentioned above, if you have any further comments about Dominica please put them below for others to read.
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If you’d like an overview of all the places we’ve visited in the Caribbean please read our destination overview: Caribbean
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