Dominica: the island that exceeded expectations.
This island was an odd one because on the one hand I was really looking forward to it – it’s where they filmed a lot of the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, particularly the bits where you see Calypso in her shack in the jungle – but I also had relatively low expectations for some reason. You’ll be pleased to know that it massively exceeded those expectations and I think I would say that it was my favourite island we visited.
We arrived very early in the morning which gave us plenty of time to find our footing and again to assess the best option to see as much as possible – we had learnt by now that negotiating with locals for prices and trips was usually better than the pre-advertised tourist options.
There are lots of wonderful market stalls selling a range of handmade and craft items, everything from the typical woven bracelets in bright colours to intricately carved wooden bowls and vases made from bamboo. It is well worth doing a bit of shopping here but have a look over the whole market first, the ones further from the port entrance are slightly cheaper.
We eventually came to a deal with one very friendly man (after asking several prices from the eagerly waiting taxi/tour drivers) who took us in his minivan car on a tour of the island. Although it may seem strange for us to get into unregistered family-type cars for a tour, it’s important to remember that the Caribbean lifestyle and culture is far more laid back and easy going – no commercial tour firms and branded cars – just think of it this way: by choosing to do your research and take a small local or individually run tour, you’re contributing to the island’s economy NOT the huge corporate tourism travel agencies back home.
I have to say the tour and the whole day was wonderful. Our guide was so informed and intelligent about the island and didn’t just have the daily knowledge of living there. He told us the historical origins and development of the island, he had a huge knowledge of the local flora and fauna and would frequently pull over to select a piece of plant for us to examine (smell some raw cinnamon straight from the tree? check. Crack some vanilla pods for us? check.) I mean, did you know that banana plants only grow one bunch of bananas and then sprout a new plant next to it for another bunch? and if you farm bananas you must cut down the old banana tree as soon as you have harvested the bunch? Agriculture is a bigger trade on the island than tourism. Our guide had so much knowledge of the surroundings and customised the route to ensure anything we wanted to see he included on the tour.
This was the first day of the whole trip that it had been rainy but that all seemed to be part of the island’s atmosphere which was far more tropical than other Caribbean islands. The huge hillsides covered in jungle growth were reminiscent of scenes from King Kong or Jurassic Park. And the steamy wet atmosphere was due to the amazing fact that there are 365 rivers on the island: one for everyday of the year! Our driver took us up into the hills to see small villages, he stopped on the way in a wonderful jungle roadside bar, for a beer in the rain with an amazing view of the jungle valley. He took us to the sulphur spas (they smell pretty horrendous) allowing us a walk through the jungle terrain, we also saw breath-taking views from hillside view points around the island, local botanical gardens and he delighted in telling us odd local stories like the one about a bus that was crushed under a tree during a hurricane – you can still see the bus under the tree which has now grown around it (no one was on the bus at the time, don’t worry!)
After our incredibly informative and value-for-money tour we were recommended a bar to have a drink and of course try the local rum (what else in the Caribbbean?). The bar was called ‘Ruins’ and I 100% recommend it to anyone who visits Dominica as an absolute must visit – even if you don’t drink. It is the first road back from the main port road so very easy to find (turn right out the port entrance, then first left and it’s on the corner of the next block).
The bar is literally Ruins. It is the ruins of an old brick building with a corrugated iron roof, colourful walls and scaffold, rustic/authentic wooden furniture with water sprays in the ceiling for the hot, humid days. There was a live music act in there, singing and on the drums doing caribbean covers of popular songs and they were amazing. Your drinks come in hollowed out bamboo cups with a coconut lid, the staff were wonderful and friendly. A definite must visit.
Tips for Dominica:
- Again, don’t be afraid to negotiate a deal with local tour guides waiting in the areas around the port.
- If you are interested in the history, local culture, the flora and fauna of the island, a local tour guide really is the way to go.
- Don’t spend all your money on souvenirs on islands like St.Barths, islands like Dominica are a lot cheaper and with a much bigger, far more authentic range of items.
- Take a rain coat and wear trainers/comfy shoes for some jungle walking.
- Visit the Ruins bar.