The pristine island of Dominica -- the wildest in the Caribbean -- was green long before anyone heard of eco-tourism. The government of Dominica has been preserving its shoreline and protecting its mountain rainforests since the 1960s, even while other Caribbean islands, including Barbados and Aruba, were in the process of extensive development. In fact, the little island nation was the first country benchmarked by Green Globe, an internationally recognized program certifying sustainable environmental and cultural tourism.
Dominica is struggling to preserve its reputation as the Caribbean's green island, yet attempting to attract more massive tourism. It deepened its port, making it navigable for the cruise industry's new jumbo liners, and it has spent millions illuminating and expanding its airport. Now planes can arrive at night, bypassing a long-standing hassle of overnighting in Puerto Rico.
Long a British colony, Dominica achieved independence in November of 1978. It occupies a seat in the United Nations and is the central Caribbean's only natural World Heritage Site. Its capital is Roseau, and its official language is English, although a dialect of Creole is spoken by most islanders.
The beaches aren't worth the effort to get here, but the green landscape and rivers, as well as increasingly renowned scuba diving, are. Nature lovers who visit Dominica (Dom-in-ee-ka) experience a wild, rugged Caribbean setting, as well as the rural life that has largely disappeared on the more developed islands. Dominica is, after all, one of the poorest and least developed islands in the Caribbean. Unlike St. Lucia, for example, there are no chain hotels, and the tourist infrastructure tends to be basic. It's also one of the less expensive islands in the Caribbean, and probably the only one that Columbus would still recognize.
Hiking and mountain climbing are good reasons to visit Dominica; its flora is made unbelievably lush by frequent rainfall. Covered by a dense tropical rainforest that blankets its mountain slopes, including cloud-wreathed Morne Diablotin at 1,424m (4,671 ft.), it has vegetation unique in the West Indies. The mountainous island is 47km (29 miles) long and 26km (16 miles) wide, with a total land area of 751 sq. km (293 sq. miles), much of which has never been seen by explorers. Should you visit, you'll find clear rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, and boiling lakes.
With a population of 79,000, Dominica lies in the eastern Caribbean, between Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. The Caribs, indigenous people of the Caribbean, live as a community on the northeast of the island and still practice the art of traditional basketry.
Clothing is casual, including light summer wear for most of the year. However, take along walking shoes for those trips into the mountains and a sweater for cooler evenings.
Don't Miss . . .
- An escape to Mother Nature's Garden of Eden, with 365 rivers, 483km (299 miles) of trails, waterfalls galore, 8 active volcanoes, 3 national parks, 40 dive sites, and mountains reaching heights of more than 1,500m (4,920 ft.).
- Morne Trois Pitons National Park, on about 6,800 hectares (16,796 acres), a World Heritage Site in the island's southern region, with a primordial rainforest and steamy hot springs.
- Carib Indian Territory, where the last of the once-cannibalistic Carib Indians are found on the northeast coast in a 1,480-hectare (3,656-acre) reserve with their own chief. Some 3,000 Indians still practice their ancient way of life, such as carving canoes from tree trunks.