Pronounced Do-min-ee-kah, and not in anyway to be confused with the Dominican Republic, or any other island in The West Indies for that matter. It’s a land hidden between the French islands of Martinique to the South and Guadeloupe to the North.
After a month and a half in Guadeloupe, we were ready for a change of scenery and to set sail towards an English speaking country. We had an easy and comfortable sail from Les Saintes, as the surrounding islands help block any potential swell. The island of Dominica is unlike any other island in the Caribbean. It is called “Nature Island” and it truly deserves the name. The island has everything: mountains, beaches, waterfalls, lush vegetation, volcanic geology, and great people. It’s a place where the indigenous Carib Indians fought and survived multiple attempts of annihilation at the hands of Columbus, and his European counterparts in the name of colonial expansionism. However, Dominica is its own. It’s a place where the people are kind and proud of their heritage.
Portsmouth is a fantastic anchorage, on the North-West end of the Island. It’s a big safe anchorage, almost never bad weather unless during a SW blow. Despite this economic setback due to Hurricane Maria, the town is friendly, charismatic and delightful compared to chaotic Roseau.
As we arrived into the Portsmouth, we were met and greeted by a large panga boat with the names PAYS and Alexis written in bright red. There is an association of boat “boys” who work for PAYS – Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services. They are an organization that provides security and yacht services such as moorings, laundry, taxi, tours, and propane re-fill to cruisers anchored in Prince Rupert’s Bay. Their also host to the famous cruisers beach BBQ held every Wednesday & Sunday night. It’s a fun filled night of rum punch and dancing. You MUST attend at least one. $50 EC per person.
We don’t have a water maker onboard, so we really appreciated how convenient and cheap water fill up was in Dominica. It’s a very unique system; a floating water spigot off the beach (contact PAYS on vhf to set it up). Then just pick up the mooring alongside the floating platform and fill up. Not only did we fill up our two tanks (180 gals) but we washed the deck and our shower for $18 US dollars!!
Sea bird – The owner of PAYS also owns this restaurant. Which is also conveniently located next to the PAYS building. Fantastic food!! Some of our favorite meals in all of the islands. We had many meals here and also used the wifi to work. Jeffery the owner is a very nice guy and will help you out with whatever you need. Make sure you order a Kubuli, the unofficial national beer.
Rental car – We reserved with Silverlinings, who kindly picked us up from PAYS. You’re basically getting an island car – ours was a 1990’s Toyota RAV4. But it had AC and got us from A to B so for that we were pretty happy with it. Driving on this island is not for the faint of heart. The narrow, winding roads don’t normally have guardrails, and what lies on the other side is often a pretty straight drop off into nothingness.
Note: You’ll need to secure a Dominica drivers license at the police station – $10 US ($30 EC)
Aldrin’s Pizza – Fast and big tasty slices. It tastes like the pizza back home! We ate here twice. Once we took it to-go and the other we ate inside. Nice place with a few tables and bar.
Ray’s Roti Shop – A small road side shop about a 5-minute walk from the fishing dock. Be sure to visit early because they are often sold out by lunch time. Ray’s Roti’s are the best!!
Madiba Cafe – Open air restauraunt right on the beach. The food is fresh, fresh, FRESH! Oddly enough owner/operated by a nice French woman. Its opened for breakfast as well.
Grocery – Shopping in Portsmouth was a bit of a struggle. There are not many options and if you are looking for something specific (food, hardware, essentials) be prepared to look hard. Theres an IGA within walking distance but I’ll be honest it was a really sad selection. We often went to several small stores and the produce market just to put together meals. It was almost easier to eat out then grocery shop.
James store – Located in Picard. Its a (hot) 45-minute walk. The biggest mix of random things you might ever need (think american dollar store + small hardware store + basic furniture). We were very impressed by this two story well-stocked general store! There we were able to find a nut and bolt to fix our manual coffee grinder.
Cabrits National Park – Established in 1986, it occupies 1,313 acres and protects tropical forests, coral reefs and wetlands. The park is nestled between a pair of low-rising peaks, extinct volcanoes, creating a spectacular view of the island and beaches. It’s $5 to enter, but you’ll have access to Fort Shirley and the hiking trails. Bluff Point Trail is a semi-steep 2 mile out-and-back hike (1 mile each way) where you’ll have lizards and snakes all around you, so be warned! The creatures we saw weren’t poisonous so that’s good news!
Fort Shirley – The fort itself was built within a volcanic crater and served as part of a network of defenses along the Lesser Antilles during international conflicts between Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of the fort is intact or has been rebuilt, allowing you to see what it might have looked like back when the fort was in use.
Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski – This place was absolutely gorgeous! And so oddly placed within Portsmouth. 15-minute walk from Madiba Cafe. We decided to treat ourselves to a “fancy-er” lunch at Kwéyòl Beach Café (on-site). We heard from other cruisers that you can also purchase a resort day pass for $100 (plus lots of fees) per person. After checking it out we didn’t really see the value in it. For a few hours you get to use their pool, internet, and have lunch. You might as well just get a room for the night at the same rate and at least get a comfy bed, hot shower, and air conditioning.
In Dominica there are three legal seaports of entry, Roseau, Portsmouth and Anse De Mai.
In Portsmouth, customs turned out to be miles away from the harbor, so it was long dinghy ride. We didn’t need to clear-out when we left Dominica because when you clear-in you are automatically cleared-out two weeks later. That part was convenient!
EC$4 per person plus EC$1.50 per vessel cleared (Eastern Caribbean Dollars EC$ ONLY)
Dominica is not known for it’s shoreline, but the beach is something unique to see. Jet black sand, with rugged terrain and equally rugged coastlines, set against the ocean and the beautiful lush greenery of the island.
We didn’t anchored in Roseau for a few reasons: It’s extremely deep, we heard the moorings had snapped and getting ashore was more difficult due to the rugged coastline. Portsmouth is very nice and so we were happy staying put. Plus having the convenience of the rental car made it easy to explore from where we were. Throughout our travels all over the island we made only two stops in Roseau.
S-mart – This supermarket is fully stocked and air conditioned. Quality items. One of the better groceries in dominica but a bit pricey.
High rise beach bar – Second floor seating gives you a nice view of the busy street and ferry port. The food was so-so and the ambiance is interesting. However, the customer service is ridiculously poor. Luckily no cruise ships weren’t in port, but it is more of a touristy spot.
Waterfalls & Hot Springs
Trafalgar Falls, Middleham Falls, Emerald Pool are all absolutely stunning, but be prepared for a bit of a hike. Emerald pool is by far the easiest, you can do it in sandals, but the other two are more difficult. Middleham Falls was by far the hardest hike, VERY steep at times, and lots of rock climbing. But fun and beautiful at the end!
Additional hiking adventures include: Boiling Lake a little further; the pictures look like a freaky and magnificent place. Desolation Valley and Swimming up Titou Gorge, are on the return from Boiling Lake. These 3 are more advanced and strenuous. We opted not to do them mainly because we wanted to do more scenic trails and relaxing by the waterfalls.
Tip: Highly suggest buying the $12 weekly park pass which gets you into all the other national parks on the island.
Brunch & Munch – Quality and quantity! We stumbled upon this place, and arrived just at opening. If your visiting the Trafalgar Falls area, don’t miss the opportunity to get a home cooked meal here. The friend chicken was incredible!
Water Bar – local watering hole with a few seats that overlooks the main road. A little further down the street is a nice lookout, make to stop and take in the view. We enjoyed the hospitality AND fresh squeezed juice samples. Which I should note are alcohol infused. We were starving but stayed long enough to have the goat water, a rich stew made from goat meat. Worth the wait.
Tia’s hot spa – Was heavenly! The hot springs were so relaxing, tranquil and rejuvenating with the canopy of shade and sounds of the creek running along side of us. This was the perfect post waterfall hike activity. I’ll note, the term “spa” may be a tad misleading if you’re not familiar with Dominica. Just know going in that its not “posh” and you will not be issued any fluffy white towels! There are several hot springs to choose from. We chose Tia’s because it came recommended as more of a local spot. Meaning less tourists/crowds. It also offered 3 different pools at different temps. Which was really nice if it you start to get too hot.
Before visiting – Heres what to know:
- Amazing hiking trails to untouched rainforest, spectacular waterfalls, and volcanic areas. The hikes are so much fun and can be pretty challenging. There were so many occasions when I was sitting in a lagoon in the middle of a rainforest or relaxing in a natural warm spring, thinking, this place is absolutely paradise. The hikes were incredible.
- Dominicans are very friendly and we always felt safe. They understand the value of the tourism industry to their country and I felt that they appreciated us being there.
- Food: The food is always very fresh and grown locally. If you like eating organic or fresh, this is the place for you.
- Dominica is not for everyone. If you are looking for white sandy beaches and want to just lay out all day, then it is not the place for you. Dominica is for adventure seekers and eco-tourists.
- If you are looking for fancy 5 star resorts you will not find many, as most are privately owned and many are eco-friendly, priding themselves on fresh organic food and a relaxing eco-friendly environment, not fancy bedrooms.
The people of Dominica really care about conserving their natural resources and taking care of their beautiful island. Its an island that remains one of the poorest and least touristy in the Caribbean, and it still suffers in many ways in this regard. Yet its economic lag is NOT due to political corruption or instability, but due to the fact that islander’s lack the desire to “improve” at the cost of industry and tourism. They like it “just the way it is” – and it shows in the smiles of its people.
All I can say about Dominica is go – before they get an international airport and the island is lost forever.
Cheers from the Caribbean!