Dominica

An Eastern Caribbean island the size of Manhattan, Dominica (pronounced “Dom-in-EEK-a”) features volcanic peaks veiled by pristine cloud forests and bright, warm seas full of healthy reefs. The island’s hilly topography slowed the advance of French and British colonizers, allowing the indigenous Kalinago people and escaped slaves (maroons) to set the pace. The result is a welcoming Caribbean Creole culture that’s managed to avoid mass tourism. Go soon, while the spectacular trails, dive sites, and waterfall grottos remain blissfully uncrowded.

A view of Secret bay in Dominca, a low plateau of green jungle rising above the turqouise ocean

Secret Bay, Dominica

Overview

When’s the best time to go to Dominica?

Dominica’s tropical climate doesn’t waver much, averaging a balmy 75°F in winter and a steamier 86°F come summer. Mist and rain keep the island lush year-round, especially at higher, cooler elevations. The weather tends to be driest and sunniest from mid-December to mid-April, so expect peak prices and crowds then. Other busy times include February during Caribbean Carnival and October during the World Creole Music Festival. If you’re planning to visit in the off-season, keep in mind that many businesses shut down in September and October, when hurricanes are most likely to hit.

How to get around Dominica

Most international travelers fly into Douglas-Charles Airport (DOM) via Liat, Winair, or Seaborne services from other islands. The airport has an ATM and a taxi rank with clearly marked and regulated prices. For travel by sea, L’Express des Iles runs high-speed ferries between Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, and Saint Lucia. Buses run throughout Dominica, but in a rather improvised fashion without terminals or schedules; vehicles just circle until they fill. Car rentals are an option for bold souls who don’t mind navigating fast traffic on steep, winding roads—all while driving on the left. If you’re up for it, buy a $12 temporary license.

Food and drink to try in Dominica

Dominicans take great pride in their cuisine, which centers around fresh, organic ingredients. Expect plentiful vegetables and seasonings, plus very well-cooked meat (a holdover from the pre-refrigeration era). Fish and chicken dominate lunch, the main meal, along with “provisions” like boiled yam, taro, or sweet potatoes, sometimes livened by plantains and breadfruit. Menu highlights include crab backs, curried goat, and chatou water (octopus soup). Vegetarians will thrive on dishes like rice and peas, and callaloo (taro leaf) soup. Wash it all down with fruit juice, coconut water, or sorrel (hibiscus tea), plus local rum and Kubuli beer.

Culture in Dominica

The Kalinago people were the first to settle Dominica, but Christopher Columbus is responsible for the country’s modern name, which means “Sunday Island.” Even still, Dominica managed to evade colonization for 270 years after Columbus arrived, thanks to its rugged, rain-forested mountains, which acted like citadels for the indigenous Kalinago as well as for African slaves who escaped from European settlements and neighboring islands. Eventually, French and British occupations took hold, mixing European traditions with an already established Caribbean culture.

Today, nature is the focus on Dominica, whether you prefer sunbathing on sandy beaches, diving in well-preserved reefs, or hiking on the Caribbean’s first long-distance trail. Should you also wish to learn the island’s history, visit sites like Cabrits National Park and the indigenous interpretive center, Kalinago Barana Autè. The island’s main festival, Mas Domnik (Carnival), takes place in February.

Can’t miss things to do in Dominica

Nature takes center stage on Dominica. Tropical rain forests swathe the island’s mountainous heart, making for an ideal spot to bird-watch or hike the famous Waitukubuli Trail, which runs 115 miles north to south. Water-lovers can splash in jungle grottos like the Emerald Pool, plunge into a flooded volcano crater that still bubbles at Champagne Reef, or simmer in a hot spring at Screw’s Sulfur Spa. Dominica is also the most reliable place in the world to spot sperm whales.

Practical Information

Upon arrival in Dominica, U.S. travelers are required to present a valid, up-to-date passport to immigration officials, along with a government-issued I.D. and a return ticket. Dominica’s official language is English, though a large portion of the population also speaks Kwéyòl (based primarily on French and Carib vocabularies and a syntax borrowed from a variety of West African indigenous languages). While the local currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$), businesses across the island also accept U.S. dollars. The voltage is 220 V and the electrical outlets are Type D (three round pins) and Type G (three rectangular pins).

Local Resources

Another Dominica: a magazine helmed by Paul Crask, author of the island’s only standalone guidebook

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
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Known for their ability to combine comfort with luxury, Dominica’s best accommodations range from oceanfront cabanas and cliffside condos to a hotel in a former military fortification and an eco-lodge on a working fruit plantation. Many focus on sustainability and adventure travel, while others highlight local art, world-class spas, and proximity to Dominica’s best beaches.
Tiny, easy-going Dominica hasn’t grown jaded and still greets travelers with enthusiasm. And while it has hit the trendsetters’ radars, Nature Island remains uncrowded, even when the massive cruise ships pull into port. Experience it soon, before direct U.S. flights and hotel chains reshape this mellow country that is beloved by outdoor adventurers.
Poised between the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean and calmer Caribbean Sea, Dominica lacks the award-winning beaches of its neighboring islands, but it more than makes up for it with natural hot springs and swimming holes under jungle waterfalls. The island is even home to a submerged fumarole that releases spectacular veils of bubbles.
Volcanoes birthed Dominica’s rugged, vertiginous landscape and nine still simmer, creating mudpots and the famous Boiling Lake. Hike, climb, and bird-watch on steep tracks through the tropical rain forest, or challenge yourself on the Caribbean’s first long-distance route, the 115-mile Waitukubuli Trail.
Full of healthy reefs and vibrant fish, Dominica’s warm, clean waters are a delight for divers and snorkelers. While most of the island’s top dive sites lie within the extinct volcanic crater of Soufrière-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve, there are also caves to found farther north. For the best underwater visibility, time your dive to the dry season—from mid-December to mid-April.
Rich in seafood, fresh fruit, and carb-heavy vegetables, Caribbean Creole cuisine has pride of place in Dominica. Wash it all down with cocoa tea, coconut water, Kubuli beer, or infused rum, which remains the go-to adult beverage. Locals swear it won’t give you a hangover if you start your night with chatou water (octopus soup).
Beet-infused rum and flambé lobster are just a couple of the exciting local flavors on this gorgeous Caribbean island.
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