Dominica: 4 Eco-Adventures on the “Nature Island”

With its diverse sea life, 365 rivers, and nine active volcanoes, Dominica is rich in natural wonders – and sustainable ways to enjoy it all. Lola Mendez makes the most of them.

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A young woman hiking near the base of a waterfall in Dominica. Photo © Getty Images / Mike Lyvers

This 29mi (47km) long, 16mi (26km) wide island, one of the Lesser Antilles in the Eastern Caribbean, was dubbed with the Latin word for Sunday by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Environmental sustainability is inherent here. It was the first nation to be certified by the Green Globe program for sustainable development in 2005. This adoration of nature has made the island a phenomenal place for eco-adventures.

Snorkeling at Champagne Reef

I have heard about Dominica’s Champagne Reef, one of the few places on earth where it’s possible to snorkel above a volcano. I’m with the responsible tour operator Nature Island Dive, and I’m not sure what to expect, but am hoping to see the effervescence caused by geothermal activity.

Our expert snorkeling guide, Dizzy, picks up her speed and fins towards a scene straight out of a nature film. Nature herself is tickling me, as I joyfully swim through the rare phenomena of small gas bubbles rising from the volcanic seafloor. The venting attracts a slew of sea creatures and I see a school of squid for the first time, and catch a glimpse of an octopus, scorpionfish, and a sea turtle near the Scott’s Head Peninsula.

Visiting the hot springs

Dominica has one of the world’s highest concentrations of dormant volcanoes, which lend themselves to epic hikes such as the famous Boiling Lake trek, an 8-hour round trip with an elevation of 2,600 ft (790m).

After exploring Dominica’s mountainous terrain, I’m eager to soothe my body in the natural, hot sulfur springs the island is known for. I stroll between heated dipping pools, mud oozing between my toes, at the locally owned Ti Kwen Glo Cho in Wotten Waven, an unpretentious outdoor spa in the middle of the jungle, but only a 15-minute drive from the capital, Roseau. I’m the only foreigner here, but am warmly welcomed by locals.

After soaking in the hot water pools, I dash into freezing freshwater, streaming out of an industrial pipe to form a shower. Indigenous flowers scent the air as I settle in for a long, warm soak in the rustic, outdoor copper tub, with the cascading waterfall in the background as my soundtrack.

The hike to Boiling Lake. Image credit: Getty Images / Joseph Thomas Photography

Lessons in rappelling down a waterfall

There are more than 12 officially named waterfalls in Dominica, and it’s possible to rappel down the cascades. I join a beginner’s course with Extreme Dominica, and after gearing up, we receive training on how to rappel across a canyon, starting with an 8-foot ledge, which helps take the edge off my reasonable fear of jumping from taller heights.

The terrain is easy to traverse – just a moderate fitness level is needed, and there’s an 11-year-old on our tour. We hike through the verdant jungle into a canyon and make our way along a mossy gorge. A series of thrilling jumps, rappels, and rock slides gets us down the face of six waterfalls and into cool natural pools. It’s intimidating and adrenaline-inducing at times – especially during a hair-raising, 25ft (8m) jump off a waterfall.

Download our free guide, Caribbean: Where Nomads Go

Foraging for food with a local chef

I’m vegan, and foraging is one of my favorite travel experiences – to me, one of the best ways to discover a destination is through its food. I meet Grant Lynott, executive chef of Zing Zing restaurant at the Secret Bay eco-resort, on a backyard-to-table nature walk, harvesting ingredients for a meal straight from the source.

Armed with a wicker basket and a pair of gardening shears, we peruse the resort’s organic food gardens. Most of the plants we find were planted by colonizers from France and England (who competed for ownership of the island from 1632 until 1805, when the French withdrew). We pluck edible hibiscus flowers and wild herbs for seasoning, including moringa, sorrel, and bay leaves. I'm surprised to discover there are plants I had no idea were edible, including papaya seeds, which can be used to make pepper, and love trying their unique flavors.

Trip Notes

Getting there

Several local airlines fly to Dominica from other Caribbean islands. There are occasional ferries from Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia. Hire a car with a driver to get around Dominica.

Hot springs

Wotten Waven is 15 minutes from Roseau. Entrance for visitors is US $10. You can store your belongings at the covered benches by each pool.

Snorkeling at Champagne Beach

Snorkel tours are US $30 a person including equipment, Marine Park fees, and a trained guide. Guided kayak snorkel tours are US $50 per person. Groups of four or more can be picked up in Roseau for an additional US $25 per person.

Rappelling waterfalls

A half-day tour starts at US $159 per person and includes equipment, a local guide, and pick up in Roseau. No prior experience is required. Bring swimwear and closed footwear.

It’s important to check you’ve purchased the right level of travel insurance cover and have the appropriate qualifications for your chosen adventure sport before you leave home. Still not sure if you’re covered? Check your policy for more details.

Foraging

The foraging experience is US $182 per group (two to four people) and must be booked in advance.

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