We’d heard a lot about the vast natural beauty of Dominica and were really looking forward to visiting this Caribbean island. We’d heard great things about Titou Gorge, snorkeling on the Champagne Reef and Trafalgar Falls. But, as we discovered on our Dominica tour, the island has a long way to go. We were definitely disappointed in Dominica.
To be honest, Dominica does live up to its reputation of intense natural beauty. Here, steep mountains plunge directly down into the sea. Roads and trails cling desperately to steep cliffs. The entire island is covered in a lush forest. The vegetation gives off a kind of humidity and our nostrils were filled with the sweet fragrance of flowers.
But Dominica is also an island struggling with poverty and trying to accommodate tourism. The island’s infrastructure just isn’t able to handle the amount of visitors it is receiving. The result is a trip-over-each-other experience – especially if more than one cruise ship is in port at a time.
We stopped at Dominica during our recent Celebrity Summit cruise. We had a nice long day to explore the island and arranged to do the Dominica Jewel Tour with the Nature Isle Explorers company – along with everyone else on the cruise. And there was another ship in port as well.
We began our shore excursion by heading to the Champagne Reef for some snorkeling. On arriving at the snorkel spot, we got our first taste of Dominica. The snorkel spot in Soufriere Bay was packed with people. There was no organization. Several tour providers all converged on the same spot. There were not enough masks, fins and snorkels to go around, resulting in a long wait (over an hour). What was supposed to be a 45 minute to 1 hour snorkel ended up being a rushed 20 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful. The geothermal activity on the island bubbles to the surface just off-shore. Here, in the marine reserve of Soufriere Bay is an underwater volcano and warm water comes out of natural vents in a coral reef in the cool ocean. At the Champagne Reef, it’s like snorkeling or swimming in a champagne glass as the tiny bubbles tickle your skin. The only other time we’ve seen something like this was in the Antique Pool of Pamukkale in Central Turkey.
After a disappointing snorkel, we made a quick stop at the Botanical Gardens to see different flora species native to the island. There were some beautiful flowers, but also some birds in cages. We’re not fans of animal captivity, so we skimmed over that part. The highlight of the botanical gardens is the bright yellow school bus crushed under a baobab tree during a hurricane in 1979.
The Nature Isle Explorers tour then led us up into the mountains to the Titou Gorge, part of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). This cave-like natural gorge is a wonder and became famous for its role in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Here, we swam up into a gorge against the current of a stream. I’m not going to lie: the water is frigid. At the head of Titou Gorge, a small waterfall comes through a keyhole, where visitors could jump into the pool. Or that was the plan. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out like that. Like everything on Dominica, there were too many people at Titou Gorge. Two large groups were herded into the very narrow gorge at one time. One group didn’t have strong swimmers and they were struggling with the strong currents. People were kicking each other and screaming at each other and struggling in the swift-moving water. The guides pulled everyone out before someone drowned. And, in the end, we weren’t able to see the waterfalls or even experience Titou Gorge. Frankly, we were kind of pissed because Titou Gorge was the one thing we really wanted to experience on Dominica.
The final stop on our Dominica tour was Trafalgar Falls. The first clue about the falls was the fact we couldn’t get to the parking lot – it was already packed full of buses. We were let off at the bottom of the hill for a long walk up to the entrance. From the entrance, it’s 10 minute walk to a viewing platform to look out at the Mother Falls and the Father Falls. The viewing platform was as packed as a nightclub and I worried the wooden platform might collapse under the weight of all the visitors.
A trail led us further down below the falls where we encountered natural hot springs pools. After the frigid temperatures of the Titou Gorge, it felt amazing to sit in the warm murky waters. This was definitely the highlight of the day.
The challenge with Dominica is that there are relatively few things to do on the island. So, when a large number of visitors arrive at one time (such as when a cruise ship is in town), the island is overwhelmed as nearly everyone visits Titou Gorge, the Champagne Reef and Trafalgar Falls. The island’s infrastructure can’t accommodate that many visitors at one time and in such concentrations. We loved the natural beauty of Dominica and would like to return someday. But on this trip, we were definitely disappointed in Dominica.
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