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.
Friday 19th of February 2016
I spent ten days in Dominica and loved it. Yes, it's a small island, and yes, the infrastructure could be improved. But if you're prepared to take time there and to enjoy it for what it is, rather than trying to pack every experience into a day at the same time as thousands of other people are doing the same, it's great. I have very happy memories of wandering up to the hot springs through the most gorgeous rainforest, exploring the parks, enjoying the quiet pace of Roseau and the bustle of the Saturday market, going along empty coastlines with perfect water. And did I mention that they are the loveliest people ever? (As a friend said of someone else: "He'd give the shirt off his back for you, because that's the Dominican way." And it is.) Very safe place in my experience, too. Would go back in a trice if I could.
Saturday 23rd of January 2016
I appreciate you experience, but it was opposite of our experience from last January 2015. We also arrived on the Celebrity Summit cruise ship. After mulling around the dock with family and going into the tour office, we spoke to a young man who operated his own tour and promised us he would take us to places where no others would be crowding us. We decided to take him up on his offer. Six of us hired him to take us around the island. We saw gardens, waterfalls, a natural hot spring coming from the side of the hill and got to swim in both the falls (ice cold) and hot springs (nice and hot). We were on a 5-6 hour tour and even got to walk along the beach and hunt for sea glass, while our tour guide visited his family/friends there at a little restaurant/bar. We loved Dominica and even got our tour guide's business card, so we would recommend him to others and call him if we ever visit the island again. We were not crowded at all and didn't encounter many others on our tour. We felt spoiled and made sure our guide knew how appreciated he was. Of the 5 islands we visited, Dominica was our favorite!
Wednesday 13th of January 2016
I agree with the post. The problem is that their is rampant public sector corruption in Dominica. Public funds are routinely misappropriated away from where they are most needed - funds that could go towards enabling the tourist infrastructure on the island. And about the culture thing- that will soon be a thing of the past, since the mainstay of the economy is the selling of passports to those who want to escape from the Middle East.
Wednesday 13th of January 2016
Thanks Joseph. I don't know what the solution is unfortunately. It's a beautiful island, but the infrastructure struggles to sustain what's happening there. As for the Dominica economic citizenship programs, I'm familiar with it, but thought it was still very, very small. In other countries that used to have it, the utilization rate was very low. That said, the world is a bit different now. Thanks for taking time to comment.
Saturday 5th of September 2015
I enjoyed reading the many perspectives on this blog. I recently visited Dominica along with several other islands on a cruise and can happily proclaimed it to be my favorite by far. The people we met were wonderfully friendly, and the islands natural assets stood it apart from others. I would happily return (perhaps for cricket game) and have no problem recommending the island to my friends. It was obvious upon arrival that Dominica lacks the financial infrastructure that other island enjoy, but for us, this was part of the charm. The people we met couldn't have been more accommodating. Loved reading the passionate opinions of those who make Dominica their home.
Saturday 9th of May 2015
Thanks for the review. Some of the people responding are harsh because their pride is hurt but some give good examples of places I should see when I go. The facts are that on the day you went it was overcrowded and hard to enjoy. People keep saying you should go back and stay longer but you are right-the average American has 2 weeks vacation that they spread across the year. It's hard to see the world in that time so cruises are considered a great option for many of us. On my first and only cruise so far, we were the last people to get back on the ship at our first port, we didn't realize how little time we had to explore. I was so tired when I came back I promised myself to never take another cruise like that. I'm looking at a cruise that stops in Bernuda for 3 nights so I don't feel rushed. I've wanted to see Dominica for 10 years and this might finally be the year so I'm doing some research now. Thanks for your honest review. (Laura if you're reading email me!)
Tuesday 19th of May 2015
Thanks for commenting. We'll e-mail you.