Gone are the days when a vacation in the Caribbean meant nothing more than piña coladas on the beach at a cookie-cutter resort. As travelers return to the Caribbean in droves in 2023, now is the time to discover just how much this diverse region offers.
Hidden among the Lesser Antilles islands of the eastern Caribbean Sea, the island of Dominica has historically received far fewer visitors than nearby heavyweight Caribbean travel destinations. It bucks every expectation travelers have of a vacation to the Caribbean, with no long, white-sand beaches to speak of. Instead, with its soaring mountains and lush rainforests, Dominica positions itself as the new adventure travel destination that everyone is talking about.
Dominica Island: The Nature Island of the Caribbean
Known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, Dominica is home to breathtaking mountains covered in rich greenery, with 365 rivers slicing through the rugged hillsides to reveal plunging waterfalls and hidden swimming holes. With black sand beaches, narrow gorges, and even offshore wonders, Dominica offers adventurous travelers many options and opportunities to explore an enchanting landscape.
Adventurous travelers will be happy to learn that Dominica is home to the Caribbean's longest and most complete hiking trail. The Waitukubuli National Trail cuts across the island and provides a trekking experience many would never expect to find in the Caribbean.
Fourteen sections comprise the trail, inviting intrepid travelers to cut through jungles, rivers, and ridges with ocean views and incredible biodiversity. Hikers can camp in mountain passes or stay at tiny guest houses and hotels along the trail's southern sections. Many travelers add just a section or two of the trail to their Dominica itinerary.
The final section of the trail finishes in Cabrits National Park, just next to one of the most impressive hotels in Dominica, the InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa. Booking a relaxing wellness treatment or romantic couples massage at the resort's expansive spa is the best way to celebrate the completion of a successful trek.
Home to 9 of the 16 active volcanoes in the Caribbean, Dominica is uniquely volcanic, with evidence of its volcanic power everywhere. The island is home to numerous natural hot springs. Local “spas” surround the tiny mountain town of Wotten Waven, where travelers can soak in naturally-heated pools at the end of a day of hiking, repelling, or just relaxing among the island's natural beauty.
An even more impressive volcanic feature of Dominica is Boiling Lake, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Volcanic fumaroles power the rolling boil of the blue-gray waters of this incredible lake. As the lake is currently only accessible via a strenuous, nearly full-day hike through Dominica's UNESCO World Heritage Site, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, few travelers can witness the phenomena.
An exciting new project is looking to make it easier for travelers of all abilities to access Boiling Lake. The 4.1-mile cable car, stretching from Roseau Valley near the island's capital city of Roseau to Boiling Lake, will be the world's longest upon its completion in 2024. Shortening travel time to around just 20 minutes, the cable car will make Boiling Lake accessible even to travelers visiting the island on cruise ships.
A final, thrilling evidence of Dominica's volcanic power is found offshore, among the island's world-class reefs. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) considers Dominica one of the top ten destinations for diving in the world for its incredible wall dives like L'Abym, the underwater volcanic craters, and streams of volcanic bubbling springing from underwater rock fissures like champagne bubbles.
Champagne Beach is a well-known destination for snorkelers and divers alike to experience the magical bubbling effects of Dominica's reefs. However, beaches along the bay at the tiny fishing village of Soufriere are arguably more volcanic, though less well-known. Visit Bubble Beach Spa to bathe in naturally hot, bubbly waters along the shoreline, then dive in to explore the reefs just off the beach. They're considered to be home to some of the richest snorkeling in the Caribbean, with the underwater Soufriere Pillars and walls like the famous L'Abym, home to an incredible diversity of colorful sponges and corals.
As you explore Dominica's reefs, you might even spot a whale. Dominica is the only destination in the world where sperm whales live year-round and is known as the whale-watching capital of the Caribbean. Though sightings are most common in cooler months between November and March, travelers always have a chance to spot these gentle giants off the shores. Dominica is currently working on creating a sperm whale preserve to give these creatures even more protection in the deep waters along the island's coasts.
While there is plenty to satisfy travelers looking for an adventurous stay in Dominica, even travelers looking for a more classic Caribbean experience will find something to love here. With the recent addition of several new boutique hotels and resorts in Dominica at various price points, travelers of all budgets can enjoy a luxurious and relaxing experience in some of Dominica's most beautiful destinations.
The InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa, an IHG Hotel, is located at the end of the popular Waitukubuli National Trail, but it's well worth a visit even if a multi-day trek isn't on your itinerary. Sparkling pools, a gorgeous oceanfront, an expansive spa and wellness center, and even a kids club make the resort feel like the most classically Caribbean all-inclusive resort you'll find on the island. The property was recently acquired by InterContinential, making a stay even more beneficial for loyal IHG members.
Most of the other resorts on the island embrace the heart of the Nature Island with a jungle feel, integrating natural, locally-sourced materials into the construction and design of their properties. A luxurious resort favorite on the island, Secret Bay was named the best hotel in the Caribbean in 2020 by Travel + Leisure.
Offering an all-villa layout for the ultimate in seclusion, it's a favorite destination for honeymoons and those looking for much-needed rest and relaxation. Secret Bay's gorgeous Gommier Spa has stunning views over the jungle and Caribbean Sea, while the property is also home to one of the best beaches on the island.
A Sustainability Haven
As travelers increasingly look to more sustainable travel options, with a recent study by Booking.com identifying that 76% of global travelers are looking to travel more sustainably this year, the eco-friendliness of the Nature Island is more important than ever.
“In 2023, Dominica remains focused on its sustainability efforts, which is becoming an increasingly popular selling point of the island,” says the CEO of Discover Dominica, Colin Piper.
In addition to island-wide initiatives, Dominica has a slate of eco-friendly hotels, tours, and experiences designed to bring visitors close to the heart of Nature Island. Snorkeling and dive operators use excursions with travelers to apply treatments to corals suffering from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, allowing visitors to take part in coral conservation and projection efforts.
While the island currently operates on about 30% sustainable energy, a new geothermal energy plant is slated to open by the end of next year, bringing the country near 100% use of sustainable energy sources.
The 2022 debut of the Coulibri Ridge, the island's newest resort, put Dominica even more squarely on the map as an eco-friendly destination. This ultra-sustainable property is entirely off-grid, supplying all of its water and energy needs with solar power and other sustainable energy sources. It's been named among the 15 best new hotels in the world by Afar and received accolades for both its sustainability and luxury design.
The Future of Dominica Travel
When American Airlines launched its first direct flights to the island of Dominica from the United States at the end of 2021, travel to the island increased dramatically. “The addition of the American Airlines flight had a significant impact on our tourism arrivals. It's never been faster or easier for U.S. visitors to travel to and from Dominica,” said Discover Dominica's CEO, Colin Piper. Visitor numbers to the island increased 308% last year amid increasing international travel globally and the island's growing profile as a travel hotspot.
Dominica continues to work to increase the airlift to the island, including constructing a new airport with capacity for even larger commercial jets to access the island. American Airlines flights are also expected to increase in frequency throughout the rest of the year and beyond. As visitors continue to discover the new and paradigm-shifting travel potential of this one-of-a-kind Caribbean island, Dominica looks forward to even more buzz in the future.
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.