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Fly the Internet to Caribbean Paradise
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The question was: Could we quickly plan an affordable Caribbean vacation on the Internet? We hopped on-line to check out various offerings. Spectacular photographs extolled each island's attractions!

The Commonwealth of Dominica, however, literally towered above the other islands. Rising from sea level to approximately 4,750 feet along its length of 29 miles and breadth of 16 miles, this small country offered natural wonders found together no other place on earth-a boiling lake, hot springs, numerous waterfalls on 365 waterways, living reefs for snorkeling and diving, an underwater warm spring producing the effect of swimming among champagne bubbles.

Emerald Falls

The more we looked, the more we were hooked. Where else could we experience this combination of natural beauty? With its fewer sandy beaches, we could escape the hordes of tourists. What's more, the friendly natives spoke English! Immediately, we e-mailed Dominica's Division of Tourism, requesting its packet of information on the "Nature Island." With our destination chosen, we zipped over to Travelocity's web site and signed up for notices on special airfares. Looking at available flights to Dominica, we could jet out of any large city to San Juan, Puerto Rico then catch a smaller plane, an American Eagle, to the island. From Tampa, it seemed unlikely we could beat the lowest standard airfare of $750 each. Travelocity's notification service, however, was free.

 

Calibishie Coast

Now we needed to decide where to stay. Was this information available on the Internet, too? We networked our way through various sites, the most complete being www.delphis.dm. We found multiple photographs of cottages, inns, hotels, even, owners. The rates were published; the prose, revealing; the range, astonishing. We could choose to stay at a high-rise in the capital or in a bamboo hut on the Carib Reserve. Our Internet searches were leading us to discovery after discovery. Our biggest surprise was how eager owners, managers, and other tourists were to share their love of Dominica.

With many accommodations to choose from, our next step was to create a spreadsheet. We compared locations; photos of interiors and exteriors; availability of kitchen facilities; costs per day, per week, per month; inclusions such as meals, tours, and taxes. We even rated owner/manager recommendations and other peoples' experiences.

 

We printed out a map from Dominica's homepage, marking what we wanted to do and see in one color then marking where we could stay in another color. Our map graphically showed us we needed at least a month to explore the island. Taking advantage of more affordable weekly rates, we opted to spend a week among the northern sandy beaches, a week in the eastern capital city, a week at the volcanic southern tip for its underwater wonders, and a week in the central mountain rainforests. Going and coming, we could spend a day investigating the western Carib Reserve, home to the last, few natives whose name identifies the sea and its islands.
Indian River

When Travelocity advised us of a special $450 round-trip ticket for a stay of 30-days, we e-mailed our four top-rated places for their available dates. Information poured back within 24 hours. Using our MasterCard, we booked our airline tickets then our accommodations. Amazingly, we missed only one first preference. Our alternate choice, however, turned out great, too. This bed and breakfast was located in a small town and right on the beach; its owner was a fabulous cook.

 

Carnival Princess

We went; we saw; we experienced thirty days of paradise for $3500, including everything from airfare to souvenirs. What do we most remember from our month in Dominica? The warmhearted people, the fresh tropical foods, and the extraordinary natural beauties of this volcanic island in the Caribbean Sea come to mind. These memories are flavored by curvy and steep roads, honking minivan buses and taxis, little villages and small cities, open-air markets and roadside stands, banana and palm trees, crowing chickens and bleating goats. The hiking and snorkeling were superb. Carnival or "Mas Dominik," the island's equivalent to Mardis Gras, was unforgettable as everyone partied for days.

All the peoples of Dominica are proud. They are descendants of Carib Indians, runaway slaves called "Marrons," and British and French colonists. Of course, there are newcomers, too. Almost every person welcomed us.

 

On the Carib Reserve, Olive and her grown children (Chung, Rosemary and Martin) told us where to see a canoe being carved out of a log and where to purchase the best handwoven baskets. We were introduced to flying fish, breadfruit, and Kabuli beer. We were asked to respect the natives' right to privacy by not photographing their faces without their permission.

Olive sorts coffee beans

In the fishing village of Calibishie, teen-age boys asked us to join their drumming and marching in the streets. French restaurant manager, Annick, introduced us to more Caribbean cuisine, recommending a Dominican cookbook. Bed and Breakfast owner, Teddy Lawrence, treated us to healthful ginger drinks. On a bus ride, Sistermay sold us a cassette tape of her songs with strong reggae sway and calypso beat.

 

Government House in Roseau

Above Roseau, we stayed in a cottage of a former Miss Dominica. Still beautiful at sixty, Mrs. Harris presided over her hillside estate and downtown hotel with great charm. Over rum punch and savory crab bites, she recounted stories of how she lost her roof and a heavy wardrobe during Hurricane David and how an American industrialist tricked her "aunty" out of her antique four-poster bed in exchange for a modern bedroom suite that fell apart.


At the southern tip's Scotts Head, sea kayak manager, Dino, told us where to snorkel and where to hike. Other locals sold us fruit, primarily ready-to-drink coconuts prepared by machete. Villagers wanted us to enjoy Carnival, inviting us to dance with them in the streets. "Jump up" was more of a loose-limbed march behind a truck full of speakers, blaring music. Sure, we could do that!
Sunset at Scotts Head

 


Bromeliad

In the mountain town of Trafalgar, Patricia Honychurch, the daughter of the first white woman in the island parliament, welcomed us to her garden cottage. She showered us with lilies, grapefruits, and eggs. Her son-in-law gave explicit directions to a breathtaking view of another waterfall.


We'll remember our underwater experiences. Being tickled by bubbles rising from the ocean bottom, photographing exotic fish, peeking into the deep blue abyss and feeling its colder waters left indelible images in our minds

Snorkeling over champagne bubbles


Father and son with fishtrap

On land, we'll never forget our hikes around the coves and into the hills. We can still visualize rusty tin roofs on pink, yellow and turquoise houses; colorful croton, hibiscus, and wild ginger hedges; plantations of coconuts and bananas. While we sunned on numerous beaches, we observed fishermen with boats, traps, nets, spear guns, and knives. We explored sea grottos and old forts. We walked all over the towns of Portsmouth and Roseau, the capital, admiring architecture and murals. We hiked up mountains, discovering hot springs, sulfur deposits, waterfalls, and incredible tropical vegetation.

We returned home full of exciting, mountaintop experiences to another mountain-of mail, including the requested information packet from the Dominica Division of Tourism. It's a good thing we were able to find everything we needed on the Internet!

Jacko Parrots

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IF YOU GO

Getting There: American Airlines offers service from its hub cities to Puerto Rico. Take a smaller American Eagle plane to Dominica. To enter, Americans must present a return ticket and proof of citizenship.

Getting Around: The cognoscenti take minibuses which run frequently, if not regularly. Similar minivans operate as taxis. Cars can be rented in Roseau. (Show a valid driver's license and purchase a permit.) The Dominican government has established fares and fees.

Staying There: There's an incredible variety of accommodations. We enjoyed Olive's Guest Houses (individual bamboo hut-bedrooms and common bathrooms) on the Carib Reserve, Veranda View in Calibishie, Itassi Cottages in Roseau, another cottage in Scotts Head (owned by Itassi but managed by Herche's Place), and D'Auchamps Gardens' cottage near Trafalgar.

Dining There: Again, the variety is amazing. We had good experiences every place we ate. Especially commendable Dominican fare is at: Mango in Portsmouth; Mousehole Snackettes, La Robe Creole, Sutton Place Hotel, and Fort Young Hotel in Roseau; Sundowner Café in Scotts Head; Seabird Café and Forest Bistro in Soufriere; and Papillote Wilderness Retreat's Rainforest Restaurant in Trafalgar.

Seeing The Sights: Hiking guides are available every time you turn around. The only hike needing a guide, however, is Boiling Lake. Hire a boat without motor to experience the mangroves of the Indian River. Purchase day passes to national park sites at nearby restaurants and roadside stands. Snorkeling is easy (free equipment to patrons of Sundowner Café). Hire equipment and guides for kayaking, diving, deep-sea fishing, and whale watching expeditions.

Exchanging Money: Exchange American dollars for Eastern Caribbean currency at the best rate at banks and credits unions. In a pinch, you can use American money at local businesses and for taxis. Know the current exchange rate.

Weather: Avoid the rainy season that begins in July and ends in October. Too, realize that the higher the elevation, the greater the average rainfall. Average daytime temperatures are 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Information: Contact the Dominica National Development Corporation's Division of Tourism at P.O. Box 293, Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, W. I. Phone them at (767) 448-2045. Fax them at (767) 448-5840. E-mail them at ndc@cwdom.dm.


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