Destination of the Week: Dominica
Eco-tourism and renewable energy help Caribbean island stand out from the crowd.
Sat, Mar 14, 2009 at 05:41 AM
GARDEN OF EDEN: The gorgeous natural surroundings of Dominica make it a hot green spot. (Photo: Andrew Mawby/Flickr)
A stereotypical Caribbean vacation destination is characterized by sandy beaches and large, blockish resort hotels. For many travelers, escaping the winter weather of northern latitudes is reason enough to visit these warm-weather isles. But a trip to the Caribbean doesn't have to be filled with tropical-fruit-flavored cocktails and the sticking of sand to sunscreen-slathered skin.
The island of Dominica — located in the middle of the Lesser Antilles — is one of the most rugged and natural travel destinations north of the Amazon. There are resorts and cruise ship docking spots on the island, but lounging on the beach isn't part of many travelers' itineraries. Features such as a geothermally heated lake, unspoiled jungles, hidden waterfalls and volcanic mountains have been seducing nature lovers and adventurous travelers for years. Rather than trying to use its eco-tourism success to facilitate the development of more mainstream resorts, Dominica has embraced its natural side and fine-tuned its green travel industry.
The result: an island destination that's ideal for environmentally conscious travelers, excitement seekers and anyone else who's turned off by the typical tropical resort experience.
Sleep in nature
One of the most successful eco-resorts on Dominica is the 3 Rivers Eco Lodge and Sustainable Living Center. Not only does 3 Rivers put visitors within a short distance of the island's major sites (the thermally heated Boiling Lake, Morne Trois Pitons National Park and the sea turtle nesting areas of Rosalie), it's also a model for green living. In addition to serving food grown in its organic gardens and powering the resort with 100 percent renewable energy, 3 Rivers offers workshops on sustainability. Accommodation options include tree houses and forest cottages.
Walk in nature
Dominica is an island of waterfalls. With more than 350 rivers tumbling down mountainous terrain, it's a nearly perfect waterfall-watching country. The best aspect of the island's falls is that many are located in isolated parts of the jungle. The most spectacular cascades can only be reached after a difficult trek. These falls are ideal for those who think that natural beauty and isolation go hand-and-hand.
There are several well-trod trekking routes on Dominica ("well-trod" by local standards means others have walked the route before, but you're unlikely to come across many other human beings during your hike). Morne Trois Pitons National Park is the venue for daylong tromps from one coast to the other. These routes run over the island's second-highest peak, past waterfalls, thermal springs and walls of green foliage. Though not for the inexperienced or the weak-legged, these treks showcase the best of Dominica's wilds.
Soak in nature
Dominica's geography is dominated by volcanic mountains. Boiling Lake, the steam-covered body of geothermally heated water in Morne Trois Pitons, is a major tourist attraction. But, because the water is near boiling temperature (100 degrees Celsius), it's not the kind of "hot spring" you'd care to swim in. The naturally heated pools at Ti Kwen Glo Cho are more temperate and therefore ideal for submerging yourself in mineral-rich water.
Swim with nature
Dominica's forests and mountains aren't the only havens for wildlife. The island's coastal waters are home to innumerable marine species. Popular dive sites such as Point Break, off the Atlantic side of the island, and the Cabrits, a collection of densely inhabited reefs, draw serious divers as well as casual snorkelers.
You don't even need to be able to swim to get a close-up look at Dominica's marine life. Each spring and summer, specially trained guides lead small groups of visitors along the city beaches of Rosalie to nests where giant sea turtles are laying their eggs. The guides are part of Rosalie's Sea Turtle Initiative. This organization seeks to protect the turtle nesting grounds, and the turtles themselves, to ensure that this vital tourist draw is not snuffed out by overwhelming crowds.
Embracing green ideas
Again, Dominica is an island of waterfalls. While trekkers spend their vacations in search of these hidden wonders, there's an even more important use for the numerous rivers: hydroelectric power, which can be generated by the fast-moving waters and currently accounts for half Dominica's electricity. In addition, wind-powered generators are being constructed at strategic points around the island. These sustainable methods are as much a practicality as they are a nod to eco-friendliness. Dominica is an underdeveloped island that has to rely on fossil fuel imports for some of its energy. Such imports are expensive. Because of the numerous resources on the island (add geothermal and solar power to the list of sustainable power sources), further development could make fossil fuels completely unnecessary.
Dominica is proving the Caribbean isn't just about beaches, and that developing a tourism industry doesn't have to mean more concrete buildings and cruise ship terminals.