With soft sand and warm, bright blue water, the Caribbean has long been a family vacation favorite. Beaches may be the standout, but the Caribbean has much more to love — you just need to know where to find it. That’s where Dominica comes in.
Often confused with the Dominican Republican, Dominica (pronounced “dom-in-EEK-a”) is located in the Eastern Caribbean, between the French Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. English is the official language, and unlike its better-known island neighbors, beaches are not the star of the show here. (A majority of the Atlantic coast is not swimmable.) Sure, if you look closely you can find them, but as you’re searching you’ll likely get distracted by the list of unique possibilities the island has to offer. From cascading waterfalls and trekking through the jungle to swimming in thermal hot springs, your family will be too busy to miss the beach.
Dominica’s towering mountainous interior is contrasted by a coastline surrounded by deep waters, making it a favorite locale for sperm whales. Although resident whales can be seen year-round, the odds of success on a whale-watching trip increase from the end of November through March. Sperm whales dominate the waters, but you might also catch sight of an assortment of other whales, including orcas, pygmy killer whales, humpback whales and dolphins. Boats typically depart out of the city of Roseau, Dominica’s capital.
Just as if they were taking turns, turtles sightings increase in Dominica as whale sightings slow. From March to October, leatherback, green and hawksbill sea turtles come ashore to nest on beaches. Seeing them can be tricky, as females often crawl onto the sand at night to nest, and hatchlings also typically emerge in the evening. Rosalie Bay Resort offers a Turtle Wake-Up Call for interested guests, so they can head to the beach when a turtle makes a visit or when hatchlings poke through the sand to make their first trip to the sea.
Not far from Roseau, the Wotten Waven area is home to a number of hot sulphur springs said to have healing properties. Ti Kwen Glo Cho, Creole for “little corner of hot water,” is a local favorite. The water isn’t crystal-clear — pools take on a murky look — but once you’re in, you’ll have no regrets. If you’re just not sure, walk past the main pool and changing room along the path and down a set of stairs. Here, a series of old bathtubs tucked into a stand of bamboo are constantly refilled with warm, clear water. The small space makes it a particularly nice spot for parents with young children.
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There are a number of both hot and cold pools, along with a place where folks are encouraged to get in and cover their entire bodies with mud. If you’re looking to gain the greatest health benefits, there is a specific order to the recommended steps. That said, just soaking without worry about when and where feels good on travel-weary bodies of all ages. Even though the pools are fed by sulphur springs, the smell is faint.
Be sure to bring flip-flops or wear water shoes; the paths that connect the pools are rocky and can be painful to wander in bare feet. Having bathing suits on underneath clothes can be a time saver for families, enabling them to make a splash sooner. There aren’t any showers, and there’s only one changing room that’s not particularly private. It is large enough to fit a few people at a time, but since it is used by both men and women, it only takes a few soakers to form a line.
Don’t look it up; you won’t easily find a working definition for forest bathing. Mother of two Terri Henry, who owns and operates Live Your Nature, guides groups of all ages into the Wotten Waven rainforest along a segment of Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail. Instead of focusing on the hike and details like plant names, she coaxes guests to make a connection with nature to promote holistic well-being. Family-friendly activities include having kids touch a tree while blindfolded, which encourages them to “see” details with their hands, then challenging them to find the same tree after they’re led away and the blindfold is removed. The path can get muddy when wet, but other than a short, steep stretch in the beginning, it’s not long or difficult, making it doable for little legs. And every walk ends with a soak at Ti Kwen Glo Cho.
Locals will tell you Dominica has 365 rivers, one for every day of the year. But as all that water zigzags across the island, it creates a multitude of waterfalls, many of which are easily accessible and even swimmable. Park the car on the side of the road, and in less than five minutes you can be standing in front of Jacko Falls. If you’re hunting for a souvenir, a handful of village artisans are often set up selling their wares, plus local snacks and freshly harvested spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Have your swimsuits handy when you head to nearby Emerald Pool. Part of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, an easy-to-navigate loop trail leads to the 40-foot waterfall. When weather conditions are calm, the pool at the base is a popular swimming spot. Water shoes, towels and a waterproof camera are all good to have on hand.
You get two for the price of one 10-minute walk at Trafalgar Falls. One of Dominica’s most popular attractions, these falls are referred to as Mother and Father Falls. At 125 feet, the Father Falls is the taller of the two; the Mother Falls is 75 feet high. You can soak in the mineral pool at the base, but getting there can be a bit tricky. There isn’t a clear path and you’ll have to climb atop a series of rocks.
Both Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool are popular cruise excursions, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try to arrive first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. Although all of the waterfalls mentioned are easily accessible, there are steps, so you’ll want to leave strollers in the car.
Just a 10-minute walk from Trafalgar Falls is Papillote Wilderness Retreat, set on more than 10 acres. With just five guestrooms, spending the night is like staying in your own personal slice of the Dominican rainforest. Amenities for the most part come compliments of Mother Nature. Along with two waterfalls and a sizable botanical garden, there are four hot mineral pools. Unlike Wotten Waven, Papillote’s geothermal pools are iron-rich, so there’s no sulphur smell. As you wander along the many paths, you’re likely to meet one of the resident peacocks.
If the dates don’t work and you can’t spend the night, you can still visit the property to tour the garden or swim in the pools. Bathrooms, changing areas and an outdoor shower are available for use.
Editor’s Note: Dana’s trip was sponsored by the Discover Dominica Authority. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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