Beautiful Dominica has been named the top island in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas for 2022 in Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. Yet most travelers have yet to discover it.
Dominicans Colin Piper and Aziz Roberts share Dominica's geography and history, and sights/sites to experience -- from "boiling lakes" and "champagne snorkeling" to trails by waterfalls, river rafting, black and silver beaches, hot springs, and whale watching. We also discuss cultural festivals, luxury and eco-friendly hotels, and local foods and drinks.
And of course, we end with special memories of this special island nation.
Colin Piper is CEO of Discover Dominica Tourism Authority. Aziz Roberts is a bartender at InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa, who connects with guests through the art of cocktails.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to many guidebooks.
Contact Lea! @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
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Lea Lane 0:06
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer, and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.
In this episode, we're talking about what I consider perhaps the most naturally beautiful island in the Caribbean. When you say Dominica many people think of the Dominican Republic. But Dominica is its own small island country. It's often called the Nature Island of the Caribbean, because of its unspoiled lush environment. Dominica is filled with flowers and surrounded by volcanic peaks and clear waters teeming with tropical fish. And because there are no casinos or big shows, it's been pretty much undiscovered. I visited Dominica twice, the first time on a day trip off a small ship cruise which gave me a glimpse of its beauty. The second time I stayed about a week, and I still remember the natural pleasures and the endless adventures.
Our guests are two men who can guide us around their lovely island. Colin Piper is CEO of Discover Dominica Tourism Authority, and Aziz Roberts is a bartender at Cabrits resort Kempinski and is a great representative of the hospitality of the Dominicans. Let's start with geography. Where exactly is Dominica?
Colin Piper 1:34
Well, Dominica is kind of in the middle of the chain of islands, when you consider that the Caribbean for point of reference, most people start up in Puerto Rico and come all the way down to Trinidad. So we're kind of smack them in the middle between the two French overseas departments of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. And for a little more reference we're two islands north of St. Lucia.
Lea Lane 1:58
Okay, two islands down Okay. Turn right at St. Lucia. There are no casinos, the main roads are narrow, there's limited nightlife and black volcanic beaches, which don't appeal to some who are looking for sun and fun. But wow. If you like unspoiled nature and an end of the road feeling this is the place. How much of the island remains natural?
Colin Piper 2:20
Well, we've got about 60% of the island that's rainforest, about 40% of the island is almost a national park. We truly embody the moniker of the Nature Island of the Caribbean, the plentiful naturalness, so to speak, on the island,
Lea Lane 2:38
When you drive along those narrow roads, you feel like you're in the rain forest; most of the time its all around you.
Colin Piper 2:44
We say when you come in from the airport, it's like an oxygen tank with all the greenery that surrounds you and the nature that surrounds you?
Lea Lane 2:53
Yes. And the driver was so nice. It was a narrow two lane road, which is charming and turning, we went up north and and he said Do you get nauseous when you drive? I said, I didn't think so. So he went just in case and got some lemon grass from the side of the road and gave it to me. And it was the nicest way to come into a place; you felt immediately like you were in a beautiful place. Now, tell us a bit about the history of Dominica.
Colin Piper 3:16
As is typical with a lot of the other Caribbean islands, you know, the Arawaks and then the Caribbean Indians now on Dominica go by the name of the Calanago Indians. And we have the largest population of those indigenous peoples still remaining of any of the islands in the Caribbean. And then the rediscovery as we say it by Christopher Columbus,
Lea Lane 3:39
The last island that he found.
Colin Piper 3:41
Yeah, that's what what I know. Yes, affectionately. They also say that if he were to come back now it's the one island that he would remember because of the ruggedness of Dominica. You had colonization. We switched hands four times between the English and the French. You have history of enslaved people as well. And that's kind of it in a nutshell between the Calanago, between the enslaved people who then were maroons on the island, the switch between the French and the English, has given Dominica its very colorful history and its kind of Creole patrimony as well, which you see in the food, you see in the drink. You've seen the clothing you've seen the way we speak.
Lea Lane 4:24
Now Dominica took a walloping blow from Hurricane Maria in 2017. It was the worst recorded storm ever to hit the island I read. So where's the recovery? Now?
Colin Piper 4:35
First of all, I'll say psychologically, we're 100% recovered. There may be one or two folks who still have some defects, but I think as a people and as a nation, rather, we are more concerned about the future than looking back at the past. And so we understand the whole issue of resiliency and what it takes, and if you look back to Dominica history, you will know that from time immemorial, you know we have been a people that have been dealing with shocks and natural disasters. And so it's in our DNA. So as people were moving forward, and that's the most important thing, and a great help to that was nature coming back when you saw the trees coming back with leaves and getting their foliage and the birds chirping, that people had no choice but but to come back as well. So in terms of housing and those things, and buildings, and those things were were certainly back.
Lea Lane 5:29
Well, I know I came in on a nonstop flight on American Airlines three hours from Miami. And that's a big, big improvement. So I know, I heard this a new airport in the works. Is that true?
Colin Piper 5:40
Correct. Yes, there's, we don't want to say an International Airport, because you came in from Miami. So we already have one. But we're working on a longer runway, you know, hopefully about 9000 feet. And we're hoping that by 2026, or soon thereafter, we will have that available. And we will be able to offer this gem beyond compare to come and experience as part of their leisure vacation. Right?
Lea Lane 6:05
If you build it, they will come I guarantee you.
Colin Piper 6:08
That's the saying. And that's wonderful.
Lea Lane 6:12
I agree. So Dominica has the highest concentration of volcanoes in the world. Let's discuss some of the island's pleasures; tell us about the Boiling Lake.
Colin Piper 6:23
So the Boiling Lake is the largest Boiling Lake of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It's the second largest in the world.
Lea Lane 6:31
I think New Zealand is first.
Colin Piper 6:32
The frying pan in New Zealand. To get to the Boiling Lake in Dominica is about a three to four hour hike each way. So it's a vision quest, or a lot of people who come to me ...
Lea Lane 6:45
A bucket list for a fit person.
Colin Piper 6:48
Exactly, exactly. And so along the way, you can dip in some of the hot sulfar spas, you go through the Valley of Desolation, which gives you a geology lesson on a number of minerals. So the Boiling Lake is for a lot of people who come, and the young and the old just as long as you're physically fit.
Lea Lane 7:06
I heard there's a tram perhaps being built is that correct? When is that?
Colin Piper 7:11
It's just beginning in terms of the planning phases. So it'll probably be another couple years before it's built. However, it's to give, you know, those who are not able bodied the opportunity to see the lake as well.
Lea Lane 7:23
Well, I know the park -- besides the nine volcanoes -- it also has sulfur vents and it has Trafalgar Falls, which is an easier hike than Boiling Lake Is that the Falls where you swim into it or is there another one?
Colin Piper 7:36
No, the one that you swim into is called Titoo Gorge, but Trafalgar Falls are the Papa and Mama falls in Dominica, and so a lot of people come you know depending on the days and the Forestry Division saying sometimes you're able to walk down amongst the rocks and partake both in warm and cold bathing pools as part of the Trafalgar Falls. But the one that you were talking about is Titoo Gorge, it's an opening in the rocks where you can swim through and about 100-200 feet up you actually see a nice waterfall in there, so very cool, very cool waters but very refreshing.
Lea Lane 8:16
Very lovely. And from there you can see Guadeloupe and Martinique if it's a good day, right? You can see all the way over there from the top
Colin Piper 8:23
On certain places, yes, especially Fort Shirley where we're closer to Guadalope you can see that, and then in the south in Scotts Head where we're closer to Martinique.
Lea Lane 8:34
I went to Fort Shirley, that is not a difficult hike. And it's in a lovely long distance hiking trail that's 114 miles long. I'm gonna not say it probably correctly.
Colin Piper 8:47
Yes, that's the name given to Dominica by the indigenous people.
Lea Lane 8:51
Amazing. Tall is her body and long is the trail because it goes all the way through the island.
Colin Piper 8:58
Yeah, 114 miles divided into 14 segments, some of them geology lessons, some are cultural lessons, some historical lessons. And they go from the southern tip of the island to the northern tip in 14 segments. If you do it all continuously, probably take about seven to 10 days. But it all depends on your level of fitness, which one you want to do. And which part of the island you want to target. The western side is a little more sedate. The eastern side is a little more rugged.
Lea Lane 9:30
Is that the one with a vertical trail?
Colin Piper 9:32
Yeah, we call it the wild side.
Lea Lane 9:34
Yeah, there's mangrove roots and you go -- I've seen I have not done that. But I've seen people do it. And it sounds like for hikers, it's really different. You don't get that very many places I would think.
Colin Piper 9:45
Yeah. And that's what's interesting about Dominica is you see a lot of different vegetation because of the volcanoes, because of the hills, the mountains, that about 60% of our land is in rainforest. So there's a lot of different things that you get to see and experience you know, we've got over 300 miles of hiking trails and so you can go on a walk about and not run into anyone which is just wonderful to be one with nature. Yeah.
Lea Lane 10:16
And people are horseback riding, they're bird watching, they're turtle watching. They don't run out of choices. The motto I read is a Apres Bondi c'est la terre, which means after God the Earth, which gives you an idea of the importance of biodiversity for this tiny island, for your tiny island nation. Now, Dominica is known for its mountains, its rainforests, its waterfalls, but it also has a number of beaches and picturesque coastal formations. Many of them in the north of the island. Tell us about some of the popular beaches.
Colin Piper 10:43
Yeah, so what you find in Dominica, which by the way, has more of its of its circumference in beaches than the island of Nevis, which is known for its beaches. And what you find in Dominica is a number of private beaches, private coves, private keys, those sorts of things. So you're likely to go to a beach in Dominica, and be the only one there. And how wonderful is that. And it all depends on what you want. If you start in the south, or in the east, you're likely to see a black sandy beach, or rocky beach, which is part of the volcanic activity. And if you go to the north northeast of the island, you're likely to see a more coral silver sand beach like you would see elsewhere. You can take your pick. The one thing we can guarantee you -- to not kind of be overrun, overcrowded by people on the beaches, which is just wonderful.
So now is the time to go because it is still a little bit undiscovered. That's what I'm telling everyone -- go now before the planes come in more regularly and before the trams go up to the Boiling Lake. Now we'll stay with water a little bit check out the nearby sulpher pools. Where are they?
So we have a number of monikers you know, and one of them is a natural spa capital of the Caribbean. And specifically, we speak to the village in the Roseau Valley. And it has a number of emissions from the activity. And we have about four entities that have these sulpher pools or spas, which are said to have healing powers. And so after you've done a long walk, or you've done some sort of activity in Dominica, then that's the ideal place to go to soak your body and let that penetrate your skin. Let it soothe your aching muscles.
Lea Lane 12:30
Well, I went on the Indian River, you've got lots of rivers, but the Indian River was the most popular. I think there wasn't many people. It's not like it's crowded, but it was a very nice ride through jungley terrain. And there were lots of birds and iguanas and crabs. And I do recommend that even if you you know don't want to do some of the harder things. It's lovely to get on the raft and just be paddled along with somebody doing it for you.
Colin Piper 12:57
Yes, the Indian River is a wonderful tour and activity done by a number of the residents in the Portsmouth area where you go up through the mangroves, and you're able to see some of the wildlife and they give you a great interpretation along the way explaining to you what you're looking at what you're seeing, including the witch's hut from the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is on the Indian River. And then the renowned Bush bar where they serve you one of their dynamite drinks, which we might talk about, oh yeah, very high alcoholic content. So it's probably good that you don't have to do swimming or rowing in that river.
Lea Lane 13:42
Sit and enjoy. So some of the nicest healthiest reefs I've seen in a long while were around the coasts, because again, I don't think they're over run with tourists yet. So the one snorkeling adventure that everybody talks about is champagne beach. Tell us about champagne snorkeling?
Colin Piper 14:00
Yeah. And before we get there, the National Parks extend into the sea. And so one of the reasons why you see some of the healthiest reefs is because we have marine reserve parks, on to the north in the Cabrits and one to the south. Champagne reef is within the Soufriere Scots Head marine reserve park or just or abutting it. But what's interesting about that reef is that the volcanic emissions come up from the seabed and create these bubbles, and thus the name champagne, you feel like you're snorkeling in a glass of champagne. It's very unique activity, not very many places in the world can you expect to experience that? And so we're really pleased to be able to provide that to people when they visit Dominica.
Lea Lane 14:48
Oh, absolutely. That brings them in that'll bring, -- that and the Boiling Lake. Those are two interesting things you don't see very often in this world. So another thing that you might be surprised when you get there is there are sperm whales that live year round. They don't want to leave. They're pretty smart. They don't they don't go anywhere else. (You're right.) Pretty, pretty sure you'll see them.
Colin Piper 15:09
Exactly. So the sightings of sperm whales in Dominica are in the 90% range. And so we're called a whale watching capital of the Caribbean. And you're right, that's because we have a resident population of sperm whales owing to the depth of the channel between or just off Dominica. And we also get visited. We also have a migrant population of whales that come especially at birthing time and that's because with a volcanic activity, the warmth of the water at the depths that they need to birth is ideal. And so they come for that (What month?) Typically during the winter months, but you know, I, I don't presume to know when the whales want to give birth. I just know that when they want to give birth, they come to Dominica because of what we offer but definitely during the winter months, the resident population are here and more active, but all year through, probably from 85% sighting so, so wonderful experience.
Lea Lane 16:09
Lots of dolphins too.
Colin Piper 16:11
Absolutely, lot of species, and scuba diving is another very important activity because of the reefs that we have and because of the micro life that we have, and because of the topology below the water, Dominica is top five in terms of scuba diving.
Lea Lane 16:31
Oh I didn't realize that. I know around Scotts Head. Pinnacle is the place I heard but I just knew the snorkeling was champagne. So I stopped there.
Colin Piper 16:37
Snorkeling is great. But scuba diving is popular, especially in the in the south.
Lea Lane 16:47
So Aziz tell us about the capital city,
Aziz Roberts 16:50
Rouseau is our main capital. We have Rouseau and Portsmouth but Rouseau is the main capital. When in Rouseau, you're actually seeing everything. Everything that Dominica already has to offer-- the shops the buildings from a long time ago,
Lea Lane 17:06
They're timbered and colorful. I noticed they're very colorful.
Aziz Roberts 17:08
Yes. Even the modernized building that we have right now like the financial center we are doing some new modernized buildings in Roseau right now. Even the streets designed in block form. So Roseau is very nice even going towards by the beachfront and everything. We had a cruise ship office is very beautiful.
Lea Lane 17:13
That's where you get off for the cruise ships, right or both Portsmouth. Now I know Portsmouth is a city near you. And that's the second biggest city. I went to the very charming Saturday market there -- the people were dressed in plaid Madras outfits. Why? Why did they wear that?
Aziz Roberts 17:50
Okay, so maybe the time of year, it was in the Creole season. Yeah. So everyone is dressed in the Creole outfit? Yeah. Okay. So you will find a lot of nice fruits, like papaya, coconut, bananas, bread fruits, and all that stuff. You might find it there, but they will give you a nice display of the items. This is also the cultural passport to the market.
Lea Lane 18:19
There's a very good beach there.
Aziz Roberts 18:20
Purple turtle is a very nice beach. Yes. So it is very nice and smooth. The water is not that rough. So it's nice. You can walk in very easily. If you want to go and just relax on the beach, cover yourself in the sun and take a massage that can be done. So yeah, sounds good.
Lea Lane 18:46
We mentioned the Creole festival. So let's mention a few other ones. I know Carnival is a big festival. Tell us about what happens there.
Aziz Roberts 18:53
Well, Carnival Time we have a lot of people coming down to Dominica to actually take part of this festival. So this festival is also another cultural like they were saying Calypso. They go with the different competition, different monarchs and stuff like that. They will perform like on a Wednesday, we'll have like some tents and stuff like that Saturday, and they will go on to the elect some king, so he will be the king for the roadmap or the king that will be on the streets of the Carnival day.
Lea Lane 19:26
Well, I know there's also a jazz festival in May and a film festival in March that there's lots of them all through the year to add to the mix. You have lots going on there. Let's talk a little bit about the accommodations because I know there are lots of eco-sensitive lodgings and wellness retreats because such a beautiful place attracts people who are interested in those kinds of things. What are a couple of ones you recommend, either of you, which which were some names we would want to think about how about Rosalie Bay.
Aziz Roberts 19:54
Rosalie Bay is on the southeast of Dominica. So Rosalie is very nice. place to visit. The resort is not that big but it's eco friendly. The trees, everything is natural. You got when there is in season you got the nesting of the turtles and all that stuff being done at Rosalie Bay, Rosalie Bay is close to the river that's coming down from I would say the Boiling Lake area. And then it's also bought 21 acres of land. Rosalie Bay, they are very unique. And they give that great service also.
Lea Lane 20:31
There are many as I said, there, if you look it up, you can find dozens of these wonderful, eco sensitive lodging. You are very luxurious place. Cabrits Yeah. Tell us a little bit about where you are.
Aziz Roberts 20:43
Well at Kempinski, we go a little bit more to the luxurious side; we offer 151 rooms at Kempinski and also where it is located. It's located close by the sea. So you have that nice scenery, the nice view and also the pools. We have pools that are connected to the rooms. We got pools that close by the pool bar area, it's just a nice place to visit. We got some nice cabanas if you want to relax and you want to do a massage. We got a nice spa. We got I have to say one of the best spas.
Lea Lane 21:16
Yeah, so you luxury and there are several others that I know are excellent. People just have to look them up.
Colin Piper 21:23
Kempinski is on the northern side where they benefit from the silver sand beaches. To the south and southwest, we have two interesting properties as well. We have Jungle Bay Resort and Spa, which is a very wellness and adventure oriented property, edible landscape. So a lot of what you eat is actually grown on property. They have 14 spas, they have 89 rooms, and so very wholesome cuisine as well. And most recently is Cooley Ridge, which is a 14 room, eco-luxury and very sustainable property. And that's helping to put Dominica on the map because of the fact that it's almost 100% I think it's 100% off the grid in terms of electricity and energy and runs its own. Rain has its own cisterns for rainwater, and just very sustainable, sustainable oriented in terms of its ethos. So those are a couple of the additional properties besides the smaller properties, whether they're cottages, villas or mountain lodges that Dominica has in terms of variety of places to stay.
Lea Lane 22:34
Excellent. I know the local restaurants are very charming there. I like the names of them: The Chat and Dine. We're Keeping it Real. These are wonderful names. They tell you how warm it is, and the people are friendly and the food is good. What are some of the specialties of Dominica, what would you say either of you, first off.
Colin Piper 22:54
Dominica offers whether it's roadside cuisine, to local and regional cuisine to international cuisine at different places. And so some of those that you've mentioned, for example, keeping it real, has a lot of seafood and a lobster. But what you find in Dominica is that I mean then that the national dishes callaloo, which is a soup made with a lot of ground provisions and meats of various kinds, whether it's poultry or smoked chicken or pork. Or what you will find also is the Creole flavored foods, which again comes from our history of having switched hands between that the French and the English, but for sure there's the opportunity for wholesome cuisine because we grow a lot of what we eat in terms of provisions and seasonings.
Lea Lane 23:44
Well, let me ask you about mountain chicken. I know what that is. It's not a chicken. Anyone want to tell me what? To eat? Chicken?
Colin Piper 23:53
Go ahead, Aziz.
Aziz Roberts 23:54
I heard about it, but I have never ...
Lea Lane 23:57
Colin Piper 24:00
And once upon a time, it was a national dish of Dominica, we should say what it is. Yes, it's actually frog legs.
Lea Lane 24:09
Right. Frog Legs.
Colin Piper 24:12
Many people have had that and it was a national dish of Dominica. Done we've moved on to callaloo,
Lea Lane 24:20
Callaloo. Now Aziz, just tell me about the famous Knock You Down Rum Punch, you have to explain what's in there. That's all over Dominica.
Aziz Roberts 24:29
Knock You Down rum punch. Well, we have different varieties. Also, we make it here. At Kempinski, what you try to do before Rum Punch, we use the local rum from Dominica. We can get it mainly from Belfast Mikoshi. Rum. So what we normally do we infuse the room with the different herbs. So we can remove that impurity of the herbs and then infuse it to give you that nice flavor.
Lea Lane 24:59
I had one with garlic. It was infused with garlic. Yes, I like pineapple cinnamon a little better, but it was different.
Aziz Roberts 25:08
Yes. So the Creole sunset is a cocktail that we have created with the fruity rum. So we use pineapple, watermelon on a little bit of a passion fruit seeds in there, and we use the local rum. Then we use some fresh pineapple juice, a little bit of touch of bitters, lime.
Lea Lane 25:29
Well, that's it. That's reason enough to come to Dominica. Yeah. And I can see why you name it after the sunsets because they are beautiful. I will add that. Well, it sounds delicious in every way. But we have to end this with what we normally do. The name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So would you both be so kind as to share a favorite memory or story of your beautiful island country? Colin, do you want to start?
Colin Piper 25:53
Sure. Well, one of my favorites is Middle Hand falls, which is one of the many waterfalls on Dominica. And I normally say to people, it's about a 45 minute hike up and back. And you hike up and to it, you traverse down amongst the rocks and you get into the water; you scream like a little kid, because it's so cold. But after a minute, you don't want to get out. And then when you do get out and you walk the 45 minutes back, you hardly sweat because your body has just been cooled down. So, so wonderfully. And so I always tell people about that story. Because it just amazed me when it happened to me. And so I want everybody to experience that.
Lea Lane 26:32
Yeah. And I think it represents your island, that beautiful nature that can cool you off and make you feel so good. Aziz, how about you? I know you have a story about the Boiling Lake. So tell us about that one.
Aziz Roberts 26:44
Okay, so when I was at the age of eight, I did that hike with my parents and also other colleagues, you will hike, you had to cross a few rivers went through that hike, it was very tough, high, but it's worth it. So while you're going through the mountains, you're seeing different trees, different stuff, like cacao, different trees -- can be also seen like livestock like wild animals, and some birds in the trees. So while you're walking through, you're experiencing a lot of I would say good stuff that Dominica has to offer. It took us about one hour and 30 minutes to go up from that side. And then we had to take a vehicle to come back to the next side. But it was a very nice
Lea Lane 27:33
It took you an hour and a half? I heard it take six to eight hours. Did you just do part
Aziz Roberts 27:39
from from Grenfell that's on the next side of the island, on the southeast went up the hill. Yeah, I can take your boat over on what was on a hike? Yeah.
Lea Lane 27:48
Interesting. Well, I'm sure that's a memory when you're eight that you're not going to forget.
Aziz Roberts 27:54
When I did it I said that they won't do it again. I remember
Lea Lane 27:58
it. Did you? Did you do it again?
Aziz Roberts 28:02
No, no, I've not. I've not done it. But I want to do it again.
Lea Lane 28:04
Well, I'm waiting for the tram. And I will be back for that. For sure. Well, thank you so much for telling us about your beautiful island, Colin Piper. And Aziz Roberts, your country, your island country has so many natural pleasures. Thanks so much.
Aziz Roberts 28:22
All right. Thank you.
Colin Piper 28:23
Thank you very much.
Lea Lane 28:27
My book Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delight from 100 Countries is available in print Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on forbes.com where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episodes show notes or on my website placesIrememberlealane.com Until next time, make some travel memories.