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Whether you arrive in Dominica by sea or by air, your likely first impression will be one of awe at the sheer dramatic majesty of the place, one with which few islands in the Caribbean can compete. Nicknamed ‘the nature island,' Dominica (locals stress the third syllable) lures independent travelers and eco-adventurers with its boiling lake, rainforest-shrouded volcanoes, sulfurous hot springs, superb diving and the Caribbean's first long-distance hiking trail.
An English-speaking island wedged between francophone Guadeloupe and Martinique, Dominica is also on a different path to its neighbors in development terms, with no big cruise terminal nor an airport that can take even medium-haul flights. This means the island's traditional character has been far better preserved than elsewhere in the Lesser Antilles.
Hurricane Maria wreaked absolute havoc on Dominica in 2017, from which the island is still painfully – but determinedly – recovering.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Dominica.
This small but interesting museum above the tourist office right near the cruise-ship pier provides an overview of the history of Dominica and its people. Maintained by the island's top historian, Lennox Honychurch, it has informative displays and objects on Kalinago and Creole culture as well as the slave trade. Check out the portrait of Queen Victoria on the staircase.
This cobblestone plaza has been the center of action in Roseau for more than 300 years. It’s been the site of political meetings, farmers markets and, more ominously, public executions and a slave market. Nowadays it’s got craft and souvenir stalls that get plenty of attention from cruise-ship passengers when the big ships are in port.
Tucked beneath Morne Bruce hill, Roseau's 40-acre botanic gardens are effectively a giant park to the north of town, which – despite terrible damage sustained during Hurricane Maria – contains some mature banyan trees, century palms and an impressive baobab tree along with many flowering tropical shrubs. It’s a great place for a wander and a picnic, and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. The trailhead for ‘Jack’s Walk,’ a steep and winding half-mile trail to the top of Morne Bruce, is behind the aviary.
This handsome 1906 stone building was funded by US philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and was Dominica's best public library until Maria ripped off its roof in 2017. It has since been closed, with its surviving collection moved elsewhere. The massive white mansion with the expansive lawn across the street is the State House, used by the government for official receptions. Parliament meets in the adjacent Assembly Building.
Dominica’s president is among the residents of this rather exclusive hillside enclave above the Botanic Gardens. The main reason to venture up here is for the panoramic vista of Roseau. Pick up either the short but strenuous half-mile Jack’s Walk trail starting behind the aviaries in the Botanic Gardens, or drive up the steep road off Bath Rd.
Gothic meets Caribbean at this landmark cathedral which evolved from a simple wooden hut to the majestic 1916 volcanic-stone pile you see today. The upper windows are stained glass, but much like a typical Creole home, the lower windows are wooden shutters that open for natural ventilation. Alas, time and hurricanes have left their mark, not least Hurricane Maria, and it's been undergoing restoration for quite some time.
This gray stone church was originally built in the 1820s, but has been reconstructed several times over its 200-year history. It was almost totally destroyed by Hurricane David in 1979, and more recently it was left without its roof and much of its interior by Hurricane Maria.