Culture

Dominica draws on a mix of cultures: French place names feature as often as English; African language, foods and customs mingle with European traditions as part of the island’s Creole culture; and the indigenous Kalinago (formerly known as Caribs) still carve dugouts (canoes), build houses on stilts and weave distinctive basketwork. Rastafarian influences are strong here.

About a third of Dominica’s 74,870 people live in and around Roseau. Some 87% are of African descent and about 3000 are Kalinago.

With a 61.5% Roman Catholic population and religious observance commonplace, conservative values are strong and family holds an important place in Dominican society.

Much ado has been made of the fact that Dominica has three times the number of centenarians than more developed nations. The most famous was Ma Pampo who died in 2003 at 128 years of age. There are currently more than 30 centenarians. Dominica’s government contributes to their care with free cooking gas and a monthly cash stipend.

Arts

Dominica’s most celebrated author, Jean Rhys, was born in Roseau in 1890. Although she moved to England at age 16 and made only one brief return visit to Dominica, much of her work draws upon her childhood experiences in the West Indies. Rhys touches lightly upon her life in Dominica in Voyage in the Dark (1934) and in her autobiography, Smile Please (1979). Her most famous work, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a novel set mostly in Jamaica and an unmentioned Dominica, was made into a film in 1993.

Landscape & Wildlife

Dominica is an island of dramatic mountains that drop straight down to the sea, and what few beaches there are have been very lightly developed. For the most part, the nature here is untouched, save for the rusted cars that dot the roadsides like so many memorials to bad driving.

Feature: Ecotourism Sites Passes

Dominica’s ecotourism sites are its biggest attraction. In order to help maintain them, a fee of US$5 per site is levied on all foreign visitors for the following dozen sites:

Boeri Lake, Boiling Lake, Indian River, Morne Trois Pitons, Middleham Falls, Freshwater Lake, Morne Diablotin Trail, Cabrits National Park, Emerald Pool, Trafalgar Falls, Soufriere Sulphur Springs and the Syndicate Forest.

A weekly pass for unlimited entry to all 12 costs US$12.

Passes are available at site entrances, from nearby vendors or from the national parks office inside the Botanic Gardens in Roseau.

In addition, there is a US$2 user fee per entry to the Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve, which includes Champagne Beach & Reef.

For more information, contact the Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division at 767-266-3817 or forestry@cwdom.dm.

Environmental Issues

In 2015 Dominica was again named among the top 10 Developing World’s Best Ethical Destinations by Ethical Traveler, a San Francisco–based all-volunteer, nonprofit organization affiliated with the Earth Island Institute.The decision was based on the country's record of environmental protection, social welfare and human rights. Contributing to the distinction was that, since 2008, Dominica no longer allows the Japanese to engage in commercial whaling in its waters. It was also lauded for its pilot project to reduce energy consumption in business sectors.

Nevertheless, environmentalists are worried about the impact of the growing number of cruise ships that dock here to refill water supplies and dump waste, as well as about the physical impact caused by 300,000 passengers.

The Land

Dominica is 29 miles long and 16 miles wide and embraces the highest mountains in the Eastern Caribbean; the loftiest peak, Morne Diablotin, is 4747ft high. The mountains, which act as a magnet for rain, serve as a water source for the island’s purported 365 rivers. En route to the coast, many of the rivers cascade over steep cliffs, giving the island an abundance of waterfalls. Three hydroelectric plants on the Roseau River produce 27.4% of the electricity supply.

The most abundant tree on the island is the gommier, a huge gum tree used by the Kalinago to make dugouts

Wildlife

Whales and dolphins patrol the deep waters off Dominica’s sheltered west coast. Sperm whales, which grow to a length of 70ft, breed in the waters around here and are the most commonly sighted cetacean, although chances of seeing pilot and humpback whales as well as bottlenose dophins are also pretty good. The main season is November to March.

For near-shore divers, the marine life tends to be of the smaller variety – sea horses included – but there are spotted eagle rays, barracuda and sea turtles as well.

More than 160 bird species have been sighted on Dominica, giving it some of the most diverse birdlife in the Eastern Caribbean. Of these, 59 species nest on the island, including two endemic and endangered parrot species: Dominica’s national bird, the Sisserou parrot, and the smaller Jaco parrot.

The island has small tree frogs, many lizards, 13 bat species, 55 butterfly species, boa constrictors that grow nearly 10ft in length and four other types of snake (none poisonous).

Dominica also used to have an abundance of large frogs known as ‘mountain chicken,’ which live only here and on Montserrat. It is now critically endangered because of a virulent fungus.