Even travelers familiar with the Caribbean often confuse the Commonwealth of Dominica with the Dominican Republic, so when you tell someone your vacation plans, be prepared to give a quick geography lesson. It helps if you pronounce the name correctly – say Dom-en-EE-ka. The Dominican Republic is a Spanish-speaking country that shares a big island with Haiti near Puerto Rico. Dominica is a smaller English-speaking island farther south between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Unspoiled nature runs rampant on Dominica – a mating of Jurassic Park with the Garden of Eden. Clean rivers lead to isolated waterfalls in the lush rain forest that covers the rugged mountains of the interior. Spectacular coral reefs growing on underwater volcanoes surround the coast. It is so untouched that scientists consider it a laboratory of 10,000-year-old plant life.
About 75% of the island is covered by thickly wooded mountains, and more than a quarter of it is protected as national parks or forest reserves. Most visitors who come here consider themselves eco-tourists, explorers, or adventurers, and they are exactly the type of non-traditional tourist Dominica strives to please.
The Dominican government holds a tight rein on development, so glamour and glitz are neither solicited nor welcome. Casinos, nightclubs, luxury stores and high-rise hotels do not exist here, and officials are doing everything possible to prevent their arrival. Don’t mistake this intentional refusal to court tourism at the expense of natural assets for third-world backwardness. The island has all the latest conveniences: cable television, computers and cellular phones. However, the emphasis is on nature, and the residents willingly do without things that can harm the environment, including tourists. Islanders won’t clear the forest or surrender the waterfront for extravagant resorts, and this blatant snub of mass tourism is precisely what makes Dominica so attractive.
The island is beautiful beyond description, rich in culture, overflowing with natural attractions, and home to some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean.
Mountains run north-south through the center of the Dominica, reaching 5,000 feet. More than 300 inches of rain fall throughout the central region, creating a magnificent ecosystem. The coast is mostly rocky, but there are some sand beaches, and close-in reefs and old shipwrecks provide excellent dive sites.
These are qualities not easily kept secret. Since the mid-1990s, visits from cruise ship passengers have doubled, and the number of tourists from the US has increased more than 25%. Obviously, change is afoot.
Plans are in the works for paved walkways, toilets and visitors’ centers at some of the waterfalls. Melville Hall Airport is expected to expand to accommodate jumbo jets and night landings. Developers hope to add 3,000 hotel rooms over the next few years. A cable car may soon haul out-of-shape tourists to summits that are now the private retreat of long-distance hikers.
The message: Visit now.
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