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West Coast Tour - Indian Chief Travel
DOMINICA  |  Dominica, Dominica Travel Guide
Friday, September 20, 2019
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5 Of 7

West Coast Tour

Roseau to Capucin Cape

The Caribbean coast is drier than the central mountains or windward east coast, so temperatures tend to be a bit warmer and vegetation is somewhat scrubbier. Dominica’s two main cities, Roseau to the south and Portsmouth to the north, are connected by a road that is literally hacked out of the mountainside at some points. Quaint villages dot the shoreline, and inland detours lead to lush valleys and lofty rain forests.

Old Mill Cultural Centre

Take Queen Mary Street across the river in Roseau and drive north up Goodwill Road, following the coast. Just before Canefield Airport you’ll spot the Old Mill Cultural Centre. Stop in to view exhibits of traditional handicrafts and paintings by well-known local artists. Haitian sculptor Louis Desiree runs the Woodcarving Training School at the center, and his students’ works are displayed at the Old Mill. The cultural complex is housed in a converted sugar mill on the grounds of an old plantation, and the original waterwheel that was used to drive the sugar press is still there.

Massacre

On the north side of the airport is the small village of Massacre, named after the slaughter of 80 Caribs by British troops in a battle that took place there in 1674. The incident is particularly memorable because of the human-interest story attached to it.

Mahaut and Belfast are rather cluttered commercial areas where Dominica Coconut Products manufactures soaps and cosmetics from coconut oil. The factory was recently acquired by US companies and processes all the coconuts grown on the island. (Palmolive is perhaps the most recognized brand name.) Rum is made at the nearby D-Special Rum Distillery, so the two towns are important to the island’s economy.

Rodney’s Rock

Watch on the left, about a mile north of the factories, for Rodney’s Rock. The black lava outcrop sits majestically off the coast and deserves a legend – even an undocumented one.

Whether the legend is true or not, Rodney’s Rock is a terrific photo opportunity. If you have your equipment with you, snorkel in the calm water around the shallow reef along the shore and Rodney’s Rock. Frogfish and seahorses are common here. Also, watch for the huge crabs that give this stretch of coast the name Crab City.

Layou River & Valley

Continuing north, the road crosses the Layou, the longest river on the island, and passes by Mero beach, a fine swimming and snorkeling spot between the villages of Saint Joseph and Salisbury. Turn inland along the river for a detour up the Layou Valley. This was once an area of beautiful freshwater pools and spring-fed, hot-water spas. However, an enormous landslide in 1997 dumped tons of dirt from the island’s interior into the river, causing the water to dam up and overflow its banks. The valley is still splendid, but the river isn’t safe for swimming. Still, it’s worth your time to take this detour just to see how the landslide has altered the terrain and how nature is repairing the damage. Within a few years, if there are no further disasters, the river should wash itself clean and emerge more stunning than ever.

Estates

Back along the coast, the road passes a series of small villages that spread up from the shore into the hills. At the Macoucherie Estate, south of Salisbury, stop to see sugarcane being crushed by an old-fashioned waterwheel, one of the last in the West Indies. There are no organized tours, but visitors are welcome free of charge between 7 am and 3 pm on weekdays. Juice from the sugarcane is used to make the popular Macoucherie rum.

North of the small town of Dublanc, you can turn inland to reach the Syndicate Estate, where a trail leads up to the summit of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest mountain (4,767 feet).

Northern Forest Reserve

The peak of Morne Diablotin, located in the Northern Forest Reserve, is named for devilishly ugly birds with a wicked call who were known as diablotin by islanders. The devil-bird’s proper name is the black-capped petrel, a shore bird that prefers mountain hideouts for nesting. They were once common on the slopes of Morne Diablotin, but over the years they’ve been hunted to the point of extinction, and have not been seen in the area recently.

Today, the mountain’s rain forest is home to sisserou and jaco parrots, and you may spot them if you visit Parrot Lookout at sunrise or sunset. It’s possible to drive almost all the way to the observation point before the road ends at an elevation of about 1,700 feet and a well-tended trail continues up the mountain. From the parking area in the Syndicate Estate, it’s an easy walk on the one-mile loop trail to the lookout across the Picard River valley.

If you plan to hike farther, consider hiring a guide to lead you on the 3,000-foot climb through five vegetation zones, including a cloud forest. The trail is clear, but steep, and only fit hikers should attempt to reach the summit. A knowledgeable guide will add valuable input about wildlife and plants along the way, and provide the best chance of spotting one of the rare parrots.

Pointe Ronde

Return to the west coast road and drive north a short distance to Pointe Ronde. This is a favorite anchorage area for sailboats and the rocky shoreline is an ideal hunting ground for shell collectors. North, around the curve of the bay, there’s a mile-long stretch of sandy beach and some good snorkeling spots. One of the best is the coral bed growing near the pier at Portsmouth Beach Hotel, south of the Picard River.

Indian River

North of the pier, before you enter Portsmouth, you will see independent guides set up along the road with homemade signs advertising boat rides up the shady Indian River ( ). This highly recommended tour offers a close-up look at a fascinating ecological zone inhabited by various freshwater creatures and hundreds of birds. Most of the guides know the river well and can spot rare plants and wildlife hidden along the marsh.

Carib Indians once lived on the river banks and used it as a route to fishing grounds in the Caribbean Sea. When early European ships stopped on the island for freshwater or wood, crew members often rowed up “the river of the Indians” to trade with the Caribs and soon began marking their maps “Indian River.” Today, visitors are intrigued by the intricate roots of the bwa mang trees that house scampering crabs, and awed by the beautiful orchids that grow wild among the ferns along the swampy banks.

Your guide will probably suggest a stop at the bar located where the river narrows and becomes rocky.

If you’re interested in exploring, ask about walking inland to a spot where migrating birds gather during the winter. It’s not far, and you cross through some unspoiled countryside.

Portsmouth

Portsmouth sits in the curve of Prince Rupert Bay, named for 16th-century nobleman, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. The bay is lovely, with palms growing in golden sand along the shore and twin volcanos towering above the northern tip in Cabrits National Park.

Because of the protected harbor in the bay, Portsmouth was important to early settlers and was destined to be the island’s capital until malaria and yellow fever broke out. When the epidemic forced government to set up in Roseau, Portsmouth became a seaport town catering to ship crews. Travel between the two main towns was difficult until well into the 20th century, when the west-coast road was carved out of the mountains. Today, visitors will notice a definite difference between the capital and the numbertwo town, and many may prefer the high-spirited, rough-around-the-edges style of the northern port.

Since Portsmouth is a popular anchorage for commercial and private vessels, it has everything a visitor needs, including a new cruise ship terminal with a visitors center, museum and crafts shop. From this port, passengers step directly into a national park. The town is less than a mile from the park, and visitors can stroll to the Bay Street public market or one of the local restaurants. The golden-sand beach in front of Purple Turtle Beach Club on the bay is ideal for sunning and swimming.

Cabrits National Park

Cabrits National Park is the highlight of the northwest coast, and Fort Shirley is the highlight of the park. Plan to spend most of the day in this area exploring the grassy Cabrits promontory, its well-mapped stone ruins, and the scenic bays that surround it on three sides.

As you approach the Cabrits peninsula from the south, you see volcanic twin peaks covered in lush green vegetation rising above the bay. It is was here that the British began construction of a complex called Prince Rupert’s Garrison in 1774.

Slaves built Prince Rupert’s Garrison from black volcanic rock cemented with mortar made from limestone found on offshore coral reefs. The red clay bricks seen in ovens and cisterns came from England.

Over the years, both the French and English (depending on which nation was currently in control) added buildings until the Cabrits held a fort (Fort Shirley), housing for 600 men, a hospital, seven gun batteries and a cluster of storehouses. When the fortification was abandoned in 1854, the buildings fell into ruins, and the surrounding forest quickly engulfed the entire peninsula. In 1982, work began to clear vegetation away from the fort and restore some of the buildings. There’s no admission charge and buildings, including the small museum, generally are open 10 am-5 pm, but hours vary with the seasons and cruise-ship schedules.

If a cruise ship is in port, there will be a lot of activity on the Cabrits, but at other times you probably will have the massive complex to yourself. The national park includes both the 1,313-acre peninsula and a 1,053-acre underwater park off the north shore, so you’ll have plenty of room to roam either way.

From the top of Cabrits, Prince Rupert’s Bluff offers exceptional views: Guadeloupe and Les Saintes to the north across Douglas Bay; Portsmouth and the west coast to the south across Prince Rupert’s Bay; and Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest mountain, inland to the east.

As you walk paths linking the fort with outer buildings, large placards pose trivia questions, such as, When does a treefrog extend its throat? The answer is given at the next stop (in case you’re wondering, it’s during courtship and when defending its territory). Once you’ve strolled the 200-year-old military compound, explore the grounds with its diverse wildlife and abundant vegetation. Then, if you have boots, hike about 20 minutes on an unpaved trail to Douglas Bay.

Douglas Bay, part of the protected national park, can also be reached by car. From Portsmouth, continue north on the coast road past the left turn that leads to the parking lot at Cabrits National Park. White buoys off the rocky, palm-shaded beach at Douglas Bay mark an underwater snorkeling trail over coral reefs. Colorful fish hide in the coral and feed off sea grass. It’s a fabulous clear-water wonderland, and, unless a cruise ship is docked on the island, you may have the whole place to yourself.

Capucin

The road continues north from Douglas Bay, hugging the coast and providing excellent views of Les Saintes, until it ends at Capucin on the northeast tip of the island. Diving and snorkeling are good at Toucari Bay, just north of Douglas, but the water at Capucin Cape, where several shipwrecks lay at the bottom of the ocean, is considered too rough.

Last updated December 6, 2007
Posted in   Dominica  |  Dominica
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