Often pegged as a destination for nature buffs and adventure seekers, Dominica — located between Martinique and Guadeloupe — remains the gorgeously lush, pristine Caribbean isle the colonial powers lusted after centuries ago. This volcanic island is as remarkable for what it has — mountains up to 5,000 feet high, dense rain forest, hot springs, cold springs, waterfalls, and the Caribbean’s largest surviving Caribbean Indian population — as for what it doesn’t: no chain hotels or nonstop flights from North America, and few white-sand beaches.
Most cruises to Dominica arrive in Roseau, on the southwest coast, or Woodbridge Bay, five minutes north, but some dock in Cabrits in the north, near Portsmouth. From Roseau, head northeast to Trafalgar Falls, twin waterfalls — each about 100 feet high — and Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO-designated world heritage site boasting the world’s second-biggest “boiling” lake, five volcanoes, and the richest biodiversity of plant life in the Lesser Antilles.
Breakfast: Cocorico – For French-style crepes, omelets, croissants, café au lait, and croque monsieur sandwiches, this café on Roseau’s bay side near the cruise terminal is ideal. Look for the blue umbrella-shaded outdoor tables.
Lunch: Papillote Rainforest Restaurant – The Eden-like view from this eatery in the Roseau Valley — a 15-minute drive from the cruise terminal — is so sublime it’s hard to concentrate on the Creole specialties. Look for steamed fish marinated in papaya and wrapped in banana leaf, and sweet and spicy shrimp, as well as vegetarian choices like pumpkin soup and eggplant fajitas. The restaurant also serves fresh tamarind and sorrel juices.
Dinner: Romance Café – Head to this casual spot in Mero Beach — a 20- to 30-minute drive north of Roseau — for outstanding French and Caribbean food, like duck with mango sauce, smoked marlin, and hot and cold sandwiches, at low prices. Watch the sun set from the black-sand beach that’s a few feet away, as soft jazz plays from this bright-blue, open-air eatery. After you finish your meal, lounge in a beach chair with a killer rum punch.
Dessert: Palisades – Order locally made ice cream in tropical fruit flavors like passion fruit, coconut, or soursop, or try treats like cinnamon-spiced carrot cake or passion fruit mousse. You can dine on a veranda facing the sea, or in an elegant dining room in the Fort Young Hotel.
Tip: A former British colony, Dominica’s legacy of 127 years of French rule lingers in French-named towns like Soufriere and Laudat, the food, and Creole spoken by natives.
For Everyone: Waitukubuli Trail – Get out there and see the island: This island-wide hiking trail was completed in 2013. It’s divided into 14 segments; the shortest hikes are 3 ½ hours. Segments 13 and 14 are near Roseau, and you can buy a trail pass for $10 per person.
For Couples: Papillote Tropical Gardens – Pretend to be Adam and Eve: Stroll through wildly lush gardens past more than 100 species of begonia , nearly 200 of bromeliads, 55 of orchids, 34 of gingers, and scarlet teeth-shaped heliconias. Soak in four hot mineral pools, rum punch in hand. Admire two waterfalls and 30 bird species — hummingbirds included. Book an outdoor massage or yoga class, or reserve a one-hour garden tour in advance. Best of all: The gardens, restaurant, and small inn were lovingly created by Anne Jno Baptiste, an 80-something American woman who’s lived in Dominica for more than 50 years.
For Families: Champagne Reef tours – Schedule a guided snorkel ($19) or scuba ($60 for a one-tank dive) tour of Champagne Reef to enjoy the sensation of swimming in a glass of bubbly, with colorful fish and green turtles as companions. (It’s actually hot gases escaping from volcanic vents in the sea floor.) Be forewarned: Transfers to and from the cruise ship are available for $20 extra, and the beach is very rocky, so you’ll want to take water shoes.
For the Adventurous: Extreme Dominica – If the urge to rappel down waterfalls, swim gorges, and trek to hidden canyons strikes, this tour operator will fulfill it for $160. Cruise ship transfers and all equipment are included, and no experience rappelling or canyoneering is required.