This high, lush, extremely verdant volcanic island will evoke dreams of Robinson Crusoe. Dominica has one of the world's two boiling lakes, hot springs erupt from everywhere, there are reputed to be a waterfall for every day of the year, with Trafalgar Falls leading the way, and there's so much green, you'll run out of ways to describe it. There are no major hotel chains (a good thing), and the diving evokes visions of Indonesia. The word "eco" probably got its start here and it's the one island with a self-nominated nickname that fits: The Nature Island.
Underwater, it's color on top of color, where red, purple, orange, green, yellow and mauve all compete for your attention. The sites, especially those off Scott's Head, harbor massive sponge and coral formations that hide frogfish, seahorses and eels. Volcanic bubbles and warm water emanates from certain sites, and there's even a resident pod of sperm whales if you want to see something big. Come to Dominica for an active dive holiday and bring your water hikers.
When to go:
Calm and dry weather in the winter months of November through May are ideal for Dominica dive trips. Both the hurricane season and the rainy season last from June through October.
Marine Life Seasons:
The sheltered west coast serves as calving and breeding ground for sperm whales, which can be seen here from December through March.
When to Get the Best Deals:
August to November.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sturdy shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/78°F in winter and 28°C/82°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 22°C/73°F in winter and 28°C/82°F in summer.
Eastern Caribbean Dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Seafood dishes are a big part of Dominica's local cuisine. Shellfish, crabs, flying fish, dorado, king fish, snapper, spiny lobsters and octopus are usually served with a spicy creole sauce with sides of plantain, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yucca or pumpkin. You'll also find interesting choices such as smoked or stewed opossum (manicou) or "mountain chicken" (a large land frog).
What to Drink:
Dominica has some of the best local "bush" rums in the world. Each village has its own still, usually in the rainforest. Many roadside stands sell the local brews, usually mixed with everything from ganja to mango. Macoucherie rum, produced by the Shillingford Estate, is the cane rum of the island. Kubuli is the locally brewed beer.
There' a waterfall for every day of the week. Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool are best known, Victoria Falls is quite photogenic; Hike through the UNESCO Morne Trois Pitons National Park rainforest to the Boiling Lake, one of only two in the world; Geothermal baths, called sulphur springs, abound on the island — Tia' Bamboo Cottage and Papillote Wilderness Retreat are two favorites.
Customs and Culture:
Dominica culture is multifaceted - influenced by the original Arawak and Carib Indians, then the English, French and Africans who arrived over the last few centuries. Carib Indians still live in villages on the island, one of only two places in the Caribbean that native peoples still reside on their traditional lands.
World Creole Music Festival, October; Carnival in January/February; Dive Fest, July; Real Mas, February.
Electricity and Internet:
220/240 volts/50Hz, though hotels may have 110V/50Hz outlets; Internet is sporadically available.
Drink the water?
Water is safe to drink.
English, with Creole widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
The world's largest toothed mammal, this square-headed giant of the deep lives year-round off Dominica.
This small but vividly colored snail features leopard-like spotted outlines on an orange shell.
This highly decorative anglerfish can be found in a variety of vivid shades, from oranges to pinks, and boast frilly bait-like appendages with which they lure their prey.
With blue-edged wing-like pectoral fins, this spotted brown fish looks like a heavy-bodied moth of the deep.
These relatives to coral branch in intricate, sometimes lacy patterns, decorating the underwater landscape.
With their curling tails and iconic chess-piece profiles, seahorses are not prolific, but can be spotted by the watchful Dominica diver.
Spotted Eagle Ray:
Often seen passing along the deeper walls.
Growing to sizes of up to a meter/three feet, these barrel-shaped bottom-dwellers color the landscape with a multitude of bright colors.
A smaller relative of the eagle ray (and the shark), these rays often hang out on sandy bottoms, but can also be seen swimming around the reefs. Keep your distance from its venomous barbed tail.
If a handful of pink and purple and yellow crayons melted into a fish-shaped mold, it would look precisely like a Creole wrasse - a striking form against any background.
Top Dive Spots
This bay is honeycombed with tunnels and swim-throughs, the reef dropping to a depth of 33 meters/110 feet and boasting octopus, moray eels, rays, squid, lobster, crabs, trumpet fish, frogfish, parrotfish, mahogany snappers, and puffers, as well as a variety of corals (finger, pillar, fire, brain and vase corals).
Scotts Head Pinnacle:
A striking pinnacle formation with a steep wall (stretching down to 36 meters/120 feet) inside a volcanic crater, this site boasts soldierfish, grunts, lobster, vividly colored sponges, seahorses, frogfish, crabs, and sea fans.
This impressive wall, plunging into the deep, hides crustaceans and invertebrates in its crevices. Watch for seahorses, scorpion fish, turtles, black coral trees, deep-sea gorgonians, tuna, jacks, rays, turtles, and barracuda.
Named for the bubbles rising up through the sand from its underwater hot springs, this site offers glimpses of seahorses, frogfish, flying gurnards, and squid. This is an ideal location for night diving, when the nocturnal crabs, lobsters, and corals come to life under your dive light.
A grouping of five pinnacles create a dramatic topography, and shelter a wide array of marine life. Look for schools of jacks, creole wrasse, yellow tail snappers, barjacks, horse-eye jacks, crevalle jacks, turtles, barracuda, barrel sponges, corals, and sea lilies. Be cautious of currents.
A volcanic ridge leads to the Crater's Edge, where reef meets deep. Keep an eye out for reef critters as well as pelagic swimmers: black jack, bar jacks, rainbow runners, tuna, yellowtail snapper and cero, creole wrasse, chromis, giant barrel sponges, and barracuda.
Contrary to their names, The Suburbs and The Village sport a wild array of colors and marine life. These rocky drop-offs are home to schools of black durgeons, barracuda, turtles, stingrays, corals, barrel sponges, sea fans, seahorses, and sea lilies.
Coral Gardens and Batali Pinnacle:
This sheltered pair of sites in Batali Bay feature corals and sponges, frogfish, lettuce leaf sea slugs, lizard fish, sand divers, cleaning stations of busy pederson shrimp, red heart sea urchins, garden eels, jellyfish.
A shallow dive site notable for a swim-through cavern and coral-crusted rock formations teeming with moray eels, giant anemones, sea fans, sea plumes, soldierfish, schools of chub, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, and the occasional nurse shark.
A series of small caves and overhangs offer shelter to spiny and slipper lobster, crabs, morays, octopus, frogfish, seahorses, flying gurnards, grunts, and snapper, as well as giant barrel sponges, sea fans, and corals. Lawns of sea grass shelter red heart urchins, sea cucumbers, stingrays, spotted snake eels, and the occasional batfish. A night dive at this location will highlight the presence of squid, lobsters, and crab.