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It’s hard to get tired of the stunning beaches in the Caribbean, but a stop on a Dominica cruise gives you a break from that typical beachy, party atmosphere. Instead, Dominica provides visitors with overgrown tropical forests to traipse through, challenging hikes to waterfalls, and exciting ecotourism. Dominica is nicknamed the “nature island” of the Caribbean for good reason. You’ll be impressed by the island’s many waterfalls; supposedly, the island has 365 of them scattered throughout.
As a stop on a Caribbean cruise, the island of Dominica is a haven for outdoorsy types seeking their next thrill in nature, while downtown Roseau offers something completely different. Downtown Roseau is the place to find museums, a beautiful botanic garden, and the city’s thriving arts scene. Dominica is also a hidden gem in terms of culture and history, particularly the untold stories of an indigenous group called the Kalinago. Clearly Dominica offers something special for all types of travelers.
Colorful, walkable Roseau is a vibrant capital city with plenty of historic sites and things to see within the city. Some of the city’s best restaurants can be found along the main drags of Roseau, focused on traditional island dishes. Admire the West Indian cottages lining the streets, and take a tour of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral while you’re stopped in on your cruise to Dominica.
In Roseau, you can spend an afternoon exploring this 40-acre botanic garden where banyan trees and shrubs bloom. There’s also a parrot aviary on the premises. While hurricanes have affected the Botanic garden, it’s still a paradise of greenery despite destruction. During Hurricane David in 1979, an empty school bus was crushed by a baobab tree, and the entire scene remains as is within the garden, captivating visitors to this day.
Not far from the Dominica cruise pier and the Old Market is the Dominica Museum. The museum is housed in a former post office built in 1810. Entrance to the museum is affordable, and it will educate you on the island without having to rely on a tour operator or guidebook. You’ll learn more than ever about the area’s slave trade, providing artifacts and exhibits on Kalingo and Creole culture on each level.
While you’re exploring the nearby Morne Trois Pitons National Park, you can hike to the breathtaking Victoria Falls. Guides are particularly helpful in getting to the waterfall safely, as the trail takes about 40 minutes to walk and is through dense forest, crossing rivers along the way. Swim in the warm waters at the base of the falls when you’re done, and appreciate the challenge of getting there.
Hidden away in Morne Trois Pitons National Park is Emerald Pool, where waters from Emerald Falls descend 50 feet into a basin. Hikers can take a dip in the clear waters. The hike there is easier than getting to Victoria Falls, so this is a good compromise for those who want to take a less strenuous path.
Boiling Lake is the world’s second largest hot spring, located within the Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Boiling Lake is an opening in a volcano where sulfurous gases are emitted. Water pressure drops so much that the water condenses as it leaves the ground. It’s a challenging hike to Boiling Lake, so leave a full day for it for the three or so hour hike.
Head to the southwestern coast of Dominica to reach Champagne Reef, located near Champagne Beach and about a 20 minute car ride from Roseau. It’s said the best diving and snorkeling on the island can be found at Champagne Reef because geothermal activity releases champagne-style bubbles from the rocks. Snorkelers will be delighted by the variety of fish species swimming in the area.
Cabrits National Park offers a little bit of everything: access to black sand beaches, remnants of the 18th century British Fort Shirley for travelers to explore, and dense rainforest ideal for hiking. Snorkel for sights of a lush coral reef at Cabrits National Park, or soak up views of Prince Rupert Bay. It’ll take an hour or so to drive or ride there, so leave plenty of time to see as much as you can.
Don’t end your Dominica cruise without touring at least one historic landmark. Roseau Cathedral is a Roman-Catholic church completed in 1916, and services are still held there today. Restoration efforts are ongoing to return the church to its full potential.
Caribbean restaurants and French-style bistros are popular in Roseau and larger Dominica, where buffet lunches are common. One traditional dish you should try is callaloo, a soup with West African origins containing callaloo leaves, a spinach-like leaf. Codfish sandwiches, plantains, and manicou (stewed possum) are also staples of the area. Order the local beer, Kubuli, while you’re in Dominica.
A cruise to Dominica is just one way to familiarize yourself with this underrated Caribbean island, whose praises have gone unsung for too long. The indigenous Kalinago settled on the island around 1000 AD, and Dominica was protected by indigenous peoples, which, along with the island’s challenging terrain, discouraged European settlement for centuries. The French and British both laid claim to the island at different times. Roseau was razed to the ground by the French in 1805, and the British took on the task of rebuilding the area.
In 1979, Hurricane David devastated the island and destroyed homes and lives in the process. Growth slowed since infrastructure was so damaged, and today the cruise industry brings new people to Dominica, which helps drive the local economy.
When your cruise to Dominica docks, you’ll be dropped off in the center of the capital city, Roseau. Across from the pier, there are cafes and souvenir stands, as well as areas where you can access WiFi. Roseau is compact geographically. From here, you can continue to explore the rest of the city on foot, rent a car, or hail a taxi to continue on to a further destination on the island.
Renting a car or reserving a taxi in advance of your trip are your best bets for navigating the island of Dominica’s mountainous and coastal terrains. A driving tour of the island takes time, but it’s a great way to see Dominica’s full beauty. As one of the bigger Caribbean islands, so it’s not very walkable except for the downtown of the capital city, Roseau, itself. Be sure to settle on a fare with your taxi driver before you proceed with your ride. Excursions and independent tours will figure out the logistics of getting around for you, so they are a popular option with cruise passengers.
Old Market is one of Roseau’s signature shopping areas, where vendors sell their wares in a classically Caribbean open air market. It’s been an important town square for over 300 years, serving as a town hall of sorts as well as a harrowing slave market. Everything from straw goods like bags and hats to souvenirs are available for sale at Old Market. Produce and local food goods like mangoes and guava are market staples. Plus, it’s located right behind the Dominica Museum, so you can shop and then head inside the museum for a break from the heat.
On your cruise to Dominica, you’ll use the East Caribbean Dollar (XCD). Tipping isn’t the norm in Dominica, and at restaurants a service charge is typically already included in the bill. Like other Caribbean countries, you can leave an additional tip if you wish. For taxi drivers, it’s up to you if you want to tip additionally. It may be helpful for them to give a tip if they act as a tour guide, or if you arrange for them to drop you at multiple stops.