The BALANCE Guide to Dominica
Known as the ‘nature island’, a rugged, off-beat, tropical paradise with rejuvenating and healing capabilities, Dominica’s lush landscape is full to the brim with organic and intoxicating wildlife. I couldn’t have found a better place to counter city dwelling.
Arriving after a 12 hour trip from London via a short stopover in Antigua, Dominica doesn’t yet have international airports or mega-resorts, meaning it is one of the lesser traveled parts of the Caribbean and refreshingly less commercial.
The thing I loved the most about Dominica was the people. Dominicans truly embrace the wilderness and know how to make the most of their island paradise. As a tourist in these parts, however, you are more of a temporary resident, an active participant in a culture that offers the chance to rediscover nature and your role within it.
The 30-minute short flight from Antigua to Dominica provides a glimpse of the unspoiled and undeveloped island. As the most mountainous island of the Lesser Antilles, we ventured into the wilderness in our taxi with childhood memories of Jurassic Park rushing to mind and a sensory shift taking place.
Weary and hungry we grabbed some water and locally grown plantain chips from a convenience store in Portsmouth, the second largest town in Dominica on the north-west coast. Our accommodation, Picard Beach Cottages, was a charming, beachfront, family-run business, set on an old coconut plantation.
Serenaded to sleep by the roaring hum of the jungle and the rhythm of waves lapping at the shore, I had to remind myself that I was indeed on an island far removed from London and not simply tuned into a sleep story on Headspace!
Horse riding through the rainforest, a long the black sand beach, we took a dip in the sea. Straddling my unruly colt without a saddle was more than my thighs had bargained for that day but it was well worth a try!
Guided through the forest by Geoffrey, a 48-year-old local bush expert who spoke of how he believes Dominica can teach people how to obtain a comfortable mindset and live more sustainably.
“Dominica is like a little healing island, everything is more or less natural – even the sea water has its own purifying properties. The salt here causes the sea to be at a very warm temperature and this helps avoid rheumatism and joint pain. There’s also a lot of different plants, ones you can use for food, some you can use for teas or medical purposes. You can get oils and cream out of them too. Like the castor bean, you can use for hair loss or dry skin, massage and joint pain. The noni plant helps with fatigue or tiredness, it’s like an energy drink and great for internal problems like hypertension, diabetes and even cancer.”
Geoffrey tells me he is from the Kalinago tribe, the last community in the Caribbean that claims direct descent from the indigenous people who originally populated the entire region before the arrival of European colonisers. Very proud of his roots and ancestral knowledge he encourages me to visit the Carib Territory or Carib Reverse, the only home to the remaining natives.
We headed to Kalinago Territory, arguably the most beautiful side of the island, to take a tour of a traditional Kalinago village. Shown around by Amanda, I asked what her secret was to staying so youthful.
Amanda reveals that a growing array of herbs used in soap, home spa products, oils and culinary dishes are rooted in Dominica’s naturally diverse and rich healing heritage. These health-boosting properties the Kalinago people of Dominica attribute to the islands mineral-rich waters, fresh foods and the active lifestyle that help them stay balanced.
It’s no surprise then that Dominica has the highest percentage of centenarians per capita in the world and was once home to the oldest woman in the world, Elizabeth (Ma Pampo) Israel who turned 128 in 2003.
Before leaving Kalinago Territory, we passed a local Shaman, also known as Gerard. He wanted me to understand that the key to living a more balanced and healthy life is to live in harmony and balance with nature and the environment.
“The longevity and life of a human being depends on how well you live in balance. A lot of people here don’t believe in doctors or pills so they stick with the herbs, we work with the energy of the earth when it comes to healing our bodies. It’s about the elements and organs. To find balance in life you have to be at peace with yourself. You have to find the middle. You can’t be too happy or too sad, you have to be able to re-energise. If you happen to be in Dominica and would like some healing or you want to just learn more about plants and how to use them we can give you some healing and advice.” – Gerard
He uses plant-based ‘medicines’, of which there are 134 on the island that are classified as medicinal, to achieve health and happiness.
After leaving Gerard’s house we head to Pagua Bay resort, a tranquil and chic boutique hotel, set atop a cliff with an enviable moon-gazing spot. All of the private cabanas & suites have ocean-views, verandas, wood floors and vaulted ceilings. With a tropical garden and private outdoor living area, it is also possible to spend time relaxing in a hammock with your favourite book, or person.
En route to Pagua Bay we stop off at the Emerald Pool and take a dip in the natural spring water. Recommended to us by a local young man named Dafar who also runs the restaurant at Picard Beach Cottages, we soon discover he is somewhat of an ‘experience curator’ on the island and self-proclaimed ‘host of Dominica’.
Dafar ensured we didn’t leave any nook or cranny undiscovered and his endless charm, knowledge and passion for the island was truly unique.
Dafar’s top recommendation for those seeking to enjoy the natural health benefits of Dominica is to take a trip to the hot water springs, particularly Ti Kwen Glo Cho in Wotten Waven.
The healing powers of hot springs and thermal baths have been used for thousands of years to increase circulation and blood flow, improve metabolism and reduce stress levels. Set in some of the most dramatic backdrops on this island, they are a must-do for anyone who wants to indulge in an open-air spa experience to soothe their sight and senses.
GETTING THERE: Flights via Antigua with British Airways cost from £676 per person including taxes and internal flights to Dominica with LIAT.
GETTING AROUND: Dominica is a small island (only 29 miles long and 16 miles wide) and getting around is fairly easy. You can take a taxi or public transport around the island. To self-drive, you need to purchase a driving permit (12 USD), which can be obtained from the car rental service. You also need to be between the age of 25-60 and have two years of driving experience.
WHERE TO STAY: A deluxe beach cottage based on two sharing at Picard Beach Cottages cost from £277 per night. Oceanfront cabana at Pagua Bay House cost from £159 per night. In the heart of Roseau, rooms at Fort Young Hotel are upwards of £150 per night.