Dominica is that rarest of finds among dive destinationsa€”an island that hasn't been changed by its own beauty. And the island's natural treasures are at least partially responsible for keeping high-end tourism development at bay.
From the northern tip of the island at Point Jaquet to Scotts Head in the south, the island's profile is distinctly vertical; Dominica is 75 percent mountains. The tallest mountain, Morne Diablotin, soars to nearly 5,000 feet and plenty of others reach nearly that high.
Despite its popularity among divers, the diversity above water may be Dominica's strongest suit. Many divers trade afternoon tanks for backpacks, scrambling up mossy rocks to swim in cool, clean waterfallsa€”Trafalgar Falls, Victoria Falls, Sari-Sari, Emerald Poola€”tucked into the rain-forested mountains. The most mountainous island in the Caribbean also happens to be the lushest. And where its lush topside vegetation ends, Dominica's rich marine ecosystem begins.
Most diving on Dominica takes place off the island's southwestern corner between Roseau and Scotts Head, the lip of a sunken volcano. This produces a varied underwater topography, from the bubbling volcanic vents at Champagne to the walls near Soufri?re to pinnacles at Danglebens. Boat rides to these sites take no more than 15 to 30 minutes from dive operations around Roseau. While really big fish and pelagics are virtually nonexistent, there are enough critters to keep you thumbing through a reef ID book for days. However, you do have a decent chance of seeing a whale or two here, including sperm, pilots and false orcas.
Perfect for the diver... Who is looking for an off-the-beaten-track island where crowds and ready conveniences like film processing are rare ... Who loves Bonaire's macro photography, calm water, great vis, healthy reefs and short rides to dive sites ... Who wants some dramatic underwater topography for wide-angle shots ... Who is looking for the Eastern Caribbean's answer to eco-tourist destinations like Central America's Belize.
Expect... To see some of the largest mammals in the sea on a sperm whale watching expedition along the west coast of the island ... To see small critters under water, from seahorses to rainbow crinoids ... The non-diving attractions to be on mountain trails, not tourist pathways leading to cash registers ... To dive in the mornings and explore the island in the afternoons and to leave a day for the six-hour round-trip hike through the sulphurous Valley of Desolation to the second-largest boiling lake in the world.
Don't Expect... To add a Dominica Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt to your collection.
What You're Saying About Dominica
The following comments were submitted by our readers in a recent survey:
"Beautiful island rain forests, volcanoes, sulphur springs ... Diving was beautiful, healthy, extreme visibility." :J.J., Milford, N.H.
"Dominica is for the eco-tourist ... Beautiful rain forest topside, great pinnacles under water ... Great hikes to gorges, waterfall, boiling lake ... No nightlife and not for children or teens ... Went on a whale watch and saw many sperm whales." :D.S., Portsmouth, Ohio.
"Liked the culture of this mostly self-sufficient island." :P.W., Cape Coral, Fla.
"Great macro photography dives ... Lots of seahorses." :W.M., Coral Gables, Fla.
"Beautiful country ... Warm, friendly, helpful people ... Beautiful coral and lots of creatures." :P.S., Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
"Lack of large fish, but calm seas and lots of small critters." :S.K., Cresson, Pa.
"Third-world infrastructure." :P.M., Coatesville, Pa.
Dive In: Dominica
Climate: Daytime temps average between 75F and 90F. Ocean breezes mitigate the tropical heat, and temperatures in the mountains can be appreciably lower. Expect the lowest temps from November to February. The rainy season extends from July to October.
Average Water Temperature: Ranges from 78F in winter to 83F in summer.
Visibility: Ranges from 60 to more than 100 feet.
Money Matters: Currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$). There is a departure tax of EC$30.
Time: Atlantic Standard Time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard. Dominica does not observe daylight saving time.
Language: English is the official language, but a Creole French is the preferred conversational language among natives.
Electricity: 220/240 volts, 50 cycles. It's a good idea to take your own adapter.
Health: Water and food are generally safe, but visitors may want to drink bottled water, especially in outlying areas.
Getting There: There are no direct flights from the continental U.S. to Dominica. American Airlines offers several flights daily to Dominica from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The good news is that American Airlines flies to San Juan from over a dozen gateways: New York, Newark, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Washington and Baltimore. A typical Miami-San Juan-Dominica itinerary will get you there in about five-and-a-half hours.
Documents: A passport is a good idea, but citizens of the U.S. and Canada can get by with a birth certificate and driver's license.
Tourism Office: Dominica Tourist Office, (212) 949-1711.