Dominica was my dream island. I researched it until there was no more research to do. 2nd largest boiling lake in the world, 365 rivers, internationally recognized snorkeling… The Nature Island of the Caribbean was going to be perfect!
…and then it wasn’t… Hot nights, a wrecked rental, mosquito borne viruses, crazy roads… What an adventure!
First, to be clear, this was not a “Fly Her Away” style trip. That cannot happen with children. This was a family vacation. Still, 8 days on a tropical island should be a pretty awesome time. Unfortunately, even the vast amount of research I did on the island prior to traveling there did not prepare me for what we found. The best lessons learned are those learned the hard way…
Dominica is the NATURE Island
In fact, it’s more nature, less island. In the developed world we have overcome nature in order to make our wide roads and gentle inclines and curves. In Dominica, the roads fit where they may. Their two lane roads are the equivalent of American single lane roads, and the perilous drops lack guard rails. In fact, there are deep cement ditches along many of the roads. Ditches just waiting to eat your car should you swerve to the side of the road when the locals come screaming by at ludicrous speeds. I truly admired the religious fervor of the locals. Based on how they drive it’s obvious they can’t wait to get to heaven.
One day I saw some adults standing in the back of a pickup truck speeding around mountain corners as they stabilized a toddler on the roof of the truck cab! Yikes!
Beaches exist on the island… The beaches you think of when you hear the words “Caribbean” and “Tropical” do not. Most were rocky, and the very few with sand were mostly covered in sea weed. Don’t go to Dominica for the beaches.
Dominica is, in fact, a THIRD WORLD country
I had read this while researching, but was cynical. After all, Dominica hosts the largest medical university in the western hemisphere (Ross Medical University) and has island-wide high speed internet. Let me tell you… Dominica is, in fact, a third world country.
The roads are falling apart, and the rental companies love it. They have an off-roading clause in their contract. You cannot buy insurance that covers off-road driving, it just isn’t offered. In America, we think of Jeeps and dirt trails when we think of off-roading. In my case, when the edge of the road collapsed and I inevitably went “off road”, that was enough to void the extra coverage I bought on the rental. All of a sudden our budget trip had a luxury price tag.
At one point in the first half of our stay, there was a storm and they shut off the water for about 24 hours in our rental flat. No water…at all.
We knew going down to the island that there were a lot of mosquitoes. We took precautions by treating our clothes with Permethrin before we left (which worked really well overall) and by using mosquito spray liberally while there. The precautions helped, but at least a few super-squitoes always found a weak spot in our armor. Upon our return home, we learned I had contracted Chikungunya, an extremely painful mosquito-borne virus. Not fun! Thankfully, at least according to the rest of the party, I was the only one in our party to get sick. When speaking with the locals in Dominica, they had all contracted it at least once. Every… single… one… that we spoke with.
Dominica DOES have saving graces…
While it’s true I would be murdered in my sleep if I attempted to Fly Her Away to Dominica in the near future, given our harrowing trip in August, Dominica isn’t all bad. Knowing what I know now, I would love to give it another try. The island, especially the interior and all of the waterfalls, is truly spectacular.
The hot springs bubbling up through the rocks on the beach were really
cool hot. And the southern point had incredibly snorkeling. The farmers market with the wide array of fruits was a highlight of the trip, as was the fresh fish we bought from the fish market and cooked on a grill.
Shout out to Sea Cliff Cottages
We spent the first half our trip down in Roseau, and the second half of our trip up in Calibishe, about 20 minutes north of Portsmouth (where the medical school is). Calibishe is, admittedly, more tourist-oriented than Roseau, but it was also a breath of fresh air. I cannot recommend Sea Cliff Cottages highly enough.
They had excellent customer service, excellent views, and there is a super cute western-friendly beach bar less than 10 minutes away in town. It is closer to the airport and closer to the bigger shopping stores in Portsmouth compared to anything in Roseau. In hindsight, I wish we had stayed at Sea Cliff for our entire trip.
Biggest Lessons Learned
- We packed WAY too much. This is one of the biggest lessons learned that we will benefit from when I Fly Her Away this summer (2015).
- Don’t base expectations on research alone, stay flexible.
- If it’s a “Tropical Island” in the “Caribbean”, she needs a beach… A real, stereotypical, Caribbean-style, beach…