Dominica is strikingly vertical, its angled, sharp peaks covered in lush rain forest — think Jurassic Park minus the meat-eating dinosaurs that treat planes this size like playthings. The 29-mile-long by 16-mile-wide island is the tallest in the Caribbean; Dominica’s highest peak, Morne Diablotin, soars 4,747 feet into the sky. Indigenous Carib Indians called their home Waitikubuli, which means “tall is her body.” An often-repeated story is that after Christopher Columbus’s second visit to the New World, he described Dominica to Ferdinand and Isabella by crumpling a sheet of paper and tossing it on the table.
Neither description really captures the spectacular beauty of the island’s terrain. Jungly-green mountains plunge straight into the sapphire-blue sea, creating a dramatic underwater bottomography formed from the same violent volcanic forces that gave birth to the island’s rugged interior.
Dominica’s western shore faces the calm waters of the Caribbean, its eastern side the crashing waves of the Atlantic. The most popular diving is found along the island’s western coast — with sites clustered in the south, mid-island and north — but operators take divers to the Atlantic side when conditions are right. My weeklong stay affords me the chance to sample the diving all along the Caribbean coast.
Dominica dive sites offer an adventure for divers of all levels. Here, the old cliché "There's something for everyone" truly does apply. There are shallow dives where divers can experience incredible vistas filled with frogfish, seahorses, batfish, flying gurnards, and magnificent sponges to dives at deeper depths where striking pinnacles jut from the ocean floor and create a dramatic backdrop for the marine life. Other dive sites offer caves, swim-throughs, volcanic vents and vast sponge and coral gardens. The waters surrounding Dominica are also home to barracuda, eels, sea turtles, tuna, blue chromis and more. In between dives, take a boat excursion to the deeper waters to catch a glimpse of one of the more than 22 species of whales that frequent Dominica's waters. Dominica has a surprising number of dive operators with a wide variety of diving options. Many also offer other activities including snorkeling, whale watching, eco-tours and more.
10 TO DIVE
Champagne Reef A popular site that dive operators say is frequently requested, Champagne is a dive for all levels. Currents here are usually light, and you have a good chance of spotting seahorses, frogfish, and flying gurnards. The site is easily accessible from shore, and it's also a terrific site for snorkeling. Champagne Reef gets its name from the bubbles produced from the underwater hot springs.
La Sorcière Also called L'Abym, the most impressive aspect to this dive is the magnificent wall. Starting at 25 feet with little current, divers of all skill levels can enjoy the incredible underwater topography and marine life.
Dangleben's Pinnacles A series of five pinnacles, Dangleben's formations vary in shape and depth, starting at about 35 feet. Typically there is a current, and as a result, fish life is abundant with jacks, turtles, barracuda, creole wrasse and more. The pinnacles form an incredible maze that's full of sponges, corals and sea life.
Soufriere Pinnacles This site is at the southern end of L'Abym and consists of a series of deep-water pinnacles. The best view is at about 50 feet where the amazing array of colorful sponges and corals is at its peak.
Point Break Located at the northern tip of the island where the Caribbean and the Atlantic meet, Point Break offers stronger currents and large fish in great numbers.
Cottage Point The remains of an 18th century wreck can be found in only 15 to 30 feet of water, making this a great wreck dive for open water divers. Spectacular pinnacles create an eerie feel to the wreck site.
Rodney's Rock This dive is popular for several reasons. First, it's a shallow dive, and second, it's known as one of the best critter dives in the area, with many opportunities for sightings of seahorses, octopus, frogfish, snappers and much more.
Rina's Hole A great shallow dive north of Whale Shark Reef with a beautiful swim-through teeming with eels, giant anemones, sea fans, sea plumes and vibrant, colorful corals.
Whale Shark Reef Located south of the drop-off at Great Savanne, this reef starts at about 55 feet and then drops off to 130 or more feet. Fantastic sightings of animal life including snails, cleaner shrimp, arrow crabs and more. Large barrel sponges and tube sponges are abundant.
Crater's Edge This dive is northwest of Scott's Pinnacle and follows a volcanic ridge allowing divers to experience masses of black jack, tuna, snapper, Creole wrasse, blue chromis and much more. Curious barracuda might follow you on your dive.
DON'T-MISS SURFACE INTERVALS
The natural attractions in Dominica — hiking to waterfalls, kayaking one of more than 300 boulder-strewn rivers, birdwatching in the rain forest and woodlands, visiting the history-rich Carib Territory — can easily fill a weeklong itinerary for the adventure traveler.
Hiking. The surplus of rain (more than 300 inches per year in places) and rivers in Dominica combine to create one of the island’s most striking attractions—countless waterfalls, some of them plunging thousands of feet through primordial rain forest. Hikes vary from barely-break-a-sweat easy (a 10-minute walk to Trafalgar Falls, east of the village of Trafalgar) to strenuous, for-the-experienced only treks that can take all day (the six-mile hike from Titou Gorge to Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park). Cabrits National Park is located on a peninsula that separates Prince Rupert Bay from Douglas Bay. Visit the museum at the cruise ship pier before making the 30-minute hike to Fort Shirley, a 17th-century garrison that overlooks Prince Rupert Bay.
River Kayaking and Boating. Guides lead scenic tours by kayak of the Layou River (which features light rapids) or on a rowboat ride on the Indian River in Portsmouth. You can buy tickets for the Layou River tour at Wacky Rollers, located on Fort Street in Roseau. This adventure park also offers a zip line and canopy tour that ends with an exhilarating ride across the river. Several operators, located along the coastal road at the river’s mouth in Portsmouth, use rowboats to take visitors on a tour of the three-quarter-mile-long Indian River.
Carib Territory. The 3,700-acre Carib Territory is the last organized settlement of the Indian tribe that gave its name to the Caribbean Sea. Take a scenic drive through this rugged wedge of land on the island’s northeast Atlantic coast. Carib guides in Sineku can lead you to L’Escalier Tete Chien, a lava rock staircase that snakes down to the Atlantic. You’ll also pass a number of stalls on the roadside where Carib women sell handcrafted baskets.