A Memorable Place

The spectacular beauty of Dominica


By Karen Meyers



Our weeklong visit to the Caribbean island of Dominica was a family compromise that turned into a memorable vacation.

Our teenage daughter wanted a week on a tropical beach, while my husband and I yearned to explore a new place.

We first heard of Dominica -- not to be confused with the Dominican Republic -- from a college student we know who was born there. She described a verdant and mountainous island bypassed by most tourists.

A tiny nation (population 70,000) that won independence from Great Britain in 1978, Dominica is known as the "Nature Island of the Caribbean" because of its volcanic peaks, rain forests, river gorges and coral reefs.

We flew, by way of Puerto Rico, into one of two small airports on the island. On approach, we could see the seven volcanic peaks that formed the island. It almost seemed we could reach out and pick coconuts from the plantations below as the plane skimmed the treetops.

In our rental car, we headed across the mountainous center of the island toward the capital, Roseau. After a mosquito-plagued night in a screenless cottage that I had rented over the Internet, we drove up the west coast until we found a small hotel run by a Belgian family.

Located on a boulder-strewn river that tumbled down from the mountains, the hotel included a dozen pleasant rooms, beautiful tropical gardens surrounding a swimming pool, an open-air restaurant overlooking the Caribbean, a resident dog and a friendly staff.

The rocky beach provided good snorkeling. When my husband and I felt the urge to explore but our daughter didn't, we left her behind in a beach chair and took off.


Driving the narrow roads was a challenge -- many featured abrupt ditches on either side for drainage. Coastal roads had precipitous drops to the ocean. Add to that the British rule of driving on the left, and you can imagine the white-knuckle experience.

Yet, we were drawn by the opportunity to explore the rain forests, gorges, colorful villages and the spectacular coastline.

Dominica is a textbook example of the "rain-shadow effect" that occurs when ocean breezes blow toward mountain ranges. The air is swept upward, where it cools and forms clouds that unload on the windward side, making it very wet; in Dominica, this is the rain-forested east side.

The opposite side of the island is dry. The west side features a Mediterranean climate, with dry-adapted plants and animals like the large iguanas that frequented the hotel gardens.

If you love natural beauty, Caribbean culture and the unexpected, I highly recommend a Dominican vacation.

Karen Meyers lives in Baltimore.


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