Dominica has earned the name “Nature Island” for good reason. Surrounded by crystal-blue waters, this Caribbean nation has towering rainforests, stunning volcanic peaks, and pristine waterfalls. On our Sailing the Caribbean aboard Sea Cloud expedition, you’ll experience the bountiful hidden beauty of this lesser-known gem and all it has to offer.
Known as Waitikubuli in Arawaka to the native Kalinago people, Dominica is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean—meaning it’s legally protected and internationally recognized as having outstanding cultural and natural value. Several regions of rain-fed slopes and forests are also designated as national parks and reserves, untouched by mass tourism and commercial development.
Enter an Emerald Eden in the Caribbean Sea
Lush, biodiverse, and little explored, the island is about 60% wooded, with some gommier and chataigner trees that date back around 400 years. An annual rainfall of more than 400 inches helps nourish and bolster the greenery of the dense forest canopy, as well as feed the island’s approximately 365 rivers, one for every day of the year. Looming over it all is Morne Diablotins, Dominica’s highest peak which stands 4,775 feet alongside nine other volcanoes.
While hiking the island’s famed Syndicate Nature Trail, you’ll have the chance to spot blue-headed hummingbirds, bullfinches, and the endemic sisserou and jaco parrots, two protected species found nowhere else in the world. The rainforest is also teeming with flowers like hibiscus, anthuriums, and poinsettias, as well as fruits like mangoes, papayas, bananas, coffee, and cocoa trees. Despite the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the foliage is quickly growing back thanks to the restoration efforts of determined residents and government initiatives.
Out of all the stops in the Caribbean, this tucked-away island is the favorite destination of naturalist Paula Tagle. “If I had to choose a happy country, I would choose Dominica,” Tagle says. “Whenever we land on this emerald island, I feel that the air is lighter, and that people seem to have discovered the recipe to enjoying life to the fullest.”
The people of Dominica, including a 3,000-person indigenous population, are warm and inviting. They are proud of their land and culture and are happy to teach visitors about it.
History Reveals Itself from within the Jungle
Dominica's natural beauty is intertwined with its storied past. On our voyages to the island, historian Tom Heffernan leads guests to Fort Shirley, an historic British garrison that was completed in 1820. “At its zenith, the fort had a garrison of 700 soldiers and a regiment of Afro-Caribbeans, the 8th West Indian Regiment,” says Hefferman. However, it never saw any war action during its time, and eventually sat abandoned for 130 years while the surrounding jungle overtook it.
Then in 1982, Dr. Lennox Honeychurch, a native of Dominica and a good friend of Hefferman, took it upon himself to reclaim the fort and return it to its former beauty. Lennox has been working for almost 40 years and has restored massive sections of the once-derelict structure as a way to remember the island’s turbulent colonial history which you'll learn more about on your visit there.
The vast biodiversity, its rich history, and vibrant people and culture make Dominica a true hidden gem of the Caribbean.
Join National Geographic Photography Expert Krista Rossow on the Jan. 26, 2024 departure of Sailing the Caribbean Aboard Sea Cloud.