Those making day trips to Dominica from other Caribbean islands will want to see the Carib Indian Territory, in the northeast. In 1903, Britain got the surviving Caribs to agree to live on 1,480 hectares (3,657 acres) of land. Today this reservation is the last remaining turf of the once-hostile tribe for whom the Caribbean was named. Today they survive by fishing, growing food, and weaving baskets and vetiver-grass mats, which they sell to the outside world. The baskets sold at roadside stands make especially good buys. An on-site cultural center, Kalinago Barana Auté (tel. 767/445-7979; www.kalinagobaranaaute.com), acquaints you with the Carib history, culture, and native customs. A guided 45-minute tour is conducted, not only exploring the Indian village, but allowing you to watch the natives practice their local crafts. They even bake cassava bread for you. The tour costs $10, and the site is open year-round daily 9am to 5pm.
It's like going back in time when you explore Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a primordial rainforest. Mists rise gently over lush, dark-green growth, drifting up to blue-green peaks that have earned Dominica the nickname "Switzerland of the Caribbean." Framed by banks of giant ferns, rivers rush and tumble, trees sprout orchids, green sunlight filters down through trees, and roaring waterfalls create a blue mist. One of the best starting points for a visit to the park is the village of Laudat, 11km (6 3/4 miles) from Roseau.
The best tour is the Rain Forest Aerial Tram, at the corner of Old Street and Great George Street in Laudat (tel. 767/448-8775), but it's open only when cruise ships are in port. For $64 per person, you're taken on a 90-minute tour that starts at the village of Laudat, "sailing" over the rainforest through the Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Along the way, you're treated to exotic bird life, beautiful waterfalls, and much tropical flora.
Eight kilometers (5 miles) up from the Roseau River Valley, in the south-central sector of Dominica, Trafalgar Falls is reached after driving through the village of Trafalgar. Shortly beyond the hamlet of Trafalgar and up a short hill, there's a little kiosk where you can hire a guide to take you on the short walk to the actual falls. In all, allow about 1 1/2 hours for the trip from Trafalgar to the falls. This is the only road or pathway into the falls, and you'll have to approach on foot, as the slopes are too steep for vehicles. After a 20-minute walk past ginger plants and vanilla orchids, you arrive at the base, where a trio of falls converges in a rock-strewn pool.
For another great way to spend half a day, head for the Papillote Wilderness Retreat. The botanical garden alone is worth the trip, as are the views of mountains and lush valleys. Near the main dining terrace is a Jacuzzi-size pool, which is filled with the mineral-rich waters of a nearby hot spring. Nonguests can use the pool for $4.50. Bring sturdy walking shoes in addition to a bathing suit.
On the northwestern coast, Portsmouth is Dominica's second-largest settlement. Here you can row up the Indian River in native canoes, visit the ruins of old Fort Shirley in Cabrits National Park, and bathe at Sandy Beach on Douglas Bay and Prince Rupert Bay.
Cabrits National Park (no phone), on Dominica's northwestern coast, immediately adjacent to Douglas Bay, is a 525-hectare (1,297-acre) protected site, only about 25% of which is devoted to dry land. Here are low-rising hills, tropical forests, swampland, volcanic-sand beaches, coral reefs, and the sprawling ruins of a fortified, 18th-century garrison of British, then French, construction. This is one of the area's great natural attractions, and if your time is limited, you may want to head here even if you skip everything else in Dominica. The park's land extends over a panoramic promontory formed by the low-rising twin peaks of extinct volcanoes (known as East Cabrit and West Cabrit) overlooking beaches, with Douglas Bay on one side and Prince Rupert Bay across the headland. The marine section of the park extends over the teeming marine life of the shallow waters of Douglas Bay.
If you want to explore the park underwater, we strongly encourage you to take one of the scuba or snorkeling trips organized by the officially designated dive operator for the park, Cabrit's Dive Center, Picard Estate, Portsmouth (tel. 767/445-3010; www.cabritsdive.com). If you're interested in hiking, you'll find about 3km (2 miles) of trails, each clearly marked with brown-and-yellow signs, pointing out the geological and architectural highlights of the park. Foremost among these is Fort Shirley, a forbidding-looking hulk that was last used as a military post in 1854. The park's Welcome Center (no phone) contains a small on-site museum (daily 9am-5pm; free admission) that highlights the natural and historic aspects of the park. The staff will make suggestions about the trails you might want to follow, but since the surface of the park is relatively limited in scope, it's hard to get lost. Signs point from the welcome center to the ruins of Fort Shirley and to the low summits of the East and West Cabrit hills, neither of which rises more than about 150m (492 ft.) above sea level.
Searching for Moby Dick -- You'll see more sperm whales, pilot whales, killer whales, and dolphins during whale- and dolphin-watching trips off Dominica than off any other island in the Caribbean. A pod of sperm whales can often be spotted just yards from your boat, since there are no laws here regarding the distance you must keep from the whales. The Anchorage Hotel, at Castle Comfort (tel. 767/448-2638), offers the best tours. A 3 1/2-hour trip costs $57, but children 11 and under pay half price. The vessels leave the dock every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2pm (call ahead for availability).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.