Exploring Dominica, the 'Nature Island,' above and below the water
Outfitter: Castle Comfort Dive Lodge
Price: from $987 per person
Dominica's tourism bureau used to tout Dominica as the "Nature Island of the Caribbean." But now they're dropping the "Caribbean" part because they want to be clear: Dominica is not about beaches and big resorts. It's about ecotourism and adventure travel 100 percent. Luckily, Dominica's virgin rainforests, volcanic peaks, unblemished marine environment, and eco-friendly development match the marketing.
The island is a particularly good place for divers, having been voted the Caribbean's number-one dive destination for viewing marine life and the region's healthiest marine environment by the readers of SCUBA Diving magazine in a 2006 poll. At Dominica's Castle Comfort Dive Lodge, divers can indulge in some of the Caribbean's best diving through the lodge's on-site dive center, plus go on guided whale watches and other adventure tours. "You can dive the walls and pinnacles in the morning and hike to the waterfalls in the afternoon all on the same day," says Managing Director Derek Perryman.
Certified divers can book packages that include boat dives to Dominica's marine reserve, where you'll likely see critters that are rare elsewhere in the Caribbean, such as frogfish, seahorses, and snake eels. Banded coral shrimp, cleaner shrimp, squid, octopus, and sea turtles are common sights too. Dominica is also a prime spot for viewing marine mammals—22 species of whales and dolphins inhabit the waters around Dominica—including humpback and pilot whales, spinner and spotted dolphins, and a resident group of sperm whales. You may see dolphins while you're diving, but it's better to go on one of the lodge's whale-watch trips.
The lodge can also arrange for jungle hiking trips, including excursions to Boiling Lake, the second largest boiling lake in the world, in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. The eight-mile round-trip trek climbs through rainforest and active volcanic areas to reach the lake.
Dominica is a year-round destination. Seven-night dive packages start at $879 per person based on double occupancy. Rates cover accommodations at the Castle Comfort Dive Lodge; round-trip airport transfers; seven breakfasts; five days of two-tank boat dives; unlimited shore dives; tanks, weights, and weight belt; use of sea kayaks; and taxes. Add $50 per person for a whale-watching tour and $58 for a Boiling Lake trek. You can also book four-, five-, or six-night packages. Nitrox, dive equipment rentals, and dive courses are available for an extra charge.
Airfare is not included. Round-trip flights from Miami this winter start at $424 on American, excluding taxes.