Our favorite island this side of the world
Our fourth trip to Dominica took us from Pittsburgh to New York and then to San Juan, Puerto Rico for an overnight at the Mango Inn, after a five-hour delay and plane switch at JFK airport. Another short flight on American Airlines the next morning and we landed at Melville Hall, Dominica, a beautiful, lush, tropical, and volcanic island. After an hour and a half bus ride over the mountains and through the busy, narrow streets of Roseau, we arrived at our home for the week, Castle Comfort.
Castle Comfort is a compact bed and breakfast type lodge. The individual rooms are basic, but spacious and clean, with AC and cable TV. On the grounds is a small, refreshing pool, a hot tub that’s actually hot, and an outside bar that quickly became our evening gathering place. The entire complex is right on the ocean, with lounge chairs perfectly positioned for sunset and “green flash” watching, which was actually seen by some of the group! The rooms, dive shop, restaurant, and dive boats are all within steps of each other.
The meals at Castle Comfort consisted of wonderful local cuisine, beginning with their scrumptious banana pancakes for breakfast, among many other choices. Fresh fruit such as bananas or mangos were served each morning, along with a local juice like soursop or papaya. Lunches, not included in the package, were various sandwich choices—the fresh local tuna sandwiches and salads were especially popular. Leftover soup from the previous night’s dinner could also be requested. Dinners were usually a choice between two main entrees, along with multiple courses of side dishes, which could easily have been turned into a meal on their own. Deliciously prepared soups were always the first course. One night we were served a Creole buffet to celebrate Creole Day, plus the International Creole Music Festival, which was being held for three days. Truly an enjoyable eating adventure.
We consider the diving to be some of the best in the Caribbean. Although there are few large fish, normally small fish, such as spotted drums, and invertebrates like bristle worms, barber pole shrimp and arrow crabs, grow larger than at other places, due to lack of predation. Dominica is also home to many strange creatures, such as flying gurnards (we saw hundreds), batfish, crocodile snake eels, frogfish, and seahorses; things that are seen occasionally elsewhere are often common in Dominica. The reef itself is healthy, with giant barrel sponges and gorgonians, and cleaning stations everywhere. A marine sanctuary along part of the west coast has been officially in place since March, and $2 per dive helps support it.
The majority of the diving takes place along the walls south of Castle Comfort, in the area of a huge rock called Scott’s Head. Along the way are picturesque villages such as Soufrier. Although Dominica is an independent country, part of the British Commonwealth, there was a lot of French influence in the past.
Shore diving is a highlight at Dominica, especially night diving. The reef looked a little beat and sand covered, probably from the last hurricane, but it’s definitely worth several dives. Do an easy step off the end of the dock, turn left, right, or go straight out to 100 feet, as each direction has different things to see. There is a seventy-five foot upside-down catamaran in eighty feet of water, and the flying gurnards were having some kind of convention while we were there. Other things you might see are one inch scorpion fish, octopus, snake eels with their heads sticking out of the sand, batfish, lesser electric rays, and sea hares, and don’t forget to keep a look-out for frogfish disguised as sponges.
Hiking is fantastic in Dominica. The island receives over 300 inches of rain in the interior each year, so waterfall hikes are spectacular. There are hikes of every length available, from fifteen minutes to the Emerald Pool to eight hours round-trip to the Boiling Lake, through the Valley of Desolation, arduous, but worth the effort. On this trip we did Titou Gorge, which involved a swim to a waterfalls, along with Trafalgar Falls. Another day we hiked to Middleham Falls, forty-five minutes each way to a waterfall over 180 feet tall, flowing so strongly from recent rains that we were unable to take a swim, although we looked like we had, from the strong spray. We also did Sari Sari Falls, an interesting trek up and down the edge of a mountainside, across a stream several times, then clambering up and over rocks to the pool just below the falls. An excellent adventure!
Other activities included an afternoon whale-watching trip, where a hydrophone was lowered into the water to listen to the whales. Three of our people saw ten whales and hundreds of dolphins during their trip. It’s also possible to take a local bus into town, stroll along the road toward Soufrier, or just relax in the pool, hot tub, or at the bar.
Dominica has great diving and hiking, and Castle Comfort and Dive Dominica have all the amenities we needed. It’s still our favorite Caribbean destination! We’ll be going back!