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After donning a snorkel mask and fins, I took to Champagne Reef in Dominica with the Caribbean sun hot on my heels. While tropical fish and coral reefs are expected, I had a rather unusual attraction awaiting 10 feet below the surface: hot, gassy bubbles. Due to the strong geothermal activity on Dominica, gases rise up from the ocean floor, resembling (as you would imagine) a glass of champagne.
But the island of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is just as unique in itself. Unlike a typical all-inclusive Caribbean beach destination, the 298-square-mile island is all about mountains, rainforests and other natural attractions. There are 365 rivers flowing through the island, and natural hot springs are spread throughout the country. Locals refer to Dominica as Nature Island or Rainbow Island thanks to the number of multi-colored arches found high above tropical rainforests, waterfalls and grottoes on any given day. The mother of all things nature is 17,000-acre, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is home to many of the island’s attractions.
Dominica is still off the radar and gaining the attention of celebrities, most notably Mick Jagger and Richard Branson, and other high-brow travelers who truly want to get away from it all. I lived vicariously through Branson by staying at Rosalie Bay Resort, an eco-wellness-retreat on the Atlantic Ocean. Twenty-eight spacious, plantation-style accommodations spread throughout 22 acres, some along the river. The health-conscious resort has a new destination spa, and Zamaan Restaurant features gluten-free and vegan options.
Making headlines is Secret Bay, a four-villa property, with its own beach, blended effortlessly into nature. Additionally, Papillote Wilderness Retreat, which opened back in 1965, is in the middle of the rainforest with its own natural hot springs, waterfalls and a garden featuring more than 200 plant species.
While the resorts are all eco-conscious, it’s the actual environment in which they inhabit that truly make Dominica special. The options for outdoor enthusiasts are endless. Waterfalls are ubiquitous, and the most popular (as reflected by the herd of cruise ship passengers) are Emerald Pool, where the actual 50-foot falls serve as a great neck massage, and Trafalgar Falls, the island’s most famous twin waterfalls. While Dominica is voted as one of the top diving spots in the world, hiking is just as popular, and hikers can find dozens of trails from beginner’s to advanced. Should you want to make a day of it, try the hike to Boiling Lake, which takes up to four hours and finally brings you to the flooded fumarole at the bottom of a sinkhole. This fascinating site is nothing less than rewarding (just remember: you have another four-hour hike back). If you’re feeling ambitious, try the Waitukubuli National Trail, the only walking trail in the Caribbean that extends the length of the entire island — 115 miles long.
Soothe all your sore muscles with a dip in the natural sulfur springs at Wotten Waven, where you can top off your visit with a sulfur mud bath. But if you really want to do Dominica right, get to know the locals, take in a traditional Dominican meal and remember that the Caribbean is not all about a cocktail on the beach.
Champagne Reef Dive N Snorkelwww.champagnereef.com
Rosalie Bay Resortwww.rosaliebay.com