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Dominica

Written by Roxan Kinas on .

Mountain

HIKING DOMINICA IN STYLE
By Roxan Kinas
Photographs By Roxan Kinas and Eric Young

It was a dull, gray November morning as we bumped and lurched our way up the loose-rock mountain trail to Dominica's Freshwater Lake. The dense, sloping rain forest inched upwards with us, encircling the jeep so closely that tree branches scraped its doors and windows, making that grating styrofoam sound against the vehicle. Lush and gorgeous as the vegetation was, at times it almost seemed to engulf us.
As we pursued the steep climb, the back end of the jeep fish-tailed to the mountain ledge often enough to wonder if the four-wheel drive could really handle this craggy track. But our Dominican friend and host was determined to reach the end regardless of the white-knuckle adventure. The drizzle added even more excitement.
At one point I remember thinking, "we could have walked faster and it wouldn't have been so scary."
Which was precisely the point. You weren't supposed to drive. It was a hiking trail, not a thoroughfare.
We slowly reached the lake at the 2 800 foot base of Dominica's fourth highest mountain, Morne Macaque in the heart of the Morne Trois Piton National Park.
That was then. Today you can drive to the crater lake with far less drama, but it remains first a hiking trail.

Regardless of your physical condition, Dominica lures you into to pushing yourself beyond your limit simply because it's so stunning, so magnificent, you can't bear to miss out on a thing despite the struggle and the ‘dues' that will certainly come later.
This is an island for hikers, adventurers and naturists. It is not a cosmopolitan destination, so if you're looking for shopping malls, room service, nightlife and entertainment, Dominica is not for you. But if you love awesome mountain vistas, steamy mineral springs, misty rain forests melodic with birds and waterfalls plunging into pristine rivers and pools, then put Dominica on the top of your travel wish list. When it comes to commuting with nature in a very personal way, no other island in the region can beat it.
Luckily, Dominica has a multiplicity of hikes, from short flat walks to day-long endurance tests. Some of the more strenuous treks require a guide, but most of the hikes are easily accessible and the trails simple to follow.
We've devised a rating system to give you a sense of the difficulty degree for each hike. Some hikes, while quite short, may offer steep challenges, hence a higher rating than a longer, flat hike. Ratings range from 1 to 5 hikers, 1 being the easiest, 5 for the masochistic.

 


waterfall

SHORT, EASY HIKES 


hiker* Emerald pool--Located at the eastern rim of the Morne Trois Piton National Park, this hike leads you along a gently undulating mile long loop to and from the magnificent glimmering pool. Nestled in heart of the rain forest, the pool has an opening in the canopy overhead that beams light into the shallow pool to create its rich, emerald colour. A mini waterfall feeds the pool and it is partially encircled by small grottos. Try to go at off-peak times on a day no cruise ships are in.

hiker* Scott's Head--This mini-pinnacled mound arcs to form the southern perimeter of the Soufriere/Scott's Head Marine Reserve and the island. This is a short, steep climb that offers a lovely view of the bay and the lower west coast of the island. Remnants of Fort Cashacrou still stand at the top of this mound.


Hiker* Syndicate Trail--Located at the base of Morne Diablotin, the island's tallest mountain (4 700 feet), this is a rather flat, ¾ mile loop with specially made lookouts. It's a long, long drive to the sight, but well worth it. Situated at about 1800 feet, the Syndicate's attraction is not just the panoramas, but the chance to perhaps glimpse the Sisserou (Amazona imperialis) and Jacko (Amazona arausiaca) parrots. Both are indigenous to Dominica and while the large Sisserou is the national bird, it is endangered. Best times to see the parrots is early morning or evening.

hikerhalf_hiker*Trafalgar Falls--In the heart of the Morne Trois Piton National Park cascades the magnificent twin Trafalgar falls. The forestry division recently upgraded the path so it is a simple, relatively flat walk to the look out now. The two falls—papa and mama—recently traded places in popularity. The larger papa falls suffered a major landslide a few years ago so the challenging hike to the falls' mid-point for a relaxing soak in the hot mineral spring is gone. However, the fallen rocks opened an access to the mama falls and now you can clamber your way to the base of the falls. The tumbling waters plunge into a pool and the overflow ripples over the rocky terrain. (Trek to look out 1 hiker, trek to mama falls 2 hikers)

CoastSERIOUS HIKES


* Galion point---a small, almost indiscernible trail between Soufriere and Scott's Head villages marks the start of this ‘hike'. This is not an exceptionally long trek, but it is a 500 foot vertical climb that is not for the mildly fit. The vistas of the massive bay and Scott's Head are spectacular and there are several vantage points. However, if you're not up to it, you can take an exciting 20 minute vehicle ride up to the point via a very round-about, twisting road.

* Freshwater & Boeri Lakes—The Boeri hike starts at Freshwater Crater Lake. You can drive the one mile to Freshwater and begin the mile and a quarter hike up to the Boeri, or combine the two into one hearty hike. Freshwater Lake is at an altitude of about 2 800 feet and while it is now used as a water reservoir it has not lost any of its beauty. Its placid waters are soothing to view, while the barren landscape along the shore give the setting an almost surreal feel.
The Boeri trail leads you up to 3 000 feet, travelling past elfin forest, rippling streams, hot and cold springs streaming from the mountainside and two sharp ridges. The lake itself is one of the island's largest and is over 100 feet deep and more then four acres across. The rocky shoreline is tempting to clamber over, but National Parks officials warn against this because of the danger involved.

MEGA HIKESCoast


 * Boiling Lake--Not for the feint of heart, the trek to the Boiling Lake offers, if nothing else, tremendous variety in torture. This trek begins in Laudat village and is right in the heart of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Although the lake is just under six miles one way, it is a full day expedition. This can be a ‘messy' hike, so plan to get wet and maybe muddy as well. The hike entails passing by through Titou Gorge, a narrow, deep canyon, and then Breakfast River. There is a nice hot spring at the mouth of the canyon for those sore muscles on the way back.
After the river, you climb the ridge of Morne Nicholls, then descend into the Valley of Desolation with its bubbling fumeroles and steam escapes. From there the trail leads over a number of sharp ridges and ravines and opens out to flat moonscape-like terrain, which is the final leg to the lake.
This is the second largest boiling lake in the world and is essentially a flooded fumerole. This trek requires a guide and an extremely strong constitution.
 * Morne Trois Pitons—Named after the island's largest national park, the Morne Trois Piton is the second tallest mountain in Dominica. This is a strenous, five to six hour trek that takes you through montane forest, elfin woodland and rocky terrain. The highest point of the mountain rises to some 4 600 feet. (5 hikers)
Morne Diablotin trail--This hike is for the unusually fit. Considered one of the toughest hikes on the island, it is a full day of serious climbing to the top of the island's highest mountain at 4 700 feet.
 If you go to Dominica and hike, make sure you abide by the local recommendations on the tougher hikes and secure a guide through the Forestry division or your hotel. Bring appropriate clothing, including comfortable hiking boots and grub clothing you really don't care about.


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