For some travelers, sun and fun on a popular beach surrounded by creature comforts, modern amenities, and easy accessibility to restaurants and shops is their idea of vacation. More and more people, however, are hoping to truly experience something unique in a place that is hard to get to, that is surrounded by sites and sounds entirely different than the familiarity of home and that involves a certain degree of adventure. Ecotourism is a way for people to really capture the pulse of a place and to discover the spectacular wonders of the natural environment. When I am in Dominica, I am always amazed at the sounds of birds at dawn and at dusk, I find peace in the quiet solitude of a mountain overlooking the sea, I feel the exhilaration of jumping into a crystal clear river and I tap into my sense of adventure with a hike through the cinematic rainforest. Exposure to these kinds of special experiences is the real magnetism behind ecotourism. Additional value comes in the preservation of the environment, the economic benefit to indigenous people and the introduction of guests to the cultural heritage.
Dominica is perhaps the greatest location for ecotourism in the entire Caribbean. It’s biodiversity is still intact and the cities have not been overdeveloped like other places of tourism. For that reason Dominica is often a destination for reality TV shows that showcase adventure travel, secluded resorts or extreme competitions. I have literally hiked a jungle trail, swam up a river gorge to a waterfall, and relaxed on a black sand beach all in the same day. You can easily experience a whole lot with a vehicle and a roadmap, but if you hire a local guide for the day you get the backstory to everything that you are witnessing. For example, you can travel to the village of Belles and hike the trails carved out by the maroons who had escaped into these forests during the days of slavery. An African chief name Jacko was the pioneer and leader of an entire encampment in the rainforest. Large steps, some three feet high, gave them an advantage over the French and English soldiers who had battled over this island for years. Ruins of military fortifications still exist in places like Cabrits National Park near the village of Portsmouth.
Dominica also offers the opportunity to connect with the living history of the Kalinagos, who are the largest remaining colony of Carib Indians in the world. Travel to their territory, taste the cassava-coconut bread, watch them make wooden boats by hand, purchase some of their intricately woven baskets and if your timing is right you can experience some of their cultural celebrations that reveal ancient dances and traditions. Their everyday lifestyle already reflects principles of sustainability and their new developments are considerate of these same values. Their cultural center, for example, is running on electricity generated by solar panels. I had the opportunity to meet the Kalinago chief and he said he would welcome the opportunity for university interns to come and help them develop new strategies that generate employment for their mountain community.
These days, information about cultures, cuisines and customs can be found on the internet and television, but it is so much better to encounter the people for yourself and enjoy a great big world beyond the screens that are always in our faces. I encourage you to discover Dominica at least once in your lifetime.