Dominica in the lush mountainous Lesser Antilles is home to the Caribbean’s largest oceanic rain forest, filled with waterfalls, 350 cascading rivers, 50 fumaroles and hot springs, with endangered red-necked and imperial parrots found nowhere else, surrounded by equally magnificent underwater scenery. Named by Christopher Columbus for the day he spotted it—Sunday (“Dominica” in Italian), November 3, 1493—its 160 bird species give it some of the eastern Caribbean’s most diverse birdlife. Its reefs, regarded as one of the world’s best dive destinations, are home to fish considered rare elsewhere— frogfish, seahorses, batfish, flying gurnards, and spectacular rainbow-hued multi-shaped sponges—and it is one of the best places anywhere for whale- and dolphin-watching.
Notable among several national parks set aside on this small 289-square-mile (112-km2) island: Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a 27-square-mile (69-km2) U.N. World Heritage Site in the southern half of the island, covers five ecological zones, from dry to primordial rain forest where 130-foot (40-m) chataignier trees are hung with 79 kinds of orchids, to “elfin” woodlands named for the stunted size of high-elevation cloud forest vegetation such as delicate 20-inch (0.5-m) high kaklin trees. Bright hummingbirds, especially purple-throated caribs, sip from a dazzling array of blossoms. Mournful four-note calls of mountain whistlers fill the canopy along with those of tiny noisy Gounouge tree frogs. Dense vegetation can make bird sightings challenging, but endangered parrots, their populations dangerously reduced by poaching for the pet and collector trade, usually announce their presence. Fauna include small rodent-like agoutis, cave bats, manicous (opossums), mongeese, three-inch (8-cm) Hercules beetles with formidable crablike mandibles, and a few two-yard-long (2-m) green iguanas.
Trails lead through the Valley of Desolation—a ghostly forest destroyed by sulphuric emissions— to Boiling Lake, second largest fumarole in the world, a bubbling mass of 212°F (100°C) mud and water; spectacular 295-foot-high (90-m) Middleham Falls and Emerald Falls and Pool; 98-foot-high (30-m) Trafalgar Falls; and to several mountain lakes and summits, all chances to see much of the island’s flora and fauna, though of varying difficulty—best consult as to whether a guide would be advisable.
Lovely Scotts Head/Soufriere Bay Marine Reserve may be explored by snorkeling, diving, or kayaking.
Central and Northern Forest Reserves protect woodland watersheds and wildlife as does Cabrits National Park with dry coastal forests as well as Dominica’s largest wetland containing both freshwater marsh and mangroves. New 81-square-mile (210-km2) Morne Diablotin National Park protects critical habitat of imperial parrots (the national birds which according to native folklore are reincarnated Carib people) as well as other significant bird, mammal, and butterfly species.
Temperatures average 68–85°F (20–29°C) in January, 72–90°F (22–32°C) in July, with mean relative humidity 65–73 percent, cooler and wetter in mountains. August, wettest month, averages 22 days’ measurable rain; April, driest, 10.
Dominica is served by flights from Antigua, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, and St. Martin.
A variety of lodging is available in locally-run hotels and guesthouses in town, coastal, and mountain retreats, also taxis and car rental (requires international driver’s license).
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DOMINICA as well as...
Morne Trois Pitons National Park
Scotts Head/Soufriere Bay Marine Reserve
Central and Northern Forest Reserve
Cabrits National Park
Morne Diablotin National Park
More about the Reserves in DOMINICA
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