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Everything You Need to Know About Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

During my trip to Dominica, I visited the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (MTP) on several occasions, and I would have liked to have spent even more time there. The park has several main attractions- the Freshwater Lake, the Boiling Lake, the Valley of Desolation, the Emerald Pools, and Trafalgar Falls, among other things. There are things to do there for both the casual traveller, and the adventurous hiker, as it offered beautiful stops close the road, and more secluded areas down miles of trails.

My initial visit to Morne Trois Pitons National Park was on my first full day in Dominica, and it was a place that I have not been able to stop dreaming about since. Still tired from our day and a half of traveling, my dad and I opted for a relaxing tour of the park in which we drove from site to site, and our longest hike was probably half a mile long. The road up through the park from Dominica’s capital was steep and narrow, complete with sharp, blind turns, but it was well maintained and there seemed to be better signage here than anywhere else that I had seen, which hinted at the park’s importance to Dominica’s tourism.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Freshwater Lake (c) ABR

The Freshwater Lake

Many tourists, in fact, come to the island on a cruise ship, jump on a tour bus at the dock, and then spend the day seeing some of the most beautiful places that the island, and perhaps the world, has to offer. Oddly, however, less cruise passengers took this opportunity than I would have thought.

The first place that we visited in Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the Freshwater Lake, which is the largest of Dominica’s four freshwater lakes, and the second deepest- according to the UNESCO World Heritage website. When we got there, the area was deserted. There was a small museum and ticketing booth along the shore of the lake that no one had opened that day, suggesting that few visitors were expected. It made me a little sad to think that no one was out there to appreciate the beauty of this place, but it was nice to have the chance to drink in the lush landscape and enjoy the crisp air in peace. The lake itself was surrounded by intense, green forests and the steep mountains that characterize Dominica’s interior, and there were some short trails that weaved their way down to the lake’s edge. If this place had been in Arizona, the water would have been dotted with kayakers, and I would have enjoyed exploring Freshwater more, but we didn’t linger there long. We stayed just long enough to take a few pictures, regard the shuttered visitor center with some disappointment, and watch a few of the montane clouds drift over the tops of the mountains on the cool, tropical winds of the lake’s high elevation.

Ti Tou Gorge

After stopping at the lake, we drove down to Ti Tou Gorge (which I don’t think is technically part of the National Park). Here, we took a short hike up along a creek to a lean-to where there were several people selling souvenirs and snacks, along with a group of guides that were bringing people up through the gorge.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Ti Tou Gorge (c) ABR

As I would later find out, Ti Tou Gorge sits at the trailhead that leads to the Boiling Lake. Due to the fact that I was unwilling to get wet and cold in order to explore the gorge itself, I used the bottom of the trail to explore the upper edge of the formation, which was something like a massive crack in the stony ground of the forest. Looking down from the edge, I could make out several waterfalls and enjoy the sounds of the creek as it rushed through the narrow spaces below. For those who are less bothered by cold water, it was possible to pay a guide to take you into the gorge and up to one of those waterfalls.

Trafalgar Falls

Our last stop in the park during that first day was Trafalgar falls. Here the visitor center was open, and we were required to purchase our week-long national park ticket before we took the short trail down to the falls. For those visitors uninterested or unable to do some scrambling, there was a nice outlook point complete with benches for resting. The falls were off in the distance here, but I couldn’t imagine anything more pleasant than resting in the shade close to those waterfalls, surrounded by the living rainforest of Dominica. Not opposed to some scrambling myself, my father and I hiked down from the viewing point where we followed the trail between some massive boulders, and across a warm, volcanic stream. On the other side of the murky, volcanic waters the forest opened up to a sunny hill of grey boulders, which were crowned by the twin Trafalgar falls. We climbed up far enough to get a clear view of the falls, and we could have worked our way further up to the base of either, if we had had the time. It was a somewhat difficult area to explore, however, due to the sheer size of the boulders here.

The Boiling Lake

The grandest adventure of Morne Trois Pitons National Park (at least that is widely advertised to tourists) is the trek to Boiling Lake. As I mentioned above, the trailhead for this volcanic attraction is at Ti Tou Gorge, where the trail begins a slow decent up into the tropical rainforest and continues on for about 7 miles, one way.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Trafalgar Falls (c) ABR

Due to the length of the trail, it generally takes about 8 hours to go to the lake and come back, and it is necessary to start the hike early. The first section of the trail, which climbs up and down the mountains, crosses the Breakfast River, and then descends into the Valley of Desolation is well maintained, and consistently lined with logs, which serve as steps for the nearly constantly incline (in one direction or another) of the journey. Once the trail drops down into the Valley of Desolation, however, it becomes hard to follow, and it weaves between steaming volcanic vents, which can be very dangerous. So, guides are needed for this journey for safety reasons, but they also provide good information and stories along the trail, and any money spent on a guide is good support for local people.

Desolation Valley

Much of the trek through the forest towards the lake looked much the same to me, although I enjoyed listening to songs of Dominica’s native birds, and learning about some of medicinal uses for the plants that we were passing along the way. The first major stop on the trail is the Breakfast River, which the trail crosses right over. We only stopped long enough for a short snack, and then began the long climb from the river up to the highest point of the trail. The steep climb was intense, but we were rewarded for our efforts by the cool air at the top of the mountain, and some spectacular views of the landscape of the island’s interior.

After this point, the trail arched down the mountain, and then all but disappeared into the multicolored, volcanic soil of Desolation Valley. Our guide led us safely down the this very steep (and slippery in the rain) part of the trail, and I found that both hands and feet needed to be firmly planted on the smooth surface of the cliff to avoid slipping. It was a somewhat frightening climb down, in my opinion, but our guide did a very good job getting us safely into the valley.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Valley of Desolation (c) ABR

Trekking Home

Once down from the cliff, we had to pick our way through a nearly lifeless valley dotted with steaming pools of grey mud. Many of these were hot enough to cause serious burns, but the guides knew of places were visitors could scoop up the mineral mud to coat parts of their skin in. I didn’t partake in this activity, but rumor had it, the mud was very good for the skin.

About a half-mile or a mile from the edge of the valley, and after following the trail along a creek, up and down a few more small cliffs, and through more of the desolate, volcanic landscape that makes up the valley, we tiredly made our way into the steamy mist that surrounds the Boiling Lake. We perched along a cliff there for lunch, where we could regard the natural feature that had drawn us through the forest for miles. It was an almost unbelievable sight- the flat grey form of the lake was constantly disturbed by bubbles. All my understanding of the world told me that these bubbles must be caused by air escaping up through the water, but in fact, the lake is so hot that it is actively boiling (as its name suggests). The cloud of steam that surrounds the pool of hot water is a testament to its heat, as are the stories that tell of guides lowering eggs into the water in little baskets, and then drawing them back up to the cliff, fully cooked.

After enjoying the lake for some time, and resting our exhausted bodies, it came time to return, all the way back where were had come from.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Boiling Lake (c) ABR

On the way, there were hot pools to enjoy and relax in, and then we had to brave the cliffs and mountains again to return home. It was well worth the trip, but perhaps one of the most difficult hikes that I have ever done.

Emerald Pool

Finally, on my dad’s last day on the island, we visited the Emerald Pool. This particular part of the park is easily accessible from one of the roads that run up from Roseau to the Melville Hall airport, and it is a good place to stop at before bidding the island farewell. There was a surprisingly large parking lot here, ringed by a large visitor center as well as venders selling souvenirs and socializing in the shade. Past the visitor’s center is a short loop trail, which guides travellers through the forest and down to the calm, brilliantly blue pool for which this area is named. The pool itself sits at the bottom of a rocky cliff, and is fed by a slender waterfall. The forest is mostly kept at bay by the rocky soil of the beach, but a few tall and twisted trees are perched along the edge of the pool- making for pleasant places to rest and enjoy the almost otherworldly beauty of the Emerald Pool. On the returning leg of the loop trail, there is one spot where visitors can look out at the forest and see the ocean on the other side of the island. For those visitors looking for a quick stop, the Emerald Pool is easy to pass through in a half an hour or so, but it is also a place where one could spend the afternoon, picnicking, swimming in the pool, and appreciating the hospitality of the Dominican landscape.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Emerald Pool (c) ABR

If you are looking into visiting Dominica, be sure to read our guide!

FOR MORE INFO!
MTP UNESCO Page
MTP Discover Dominica Page
MTP Tripadvisor Page

Exploring the City of Roseau, Dominica

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I stayed in Roseau, Dominica for the majority of my two-week visit to the island, and due to that I got to know the city fairly well. On my first foray into the downtown area, where the mix of modern and French colonial buildings press in on the small roads that crisscross through the city, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling very intimidated. The roads, which were narrow to begin with, usually had cars parked on either side, and despite the fact that they were one-lane and one-way, walking through the city was a game of trying to stay out of every drivers’ way.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Walking Roseau

The sidewalks in the city were wide enough for two people to pass in some areas, in other places they were just wide enough for one person, and in others, they were nonexistent; while walking down one street, I often encountered all three, and this often forced me, and the other people walking the city to weave in and out of the street. On top of dodging cars, almost every sidewalk was made of separate slabs of concrete, which usually weren’t level, and I had to keep my eyes on the ground to avoid tripping, especially since most of the streets and sidewalks were lined with open drainage ditches, which were at least a foot deep.

Despite my discomfort during the first few days of my stay, Roseau slowly grew on me, and once I got the hang of walking through the city, I found that there was a lot to explore and enjoy. The part of Roseau that is familiar to most of its visitors is the cruise dock, and the shops that line the ocean. When cruises are docked, tabletop sellers gather along the water’s edge and between the buildings nearest the cruise harbor. The Dominica Museum and visitor’s center are also in this area, and unfortunately, I was unable to visit the museum due to my schedule. The entrance fee is only $3 US, and the museum was put together by the famous Dominica/Caribbean historian Lennox Honychurch, so I think that the museum is most likely well worth the visit.

Besides the museum, this area is home to the Fort Young Hotel, a historic landmark that was once a fort built and rebuilt by the French and British as they struggled for control of the island. I stopped for lunch here, and kept to the dock-side bar to avoid the expensive food in the hotel’s restaurant, and it was well worth the visit. The hotel itself was beautiful, and few of us would complain about stopping to eat lunch right next the Caribbean Sea, in the shadow of one of the massive cruise ships that characterize tourism in this region. Another place that I frequented in this area during my stay was the Cartwheel Café.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Food and Gardens in Roseau

This little, blue roofed restaurant was recommended to me by the hotel manager of the inn where I stayed, and it did not disappoint. The restaurant itself was a small, stone building, with the a large window at one end, and a high, airy ceiling which was decorated with Kalinago baskets. It was a comfortable, quiet space, despite the bustling market just outside its doors, and their breakfast was both delicious and well-priced.

Another area that I ended up visiting more than once was Roseau’s Botanical Gardens. In terms of some of the other botanical gardens that I have seen, there wasn’t much to it. Mostly, the garden is just a large expanse of grass ringed by large trees with a few picnic tables tucked into the cool shadows of the foliage. It is a popular area for cricket games on the weekends, and plenty of locals used the area as a relaxing area to lunch during the work week.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Beautiful Views and Memorials

Besides this recreational area, there is an organic monument to Hurricane David of 1979- a massive downed tree that crushed an empty school bus during the violence of the storm. The tree itself continues to grow, despite its traumatic past, and it seemed someone symbolic to me of the bravery and persistence of the families that survived the storm. The botanical gardens are also home to the Parrot Conservation and Research Center as well as the Mountain Chicken Captive Breeding and Research Facility. As far as I could tell, these weren’t accessible to visitors, but I did get a glimpse of a Sisserou parrot from the trail towards Jack’s Walk.

Jack’s Walk is a short trail that leads up Morne Bruce to the east of the park, through a quiet wooded area. When I hiked up here, there were a variety of rather large lizards scampering through the underbrush, and this made the trek rather interesting, as I spent a good amount of time trying to snap off a photo of one of them- to no avail.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Life in Dominica

At the top of the trail is a flat grassy area with beautiful views of Roseau and the Caribbean sea, and centered by a large monument of a crucifix. Under the shade of one of the large trees here, I relaxed, enjoyed the ocean breeze, and stayed long enough for several anoles to feel comfortable revealing themselves to me.

In terms of my day-to-day life in Roseau, there were some things about the city that I greatly enjoyed. First, the city is a hub for the buses that run to all different parts of the island, and thus traveling out from here is fairly easy. It should be noted, however, that many buses run only in the morning and afternoon as locals move from their neighborhoods to get to work, so planning ahead is necessary. Second, Roseau has a massive open market where a vast variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish was available.

There were also some standard supermarkets which made it easy to avoid eating out three times a day. I have never been to a busier supermarket, however, and one Saturday when I visited the line to check out went from the front of the store, all the way to the back, and while waiting, there were a good number of people who tried to cut, which made getting to the register somewhat difficult. Finally, I was surprised to find that pretty much everything was closed on Sunday, besides the hotel restaurants.

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(c) BJ Raschke

While in Roseau, I stayed in a small inn in Riverside, called Narakiel’s Inn. The nightly rates were very reasonable, the room was small but comfortable and clean, and the area was just outside of downtown Roseau, and thus a nice place to seek some calm after braving the city. Besides this, the hotel manager here was very accommodating and proved to be a great source for local information.

Be sure to read our Guide to Dominica to learn more!

Want to learn EVEN more? Check out these great resources!
Discover Dominica

Fort Young Hotel

Tripadvisor: Cartwheel Cafe

Roseau Botanical Gardens

Narakiel’s Inn

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