Tag: Islands

What to do in Dominica: Cabrits and the Road to Scott’s Head

Many Americans are unfamiliar with the beautiful country of Dominica, and may not to know what there is to do there. Dominica is, I dare say, the hiking capital of the Caribbean (and if it isn’t, it should be). And there is far more to do here besides wandering about in nature, because the island also has some beautiful places to snorkel and learn about the history of the country and the Caribbean. Cabrits and Scott’s Head are two great places to do just that.

DSCF5269

Trail to Champagne Beach (c) AB Raschke

After a morning spent driving through Morne Trois, we headed down to Scott’s Head on the southern end of the island. Between there and Roseau, we stopped at Champagne Beach, which is named for the ribbons of bubbles that stream up from the sea floor here. These are a sign of Dominica’s active volcanic nature, as well as a good reason to snorkel in the bay.

You have to pay for a ticket to go down on the beach, regardless of whether or not you are snorkeling, and once you have your ticket there is a nice place to rent gear, change, or just relax. I was unprepared to swim when I visited, so while I think this would be a great place to visit based on other people’s experiences, it isn’t a great place to go if you aren’t going to get in the water. The beach is very narrow and rocky, and there are some better locations for relaxing near the water (here is a good resource for finding a beach that fits your needs if you are looking to lounge on the shore).

DSCF5280

Scott’s Head (c) AB Raschke

Scott’s Head is a colorful little town on the southern tip of Dominica. We weren’t able to spend a lot of time here, but it made for some beautiful pictures, due to the thin peninsula that arches off the main beach. If you take the time to hike the hill at the end of this peninsula there are some wonderful views of the town, and both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic. Interestingly enough, the difference between the two water bodies was apparent at a glance here. The Caribbean side being a calm, welcoming blue, while the Atlantic side was choppy and grey.

DSCF5380

Cabrit’s National Park (c) AB Raschke

Cabrits National Park in Portsmouth was the last major place that I was able to visit on my trip. The main attraction here is Fort Shirley, but the park actually protects a wide range of environments as well, including forests, wetlands, and some marine areas. I spent most of my time here exploring the old English fort, which has been beautifully restored by none other than Dominica’s resident historian, Lennox Honychurch (I would highly suggest looking up some of his books). The restored section of Fort Shirley looks out over the bay and Portsmouth. It really is an idyllic place, and significant in its representation of the Caribbean’s history.

For people looking to do some more exploring, there are also a variety of trails in the park, and a few of these showcase what the fort looked like before Honychurch revived the main portion. In disrepair, most of these remnants look more like ancient ruins than a strong gesture of English power. Juxtaposed with the forest, however, they were beautiful relics of the past, and certainly spoke to the knowledge and passion that went into restoring some of the buildings.

If you would like to learn more about what to do in Dominica, please visit Nightborn Travel’s Guide to Dominica.

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

An Ecologist’s Dream: Puerto Villamil and Isabela Island

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke


Much like the larger Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Puerto Villamil has a main street, which runs along the coast (Avenue de Gil Antonio). Villamil, however, is half the size or smaller than Ayora, and the atmosphere of the place is characterized by this fact. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end of Puerto Villamil to the other.
(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

There are few paved roads in the village, and all of the restaurants and shops are clustered into the center of the town.

For the most part, I found the size of the town to be enjoyable and characteristic. It was very peaceful in Puerto Villamil, and the beaches there were quiet and breathtaking.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

However, there is at least one drawback to the village’s size. Restaurants in town are only open for a few hours around meal times, and for traveler’s getting off a boat from Santa Cruz around 2pm that means a long wait till dinner. There are several supermarkets near the main square of the village, however, that are well stocked with cook-able food and snacks. That being said, when the restaurants are open many of them have special lunch and dinner plates that include juice and run at about $5.

Our first trip from Puerto Villamil was out to the east of town to Concha de Perla. This is a short wooden walkway that leads from the road to a mangrove rimmed, crystal blue pool of calm ocean water. We didn’t swim here, but the place is available for the use of snorkelers, and the simple beauty of the cove is well worth the walk.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

There is plenty of wildlife to be observed from the trail, and I have little doubt that taking a dip in the water would reveal even more. Just hiking we saw two sea lions, frigate birds, crabs, and a great variety of fish.

In the afternoon, we rented bikes for some longer excursions and these took us out to another tortoise breeding station, and nearly out to El Muro de los Lagrimas. The breeding station is a short bike ride up the road that runs up towards Sierra Negra, the large, active volcano in the middle of the main part of the island.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

There are plenty of adult tortoises to be viewed here, and a very nice trail that loops back to the main road. Along this trail there are several small waterbodies: Poza Baltazar, and Poza Puerta de Jeli. The water here appears shallow and has an earthy color. They aren’t the most beautiful of places but they are wonderful examples of the brackish water lagoons that make up the majority of the standing freshwater habitats of the Galapagos. They are also a great place to bird watch, as a variety of different species use these areas.

After getting back from the center, we took our bikes down the long road towards El Muro de las Lagrimas. We didn’t make it the 5km to the wall, but the bike ride was well worth the effort, even in the heat of the afternoon. It passed by long stretches white sand beaches, through shady groves, and past a small graveyard of white, tiled monuments. It was on this road that we saw a free ranging tortoise, which after seeing all the animals in the breeding centers, was a pretty cool experience.

We stopped at Cerro Orchilla, where we parked our bikes at the bottom of a hill, and tiredly climbed a long set of stairs to a wooden viewing platform.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

This was one of the few places where we got high enough off the ground to see over the shrub forest. From here we could see the majestic Sierra Negra, the surrounding hills and scrub forests, and the bright blue waters of the ocean. It was such a wonderful view that I had to stop and take pictures in every direction.

Finally, we hired a taxi driver from town to take us up to Sierra Negra. Unfortunately for us, the only real way to see the volcano is through a day long tour, but the taxi driver brought us up the road that leads to the volcano, showed us a wide array of different habitat types, and even let us explore some lava tubes on the side of the mountain. After spending days in the hot, dry atmosphere of the low lands, being up in the rainforests of the higher elevations was really wonderful.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

The plants were exotic, and the landscape was a mix of agricultural fields and wild forests. The smell of guavas was pervasive the whole drive, and while following our driver down the small road to the lava tubes, we had the chance to snack on some of the guavas that grew along the edge of the road. On the way down, we also had the opportunity to see some of the lava fields of the island.

As amazing (and cheap) our drive up the volcano was, I regret not going on the tour of Sierra Negra. From what I have read, it is a pretty strenuous hike, but after spending most of our time in the lower climes of the islands, I would have loved to spend some time hiking at the higher elevations. If we had had more time, I would have also liked to have gone on a tour to Los Tintoreras were people get to snorkel and hike around some small, rocky islets just off of the coast.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

An Ecologist’s Dream: Exploring Puerto Ayora

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Santa Cruz is the first island that we called home in the Galapagos.  From the moment that I arrived there, the island astounded me.  The drive from Baltra to Puerto Ayora itself was a tour of the various ecosystems of the island.  From the ferry dock to the city, we drove up in elevation from the shore, and then back down as we reached the beachside city. In doing this, the road took us through the green coastal zone, through the arid zone of the lowlands.  We would get to know this particular assemblage of plants and animals fairly well, as these are the plants that line the beaches and cities.  The arid zone is characterized by tall, bush shrubs, and cactus trees, which to my Arizona-born sensibilities look like prickly pear cacti trying to be trees. After the arid zone we pass up through the transition zone, where the shrubs of the arid areas give way to denser growths of thin trees which are often draped with vines.  In the middle of the island, the drive takes you up into the scalesia forests and then back down.  The scalesia forests get the vast majority of the rain that the mountains of the islands attract, and as such, they are vibrant, green places. The trees here are massive, and the climate in the forest is quite cool compared to the warmer low lands.  As we drew closer to Puerto Ayora, the forest began to give way to patches of agricultural activity, and small settlements.  (c) AB RaschkeAgain, as a resident of Arizona, I thought that the architecture of these towns, as well as the larger cities on the islands was very similar to the architecture of Northern Mexico.  Open air restaurants are common, many houses and stores have bright colored, personal touches added to them, and many buildings seem to be in a near constant state of construction.

            On Santa Cruz, much of what we saw was around Pueto Ayora, and for the traveller on a budget, this is a great place to explore. A walk down the village’s main street, Charles Darwin Avenue, is not only great for shopping and food, but the road runs along the coast, provides some wonderful views.  Decorative buildings line the street which is characterized by wavy red and yellow brickwork.  This road also passes by the fish market of Puerto Ayora, where sea lions and pelicans gather along with people for the chance at some fresh fish.  (c) AB RaschkeAt the western end of the road, where the docks are, taxis are easy to come by, and tourists mingle with natives.  There is a big volleyball court, and park amenities, which fill up towards sunset.  Once night sets in, the pier is lit up from the water, and sea life can easily be seen.  There is also a big supermarket at the western end of the road, which we took advantage of more than once to help cut our food costs.

            Many of the streets fanning off from Avenue de Charles Darwin (the main street in Puerto Ayora) lack clear signage, and navigating through the city can get somewhat confusing.  However, the town is safe, and we spent much of our time seeing the city on foot.  When all else failed (or the heat got to us) we would flag down a taxi and catch a lift downtown or back to our lodging. 

            In terms of attractions around the city, Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Gigantes, Las Grietas, and Tortuga bay were the big ones.  All are free to visit (although getting to the trailhead for Las Grietas requires you to take a watertaxi which is about $0.80 one way), they require you to sign in, and you may visit only during the day, as each trail closes around 5pm.

          DSCF3587  El Centro de Crianza de Tortugas is the first thing that we visited while on Santa Cruz.  As its name suggests, this area is one of the breeding centers for giant tortoises (and the former home of Lonesome George). We went in the morning, during the park’s feeding time, and due to this fact we were able to see many of the animals in the park active. 

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

There are tortoises of all different ages available for observation along the trail, and land iguanas as well (which we saw no where else).  The trails here also provided great views of the arid environment that is home to the awesome cactus trees, which are integral to the survival of several different tortoise breeds.  Taking a few quiet moments along the trail, we also had the chance to see several different species of birds.

            The Las Grietas trailhead is across the bay from most of Puerto Ayora, but a short watertaxi ride over to the other side reveals several isolated and beautiful residences and hotels.  The trail to Las Grietas begins on some narrow pathways that run between the outer walls of these buildings, and while not exactly a nature lover’s idea of an appealing trailhead, I found the little offshoot of the city to be rather nice. 

(c)AB Raschke

(c)AB Raschke

After passing through most of the buildings, the trail became rocky and passed along several lagunas.  It also snaked by a small, white sand beach called Playa de Punta Estrada, and through the Salinas.  The landscape here is characterized by volcanic rock, and brackish water that is almost otherworldly in its earthy colors and silty texture.  The rocky trail passed through the water here at several points, but it was easy to stay dry, as the volcanic rock that made the trail rises out of the water. 

           

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Las Grietas itself is something like a giant crack in the rock of the island.  This crack connects the cool, calm pool of Las Grietas to the ocean, and makes for a great place to swim.  The pool is also deep enough in places for people to jump from the rocks into the water, but I would check with the park employee posted at the pool before jumping.  It does tend to get busy at the bottom of the tail, as people stake out places for their belongings among the massive boulders that form the access point to the water.   Several blogs that I read suggested coming here in the morning to find some solitude here, and as we found ourselves amid a crowd once we reached the end of the trail, I think that this is very good advice.

           

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Finally, there is Tortuga Bay.  This is one of the longer hikes on the island, and I would suggest planning ahead for the journey.  My friend and I did the hike later in the day, and we didn’t really end up having time to enjoy the beach at the end of the trail.  We started from downtown, and following the maps posted there, took a few backstreets to find the trailhead which is nestled back in the neighborhood away from the main street.  The trail itself is smooth brick, and thus, fairly easy to travel.  It also passes through the shrub forest, so there is some shade along the way.  At the end, a beautiful white sand beach awaits, complete (at the time we were there) with a small gathering of sun tanned surfers. 
(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén